OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 326: To church with automatic rifles

7 October 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.

Detained bishop Viktor / Photo: Govorit NeMoskva 


Greetings! The journalist Maria Ponomarenko was been placed in a punishment cell; in Krasnodar region law enforcement officers searched a church and beat up a priest; and Aleksei Gorinov, convicted in a case of military ‘fake news,’ has been moved to a prison hospital.

The journalist Maria Ponomarenko has been put in a punishment cell. She is to spend a total of 25 days there. Ponomarenko has complained about the conditions of detention in Penal Colony No. 6 in Altai Krai. According to her, it is dirty and the food is of poor quality. The journalist also spoke about the lack of medical care: she suffers from lower back pain, she has experienced a nervous breakdown there, but she has not been given the necessary treatment. In February, Ponomarenko was sentenced to six years in prison for spreading ‘fake new’ about the Russian army.

  • Why is this important? Maria Ponomarenko has been diagnosed with a ‘hysterical personality disorder’: her lawyer emphasized even before the verdict that his client needed psychotherapeutic help, which cannot be provided in prison conditions. In the colony, the journalist faces threats and pressure, which only aggravate her condition. Perhaps only publicity can help her – this is how, for example, Aleksei Gorinov, who was convicted in a military ‘fake news’ case, was hospitalized after he had initially been refused treatment in the penal colony.

Law enforcement officers have searched the church of an 86-year-old priest, who has spoken out against the war. Early in the morning on 3 October, armed men burst into the Svyato-Pokrovsko-Tikhonovsky Church in Slavyansk-on-Kuban just as the Archbishop’s aide the priest-monk Jonah was sleeping there. The law enforcement officers beat him, insulted him, did not allow him to drink or go to the toilet, and threatened to shave off his beard. Iona was later taken to a police cell and then he was jailed for two days for disobeying a police officer. During the search, Archbishop Viktor, who has openly spoken out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, was also detained. Church personnel assume they want to charge him with repeated discrediting of the army.

  • Why do I need to know this? Some Russian priests openly condemn the war against Ukraine; some believers consider that the attack on the neighbouring country is not in line with Christian values. Such religious figures regularly face persecution and pressure. The most famous example is the priest-monk Ioann Kurmoyarov, sentenced to three years in a penal colony for spreading ‘fake news’ about the military. Also, for example, in late September, the bishop forced Tver priest Ilya Gavryshkin to repent after denunciations from parishioners that he had prayed for peace and had not prayed for the Russian military.

Moscow district councillor Aleksei Gorinov, convicted of spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, has been transferred from a punishment cell to the prison hospital. His lawyers are not allowed to see him. ‘Either he has bodily injuries and they are afraid to show him to us. Or his condition is so depressing that they don’t want us to see either,’ suggested his defence lawyer Katerina Tertukhina. Gorinov has spent the last 28 days in solitary confinement in a punishment cell. At his last meeting with his lawyers, he could hardly speak and complained of weakness.

  • Why is this important? Aleksei Gorinov started experiencing health problems while he still in pre-trial detention. He fell ill several times, and medical care was not immediately provided. The politician suffered worsening bronchitis and a high temperature, he was troubled by a cough, shortness of breath and weakness. The refusal to allow his lawyers to see him in this situation is frightening. His legal representatives cannot assess Gorinov’s condition and therefore take whatever steps may be necessary to help him.

A Kamchatka resident has been deprived of the Russian citizenship they had acquired on account of a conviction for making statements on social media. The person concerned had only one passport, a Russian one, having renounced his Ukrainian citizenship in 2014. In January this year, he was convicted of public justification of terrorism and incitement of extremism and sentenced to four years in a general regime penal colony. According to the investigation, he had posted calls to ‘shoot, kill and burn’ Russian citizens, including public officials, on the VKontakte social media site. The motive for his actions was said to be ‘disagreement with Russia’s foreign and domestic policy,’ including the waging of war against Ukraine.

  • Why do I need to know this? After his release, the man will have to be deported ‘to his homeland.’ However, deportation is impossible, as the man has no other citizenship and, accordingly, no host country. In such a situation, people are usually sent to a Centre for Temporary Detention of Foreign Citizens, where they can spend years until, for example, another country agrees to accept them. This is how the Russian authorities get rid of people who disagree with them. In accordance with a new law, signed into force by Vladimir Putin in April, it is now possible to deprive individuals of the Russian citizenship they have acquired, in particular, after being convicted of cooperating with ‘undesirable organizations’ and repeated discrediting of the Russian army.


Mikhail Zharikov is very lonely in a remand prison. In September we started working with three new defendants in criminal cases. Mikhail Zharikov is one of them. He has been charged with three offences at once. It all began when he was convicted under administrative law for a repost about a protest in support of Aleksei Navalny. But the story did not end with a simple short-term jail sentence of a few days. Everything that Zharikov published began to be closely monitored. In our Telegram channel we tell the man’s story in detail and explain how you can support him.

But there is some good news. The European Court of Human Rights has awarded compensation to Russian citizens who have been victims of police violence in various years. One of the applications had been filed jointly by lawyers from Memorial and OVD-Info.

Translated by Rights in Russia

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