OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 341: Fear of dying after being sentenced

27 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.

Jailed human rights activist Gregory Markus Severin Winter / Photo: SOTA

News

Hello! The Russian Anti-War Committee and the publication DOXA have been labelled ‘undesirable organisations, a man convicted in a case of military ‘fake news’ is not receiving essential medication, and a Crimean Tatar has spoken out about torture.

Two more organisations have been labelled “Undesirable”. The list includes the student publication DOXA and the Russian Anti-War Committee founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Vasily Piskarev, chairman of the State Duma Commission for Investigation into the Interference of Foreign States in Russia’s Internal Affairs, asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to recognise DOXA as ‘undesirable’. The official called the publication a ‘blatantly hostile organisation’ and said it was involved in ‘preparing subversive activities’ in the country: according to him, the journalists published ‘instructions for setting fire to military commissions, police departments and military equipment, calls for Russian servicemen to surrender to the Ukrainian army, as well as materials on resisting law enforcement and seizing universities’. The Russian Anti-War Committee was also declared ‘undesirable’ in a denunciation – State Duma deputy Andrei Lugovoi appealed to the Prosecutor General’s Office with such a request.

  • Why is this important? The legislation on ‘undesirable organisations’ is repressive: the authorities use it to destroy, among other things, independent media and human rights projects. Participation in the activities of an ‘undesirable organisation’ is punishable under administrative law, and in case of a repeated ‘violation’, criminal law; the organisation and financing of an ‘undesirable organisation’ immediately attracts criminal liability. In addition, articles by ‘undesirable organisations’ cannot be referenced, reposted or quoted. All this makes it virtually impossible for those on the list of ‘undesirable organisations’ to work.

A human rights activist suffering from diabetes is being denied essential medication and food in pre-trial detention. To date, Gregory Markus Severin Vinter, sentenced to three years in prison in a case of military ‘fake news’, has been using the medicines he brought with him before his arrest. Medical devices have also been confiscated from him in the pre-trial detention centre, and the officers do not test his sugar level. Before his sentencing, the man addressed Vladimir Putin in a letter and asked to be allowed voluntary euthanasia if he was sentenced to jail. He fears that in the penal colony he will face ‘an agonising death among strangers, cruel and utterly indifferent people’ due to lack of medication.

  • Why do I need to know this? In this newsletter we often report on how the health of political defendants deteriorates in pre-trial detention centres and colonies The concerns of the jailed human rights activist are, unfortunately, quite understandable – it is virtually impossible to receive quality medical care and dietary nutrition in prison conditions. Publicity can help in this case: recently, thanks to it, our client Igor Baryshnikov, convicted in a case of military ‘fake news’, started to receive treatment at a prison colony.

A defendant in a Hizb ut-Tahrir case has reported being tortured. On arrival at the Simferopol pre-trial detention centre No. 2, Ekrem Krosh and other detainees were made to crouch for two hours and forced to raise their hands above their heads with fingers up; those who lowered their hands were beaten, including on the head and with the use of a stun gun. The Crimean Tatar was also forced to recite the Russian anthem by heart every night during the inspection. Once he was severely beaten because of his refusal. After that Krosh wrote a complaint to the head of the pre-trial detention centre. The latter summoned him to his office, where he hit him in the ear and in the area near the eye, leaving a bruise. 

  • Why is this important? Torture in Simferopol pre-trial detention centre No. 2 is systemic: other defendants in the case, as well as other victims of politically motivated prosecutions who have ended up there, have also reported pressure, abuse, harsh conditions of detention and lack of medical care. The likely reason is the connivance of the administration of the institution – Federal Penitentiary Service officers are not punished for cruelty, so they continue to treat prisoners in this way. And this happens all over the country, because criminal cases due to torture by law enforcement officers are initiated very rarely.

A military officer from Vladivostok has been sentenced to two years in prison for talking about blowing up the Crimean bridge. Daniil Bondarenko was found guilty of incitement to terrorism. The reason for criminal prosecution was his conversation with fellow soldiers. According to the prosecution, the man, while at home, told them that he did not support the war with Ukraine, and justified the Ukrainian army’s strikes on the Crimean bridge in October 2022 and July 2023. 

  • Why do I need to know this? Private conversations in modern Russia are no longer private, and one can go to jail for expressing the ‘wrong’ opinion. In this way, for example, a new criminal case was brought against the anarchist Azat Miftakhov. He was accused of justifying terrorism because of a conversation with another prisoner in the colony where he was serving his sentence in a previous case: Miftakhov allegedly approved of Mikhail Zhlobitsky’s act of blowing up the Arkhangelsk FSB. However, as it turns out, not only prisoners who are monitored by Federal Penitentiary Service officers, but also people who merely express their opinions in company at home, can be under threat of criminal prosecution.

Features

‘Mum was taken away in an unknown direction’. A week has passed since the mass protests in Bashkortostan after the sentencing of activist Fail Alsynov. All this time, arrests, detentions and searches have been taking place in the republic, and criminal cases have already been brought against at least 22 residents of the region. The police are tracking down protesters, people are setting up mutual aid groups, telling each other how ‘the OMON are on the move through the villages’, and they are seriously frightened. We talked to the relatives of those arrested and those whose fate is still unknown – read our new article! And in our Telegram channel we tell the story of Azat Mirzin, one of the first defendants in a criminal prosecution for riot and use of violence against law enforcers.

The sense of a big fight. When the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, dozens of Novosibirsk residents came out for an anti-war protest. They were arrested. People sued the police and won. But recently the rulings were cancelled – and now the detainees are suing the police again. During these two years, half of the plaintiffs have left Russia. Using the example of the Novosibirsk trial, OVD-Info shows how the courts have begun to consider any police action against protesters legal – read the new article on our website!


Translated by Anna Bowles

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