OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 312: The only place for pacifists is behind bars

1 July 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 man Ruslan Ushakov. Photo: SOTAvision


Hello! The publication Novaya Gazeta Europe has been declared an “undesirable organisation”, three Russian citizens have been sentenced to prison for conversations about the war with Ukraine, and an air traffic controller has been convicted after refusing to fight on religious grounds.

Novaya Gazeta Europe has been declared an “undesirable organisation”. The Prosecutor-General’s Office deemed that the activities of the publication were a threat to the foundations of the constitutional order and the security of the state. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the journalists published “false information” about “alleged massive violations of the rights and freedoms of citizens in Russia, accusing our country of starting an aggressive war in Ukraine, committing war crimes against civilians and repressions. Novaya Gazeta Europe was established by former employees of Novaya Gazeta who left Europe, and began work in April 2022.

  • Why is this important? Opposition media outlets are often declared to be “undesirable organisations: Project, Important Stories, Meduza and The Insider have already been added to the list. This is a simple tool to put pressure on journalists, because material from “undesirable organisations” cannot be linked to, reposted or quoted. Such actions can be seen as participation in the activities of an “undesirable organisation”, for which administrative and then criminal liability – resulting in up to four years’ imprisonment – is provided.

Some Russians who spoke about the war with Ukraine on social media have been sentenced. Ruslan Ushakov, the author of a Telegram channel on criminology, has been sentenced to eight years in a penal colony: according to the prosecution, he posted about the murder of civilians in Ukraine, and also called for violence against Vladimir Putin. The man was found guilty of a total of four criminal charges. Media manager Ilya Krasilshchik was sentenced in absentia to the same term – eight years in jail for a stream about Bucha and the killing of Ukrainian civilians. The conductor Prokhor Protasov was repeatedly convicted in absentia – he was sentenced to five years in a penal colony for posts about the events in Buchan and other actions of the Russian army. The man had already been given that same sentence, but a court of appeal overturned it.

  • Why do I need to know this? According to our figures, almost 180 people have been prosecuted for spreading “fake news” about the Russian army.  Sentences of years in prison over posts about the war have already become a frightening commonplace. The number of defendants in such cases is growing rapidly: every week we find out about new prosecutions. The authorities are tightening military censorship in an attempt to scare Russian citizens who speak out against the invasion of Ukraine, and force them to live in constant fear.

More than 10 people who may be linked to Vesna have been put on the wanted list. Timofey Martynenko, Aleksandr Kashevarov, Maria Lakhina, Anna Nazarova, Makar Dyakonov, Lev Gyammer, Andrey Lozitsky, Gleb Kondratyev, Kira Pushkareva, Ekaterina Bushkova, Vladislav Sorvenkov, Mikhail Tukh, Roman Maximov and others have been entered into the Interior Ministry database. In May 2022 criminal proceedings regarding the organisation of and participation in an NGO infringing on citizens’ rights were opened against eight people for participation in Vesna, and in June 2023 a second case was opened, and six people, including two defendants in the previous case, who were remanded in custody.

  • Why is this important? Members of the democratic movement Vesna have been organising various rallies and performances since 2013, and since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine they have been organising anti-war demonstrations. Then the authorities began persecuting them: the movement was entered on the register of “foreign agents” and later declared an extremist organisation. Now young people who simply wanted to express their opinion peacefully are subjected to criminal investigation – as in contemporary Russia that is considered a crime.

An air traffic controller has been sent to a penal colony for refusing to take part in the war on religious grounds. Andrei K. was sentenced to two years and ten months in prison on the charge of disobeying an order in a situation of armed conflict. The man refused twice to go and fight in Ukraine. He explained that he cannot take arms and use them against other people because of his faith.

  • Why do I need to know this? In peacetime, Russian citizens could refuse to serve in the army because of religious or other convictions. In such situations they were sent to do alternative civilian work: for example to work as an orderly or a postman. Article 59 of the Constitution guaranteed this right, stating that any kind of military service could be refused. However, alternative civilian service during the mobilisation period is not regulated in any law. The court hurried to exploit this and sent the air traffic controller to prison.


Ban and shut down: how does the law on “undesirable organisations” operate? Through legislation on “undesirable organisations” the authorities can forbid any kind of activity which runs counter to what the regime considers to be in the interests of the country, under the guise of protecting the constitutional order, national security and the defence capacity of Russia. The wording of the law itself is vague, and we can only rely on case law to understand exactly what prosecution might entail. You can read the analysis on our site.

The Constitutional Court has been discredited: we talk about the refusal to declare the article on discreditation to be unconstitutional. This spring, OVD-Info together with Memorial, Russia Behind Bars and other Russian human rights activists sent more than 20 complaints to the Constitutional Court, asking that Article 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences on discrediting the Russian army be declared unconstitutional. The Court issued 13 rulings on the complaints, but these rulings are more reminiscent of ideological pamphlets than of a reasoned legal position taken by a constitutional watchdog. We tell you why this is one of the most shameful decisions of the court in its entire history, what our applicants think about it and how we can continue the fight. Read the story on our website.

Translated by Anna Bowles

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