OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 363: Spider-Man and a fine for peaceful assembly

29 June 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.


In Murmansk, two former classmates were sentenced on charges of arson of a military recruitment centre and treason, a Hizb ut-Tahrir member has been held in a punishment cell in a penal colony in Kemerovo region for five months, and a priest from Sverdlovsk region is being prosecuted for discrediting the army for an online post about patriotism.

Former classmates from Murmansk have been handed terms of imprisonment on charges of arson of a military recruitment centre and treason. Aleksandr Levadny was sentenced to 17 years in prison, and Ilya Sadkov to 14 years’ imprisonment. They are to spend the first three years of their sentences in a cell-type prison, the rest in a high-security penal colony. The arson incident itself took place in February last year. No one was injured, but a window frame was burned. Sadkov said he decided to commit the act himself ‘because of his personal wish to obstruct the Russian army,’ However, the investigative authorities found that Levadny had incited him. The charge of treason against the latter was based on wiretaps of his phone conversations with a friend from Ukraine who fought on the side of the Ukrainian armed forces.

  • Why is this important? Both defendants in the case were subjected to torture during the investigation: Levadny was tortured with electric shocks; Sadkov was beaten before being remanded in custody. In addition, Mediazona suggests that there may have been a provocation in the case: it is supposed that a fake summons to the military enlistment office was planted in Aleksandr Levadny’s mailbox to provoke him into making radical statements in phone conversations that were tapped by the security services. In one conversation, Levadny actually did say that he would ‘rather defect to the Ukrainian armed forces than kill Ukrainians.’

A Crimean Tatar convicted in a Hizb ut-Tahrir case has been held in a punishment cell for five months. Eskender Abdulganiev was also declared a ‘persistent violator, prone to constant violations,’ put under special supervision and transferred to strict detention conditions in Penal Colony No. 41 in Kemerovo region. Abdulganiev told his lawyer there is no ventilation in the cell, the room is very hot and stuffy in hot weather, and rusty water flows from the tap. In 2020, Abdulganiev was sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment, with the first three years to be served in a cell-type prison and the remainder in a high-security penal colony. Prior to his imprisonment, Abdulganiev regularly attended the trials of those prosecuted for involvement in the Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir and helped the families of defendants.

  • Why do I need to know this? Permanent placement in a punishment cell is one of the common ways to put pressure on political prisoners. The criteria for assessing the severity of a violation by a prisoner, thereby deciding whether to send someone to a punishment cell, are nowhere written down. Therefore prison staff can send someone to a punishment cell on the most insignificant pretext. In this way, prisoners are deprived of visits with their relatives for months, cannot receive parcels sent to them, use their personal belongings or see a doctor.

A criminal investigation has been initiated against a priest for an online post about patriotism. Eduard Charov, a Christian preacher and Neo-Pentecostal from Sverdlovsk region, has been charged with discrediting the Russian army. ‘A patriot is someone who wants to make his country better, his people richer, and the authorities more honest and fair. And not someone who justifies poverty and corruption with imaginary greatness and spiritual crosses,” reads the publication, which he reposted. This is the second criminal charge against Charov. He is also being prosecuted for justification of terrorism on account of what his wife called ‘sarcastic comment […] about someone’s latest attempt to set fire to a military recruitment centre.’

  • Why is this important? The Russian authorities are intolerant of any criticism, and military censorship extends even to statements that do not directly condemn the invasion. If a person has already attracted the attention of the security services, then even seemingly neutral statements can lead to criminal prosecution. For example, in the case of Eduard Charov, a forensic expert considered the words about patriotism in the post as ‘evidence of an attempt to convince the recipient of the negative nature of the actions and intentions of the Russian government, i.e., discrediting them.’

A resident of Samara who organised a procession of people dressed as spiderman to the song ‘I am Russian’ by Shaman has been fined. Now Ilya Kulagin must pay 10,000 roubles. Kulagin was found guilty under the assembly laws that allegedly resulted in a violation of public order (Article [Part 1], of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences). From the court ruling it follows that the action was intended to to advertise a restaurant called ‘Picture’s.’

  • Why do I need to know this? Sometimes the repressive assembly laws are used more widely than simply to put pressure on political activists. For example, in Sochi in 2022, Dmitry Mezentsev, the head of a theatre studio, was Jailed for five days for a flash mob called ‘Bury Your Fear of Public Speaking,’ in which people walked down the street singing mournful music and holding flowers. Freedom of assembly is completely suppressed in Russia – any unusual action attracts the attention of law enforcement officers and participants can easily face prosecution.


The motherland and the state are different concepts for me.’ The story of the teacher Natalia Taranushenko who after two years of denunciations and a criminal prosecution left the country. Natalia Taranushenko is a teacher of Russian language and literature from the town of Protvino near Moscow. On 12 June, she learned she was being prosecuted under the law on ‘fake news’ about the Russian military because of a class she had taught at the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. A father of some of Taranushenko’s students spent two years trying to get the teacher punished by making a constant stream of complaints. OVD-Info learned from Taranushenko about what happened in that lesson, why the administrative charge against her was brought but then quickly dropped how she left the country in a rush. Read the story here

‘All the same we shall have to live together, both good and bad.’ The story of a Leningrad Blockade survivor who ran for governor of St. Petersburg. Liudmila Vasilieva is 83 years old. She is the only anti-war candidate in the St. Petersburg gubernatorial elections. The blockade survivor was nominated as a candidate by the new movement European Petersburg – most of its co-founders, including Vasilieva’s son, have gone abroad because of persecution. About why Vasilieva was not afraid to take part in the elections, about the election campaign and wartime St. Petersburg – read in the report by OVD-Info.

Translated by Rights in Russia


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