OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 323: A killing sentence

16 September 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.

Igor Baryshnikov / Photo: OVD-Info


Hi there! The life of an activist convicted in a case of military “fake news” is in danger; a journalist from the Dagestani newspaper Chernovik was sentenced to 17 years in prison; and two Jehovah’s Witnesses were sentenced to terms in prison.

An activist convicted in a case of military “fake news” faces lethal danger in a pre-trial detention centre. Due to a disease in his abdomen, 64-year-old Igor Baryshnikov has a Foley cathetre – a tube with a urine receiver. When the prisoner is cuffed to the convoy, he is unable to perform the emptying manipulations. Due to the negligence of the prison officers, the activist was taken to the hospital three hours late, where it turned out that his bladder was overfilled and on the verge of rupturing. A Foley cathetre must be changed at least once a month, but Baryshnikov had it changed first on 31st of July and then only on 12th of September.

  • Why do I need to know this? The court may find that a convicted person cannot be imprisoned for health reasons. Baryshnikov’s lawyer tried to achieve this. Before the verdict, during one of the hearings she interviewed as a witness the doctor treating him, who noted that the activist, among other things, had a suspicion of cancer and concluded that he could not be kept in detention. However, the court was not convinced by this, and the defence’s request for an expert examination of the activist’s health was rejected. Publicity can save Baryshnikov – it was through publicity, for example, that it was possible to get Aleksei Gorinov, convicted under the same article of the Russian Criminal Code, hospitalised, when they had initially refused treatment in the penal colony.

Dagestani journalist Abdulmumin Gadzhiev was sentenced to 17 years in a high security prison.  Two other defendants in the case – Abubakar Rizvanov and Kemal Tambiev – were sentenced to 17.5 and 18 years in prison respectively. The case was initiated because of an article by Gadzhiev about the activities of the Ansar Charitable Foundation. The court found that the organisation allegedly financed the Islamic State, and the journalist in his article encouraged people to donate money to it. The law enforcement officials also claim that Gadzhiev, together with the founder of the Foundation Rizvanov and businessman Tambiyev, participated in the activities of the Congress of the Peoples of Ichkeria and Dagestan and the Supreme Military Majlis ul-Shura of the United Forces of the Mujahideen of the Caucasus, which, like the Islamic State, are recognised as terrorist.

  • Why is this important? The Dagestani newspaper Chernovik, where Abdulmumin Gadzhiev worked, often published articles critical of the security forces. It is likely that the appalling sentence imposed on the journalist was revenge for his activities and an attempt to intimidate other employees of the local independent media. The human rights activists from Memorial have the same opinion and recognised Gadzhiev as a political prisoner. The fabrication of this case is also evidenced by the fact that Tambiev, in his own words, was forced under torture to testify against Gadzhiev, when he did not even know him.

Two Jehovah’s Witnesses were given prison sentences. Sergei Gromov from Tatarstan was sentenced to six years and one month in prison, while Vladimir Balabkin from the Amur region was sentenced to four years. Gromov was found guilty on charges of organising the activities of an extremist organisation and financing it, while Balabkin was found guilty only of the former. Balabkin, who is 71 years old and has cancer, pleaded not guilty, saying in court: “One can disagree with the faith and teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it is wrong to put them on a par with extremists, as the Russian president said.”

  • Why does it matter? Jehovah’s Witnesses are convicted almost every week. Members of the faith are often prosecuted simply because they read the Bible together and discuss religion. Many believers are between 40 and 60 years old, and the defendants in these cases have health problems. Despite this, the courts sentence them to prison terms, although imprisonment can be dangerous for those suffering from chronic diseases.


“I am a single spikelet amidst the field”. Aleksandr Gorelov has lived all his life in the village of Reshetikha in Nizhny Novgorod region. He was not an activist, he just couldn’t help but speak out against the war. Immediately after the start of the full-scale invasion, Aleksandr wrote “No to war” on his car, attached an image of Vladimir Putin with crossed bones and the caption “Putin is a murderer” to the rear window, and painted the roof of his house in blue and yellow colours. All of this drew the attention of law enforcement officials. We spoke to Gorelov – read his story on our website.

Translated by Ecaterina Hughes

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