28 January 2023
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! Meduza has been declared an undesirable organisation, the Sakharov Centre has been evicted from its premises, and the Moscow Helsinki Group is being shut down.
Meduza has been declared an undesirable organisation. The decision was taken by the Prosecutor General’s Office, which believes that SIA Medusa Project, the publication’s legal entity, poses a threat to the foundations of the constitutional order and the security of Russia. In April 2021, the Ministry of Justice declared the publication a “foreign agent”, and after the war began, in March 2022, its website was blocked by Roskomnadzor. Despite all this, Meduza intends to continue its work. The publication was founded in 2014 and is registered in Latvia.
- Why is this important? Meduza is one of the most well-known uncensored Russian-language media outlets. Its staff and managers now face criminal prosecution, up to and including imprisonment. Lawsuits can even be filed against people who merely post material from Meduza on social networks or donate money to journalists, or who provide commentary or interviews. All this makes Meduza’s work virtually impossible. This is what the authorities want: to silence those who speak openly about what is happening in the country and talk about Russian military aggression in Ukraine.
The Sakharov Centre is being evicted from its premises. The Moscow City Property Department has terminated the lease agreements for the Centre’s building, the exhibition hall and the apartment on Zemlyanoi Val Street. Officials say the formal reason was changes in the law regarding “foreign agents”; under the latest innovations, “foreign agents”cannot receive state support in any form. All of these premises were used by the organisation under a lease agreement; they were given to the Centre in the nineties. The organisation was added to the register of “foreign agents” back in 2014. And in January 2023, the General Prosecutor’s Office declared the Andrei Sakharov Foundation, an American non-governmental organisation founded by the academician’s widow Elena Bonner “undesirable”.
- Why do I need to know this? The Sakharov Centre was set up in 1996 to preserve the legacy of Academician Andrei Sakharov. It quickly became a haven for many activists and various initiatives, hosting press conferences, debates, memorial events, conferences, and public discussions. In recent years, some of these events could not be held in commercial venues, because the owners were liable to refuse to host them out of fear of police attention. Now the state has destroyed this opportunity for event organisers too – without premises, the Centre simply cannot continue to exist. “It is possible to be a free person in an unfree country. Unfortunately that does not work for a museum and a community centre,” the Sakharov Centre says in a statement.
The decision has been taken to shut down the Moscow Helsinki Group. The Moscow City Court upheld a suit brought by the Ministry of Justice. The ministry filed the suit in December 2022 following an unscheduled inspection at the request of the Moscow prosecutor’s office. According to officials, the organisation had committed “gross” and “irreparable” violations of the territorial scope of its activities: human rights activists had participated in eleven “events” outside Moscow, which the MHG, as a regional organisation, allegedly had no right to do. The lawyers representing the MHG pointed out that its head office is located in the region where it is registered, where its main activities are based, and that its staff are not prohibited by law from travelling to court hearings and making appeals to state bodies in other regions.
- Why is this important? The Moscow Helsinki Group was founded back in 1976 by Soviet dissidents and is the oldest human rights organisation in the country. Its staff monitors human rights under the Helsinki Accords, which 35 countries signed in 1975. The organisation was shut down previously because of state pressure in the 1980s. It has turned out that there is no place for it in today’s Russia either. The Kremlin is keen to get rid of human rights activists – after all, it’s they who scrutinise its work.
Six Crimean Tatars have been sent to a pre-trial detention facility in a Hizb ut-Tahrir case. Ekrem Krosh, Aider Asanov, Refat Seydametov, Osman Abdurazakov, Khalil Mambetov and Leman Zekeryaev were remanded in custody for two months. Their houses had been searched on the previous day. The wives of Seydametov and Zekeryayev suggest that police officers might have planted illegal books on their husbands and Asanov’s mother said that during the search police officers threw her son on the floor and kicked him in the legs. Local residents came to support the men at their hearing – police officers detained 30 people and later sentenced most of them to terms in jail ranging from 10 to 16 days.
- Why do I need to know this? Some of the detainees are relatives of other defendants in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case. Harassment of close relatives of political prisoners may be a way of putting pressure on the latter. The most striking example is the father of Aleksei Navalny’s associate Ivan Zhdanov, who has been sent to prison on charges of forgery and large-scale fraud. The politician himself has repeatedly stated that the case against his father is a way to put pressure on him.
Terror in TeamSpeak. Four supporters of the People’s Militia of Russia were sentenced to between 10 and 17 years in prison for organising a “Russian March” and talking about the situation in Russia in the voice chat of the TeamSpeak gaming software. The court decided that they had, as alleged, continued the activities of the recognised terrorist organisation, the Minin and Pozharsky People’s Militia. Two others were sent for compulsory medical treatment. You can read articles about the case on our website, Yandex.Zen and Medium.
“We are working people and our labour rights are at risk.” In December 2022, Left Front activist Artem Kazakov of Omsk was charged under an article on the “coronavirus” because of a photo showing him with a poster in support of a strike by Yandex.Food couriers. The man regularly participates in all kinds of rallies, from speaking out against torture in the Federal Penitentiary Service to a motor rally for October Revolution Day. We talked to Kazakov about police pressure and the pointlessness of their “heavy handed zeal”. Read his story on our website, Yandex.Zen and Medium.
Translated by Anna Bowles