25 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! One year ago a full-scale war started in Ukraine. Tens of thousands of dead, destroyed cities and millions of refugees, aggressive misanthropic propaganda from TV screens, military censorship and the forced emigration of hundreds of thousands from Russia – without exaggeration this is truly a disaster. Shortly after the invasion began, a wave of protests swept through Russia. The state response was an unprecedented crackdown, with hundreds of citizens facing criminal charges and thousands facing administrative penalties. However, this has not forced Russians into silence: citizens continue to take to the streets and talk about the war and its tragedies on social networks, despite the risk of imprisonment. And we continue to talk about it.
Yesterday, at least 54 people were detained at anti-war rallies in various Russian cities – for pickets, laying flowers and even for writing in the snow. In St. Petersburg we had 18 people detained, in Ekaterinburg – 11, in Moscow – 7, and in Nizhny Novgorod and Barnaul – 4 people each. In all, we recorded anti-war detentions in 14 cities.
Aleksei Gorinov, who was convicted in an “anti-war case”, was placed on the preventive detention registry in the penal colony. The administration described the former municipal deputy as a flight risk, referring to some operational information, but did not disclose its details. Now every two hours the inmate is visited by officers and his whereabouts are checked, including at night. In June 2022, Gorinov was sentenced to seven years in prison for speaking out about the war at a meeing of municipal council; his sentence was later reduced by one month.
- Why is this important? Inclusion on the preventative detention registry is one of the means of putting pressure on political prisoners in pre-trial detention centres and penal colonies. Officials often do not explain why a person is placed on the registry, so it’s almost impossible to challenge the move. In February 2021, Aleksei Navalny was placed on a preventive detention register, also as a flight risk. They came to check on him every hour, and woke him up at night to film him. “Actions of this kind deprive me of sleep; in practice they’re torturing me with sleep-deprivation,’ the politician pointed out.
A defendant prosecuted for the justification of terrorism has been assigned indefinite compulsory psychiatric treatment. The court decided that Maksim Voronovsky was not aware of the nature of his actions, and the danger they posed to the public, so he could not be sentenced to serve a term in a penal colony. Now every six months a medical commission will determine whether the young man needs to continue treatment. In March 2022 Voronovsky was sent to a pre-trial detention centre – a criminal case was opened against him because of his comment about Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who had carried out a suicide bombing at the Arkhangelsk region FSB headquarters. The young man claims he did not write the message.
- Why do I need to know this? There is no hope that a person placed in compulsory psychiatric treatment might actually get quality medical care. Violence, torture and isolation are far more likely. Punitive psychiatry is often used in political cases. For example, since 2021, the Yakut shaman Aleksander Gabyshev, who was prosecuted on charges of violence against a public official, has been under compulsory treatment. His stay in hospital has clearly not been good for him. ‘His appearance is very sickly: he’s pale, his eyes are very red, he has lost weight,’ was how his lawyer Aleksei Pryanishnikov described him.
In Russia, protests against the war with Ukraine have continued unabated throughout the year. During this time we have counted almost 20,000 arrests on the grounds of an anti-war stance. On at least 413 occasions, police officers used force against detainees, for example, beating them or using tasers. We recorded 18,183 prosecutions under ‘assembly’ articles of the Code of Administrative Offences and 5,846 cases under the article on discrediting the Russian army.
However, even this was not enough for the Russian authorities – they set out to silence all those who advocate peace. According to our data, at least 447 people have been prosecuted in ‘anti-war’ cases, 128 of whom are in custody. Some of them reported violence, threats, pressure and ill-treatment by security forces, and at least 15 were tortured.
Since the beginning of the war, military censorship has effectively been declared in the country. More than 10,000 websites have been blocked. The state has continued to fight even harder against independent media: the websites of at least 265 publications were added to the registers of banned publications, and 34 journalists became defendants in “anti-war cases.”
We published a summary analysing the main trends in the crackdown on opponents of the war in Russia and in annexed Crimea. Read the story on our website.
Since the summer of 2022, we have been helping people prosecuted for speaking out against the war. In total, lawyers from OVD-Info have defended 61 people in criminal cases. In administrative cases involving anti-war speech, we have been able to help even more people. During this year of war, lawyers from OVD-Info have gone to police stations to visit detainees 1,157 times, where they helped 5,893 detainees. Our defence lawyers have been involved in 9,133 administrative cases in court: they have managed to get 226 cases dismissed completely and to return another 183 cases for reconsideration.
We also want to remind you that it is particularly important to support political prisoners imprisoned for their anti-war stance. Writing a letter is one of the easiest ways to do this. For many of those who have been imprisoned because of their views, it is important to know that they are not alone and that like-minded people care about their fate. Read our instructions on what to write about in your letter and how to send it.
Translated by Anna Bowles