OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 340 : Stun grenades and tear gas

20 January 2024

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.

Protesters in Baimak / Photo: OVD-Info

News

Hello! Participants in protests against the sentencing of a Bashkirir activist are being prosecuted; a person prosecuted for preparing to set fire to a military recruitment centre has been sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment; and yet another of Aleksei Navalny’s lawyers has been charged with participation in an extremist group.


A criminal case has been brought against those who protested against the sentencing of Bashkir activist Fail Alsynov. They were accused of organising and participating in mass disorder and also using violence against police officers. On the day of the trial in Baimak, police officers violently dispersed the crowd, using stun grenades and tear gas. Some of the activists reported injuries as a result of the clashes, and nine people were arrested – you can read the details in our report. Alsynov himself was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for giving a speech in the Bashkiri language at a protest meeting against gold miners: the police ‘did not like’ what he said about ‘migrants who come to the republic and engage in, amongst other things, illegal mining’.

  • Why do I need to know this? The protest against the sentencing of Fail Alsynov has become the biggest rally in Russia in recent times. Thousands of people came to the small town to support the defendant. Activists are certain that the authorities wanted to take revenge on Alsynov for organising environmental protests, and that his speech, which was the basis for the criminal case, was a pretext. The problem of access to natural resources for the region is really acute: it is causing water, soil and air pollution, which is causing discontent among many local people. 

A bill against the Yeltsin Centre has been brought before the State Duma. The amendments propose that only historical heritage centres founded in the name of presidents of the country who left power after 1 January 2000 should be allowed to operate. An explanatory note states that the activities of the Yeltsin Centre ‘in its current form constitute a threat to national unity and divide Russian society’. Additionally the document states that ‘the existence of a centre commemorating a figure who contributed to the destruction of the state by his deeds does not ‘contribute to the formation of patriotism and creates a biased assessment of historical events’.

  • Why is this important? The Yeltsin Centre is a foundation, public space and museum of the contemporary political history of Russia. It was opened in Ekaterinburg in 2015 in accordance with the law on historical heritage centres dedicated to former presidents of the country.  The centre regularly holds meetings and exhibitions, attracting, among others, citizens who are inclined to be critical of the government’s actions; plus the staff of the Centre sometimes make political statements. The existence of such an organisation in modern Russia seems surprising and the government is, predictably, looking for various ways to destroy it.

Alexei Navalny’s lawyer Olga Mikhailova has been charged in absentia with participation in an extremist community. She herself is not in Russia having decided not to return from abroad after the premises of her colleagues Igor Serunin, Andrei Kobzev and Aleksei Litser were searched in the same case in October 2023, after which they were remanded in custody. According to police, the lawyers ‘’using their status’ for access to the prison colony, ‘ensured regular transfer of information between the leaders and participants of the extremist community and A.A. Navalny, who thus continued to perform the functions of the leader and head of the extremist community.’ Aleksander Fedulov, another of the politician’s lawyers, reported that he had left the country after these events.

  • Why do I need to know this? Police are trying to deprive Aleksei Navalny of the ability to defend his rights. In depriving his lawyers of freedom or the opportunity to return to Russia, they are trying to scare other lawyers who might otherwise have been prepared to help the politician. Their aim is to leave him in complete isolation and exert pressure on him without fear of complaints about their illegal actions.

In St Petersburg, a nurse has been sentenced to eight years in jail in a case of a failed arson attack on a military recruitment centre. Maksim Asriyana was found guilty of attempted terrorism and state treason. He will spend the first two and a half years in prison and the remainder of the sentence in a strict-regime penal colony. The prosecution claims that the man obtained Molotov cocktails to set fire to the military recruitment centre, but did not carry out his plan; in addition, ‘instructions on how to undermine and destroy railway infrastructure’, a completed application form to join the Freedom of Russia Legion and links to Telegram accounts ‘related to the illegal sale of military weapons’ were found on his phone. Asriyan has severe chronic illnesses that prevent him from being taken into custody, his lawyer said

  • Why is this important? Arson attacks on military recruitment centres are often a response to Russian military aggression, as it becomes almost impossible to legally protest under conditions of military censorship and growing repression. Maksim Asriyan has been sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment because of actions he did not even commit. The man said that he thought about setting fire to the military recruitment centre, but did not do it in order not to harm people. His defence also said that he had indeed filled out an application form to join the Freedom of Russia Legion to provide medical assistance to civilians injured during the war, but decided not to send it.

Features

‘No, he’s not a Jew, he’s ours, a local.’ Aleksander Shramkov lived near the border with Ukraine. A theoretical physicist by education, he studied in Kharkiv during the Soviet era and returned to his native village. In recent years, the man has worked as a tutor for online schools. After the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, Shramkov hung a banner on his house with the words ‘No to War’. His anti-war activism displeased not only the security forces but also local ‘patriots’. Shramkov had to leave Russia. We tell the man’s story – read the new article on our website. 

And the ECHR has considered another 114 complaints by Memorial and OVD-Info! The applicants were detained at various protests and were awarded compensation ranging from 3,500 to 5,000 euros.


Translated by Anna Bowles

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