OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 291: Twelve years’ imprisonment for a three-minute fire

4 February 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.

Alexei Navalny / Photo: Georgy Malets


Hello! Aleksei Navalny has once again had the conditions of his imprisonment tightened, the defendant in a military arson case has been given twelve years in a strict regime penal colony, and Sergei Furgal has been found guilty of murder by a jury. 

Aleksei Navalny is being transferred to a cell-type facility within the penal colony. He has been sent there for six months, the maximum possible term. The politician had already received punishment of this kind in November 2022. However, detention in the punishment cell, to which opposition leader has been sent eleven times, does not count as time spent in the solitary confinement cell, so the originally designated month lasted almost until the end of January. Earlier, Navalny had been declared a ‘persistent offender’ and transferred to strict conditions of detention – in a unit isolated from the rest of the penal colony.

  • Why is this important? Solitary confinement is an additional tightening of the prison regime: prisoners are not allowed to have long visits and can only have short visits once every six months. In solitary, the number of parcels and packages that can be received is limited, as is the sum of money that can be spent in the prison shop. Prisoners are kept in a locked room and have to work separately from the other prisoners. All of this can undoubtedly undermine a person’s morale and psychological health. This is clearly what the authorities are seeking to do – to break Navalny by depriving him of the opportunity to meet his loved ones and socialise with other prisoners.

A resident of Nizhnevartovsk has been sentenced to 12 years in a strict regime colony for setting fire to a military enlistment office. Vyacheslav Borisenko was found guilty of committing an act of terrorism by prior conspiracy. The investigation believes that he and another local resident, Vasyl Gavrilishen, intended to burn down the local military enlistment office on the instructions of a man allegedly linked to the Ukrainian special services. The second defendant in the case retracted his confession: he said that he had signed it without looking, and added that he admitted his guilt but did not agree with the classification of his actions as a terrorist act. He is now in pre-trial detention.

  • Why do I need to know this? Russians started setting fire to military registration and enlistment offices in various regions after the start of the full-scale war with Ukraine, and after the announcement of a ‘partial’ mobilisation the number of such cases increased dramatically. Probably most of them should be considered protests against Russian military aggression, as it becomes almost impossible to express such protest legally under conditions of military censorship and growing repression. Such attacks are prosecuted quite harshly. Despite the fact that the fire in Nizhnevartovsk was only one square metre in size, it was extinguished in three minutes and there were no casualties at all, as the building was empty at the time, the defendant was given a very long sentence.

A jury has reached a verdict in the case of ex-governor of Khabarovsk Region Sergei Furgal. According to their verdict, his guilt of the attempted murder of businessman Aleksandr Smolsky, as well as of the murders of former head of the Khabarovsk Territory Oleg Bulatov and businessman Evgeny Zori, has been proven and the defendant does not deserve leniency. The jury reached the same verdict for the other defendants, with the exception of Marat Kadyrov, who, in the opinion of the court, deserved leniency. Furgal was detained in July 2020, then taken to Moscow, where he was subsequently arrested. Vladimir Putin later signed a decree dismissing Furgal as governor.

  • Why is this important? After Sergei Furgal’s detention, a wave of protests began in the Far East, and soon people in other regions joined the rallies in his support. Many consider the former governor’s criminal prosecution to be linked to his successful political activities and do not believe the charges are justified. Furgal himself claimed he was subjected to pressure from the investigators: he was kept in pre-trial detention centre isolated from outside information and denied medical treatment for some time. He also complained that he was not allowed to make phone calls or meet with friends and family.

The Ministry of Justice has demanded the liquidation of the human rights organisation Man and Law. The ministry sent a suit to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Mari El. The document mainly lists the claims of the officials based on an unscheduled inspection, which took place in December 2022. At that time, the inspectors concluded that the organisation’s activities were political in nature. In December 2019, the Ministry of Justice had already applied to a court demanding the liquidation of the human rights organisation, but that time the claim was rejected.

  • Why do I need to know this? The human rights organisation Man and Law was set up in 1999. Its staff works to protect the rights of civil activists, children and prisoners, as well as to record misconduct by the authorities. The authorities constantly seek to get rid of such initiatives: in December 2021, Moscow City Court ordered the liquidation of the International Memorial Societyand the Memorial Human Rights Centre, and in January 2023, the same decision was made in relation to the Moscow Helsinki Group. It is likely that the same fate awaits Man and Law soon – the pressure on those who fight against human rights violations is only getting stronger.


Buddhism and  the war. In January, the Supreme Lama of Kalmykia, Thelo Tulku Rinpoche, was declared a ‘foreign agent’. The grounds were that the Buddhist leader ‘spoke out against the special military operation in Ukraine and openly supported Ukraine’ and ‘is a US citizen and resides outside the Russian Federation’. We tell you about the monk’s life journey and the attitude of Russian Buddhists to the war – read the material on our websiteYandex.Zen and Medium.

‘Suddenly we don’t feed him anything but pacifist propaganda.’ In January, Sergei Chernyshov, director of a private college in Novosibirsk, learned that he had been complained about to the children’s ombudsman -– the authors of the appeal felt that Sergei was instilling in his nine-year-old son Fyodor ‘the values of pacifism’. The man had previously been the subject of a complaint to the Ministry of Education over the ‘Ugly Duckling’ fairy tale, and two years ago his family was threatened because of its ‘moral and ethical character’. He told OVD-Info about the pressure and his views on what is happening in the country. Read Sergei’s story on our website, Yandex.Zen and Medium.

Translated by Anna Bowles

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