31 December 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! In the final days of 2022 the news has been decidedly unfestive: a new criminal case has been brought against a man who had already been prosecuted over a tweet about the children of law enforcement officers, the president has signed some more repressive laws, and some Crimean activists have been sentenced to lengthy jail terms.
A new criminal case has been brought against Vladislav Sinitsa, who had already been successfully prosecuted over a tweet. The convicted man is accused of incitement to extremist activity. He is suspected of allegedly starting another Twitter account in prison, and making posts “negatively charaterising the military and Rosvgardia officers” and also containing calls “for violent actions against Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation as a whole”. Sinitsa denies the charges. In September 2019 he was sentenced to five years in prison for inciting hatred or hostility with the threat of violence over a tweet in which he suggested that certain people could harm the children of law enforcement officers involved in the dispersal of rallies.
- Why do I need to know this? Human rights activists suggest that the new criminal case against Vladislav Sinitsa has been fabricated. The account from which the posts concerned were published was registered in October 2022. The first tweet quotes the words for which the man is serving his current sentence. The account has no followers and made about fifty tweets in eleven days, after which the page was not updated. The fabrication may be logical, as there were also signs of politically motivated prosecution in the first case against Sinitsa: the experts who analysed his statement had already been involved in political cases, and the investigation and trial took place in the shortest possible time.
Vladimir Putin has signed new repressive laws. One of the new laws classifies the St. George’s Ribbon as a “symbol of military glory” – now its desecration faces criminal liability under the article of the Russian Criminal Code on the rehabilitation of Nazism. The punishment is up to five years in prison. Another law toughens liability for “foreign agents”: administrative penalties will increase, and it will be even easier to prosecute those on the registry. We previously reported in detail on these changes.
- Why is this important? Both laws will increase the number of wrongful criminal prosecutions. The Sova Centre for Information and Analysis does not consider it proportionate to apply the article of the Russian Criminal Code on the rehabilitation of Nazism to people who criticise ‘days of military glory’ and memorial days, as well as symbols of military glory, even if they express their opinions in a very harsh form. The legislation on “foreign agents” is, on the whole, repressive and aimed at fighting opposition to the regime, and the new law only toughens it. The risk of criminal liability for those designated “foreign agents” will increase significantly: now it can be imposed if a person or organisation has been prosecuted twice in a year under an administrative article on violation of the procedure for the activities of a “foreign agent”.
A defendant in the Crimean Hizb ut-Tahrir case received a harsh sentence. Ernes Ametov was sentenced to 11 years in a strict regime colony. He was found guilty of participation in the activities of a terrorist organisation and preparation for a violent seizure of power. In 2020, the court acquitted the man, but the appeal court cancelled that decision, and the case was sent for reconsideration. The other defendants in the case were sentenced to between 13 and 19 years’ imprisonment.
- Why do I need to know this? We often talk about Hizb ut-Tahrir prosecutions in this newsletter – charges of involvement in this Islamist party regularly carry heavy sentences. Its members are prosecuted simply on the grounds that they meet in apartments, read religious literature and recruit new members. The conviction of Ernes Ametov can hardly be called well-founded: his case file does not mention possession of weapons or explosives or any real plans to commit terrorist attacks, and the indictment contains only audio recordings of conversations in one of the mosques, in which he and other defendants in the case discuss domestic, political and religious topics.
A Crimean activist and nurse has been sentenced to seven years in prison. Irina Danilovich was found guilty of possessing explosives and fined 50,000 roubles. She was arrested in April, after which she was held in the basement of an FSB building for about eight days and then placed in a detention centre without heating. While in custody the activist was not allowed medical care and she developed an ear inflammation which led to almost complete loss of hearing. The former nurse also talked of pressure and physical abuse by FSB officers. In June, the Ministry of Justice put Danilovich on the “foreign agents” list.
- Why do I need to know this? Irina Danilovich worked as a nurse in a Crimean rest home. She defended the interests of medical workers on the peninsula and uncovered violations of their rights. Her human rights and journalistic activities were probably the real reason for the criminal prosecution. The activist and her lawyers claimed that law enforcement officers planted the explosives she was accused of possessing. In addition, the defence pointed to numerous contradictions in the witness statements, inadmissible evidence, lack of substantial evidence and the false testimony of one of the “witnesses”, who turned out to be an officer in the Crimean police.
Eight to one. Article 20.3.3 on discrediting the Russian army, introduced to the Administrative Code in March, is a popular means of dealing with anti-war protesters. However, judges often side with citizens prosecuted under it: more than 500 cases have been dropped or returned to the police. We tried to work out why this is the case. Read the article on our website, Yandex.Zen and Medium.
This year, internal repressions in Russia have reached unprecedented proportions. There have been more than 21,000 arrests and criminal charges have been laid against about 400 persons for anti-war statements and speeches; more than 200,000 Internet resources were blocked; and eleven sentences were handed down for treason. OVD-Info has collected the key numbers on political repression in 2022 – read the review on our website.
We have also prepared two guides explaining how the Russian law on “fake news” about the Russian army and its discreditation works – in theory and in practice.
Translated by Anna Bowles