OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 324: Threats in Europe

23 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.

Threats to Russian journalists / Collage: Vazhnye istorii [Stories that Matter]


Greetings! Russian women journalists in emigration and a female human rights defender face threats from persons unknown, a resident of Kirov has been given an eight-year prison sentence for posts on the Internet and a Jehovah’s Witness has been deported after his release from a penal colony. 

Persons unknown threaten Russian women journalists in Europe. Since March, Alesya Marokovskaya and Irina Dolinina, who live in Prague and work for Vazhnyye Istorii (Stories that Matter),  have been receiving communications that their movements are being followed: “Be assured, there is nowhere you can hide from us. We know you scumbags fled like frightened rats. We will find you elsewhere too,” said one of the letters. The senders also mentioned the young women’s home addresses. Human rights defender Maria Chashchilova, who has moved to Riga, is also being hounded: in June she received a message on Telegram that said, “Aren’t you scared? I know where you live.” It came with a photograph of her entry phone and signed off with its code. 

  • Why does this matter? Vazhnyye Istorii has suggested that FSB staff or people linked to the agency may be behind these threats. It appears that it is so important to the security agencies to silence even journalists who have left the country that they will stoop to any methods. This is not the first instance of hounding opposition media staff in emigration. In August, former special correspondent for Novaya Gazeta Elena Kostiuchenko, presenter of the Zhivoi Gvozd (Living Nail) YouTube-channel Irina Babloyan and head of the Free Russia Foundation Natalia Arno said that they could have been poisoned. They had suffered from similar symptoms at different times and in different countries. 

A man from Kirov has been sentenced to eight years in a penal colony for posts on the Internet. Richard Rouz has been found guilty of disseminating fake news about the Russian army on the Internet, motivated by hatred and as an apology for terrorism. The first charge was brought for posting an Instagram clip about the killing of residents of Bucha with the caption “The slaughter in Bucha will never be forgotten across the world and the RuZZky fascists will never be forgiven for it!”. The second was for posting, again on Instagram, a video appeal from Ukrainian musician Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, calling for an end to the war and signed off with “There is only one way to stop Putler – by killing him”. The accused’s wife is also being prosecuted for anti-war comments. In spring 2022, as a pre-trial condition, she was prohibited from certain activities; in December, it emerged that she and her child had left Russia.

  • Why do I need to know this? Hundreds of Russians are being prosecuted for anti-war comments on social media. Fresh criminal cases occur almost every week. The sentences ruin lives and destroy families. Richard Rouz now faces years behind bars while his wife and child will be forced to build a new life abroad with no possibility of seeing him.

A Jehovah’s Witness, freed from a penal colony five months ago, has been deported from Russia. Rustam Seidkuliev had his Russian citizenship revoked because of his prosecution for membership of an extremist organisation. He was sent to Turkmenistan. In May 2021, Seidkuliev was sentenced to two and a half years in a penal colony. He was released on 7 April this year then arrested on 19 June and sent to a detention centre since a court had ruled that he should be deported.

  • Why does this matter? Jehovah’s Witnesses have long been prosecuted. Cases are brought against them even for reading the Bible and holding religious meetings. Rustam Seidkuliev’s father-in-law was deported from Turkmenistan for being a representative of this faith. This is how the family came to be in Russia. Now Rustam must look for a new home just because his faith is inconvenient to the authorities. 

The Advokatskaya Ulitsa [Lawyers’ Street] journalism project is shutting down. The editors  took this decision because of its “foreign agent” status. “Once Ulitsa was on the register, neither I nor the publisher had so many options for organising further work by the project and I didn’t like any of them,” said editor-in-chief Katya Gorbunova. Advokatskaya Ulitsa was declared a foreign agent on 21 April.

  • Why do I need to know this? The government is using the laws on foreign agents and undesirable organisations to destroy independent media outlets and human rights projects. Unfortunately, many of these do cease to function after being given this status. After all, continuing work may lead to administrative or even criminal cases against staff. Since 2019, Advokatskaya Ulitsa has written about the prosecution of Russian lawyers and violations of their rights. It has also analysed new Russian laws. Civil servants and law-enforcement agents do not suffer criticism gladly and have therefore done all they can to silence the journalists. 


A year of mobilisation: prosecutions for protesting against the war and mass army conscription. On 21 September 2022, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered 300,000 men to be conscripted into the army: this was immediately followed by across-the-board round-ups. Men  were stopped outside the metro and given call-up papers. Officials lay in wait in entry halls in the mornings and in some cases went directly to the men’s homes and took them off to the enlistment office. The mobilisation announcement did not only lead to emigration – at the very least, 200,000 people left in the week following 21 September – but also to mass protests in various towns. OVD-Info commemorates and analyses the prosecutions of those who protested about mobilisation and the war. Read the new report on our website.

The initial findings of the UN special rapporteur for Russia have been published despite the Russian authorities declining to submit any information whatsoever. But this was done by human rights defenders, including the OVD-Info team. Mariana Katsarova, the UN special rapporteur for Russia, has spoken about the problems of human rights in Russia, including the ban on any remarks opposing the war with Ukraine and legal prosecution for holding an opinion and the use of force against protesters. The document may be read in English on the UN website, and its main premises in information boxes on our Telegram channel.

Translated by Melanie Moore 

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