OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 244: There is no ‘war’ – but there is censorship

5 March 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.

Illustration by : Alina Kugush for OVD-Info

Hello! Russia is destroying independent journalism and threatening to institute criminal proceedings against ‘fake news’ about its army; the offices of Memorial have been searched, and over 8,000 people have been detained at protests.

Unprecedented censorship. The Russian state is bringing in an unprecedented level of military censorship, and pressure on journalists and media outlets. The president has signed the law on ‘fake news’ and it is coming into force – it provides for the punishments of  sentences up to 15 years in jail for spreading such ‘fake news’ and discrediting the military. Independent media outlets which talk about the events in Ukraine in a way that contradicts the official position are being blocked on a huge scale: Dozhd, Ekho Moskvy, Meduza, the BBC and many other media outlets are being blocked, as well as the entirety of Twitter and Facebook. Against this background, Dozhd, Ekho and the BBC announced that they are ceasing operations, Novaya gazeta is removing coverage of the war from its website, journalists are fleeing Russia – this includes to date Dmitry Kolezev, the editor-in-chief of Republic, and Aleksei Kovalev, head of Meduza’s investigative department. You can read our article on what is happening here.

  • Why is this important? The official position of the Ministry of Defence is that the Russian army is having great success in Ukraine, and the only resistance comes from battalions of Nazis. Meanwhile the Ukrainian side and independent media report a significant number of Russian casualties and fierce fighting involving the entire Ukrainian army as well as volunteers. The federal media do not report that civilians are dying under bombardment in Kharkiv, Nikolaev and Kyiv. The state wants nobody in Russia to talk about this anymore.

Searches at Memorial and Civic Assistance Committee. Today [Translator’s note – 5 March 2022] law enforcement officers searched the offices of both Memorial and Civic Assistance Committee. Law enforcement officers confiscated data storage devices. The searches were reportedly carried out in relation to the criminal case against Bakhrom Khamroev, a member of the Memorial Human Rights Centre, on charges of justifying terrorism – he had earlier remanded in custody for two months. Not long before the search, the Supreme Court upheld a decision to liquidate International Memorial. The search of the Memorial office lasted 14 hours.

  • Why do I need to know this? The pressure on Memorial should be viewed in the context of attacks on the institutions of civil society in Russia, and Civic Assistance is one of Memorial’s partners. The Russian Federation no longer needs human rights activists or investigative journalists, but silent, docile soldiers. The message is easy to grasp. Needless to say, everything the state is now destroying is a vital part of the social ecosystem, and without it society cannot possibly grow. Does the state care right now?

Threats to protestors. In the last few days, 8,170 people have been arrested in Russia at protests against the war in Ukraine. The authorities refuse to allow such events. The prosecutor’s office threatens to prosecute participants in such protests for ‘extremism’. In Belgorod and Vladimir, criminal cases have been filed for anti-war graffiti, considered as vandalism. In Moscow a driver was detained on criminal charges after he left his car on the pavement in Pushkin Square. The car was daubed in anti-war graffiti – and he set it on fire. 

  • Why is this important? In general the level of injustice that is taking place  right now is off the scale, even for Russia. The authorities have somehow become completely detached from reality and react to calls to return to earth from their imaginary worlds in what essentially is their usual manner, but with unbelievable cynicism. In fact, with the help of the Criminal Code, the state wants to create a parallel history of the war with Ukraine, where war is peace, a ‘special operation’ has no dead, and where Ukrainians greet Russian tanks with joy.

Large-scale searches of the premises of human rights organisations in St Petersburg and Vladimir. On the morning of 5 March, the homes of a number of human rights activists and journalists were searched. In some cases, law enforcement officers broke down the doors of flats. In St Petersburg, it transpires, the searches were related to a criminal case regarding a false report of a terrorist action; in Vladimir, with a case of vandalism – ‘writing slogans on a bridge.’

  • Why do I need to know this? The logic here is as follows: we’ve received a phone call with a false report about a terrorist action, and it probably came from one of these opposition people. Either those human rights activists who have been defending people in courts, or those independent journalists, or one of those activists from political parties. We’re sure it was one of them. Why are we sure? We can’t explain that, but what is certain is that we don’t like them, so we break down their doors.


Protest digest: We have gathered all the key information about the protests that occurred between 24 and 27 February here in one document: the number of those detained, the articles of the Code of Administrative Violations under which they were prosecuted, the charges against them and other important matters.

Detainees’ stories: And here we have collected the stories of people detained at the anti-war rallies that took place in St Petersburg and Moscow in recent days.

Censorship: In the news section above we have already talked about the latest censorship, and here you can find an account of all the latest military censorship in Russia. We asked experts to comment on what has happened, and try to understand what journalists should do in such situations.

Foreign agents: In November 2021 two lawyers, Ivan Pavlov and Valeria Vetoshkina were designated as ‘foreign agents.’ Representatives of the legal community consider this an alarming sign. We publish an open appeal from the lawyers.

Translated by Anna Bowles

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