OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 256: An extremist group, and more

5 June 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.

Pickets against the war with Ukraine, St Petersburg, 27 February 2022. Photo: David Frenkel, Mediazone

Hello! Navalny faces new charges, Communist deputies have been expelled from their party for an anti-war initiative, a defence engineer has fled Russia, and lawyers acting for Vesna (Spring) are being detained.

Aleksei Navalny is facing new charges. The investigation claims that the politician, who is already serving a sentence in a penal colony on other criminal charges, is also guilty of founding an extremist group  (Article 281, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code). According to Navalny himself, writing on his social media accounts, the charge refers to inciting hatred against officials and oligarchs as well as incitement to go to rallies after the politician’s arrest. A case regarding creation of an extremist group was launched against Navalny and his closest supporters in September 2021. In addition, the Investigative Committee is urgently investigating several cases against the politician and his associates: for the financing of extremist activities (Article 282.3, Part 1), for money laundering (Article 174, Part 4), for the establishment of an NGO infringing the security and rights of citizens (Article 239, Part 2), and for the involvement of minors in criminal activities (Article 151.2, Part 2). These cases are combined with the prosecution for creating an extremist group. 

  • Why do I need to know this? A veritable raft of criminal cases against Russia’s most popular opposition politician – and this after a failed poisoning attempt by FSB agents. The authorities do not want to see Navalny at large on their turf, and apparently someone somewhere has given the order to bring up everything they can think of against him, and investigate it. If one considers the entire context of the politician’s relationship with the Russian state, the number of accusations, and their substance, they all look far-fetched and trumped up.

In the Primorsky region, deputies have been expelled from a party for making anti-war statements. Communist deputies Leonid Vasyukevich and Gennady Shulga were expelled from the CPRF faction in the Primorye Legislative Assembly because they spoke out against the war with Ukraine during a session. Vasyukevich and Shulga appealed to Putin to stop the war, arguing that otherwise there will be more orphans and disabled people in Russia, and many young people who could otherwise benefit their country will die. After that, the officials of the local CPRF branch hurried to make statements about ‘discreditation’ and an ‘initiative’.

  • Why is this important? The state likes to tell us that the majority of Russians support the war. Politicians and functionaries of all parties certainly do. To maintain the illusion of unity of opinion, they have introduced criminal offences punishing anti-war protest of various kinds. And now, three months have passed and deputies from the largely loyal CPRF are grumbling that the war will ruin many lives. This demonstrates well that the silence of many about what is happening is due not to their sincere convictions and love of killing and destruction, but to their fear of the consequences of a public anti-war stance. 

A defence engineer has fled Russia because of his anti-war stance. Dmitry Domovetskikh, a design engineer at a company in Orenburg, was forced to flee the country after being searched in a criminal case for divulging state secrets. The search took place at his home after he began expressing an anti-war stance on social media, which his superiors strongly disliked – his superiors demanded that the posts be removed, citing the order of some major. Domovetskikh retained the status of suspect and then fled Russia to Lithuania, crossing the border illegally as his foreign-travel passport had been revoked. He  has applied for asylum in that country. 

  • Why is this important? It is also a story of how the state first appeals for total support of the war by the population, commits crimes in Ukraine in their name, then comes with to search, detain or arrest anyone who dares express an anti-war stance. 

Lawyers in the Vesna (Spring ) case have spoken about interest shown in them by the security forces. For example, lawyer Artem Nemov said that police officers stopped him twice in one day on the pretext of checking his documents. According to the police, Nemov was similar to a wanted suspect. Earlier, two other lawyers in the same case – Mikhail Biryukov and Daniil Berman – were detained in the Moscow Metro. The criminal case (under Article 239 of the Russian Criminal Code, about NGOs infringing on the rights of citizens) against activists of the youth movement Vesna (Spring) was opened in early May, before the date for planned protests opposing the war against Ukraine.

  • Why do I need to know this? After 24 February,Vesna (Spring) took a strongly anti-war stance, and the criminal case against representatives of the movement must be seen in the context of the enormous pressure that the Russian state has brought to bear on all pacifists. Additionally, if you consider that Vesna’s lawyers were temporarily detained because of their connections to the case, it would seem pressure is now being exerted even on the pacifists’ lawyers.


About the work of OVD-Info’s lawyers. Our project’s legal team is now handling 43 politically motivated criminal prosecutions in 13 regions. Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, the central focus of repression in Russia has become the persecution of opponents of the war, although we continue to help other persecuted groups as well. We spoke to OVD-Info lawyer Dmitry Piskunov about the specifics of our lawyers’ work – read more on our website, Yandex.Zen and Medium

Translated by Anna Bowles

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