11 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.
Hello! Sergei Furgal has been sentenced to 22 years in prison, a defendant in a Hizb ut-Tahrir prosecution has died in pre-trial detention, and a Russian anarchist has been arrested in Khazakstan.
Sergei Furgal, the former governor of Khabarovsk Region, has been sentenced to 22 years in a strict regime penal colony. He was found guilty of organising the murder of two people and attempted murder, as well as the illegal acquisition and possession of weapons and ammunition. The court also gave the other defendants jail sentences. Furgal had been detained in July 2020. The official was taken to Moscow, where he was subsequently remanded in custody. Vladimir Putin later signed a decree dismissing Furgal as governor.
- Why is this important? Many residents of the Far East believe the criminal prosecution of Sergei Furgal is unjustified and attribute it to the official’s successful political activities – he has often been called the ‘people’s governor’. After Furgal’s detention, protests began in Khabarovsk, and soon people from other regions began taking to the streets. In December 2020, we published a report on how rallies in support of the former governor were suppressed.
A defendant in a Hizb ut-Tahrir prosecution has died in pre-trial detention. Dzhemil Gafarov, 60, was in need of treatment: he had kidney failure and the disease had progressed considerably in custody. Back in 2021, Gafarov said that he was denied medical care, and only Validol was given to him as medicine. In November 2022, Gafarov suffered a heart attack in a pre-trial detention centre, after which he could barely stand and suffered from chest pains. In January he and four other defendants in a second Hizb ut-Tahrir case in Simferopol were sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges of membership in a terrorist organisation and preparing to seize power.
- Why do I need to know this? Obtaining quality medical care in pre-trial detention is virtually impossible. Adygean activist Roman Taganov, convicted in an the ‘anti-war case’, was not permitted a doctor even after he had an epileptic seizure, and the requests of Sergei Komandirov, an opposition blogger from Smolensk, to be examined by prison staff were ignored for seven months. At the same time, the prisoner’s state of health may have deteriorated significantly due to the conditions of his detention – cold cells and meagre food. As a result, a person whose guilt may not even have been proven yet could be in danger of suffering, or even dying, from a neglected illness.
A defendant in a case of justification of terrorism has been detained in Kazakhstan at Russia’s request. Anarchist Denis Kozak is about to be deported to his home country, where he faces up to seven years in prison. At the same time Kazakh human rights activists point out that this is illegal – the article under which he is being prosecuted in Russia does not exist in the legislation of Kazakhstan. The young man is in a temporary detention facility where he has been held for three days. The case against Kozak was opened in the summer of 2022 because of a comment on VKontakte about Mikhail Zhlobitsky blowing himself up in the Arkhangelsk FSB Regional Directorate building in 2018.
- Why is this important? Even after leaving Russia, a person who is politically persecuted can face pressure. There has already been a similar case in Kazakhstan: in November 2022, security forces detained Buryat journalist Evgeniya Baltatarova at Almaty airport. Two cases were opened against her in Russia under an article on ‘fake news’ about the army. In most such situations, deportation is not possible – a detainee can only be deported if the offence for which the criminal case has been brought is also defined in local law. Because of this, Baltatarova was soon released. However, a political case may also be opened under another article of the Russian Criminal Code, such as terrorism – in which case the authorities of the other state may have the right to extradite the person, making it more difficult for him or her to escape persecution.
In Tatarstan, members of the religious group All-Ayat have been searched. Investigators opened a criminal case for the offence of organising the activities of an extremist organisation, and one of its alleged participants was detained. Previously, the All-Ayat movement had been declared extremist. Its followers advocate a rejection of traditional medicine, using special teas to treat illnesses, reciting the ‘formula for life’ and turning to the energy of the sun.
- Why do I need to know this? According to the Sova Information and Analysis Centre, a ban on the movement and prosecution of its organisers may indeed be warranted. According to law enforcement officials, several seriously ill residents of the Samara region who became followers of All-Ayat refused medical help and died. At the same time, Sova considers it wrong to classify the organisation itself and materials disseminated in its magazine Selena’s Star as extremist. The publication contains negative statements about world religions, but according to Sova this should not serve as a basis for banning religious associations as extremist, as supporters of Allya-Ayat do not allow incitement to aggression against followers of other religions.
The first prosecution using the new wording of the criminal article on ‘foreign agents’. Artem Vazhenkov, the coordinator of the Golos movement in Tver, is being prosecuted for failing to fulfil his obligations as a ‘foreign agent’, it was revealed on 7 February. We explain what led to the prosecution, and whether we need to fear a new wave of ‘foreign agent’ prosecutions. Read the story on our site, on Yandex.Zen and Medium.
The ECtHR has also issued five rulings with respect to applications by Russians detained after protests. Among them are 31 defendants for whom OVD-Info and the Memorial Human Rights Centre provided legal support. The applicants were awarded compensation ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 euros.
Translated by Anna Bowles