24 June 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! Agora and the World Wildlife Fund have been placed on the list of “undesirable organisations”, two defendants in political cases have alleged torture, and a 64-year-old activist from Kaliningrad Region has been sentenced to seven and a half years in a penal colony for spreading “fake news” about the army.
The World Wildlife Fund and Agora have been declared “undesirable organisations”. The General Prosecutor’s Office stated that the environmental protection activities and outreach of the WWF threaten the security of the Russian economy. Officials claimed that the organisation was hindering Russia’s efforts to develop the Arctic and frustrating efforts to prevent the route through the North Sea becoming the domain of the USA’s exclusive economic zone. The international human rights organisation Agora has been declared “undesirable” because of its “emphasis on reporting and replicating violations of the rights and freedoms of citizens in Russia, and providing legal assistance to opposition members with anti-Russia views, including members of organisations that have been declared extremist.
- Why is this important? The declaration that Agora is “undesirable” means a complete ban on its work in Russia and the criminalisation of working with it; the organisation will not be allowed to donate money or distribute written information. While the number of defendants in political cases is ever-increasing, the state is systematically increasing the pressure on those who provide them with legal help. Recently the authorities have decided to go after environmentalists too: their personal interests are more important to them than the environment is. In May, Greenpeace was declared an “undesirable organisation”, after which the foundation announced the closure of its Russian branch.
The State Duma has adopted five new draft laws on “foreign agents”. The first two cover liability for failure to prevent violations of “foreign agents” legislation. In such cases, officials suggested imposing fines of up to 50,000 roubles on individuals, up to 100,000 on officials, and up to 300,000 on legal entities. Another three draft laws introduce a ban on the activities of unregistered foreign NGOs. The authors of the amendments want to introduce administrative and criminal liability for this – up to three years in prison.
- Why do I need to know this? The first two draft laws introduce an obligation for people who interact with “foreign agents” to comply with the legal restrictions and not help circumvent them. This could affect, for example, shops who sell products made by “foreign agents”, or heads of educational institutions where “foreign agents” work. All this will probably lead to significant isolation of “foreign agents” from the rest of society. The second part of the package would criminalise any co-operation with non-governmental organisations which are not included on a special register. Participation in the activities of such structures can be viewed by the authorities however they like: it seems the new law will bcome yet another convenient too for dealing with dissenters.
Two defendants in political cases have alleged torture. The author of the True Crime Telegram channel, Ruslan Ushakov, who is accused of four criminal offences, said during a court hearing that he had been subjected to electric shocks while in detention. Police officers wanted to get a confession out of him this way, he claims. Kyrill Barannik, from Crimea, who had been arrested in a criminal case of railway sabotage, reported that he had been electrocuted after his confession of guilt. “They sat me on a table, tied my hands and feet with duct tape and attached electric wires, which carried electric current to my fingers,” he said of what happened
- Why do I need to know this? Police officers regularly torture detainees. They resort to violence simply to extract confessions, as in the case of Ruslan Ushakov, and sometimes just to express their anger. The war is now in its second year, and the attitude to “enemies” of the state is becoming harsher and harsher – mindless violence is often used against those being persecuted for speaking out against the war, subversion or arson at military recruitment centres. The cruelty of law enforcement officers almost always goes unpublished: even when there are obvious signs of torture, the authorities refuse to initiate criminal proceedings
Police officers have visited the homes of the lawyer and an acquaintance of Anatoly Berezikov, an activist who died in a detention centre. A search was carried out at the home of lawyer Irina Gak, who represented the interests of the late Anatoly Berezikov. It is unknown what exactly the investigation was about, or what is now happening to the woman. An acquaintance of the activist, Tatiana Sporysheva, had her home “inspected” as part of an investigation in a case of incitement to extremism. Some of the woman’s equipment was confiscated, but she remains free.
- Why is this important? The death of the activist Anatoly Bereznikov was reported on 14 June. According to police officers, the man committed suicide in a detention centre. He himself had previously reported being tortured. Bereznikov’s arrests were allegedly connected with the posting of anti-war leaflets; he was probably going to be prosecuted for treason. On 22 June investigators opened a criminal case under the article on incitement to suicide through threats, cruel treatment or the systematic humiliation of human dignity. However, so far it’s the activist’s lawyer who has been searched, not the police officers who allegedly tortured him.
Igor Baryshnikov, an activist from the Kaliningrad region has been sentenced to 7.5 years in jail. He was found guilty of spreading “fake news” about the Russian army in Facebook posts. The 64-year-old man is thought to have cancer and is in urgent need of surgery. Furthermore, until his arrest he was caring for his elderly mother, who is paralysed. The 96-year-old woman is now about to be handed over to social care. Read their story on our website or Yandex.Zen.
In April, a coalition of human rights experts led by OVD-Info filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court demanding that the administrative article on discreditation of the Russian army (Article 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences) be repealed. On 20 June we received a refusal. In a new text on these cards we explain the arguments experts put forward and why this article is indeed unconstitutional.
Translated by Anna Bowles