OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 280: Human Rights Council – propagandists instead of human rights activists

19 November 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.

Aleksei Navalny / Photo: Georgy Malets

Hello! A number of prominent human rights activists have been expelled from the Human Rights Council, the conditions under which Aleksei Navalny is being held in prison have been made even stricter, and the list of information that can get you labelled a “foreign agent” if you publish it has been extended.

News

Vladimir Putin has signed a decree changing the composition of the Human Rights Council.  Some prominent journalists and human rights activists were expelled, including the director of the Sova Information and Analysis Centre, Aleksandr Verkhovsky, and the founder of the Committee Against Torture, Igor Kalyapin. Ten new members will take their place on the Council. For example, Aleksandr Kots, a war correspondent with Komsomolskaya pravda, and Elena Shishkin, head of the executive committee of the Free Donbas public movement. Former Russia Today journalist Ekaterina Vinokurova, who has spoken out against the war, was also expelled from the Council, although she had previously been mostly loyal to the government. Apparently, for the state, there are no “moderate” supporters left – there are only enemies and allies.

  • Why is this important? The human rights activists who are no longer members of the Council actually did try to combat human rights violations. For example, in December they planned to discuss the unlawful use of prisoners and the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) in the war with Ukraine, as well as violence by representatives of the authorities. However, in the words of Aleksandr Verkovsky – one of those expelled from the Council – the organisation “was not very effective before, either”. Now, the places will be taken by people who are hardly likely to raise sensitive topics. “Now we will have nobody to talk about torture by the police, political repression, rights violations, ‘foreign agency’ and many other topics,” said Igor Kalyapin, a human rights activist who was also expelled from the Council.

Aleksei Navalny has been transferred to an isolation cell. This happened four days before a long visit that was scheduled with his relatives. Now he will not be able to meet with them, as it is forbidden for prisoners in isolation. In the isolation cell, prisoners are kept in solitary confinement and must also work separately from other convicts; the number of parcels and packages they can receive is limited, and so is the amount of money they can spend in the prison shop. How much time the politician will spend in the isolation cell is unknown, but according to the law he cannot be there for more than six months.

  • Why do I need to know this? Navalny has been placed in a punishment cell seven times, and was also transferred to a strict regime detention unit. The opposition politician has complained of worsening health; in the punishment cell he suffered from attacks of breathlessness. Now he will end up in a cramped cell again, possibly for months. This is probably all happening because the politician continues his activities in prison – in August he announced the creation of the Promzone trade union for prisoners and prison staff.

The FSB has extended the list of information that can get you labelled a “foreign agent” if you publish it. It includes information about the “military and military-technical activities of the Russian Federation”. According to the FSB, this information may be used to counter state security “if obtained by foreign sources.” A week before this, the government approved the requirement to publish the personal data of “foreign agents” on the Ministry of Justice website: date of birth, Tax Identification Number and Individual Insurance Account Number.

  • Why is this important? The “foreign agents” legislation is in itself repressive and discriminatory. It gets tougher every year, in order to prosecute journalists and opposition activists. Now the authorities will have new pretexts to label a person, media outlet or organisation a “foreign agent”. And the publication of the personal data of those on the registry means they can become victims of fraud – for example, you can use this information to access the State Services Gateway.

A resident of Novosibirsk oblast, who was prosecuted for burning a banner supporting the “special military operation’ has claimed that he was tortured. According to Dmitry Karimov, five men in civilian clothing forced him into a car then drove him to a forest where they put him in handcuffs and began strangling him and threatening to shoot him if he did not confess to the arson. He was forced to admit to the offence. After this his flat was searched, and then he was taken to a police station. There, he wanted to retract his words, but they began to threaten him with being sent to the war in Ukraine. Finally Karimov still refused to confess, after which the investigators sent him to a psychiatric clinic for examination.

  • Why do I need to know this? Law enforcement agents often use torture to extract confessions. For example, six defendants in the Urals antifascist case reported torture and threats. The aim of the police officers was the same here: to force detainees to confess to a crime. This brutality often goes unpunished – according to the statement of one of the antifascists the authorities refused to open an investigation into the allegations. And it’s hardly worth waiting for law enforcement agencies to become more humane, because the war and the violence going on around them are not conducive to that.

Features

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Translated by Anna Bowles

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