15 January 2022
OVD-Info is a Moscow-based NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests and prosecutions in Russia. Each week OVD-Info publishes a bulletin with the latest news, which is translated here. To receive the mailing in Russian, visit here.
Hello! Some of Navalny’s colleagues have been added to the list kept by the Federal Finance Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonistoring), Shenderovich has left Russia, and an NGO in Krasnodarsk has been removed from the register of ‘foreign agents’.
Let’s start with some useful news! If you’re already tired of reading “Dannoe Soobshchenie” [“ДАННОЕ СООБЩЕНИЕ” – the first words of the obligatory announcement that precedes a text by someone designated a ‘foreign agent’ – ed.] on articles, your favourite websites or Facebook pages, then this might cheer you up: we’ve come up with a solution. It’s a plugin for Google Chrome which changes the ‘foreign agents’ label on news websites to an advert for organisations which have signed the petition to repeal the law on ‘foreign agents’. So instead of the tedious all-caps paragraph you can see links to positive initiatives. You can install ‘Unlabelling’ here.
Some colleagues of Aleksei Navalny have been put on the list of extremists. Rosfinmonitoring has put the director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF), Ivan Zhdanov, and the former operations director of Navalny’s headquarters, Leonid Volkov, on the list of terrorists and extremists. Although neither activist is in Russia, the state has put them on the wanted list. The networks of people at the ACF and its headquarters had already been declared extremist organisations, and Volkov and Zhdanov charged with organising the activities of an extremist group.
- Why is this important? 2021 saw Navalny’s interregional network of supporters smashed, and now many of his former colleagues and ordinary activists are leaving the country, such is the risk of their becoming defendants in criminal cases. The accusations of extremism law enforcement are levelling against Navalny and his supporters look trumped up in context. Putin is talking about some kind of recipe for ‘Molotov cocktails’, but actually Navalny’s HQ and the FBK have always tried to participate in legitimate politics – in elections, peaceful social and political protests – and organised rallies. That is to say, they did everything that in an ordinary country would be considered normal political engagement. But in Russia this is now considered extremism.
Viktor Shenderovich has left Russia. The writer and satirist has left the country because businessman and “Putin’s cook” Evgeny Prigozhin has filed a defamation suit against him. Shenderovich fears that if a criminal case is opened against him, precautionary measures will be taken against him and he may be put in a pre-trial detention centre. The reason for Prigozhin’s claim against the writer is an Ekho Moskvy programme broadcast on 18 March 2021, where Shenderovich called the businessman a murderer. At the end of December a court in St Petersburg granted Prigozhin’s civil claim, ruling that Ekho Moskvy should pay him a million roubles, and Shenderovich personally should pay him 100,000 roubles. Earlier Shenderovich was added to the list of media ‘foreign agents’.
- Why do I need to know this? Prigozhkin has a reputation for running ‘troll factories’ –organisations that employ people solely to leave pro-government comments on social media sites. He also owns several media outlets which publish propaganda articles. Additionally, his organisations are linked with the activities of the military company Wagner, whose employees were involved in conflicts in the territories of Ukraine and Syria. Prigozhkin is a man who is as close as it is possible to get to the very summit of the current Russian political regime. It’s highly doubtful whether the Russian court system in its present state is capable of fairly assessing the validity of Prigozhkin’s claims, whoever they may concern.
An ecology NGO has been removed from the list of ‘foreign agents’. Important positive news: the Krasnodarsk organisation Civic Initiative against Ecological Crime has been removed from the register of ‘foreign agents’. The head of Civic Initiative, Dmitrii Shevchenko, made a post about this new decision by the Ministry of Justice on his Facebook page. The Ministry of Justice came to the conclusion that the NGO does not in fact receive foreign money, although it continues to influence public opinion and destabilise the situation.
- Why is this important? Because this means there is a way back! It’s possible not only to become a ‘foreign agent’ but to cease to be one. True, the way back will be harder for a human rights NGO or media outlet than for an ecological organisation. Still – there is one! Life has taught us to celebrate small things.
What is to be done? On the eve of the elections to the State Duma in September 2021, the alleged admins of the Telegram channel What Is To Be Done! were arrested in regions of Russia. The defendants in the case are accused of involvement in mass disorder. In fact the channel was only about going out onto the street of their hometown on election day and taking pictures of themselves with a flare gun. We publish an account given by the wife of Krasnoyarsk resident Aleksei Yanochkin, who is currently in pre-trial detention over this matter.
Translated by Anna Bowles