OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 297: Severe Sentences

18 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.

Convicted. Liudmila Razumova with her husband Aleksandr Martynov / Photo from the social media of Liudmila Razumova


Greetings! Defendants in prosecutions for arson of a military recruitment office and ‘fake news’ about the Russian army have been sentenced, the family of a student under house arrest who left her home have been threatened by security forces, and the health of the politician Kara-Murza is deteriorating in pre-trial detention.

Two Russian citizens have been sentenced to prison for setting fire to military recruitment centres. Kirill Butylin from Moscow region was sentenced to 13 years in a strict regime colony. According to the court, Butylin threw multiple Molotov cocktails at the military recruitment office. The building only caught fire from the outside, there was no damage inside. The material damage was estimated at 12,000 roubles. Butylin was also found guilty of incitement to terrorism because of a manifesto he published on a Telegram channel in which he spoke out against Russia’s war in Ukraine and said the purpose of the arson attempt was to destroy the archive with the personal files of conscripts. Denys Popov, a resident of Yaroslavl region, was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. He was found guilty of attempting to set fire to a military recruitment office, as well as publishing posts on social media calling for ‘the commission of crimes against participants in the special operation.’

  • Why do I need to know this? Russians have started setting fire to military recruitment centres across the country since the start of the full-scale war against Ukraine. In the context of ongoing brutal military hostilities, military censorship and an unprecedented wave of repression, we consider arson of this kind as a protest against Russian aggression. Prosecution for these arson attempts is severe. According to Mediazona, such actions are usually classified as terrorism, which permits harsh penalties, although originally the defendants in such cases may have been charged with less serious crimes such as hooliganism or the deliberate destruction of property. Thus, under Russian law, the concept of terrorism has been almost completely devalued.

The security services are putting pressure on the relatives of Olesya Krivtsova, a defendant in an anti-war case who left Russia. An investigator wrote to Krivtsova’s mother and threatened the family with searches, as well as promising ‘problems’ for Krivtsova’s seven-year-old sister. In addition, the home of the grandmother of Krivtsova’s husband has already been searched. Before leaving Russia, the 20-year-old Krivtsova was under house arrest on two charges of anti-war publications. On 15 March it became known she had managed to leave the country. ‘Now I am in Lithuania and it’s hard to believe it’s all over,’ Olesya Krivtsova said.

  • Why is this important? Even if a defendant in a politically motivated prosecution has left the country, the security services can still find ways to put pressure on him or her through relatives who have remained in Russia. Older people who have nothing to do with opposition activities are often at risk in this way. For example, in December 2022 the home of the mother of Mediazone publisher Petr Verzilov was searched in Moscow – Verzilov is being prosecuted for ‘fake news’ about the army. He emigrated after another criminal case, for failing to notify a foreign citizenship, was opened against him.

Sentences continue to be handed down in Russia for ‘fake news’ about the army. In Togliatti, former PARNAS member Andrei Balin was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. The case was brought against him for six posts on VKontakte about the war in Ukraine. A married couple from Konakovo, Aleksandr Martynov and Liudmila Razumova, have been sentenced to terms in penal colonies of six and a half and seven years respectively on charges of vandalism and ‘fake news.’ The charges stemmed from posts on Odnoklassniki and anti-war graffiti. At the same time, Russian soldier Daniil Frolkin, who confessed to killing a Ukrainian civilian, was given a suspended sentence. In the spring of 2022, he gave an interview to Vazhnye istorii [Important Stories] and spoke about the shooting of civilians.

  • Why do I need to know this? Since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the authorities have been prosecuting those who speak out against the war or simply talk about what is happening. Under the article of the Russian Criminal Code on ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, people are prosecuted for spreading information about the war that does not come from official Russian sources. In many cases, it is those who support the political opposition who receive harsh sentences, while those loyal to the authorities are treated more leniently. The soldier who received a suspended sentence is an example of this. All this suggests that articles of the Russian Criminal Code on ‘fake news’ or discrediting the army are used not only to back up military censorship but also to deal with those who oppose the government.

The politician Vladimir Kara-Murza did not appear in court because of his health. His lawyer pointed out that this is a very rare development when a person on remand was not allowed to attend the court hearing on the initiative of the detention centre’s medical unit. Earlier, Kara-Murza was diagnosed with polyneuropathy. This disease, according to his defence, was caused by two poisonings in 2015 and 2017. In the pre-trial detention centre, the disease is progressing: in the punishment cell, the politician began to lose feeling in his extremities. Kara-Murza has been held on remand since April 2022 and is charged with disseminating ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, involvement in the activities of an ‘undesirable organisation’ and high treason.

  • Why is this important? Many people in pre-trial detention centres experience deteriorating health conditions. Poor nutrition, cramped and cold cells and stress only make illnesses worse, and it is often impossible to get proper medical care. We have already reported on Vladimir Kara-Murza’s health in this newsletter – and now it is only getting worse. One of the few things that can help is publicity. It is thanks to publicity that Aleksei Gorinov, convicted in an ‘anti-war’ prosecution and at first refused treatment in the penal colony, was hospitalized.


‘Under active observation by the health unit.’ On 10 February 2023, Dzhemil Gafarov, a 60-year-old man from Crimea convicted of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, died in a remand prison. Gafarov suffered from chronic kidney failure and related heart disease. In January 2023 he had been sentenced to 13 years in prison. Read the story on our website, on Yandex.Dzen and Medium.

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Translated by Simon Cosgrove

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