OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 295: Military censorship gets tougher

4 March 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.

Illustration: ‘NO WAR!’ by OVD-Info


Hello! The FSB has opened a criminal case against the Moscow cell of Network, a bill has been introduced to the State Duma about ‘discreditation of participants in the Special Military Operation’ and politician Vladimir Kara-Murza has begun suffering from health difficulties in pre-trial detention.

The FSB has opened a criminal case against the Moscow cell of Network. On 27 February, agents conducted searches at the homes of several anarchists. They will also investigate mathematician Azat Miftakhov, who is serving a sentence in the case of a broken window in the United Russia office, over his involvement in the cell. It has been reported that several of the defendants convicted in the Network case testified against him. One of them, Igor Shishkin, said that he had incriminated Miftakhov under pressure from FSB officers and was ready to withdraw his statement.

  • Why is this important? In 2017 a criminal case was launched against several residents of Penza and St Petersburg: the security forces alleged that local anti-fascists had organised a terrorist group called Network, and were planning to overthrow the government. They were later sentenced to prison terms ranging from 3.5 to 18 years. The defendants in the case alleged psychological pressure, beatings and torture. Memorial believes that these methods were used by the FSB to force confessions and incriminate others, although in reality none of the young men intended to cause unrest. It is likely that the same methods will now be used by the law enforcement agencies in Moscow. All this may result in more people ending up behind bars for many years on trumped-up charges.

Russian officials propose to introduce liability for ‘discrediting participants in the Special Military Operation’. The amendments concern an administrative article on discrediting the Russian army (20.3.3 of the Administrative Code) as well as a similar criminal article (280.3 of the Criminal Code) and an article on military ‘fake news’ (207.3 of the Criminal Code). If the bill is adopted, the authorities will be able to punish Russians for statements about ‘volunteer formations, organisations or individuals’ who assist ‘in performing tasks assigned to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation’. The maximum penalty under Article 207.3 part 1 and Article 280.3 part 1 is proposed to be increased from 3 to 5 years in prison, and under Article 280.3, Part 2, from 5 to 7 years. On 2 March, the Duma passed the bill on its second reading.

  • Why is this important? Military censorship, which was actually introduced in Russia after the start of the war with Ukraine, is only getting tougher. If the amendments are adopted, then the authorities will have new opportunities to prosecute those who speak out about participants in the hostilities. All this will lead to even greater restriction of freedom of speech in the country. In addition, the bill, drafted at the request of Evgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner PMC, is actually the beginning of the legitimisation of private military organisations.

Politician Vladimir Kara-Murza’s limbs have begun to go numb in solitary confinement. On the third day he was there, he began to lose feeling first in his right foot and then in his left, his lawyer said. The lawyer attributes the deterioration of Kara-Murza’s health to the conditions in the punishment cell, as well as the fact that the politician survived two poisonings in 2015 and 2017. The punishment was imposed for ‘lying on his bunk after getting up’. Kara-Murza has been in pre-trial detention since April 2022: he was then charged under the article on ‘fake news’ about the Russian army. Later, he was also charged under the article on activities of an ‘undesirable organisation’ and high treason.

  • Why do I need to know this? Many people in pre-trial detention facilities experience a rapid deterioration in their health. Poor nutrition, cold and stuffy cells, and a lack of quality medical care can all contribute to worsening illness. Sometimes this can even lead to death: this is how Dzhemil Gafarov, a 60-year-old defendant in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case, died in February. He suffered from chronic kidney failure and heart disease, but did not receive the treatment he needed in the pre-trial detention centre. It is not known whether Kara-Murza will receive treatment – doctors often limit themselves to giving detainees only the simplest of medications. As a result, a person whose guilt has not even been proven is condemned to physical suffering.

A man from Komi who is involved in an ‘anti-war case’ is coming under pressure in a pre-trial detention facility. Federal Penitentiary Service officers shredded the contents of a parcel that was collected for former history teacher Nikita Tushkanov by his relatives. They ruined a new jacket and cut fruit and vegetables into small pieces, which caused the food to quickly go bad. This may have been an attempt to induce Tushkanov to cooperate with the investigation. In December 2022, a criminal case was opened against the teacher for the offences of repeated discreditation of the Russian army and justification of terrorism because of comments criticizing the annexation of Crimea and a post about the explosion on the Kerch bridge.

  • Why is this important? Russian security forces use a variety of methods to coerce people into cooperation, to force a confession or to incriminate someone they know. Threats, beatings, torture, disciplinary action on spurious grounds and psychological violence are all used. Sometimes the pressure can manifest itself in petty ways – as in the case of Nikita Tushkanov. However, even such situations, particularly if repeated over and over again, can force a person to surrender and do what the security forces want them to do.


‘They said they would take her away from me and put me in jail.’ In December, Aleksei Moskalev, a resident of Tula region, was prosecuted for repeatedly discrediting the Russian army after his daughter drew an anti-war picture in art class. The girl drew Russian and Ukrainian flags and wrote ‘No to War’ and ‘Glory to Ukraine’ on the sheet of paper. After this, the schoolgirl and her father were taken to the police, and later their home was searched. The man was detained in March and then released to house arrest. In the meantime, his daughter was taken to a rehabilitation centre. Read the story of their family’s persecution on our our website, Yandex.Zen and Medium.

An organiser of a rally marking the anniversary of the war is coming under pressure in a Moscow detention centre. On 22 February, a court remanded 18-year-old activist Maksim Lypkan in custody. The young man is accused of spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army for posts on a Telegram channel. The young man had previously planned to hold a rally on the anniversary of the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Through his lawyer, he reported that he was being psychologically and physically pressured in pre-trial detention. Read his story on our website, Yandex.Zen and Medium..

And the ECtHR has awarded compensation for the complaints of people defended by OVD-Info and Memorial! The Court found that the detentions at the rallies in support of journalist Ivan Golunov and at the 2019 rallies for fair elections violate several of the applicants’ rights as guaranteed under the European Convention.

Translated by Anna Bowles

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