11 November 2023
OVD-Info is a Russian civil society organisation 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.
One of the defendants in a prosecution for preparing a rally with balloons has died on remand, a Left Bloc activist kidnapped in Kyrgyzstan has been beaten by the FSB, and the head of the Kamchatka branch of Yabloko has been charged with a criminal offence because of a post about the singer SHAMAN.
A 61-year-old resident of the Moscow area, who was being prosecuted over an Artpodgotovka rally, has died in a pre-trial detention centre. Elena Markova died on 1 November. She had been charged under a ‘terrorist’ article, but which one was not specified. According to investigators, the woman was one of the organisers of the ‘Heavenly Company’ rally, in the context of which activists associated with the Artpodgotovka movement allegedly planned to launch balloons with pieces of foil attached on 9 May, supposedly to hamper the work of air defence.
- Why is this important? Detention on remand often undermines a person’s health: many of the heroes who feature in our news reports have faced this problem while in detention. People there are often denied essential medical care and not given medication. All this can lead to tragic consequences, especially if the prisoner already has chronic conditions or is simply in poor health due to age.
The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses continues in Russia. The Prosecutor General’s Office has declared organisations of representatives of this faith in Ukraine, the USA and Germany to be ‘undesirable’. Evgeny Bushev, a Jehovah’s Witness from Chelyabink, has been sentenced to seven years in a penal colony. At the same time, the prosecutor requested a shorter term of six years’ imprisonment. A believer from Primorye, Valery Vyaznikov, was also handed down a two-and-a-half-year suspended sentence this week.
- Why do I need to know this? Criminal cases are regularly brought against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, as a result of which many believers end up behind bars for years. Often they are prosecuted simply for discussing the Bible or holding religious meetings. Believers are accused under ‘extremist’ articles – in 2017 the Supreme Court declared the ‘Administrative Centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia’ to be an extremist organisation. In 2022, the European Court of Human Rights found this to be unlawful, noting that the decision to liquidate the organisation was based on an overly wide definition of ‘extremism’, which in Russian law ‘can be applied to absolutely peaceful forms of expression.’
An activist from Left Bloc kidnapped in Kyrgyzstan has been beaten by FSB officers during an interrogation in Domodyedovo. According to Lev Skoryakin, the officers hit him on the chest, head and legs. Currently he is in the Butyrka Moscow pre-trial detention centre. The activist was detained on October 16 in Bishkek, where local law enforcers handed Skoryakin over to the Russian authorities, who took him by plane to Moscow. In Russia, the activist has been subjected to criminal prosecution since 2021 because of the ‘Happy ChKist Day’ rally.
- Why is this important? In last week’s newsletter we talked about the prosecution of Lev Skoryakin. He was brought to Russia illegally: because he had requested political asylum, the Kyrgyz authorities could not extradite him. However, this did not stop the Russian security forces. Unfortunately, people involved in political cases are not always safe even after they leave, especially if they find themselves in a country friendly to Russia.
A criminal case has been opened against the head of the Kamchatka branch of Yabloko for a post criticizing the singer SHAMAN. Pensioner Vladimir Efimov is charged with repeatedly displaying prohibited symbols. In a Facebook post, he compared SHAMAN with a Nazi character from the Hitler Youth, depicted in Bob Fosse’s anti-fascist film ‘Cabaret’. According to the investigation, by publishing the post, Efimov ‘publicly displayed “Nazi symbols in the form of a swastika, the coat of arms of the Third Reich and the Nazi party greeting””. The politician has been banned from undertaking certain activities.
- Why do I need to know this? In Russia, criminal cases are regularly initiated because of Nazi symbols, occasionally because of footage from movies featuring swastikas or memes with this symbol. According to the Sova Research Centre, the display of Nazi symbols should be punished only when it is propaganda for their ideology. However, articles on the repeated display of prohibited symbols or on the rehabilitation of Nazism have become a convenient tool for the authorities to engage in political persecution, and they are not going to give it up.
A green ribbon, handcuffs and a wooden dick. Police officers from two districts of St Petersburg have twice tried to prosecute local resident Tatiana Levicheva under administrative law for discrediting the army – and twice lost in court. Now the St Petersburg woman herself is suing the police. During this time, one of the defendants in her lawsuit became a defendant in a criminal case concerning brothels, and the second was dismissed from the security services for ‘defamation through misconduct’. We tell her story – read the new article on our website.
Also, the ECtHR has awarded compensation for 28 complaints filed by Memorial and OVD-Info! The applicants were Russians detained at peaceful protests over a number of years.
Translated by Anna Bowles