OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 264: Riot police in the woods – or searching for “fake news”

30 July 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: OVD-Info

Hello! Another criminal case has been launched against Vladimir Kara-Murza, a blogger from Smolensk has been sentenced to prison for words, the Omsk riot police followed a suspect into the woods, and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has launched a Moscow mechanism in Russia. 

A criminal case has been opened against Vladimir Kara-Murza under the article of the Russian Criminal Code on “undesirable organisations”. On 27 July it became known that in the middle of that month a new criminal case was opened against Kara-Murza, who was already in pre-trial detention as part of a case about “fake news”, for carrying out the activities of an “undesirable organisation”. The politician’s lawyers do not yet have any documents, so it remains unclear what exactly he is accused of. But in April 2021, Kara-Murza was fined 15,000 roubles under the administrative article on the activities of an “undesirable organisation”. The reason for this was his detention at the Municipal Russia forum; the then-acting co-ordinator of Open Russia had advertised the event, and law enforcement agencies considered that it was organised by an “undesirable organisation”. 194 people were detained at the forum.

  • Why is this important? Only two weeks ago, the ex-director of Open Russia Andrei Pivarov was sentenced in an “undesirable organisations” case: he received four years in prison. The prosecutor’s office asserts that the activities of such “undesirable” organisations “present a threat to the foundations of the constitutional order and the security of the Russian Federation.” But the Russian state doesn’t explain what the threat is. In the meantime, law enforcement authorities can manipulate the law to apply it to politicians who oppose the authorities.

A blogger from Smolensk has been sentenced to six and a half years in jail for posts he made on VKontakte. On 28 July, the Second Western District Military Court handed down its verdict, finding Sergei Komandirov guilty under several articles of the Russian Criminal Code at once. The reason was posts and reposts, critical of the Russian authorities, he made on social media: he was charged three times with justification of terrorism, with rehabilitation of Naziism, with incitement of hatred and even with insulting a representative of the authorities. The blogger was arrested in October 2021, and since then has been held in pre-trial detention. At first he was charged only with justification of terrorism, but then charges were brought under other articles of the Russian Criminal Code too.

  • Why do I need to know this? Convictions for words have been not uncommon in Russia for a while now. Back in 2020, journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva, who had spoken live on Radio Liberty about the possible causes of an explosion at the Arkhangelsk FSB, was sentenced to a fine of 500,000 roubles (prosecutors had called for her to be sentenced to six years in prison). But even for Russia, such a sentence for internet posts is outrageous. In addition, Komandirov’s case involves a total of six episodes under a variety of articles of the Russian Criminal Code – and the majority of the charges were brought after the investigation had begun.

A criminal case has been opened against an archaeologist from Omsk under the article on “fake news” about the Russian army. Archaeologist Evgeny Kruglov was detained on 22 July in the Tyumen region: law enforcement officials came to get him while he was on an expedition, and took him off to Omsk for questioning. After a few days it became known that a “fake news” case had been brought against him. The reason was a repost of a news report about military action in Bucha and Mariupol from a closed VKontakte group, which he had allegedly made on 4 May. After questioning, Krulov was released but was told he would be sent for a psychiatric examination in a few days’ time.

  • Why is this important? Kruglov’s arrest and the case itself show how much speed the repressive system has gathered in the search for “fake news” in statements by people who take an anti-war stance. The repost was from a closed group, but nevertheless it ended up under the eyes of law enforcement officers. And, in their opinion, they couldn’t wait for Kruglov to return to Omsk – no, they travelled into the forest in another region to get him. Does this mean that simply expressing an opinion that condemns the war in Ukraine – even when it is intended only for a limited group of people – is so frightening to the Russian authorities?

The OSCE has launched a Moscow mechanism with regard to Russia. This will allow independent experts from various countries to assess how the Russian government’s actions influence civil society, media freedom, the rule of law and the ability of democratic processes and institutions to function in the country. The Moscow mechanism is so called because it was developed in 1991 at a conference held in Moscow. Russia will now host a delegation of independent experts, appointed by the member states of the OSCE to examine a particularly serious threat to the implementation of human rights commitments in the country. They will spend from three to six years examining events in the country and then report back. For example, they will be able to assess how the suppression of human rights may have influenced the decision to invade Ukraine.

  • Why do I need to know this? OVD-Info, together with Memorial Human Rights Centre, spoke about the need to launch such mechanisms in May 2022 at the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting. In our opinion, the constant restriction of human rights in Russia made the war possible – and that includes the inadequate response by international institutions to what has been happening in Russia in recent years. The Moscow mechanism provides a record of all these violations – both past and current – and may provide evidence for the protection and assistance of victims. In addition, it may form the basis for future reforms and changes, to make the world safer from other wars.

Blue-and-yellow smoke. This week we published a text about a protest which did not take place, but for which two Muscovites are already on trial. World Press Photo Prize winner Danila Tkachenko, who had left Russia, was preparing a remote anti-war protest for Victory Day – he planned to launch blue-and-yellow smoke  over Red Square during the parade. The action was prevented by the security forces, and Tkachenko’s friend Grigory Mumrikov was eventually detained as an accomplice. Mumrikov is in a pre-trial detention centre and faces up to five years’ imprisonment. You can read the text here and also on Yandex.Zen and Medium.

A mass meeting comes out of a chat. In July, a court in Rostov sentenced opera singer  Vadim Cheldiyev to ten years in prison, bank clerk Arsen Besolov to eight and a half years, and shopkeeper  Ramis Chirkinov to eight years. All of them are residents of Vladikavkaz, and were found guilty of organising disturbances during a mass rally that took place in the town in April 2020. We report on this case in our article. You can also read it on Yandex.Zen and Medium.

Translated by Anna Bowles

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