OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 303: Big Brother is watching you

29 April 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 for OVD-Info


Hello! Two Russian citizens have been sentenced to prison because of conversations with friends and colleagues, the  Sova Information and Analysis Centre is going to be closed down, and the homes of lawyers from the Committee Against Torture have been searched.

Russian citizens are being sent to prison because of personal conversations. Samuel Vedel (Sergei Klokov), a former worker at the Ministry of the Interior, has been sentenced to seven years in a penal colony in a case concerning ‘fake news’ about the Russian army. According to the materials of the case, he spoke on the phone to friends and colleagues about the war in Ukraine – including the murders of civilians. Aleksei Sukhobokov, a porter from the Tver region, was sentenced to two and a half years in a penal colony for ‘justification of terrorism.’ According to the investigation, he rejoiced over the explosion on the Crimean bridge during a conversation with colleagues.

  • Why do I need to know this? Arrests for rallies or lone pickets, and administrative and criminal cases arising from posts on social media are, unfortunately, already commonplace for Russians. It’s not safe to speak publicly about the war, but it seemed that it was at least possible to express your opinions on the phone or in private conversation. It turns out that this is not the case – police officers are listening to conversations even without judicial permission, and ‘concerned’ fellow citizens write denunciations.

Russian human rights organisations continue to be persecuted. On 27 April a ruling of Moscow City Court liquidated the Sova Information and Analysis Centre. The human rights activists were accused of violating the territorial scope of the organisation’s activities because they took part in events outside Moscow. Sova had previously received presidential permission, including for holding events outside the capital. On 28 April in Nizhny Novgorod police officers searched the homes of lawyers from the Committee Against Torture, as well as the organisation’s office. The investigation took place as part of a criminal case against a man who had reported torture to the human rights activists.

  • Why is this important? Sova investigates the problems of nationalism and xenophobia, the relationship between religion and society, and also the unjust use of anti-extremist legislation, while the Committee Against Torture specialises in investigating complaints of torture. However, the authorities have no need of such organisations, and in recent years they have stubbornly sought to destroy all human rights activism in the country. At the end of 2021 a court liquidated the International Memorial Society and the Memorial Human Rights Centre, and in January 2023 a similar ruling was issued regarding the Moscow Helsinki Group, which was this week upheld on appeal – with police also accusing human rights activities of engaging in activities outside the capital. Members of the Committee Against Torture have already come under pressure: in June 2022, the Committee Against Torture declared that it had dissolved because of being labelled a ‘foreign agent’, after which its staff created a new organisation.

At least 32 of the defendants in ‘anti-war’ prosecutions have been subjected to torture and violence. OVD-Info came to this conclusion after analysing data on repressions during April in our monthly summary of anti-war repression. In 14 cases the defendants were beaten during interrogation, in 13 during detention, and one person was beaten in court. Another four were taken to an undisclosed location and forced to confess by various means – beatings, electrocution, plastic bags over the head and threats of murder and rape.

  • Why do I need to know this? Fresh reports of the torture of defendants in ‘anti-war’ prosecutions emerge regularly. However, not one of these complaints has had any effect – the authorities simply refuse to investigate these crimes. Police officers are aware of their impunity, so they continue to use these methods. And because of the bloody war brutality is only increasing – because the state approves if force is used against ‘enemies’.

A separate building has been built for Aleksei Navalny at the penal colony where he is being held, and a unit of ‘stool pigeons’ has been formed. This was reported by a former inmate of Correctional Colony 6, who was released after serving with Wagner PMC. According to him, money for the construction was collected from those who wanted to be released on parole. Navalny has been sent to serve his sentence in a unit where only prisoners who have informed on others are held. Other prisoners have been forbidden to talk with the opposition leader or even look at him.

  • Why is this important? They are trying to make Aleksei Navalny’s time in prison unbearable in a variety of ways. He is constantly being sent to an isolation cell, he is denied letters and he is prevented from communicating with his lawyers. Now it has emerged that he has been deprived of one of the few joys available to prisoners – simple communication with other convicts. The opposition leader cannot share with them anything the administration of the penal colony might not like, because they will immediately inform the Federal Penitentiary Service staff about it.


John Lennon, St Alexander of Munich and others are in the Constitutional Court. We want the article on discrediting the Russian army (Article 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences) repealed! We report on which cases we are taking to court, why we make this demand, and what outcome we expect. We tell you what stories we go to court with, why we make these demands and what results we expect. Read about our work on our website, Yandex.Zen and Medium

European Court of Human Rights Further, the ECtHR has ruled on 26 applications from the Memorial Human Rights Centre and OVD-Info about detentions at protest rallies in 2017 and 2019! The applicants were awarded compensation of 3,500 and 4,000 euros.

Translated by Anna Bowles

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