8 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.
Hello! Zarema Musaeva has been sentenced to prison, a lawyer and a journalist who were on the way to her hearing were brutally beaten by unknown assailants; seven organisations have been declared “undesirable” and the Action Community Centre has ceased operations after being entered onto the register of “foreign agents”.
Zarema Musaeva, the mother of Chechen activists, has been sentenced to five and a half years in prison. She was found guilty of fraud and violence against a police officer. In January 2022, Musaeva was forcibly removed from Nizhny Novgorod to Chechnya. There she was sentenced to 15 days in jail for petty hooliganism, and later charged in a criminal case: she and an “accomplice” allegedly carried out a fraudulent scheme involving consumer loans, and scratched a police officer’s cheek after being taken to Grozny for interrogation.
- Why do I need to know this? Zarema Musaeva is the wife of retired federal judge Saidi Yangulbayev, their eldest son Abubakar worked as a lawyer for the Committee Against Torture and his brothers are also suspected of involvement in the Chechen opposition channel 1ADAT. Members of the family have been persecuted for many years. In 2015, Musaeva’s son Ibrahim said that he, his father and brother Abubakar had been tortured in Chechnya. It was recently reported that Abubakar had been prosecuted for organising extremist activities, and that his brother Baysangur was also being charged under several articles of the Russian Criminal Code. In April, Musaeva’s lawyers claimed that the evidence had been falsified: Musaeva was clearly being prosecuted solely because of her sons’ activities.
Lawyer Aleksandr Nemov and Novaya gazeta journalist Elena Milashina were attacked before the sentencing of Zarema Musaeva. According to Nemov, their car was blocked by three other vehicles, armed men in balaclavas got out, severely kicked the lawyer and journalist and beat them with polypropylene pipes, including in the face, threatened to shoot them, put a gun to their heads, and then took and vandalised their equipment. During the beating they were told: “You have been warned. Get out of here and don’t write anything.” Nemov and Milashina were first taken to a local hospital and then transported to Moscow. Doctors diagnosed the lawyer with multiple haematomas and a stab wound, while the journalist had suffered a closed head injury, up to fourteen broken bones in her hands and soft tissue contusions.
- Why is this important? Aleksander Nemov and Elena Milashina think they were beaten because of their work. “Nobody needs defending here, sit in your own Russia, there you can defend whoever you want – but don’t come here,” the journalist recounted the words of her attackers. What happened was horrifying: for example, the men wanted to cut off Milashina’s finger to unlock her phone. Torture and similar extrajudicial killings are not uncommon in Chechnya. Human rights and journalistic work are desperately needed in the region, but Ramzan Kadyrov’s regime is doing everything it can to signal that that they are the only authorities here and the cost of undertaking such work is too high.
Seven organisations have been declared “undesirable” in Russia. The Prosecutor General’s Office passed this verdict regarding the Norwegian Human Rights House Foundation, as well as its member organisations from the former Soviet Union: the Boris Zvozskov Belarusian Human Rights House based in Lithuania, the Tbilisi Human Rights House in Georgia, the Crimean Human Rights House and the Chernihiv Human Rights Educational House in Ukraine, as well as the Yerevan Human Rights House in Armenia. The agency believes that the work of the foundation and the Human Rights Houses is aimed at “violating the territorial integrity” of Russia, “destabilising the social and political situation”, discrediting the Russian authorities’ foreign policy and “shaping public opinion” that the country needs to change power in an unconstitutional way. The Altai Project was also declared an “undesirable organisation”: the Prosecutor General’s Office believed that its “key aim” was to “sabotage” the construction of the Power of Siberia-2 gas pipeline.
- Why do I need to know this? Since the late nineties the Altai Project has been working on environmental issues in the Altai region and on building links with indigenous people. Recognition of environmental organisations as “undesirable” is already becoming a trend – the WWF and Greenpeace had already been entered on this list. The decision of the Prosecutor General’s Office makes work in Russia impossible because participation in activities of “undesirable organisations” may lead first to administrative and then to criminal liability. In this way, the government seeks to get rid of those who hinder it, including human rights activists and eco-activists, because it is easier for officials to turn a blind eye to problems while pursuing their own interests than to try to find compromises.
The Action Community Centre has announced the suspension of its activities after being declared a “foreign agent”. The organisation supported and organised events for trans and other queer people in St Petersburg. Action was added to the register of “foreign agents” on 23 June. According to the Ministry of Justice, the community centre “distributed foreign agent materials to an unlimited number of people and carried out activities to promote LGBT relations, which contradict the state policy on preserving and strengthening traditional Russian spiritual and moral values, as well as the constitutional priorities in the field of protecting the family, motherhood and childhood.”
- Why is this important? The legislation on “foreign agents” is an instrument of pressure on any people who the authorities think undesirable – not only on journalists, human rights activists and opposition politicians but also, for example, on people who help the LGBTQ community. At the same time, the pressure on such people is only getting tougher in this country: in December 2022 Vladimir Putin signed a new law banning “LGBTQ propaganda”. All this deprives people of their right to a normal life: a group that is already discriminated against loses the chance to receive support or assistance.
“He’ll come out, and he and Masha will meet and discuss it.” The story of the Moskalev family has been around for a long time: after thirteen-year-old Masha drew an anti-war picture in an art class, her family came to the attention of the police. Then the girl’s father, Aleksei, ended up in prison for repeatedly discrediting the army, and she herself ended up in an orphanage. Masha now lives with her mother Olga Sitchikhina, her father is serving a prison sentence, and Elena Agafonova, who helped the family, has been declared a “foreign agent”. On 3 July, the court rejected Aleksei’s appeal against the conviction. Spektr and OVD-Info recap the main participants in this story and relate how their lives have changed in the past six months. Read the story on our website or here without a VPN.
“They hit him on the head and dragged him into a car.” Oleg Tyryshkin, a pensioner from Kemerovo region, had already been fined three times for his posts on VKontakte, and in May a criminal case was opened against him too: his statement about the death of Akhmat Kadyrov was considered to be justification of terrorism. During his arrest the man was beaten by police officers. Read his account of events on our website or here without a VPN.
We make you apologise: how security forces across the country are taking their example from Chechnya. Ramzan Kadyrov first used the practice of public apologies in Chechnya in 2015: he forced a woman who complained in a voice message about late payment of wages and the resulting problems with utility bills to retract her words on a Chechen TV channel. Eight years later, on-camera apologies have become standard fare on police Telegram channels. Read a new piece by our data unit on how extra-judicial pressure mechanisms work in Russia on the OVD-Info website.
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Translated by Anna Bowles