Human Rights Project ‘Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial’: A member of a Moscow district council, remanded in custody for distributing ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, is a political prisoner

23 May 2022

Members of Moscow’s Krasnoselsky district municipal council, Aleksei Gorinov and Elena Kotenochkina spoke out against the war on Ukraine at a meeting of the council. They now face criminal charges

Source: Human Rights Project ‘Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial’

The Human Rights Project ‘Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ in line with international criteria, considers Moscow municipal council member Aleksei Gorinov a political prisoner and his colleague Elena Kotenochkina a victim of an unlawful politically motivated prosecution. They are facing criminal charges for speaking out against the war on Ukraine at a meeting of the municipal council. Gorinov and Kotenochkina are being prosecuted for exercising the right to freedom of expression, as well as to intimidate all opponents of the war against Ukraine in Russia.

We demand the immediate release of Aleksei Gorinov from custody and that the criminal proceedings against Gorinov and Kotenochkina be terminated.

We consider Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code to be unlawful. It was created for purposes of political repression against critics of the authorities and must be repealed. Any prosecutions under this article are illegitimate and must be ended.

We demand that the Russian authorities comply with the Russian Constitution and universally recognized standards of human rights.

Who are Gorinov and Kotenochkina and what are the charges against them?

On 15 March 2022, Aleksei Gorinov and Elena Kotenochkina, members of the Krasnoselsky municipal district council in Moscow, condemned the war crimes of the Russian army in Ukraine during a discussion at a meeting of the council.

While discussing the ‘leisure plan’ for residents of Krasnoselsky district, council member Aleksei Gorinov stated: ‘What leisure and entertainment can we talk about when military action is being conducted on the territory of a neighbouring sovereign state, when an act of aggression is being carried out by our country? What kind of children’s drawing contest can we talk about or what kind of dance programmes to mark the Day for the Protection of Children or to mark Victory Day, when every day children are dying, about a hundred children have already died in Ukraine, become orphans, and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of participants in World War II are thrown into the furnace of military conflict?’ A video recording of the council meeting is publicly available on the municipality’s website.

On 16 March on the same site a video of a speech by Elena Kotenochkina, chair of the military conscription board and head of the district, was published entitled, ‘Conscription  and the law. How to protect children from participation in military special operations on the territory of Ukraine.’ In the speech, in particular, she reported on the large number of conscripts doing military service in the war zone in Ukraine.

In late April, on the initiative of State Duma deputies Khinstein and Leonov, criminal investigations were opened against Gorinov and Kotenochkina on charges of spreading ‘fake news’ about the actions of the Russian Armed Forces (Article 207.3, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code). If convicted, the accused face up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

On 27 April Moscow’s Presnensky district court remanded Aleksei Gorinov in custody and on 29 April ruled that Elena Kotenochkina, who is currently abroad, should be remanded in custody, in absentia. The Investigative Committee had previously issued a warrant for her arrest.

Why do we consider this prosecution politically motivated?

Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code, which criminalises spreading information known to be false about the actions of the Russian Armed Forces, contradicts the Russian Constitution, Russia’s international obligations and fundamental principles of law.

In particular, according to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ‘Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.’ Restrictions on the exercise of these rights may ‘be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.’ Similar norms are enshrined in Article 29 of the Russian Constitution.

The restrictions on freedom of expression established by Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code do not serve any of the above purposes and are a form of censorship.

Article 207.3 criminalises any statements about the use of the Russian Armed Forces and the activities of Russian government agencies abroad. In the course of an armed conflict, it may not be possible to establish the truthfulness of information disseminated by various sources. It is even less possible to establish whether or not information is known to be false. These defects determine the unlawful nature of Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code.

The timing and context of the addition of Article 207.3 to the Russian Criminal Code – after the start of the large-scale Russian military invasion of Ukraine – allow us to argue that this article was specifically introduced to persecute critics of the Russian authorities.

Municipal council members Aleksei Gorinov and Elena Kotenochkina have been among the first victims of the use of this article, although according to the Federal Law ‘On General Principles of the Organisation of Local Self-Government’ a council member, as a member of an elected local self-government body, or an elected local self-government official, cannot be prosecuted under criminal or administrative law for expressing an opinion or for a position expressed during a vote.

A more detailed description of the case and the position of the Human Rights Project are set out on our Telegram account.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply the Human Rights Project ‘Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial’ agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.

How you can help

You can write a letter to the following address:

In Russian: 107076, г. Москва, ул. Матросская тишина, д.18, ФКУ СИЗО-1 УФСИН России по г. Москве, Горинову Алексею Александровичу 1961 г. р. Также письмо можно отправить через систему «ФСИН-письмо».

In English: Aleksei Aleksandrovich Gorinov (born 1961), Remand Centre No. 1, Federal Penitentiary Service for Moscow, 18 Matrosskaya Tishina Street, Moscow, 107076. You can also send a letter via the Federal Penitentiary Service’s FSIN-Pismo system.

Donations for political prisoners can be made via the Yoo Money account of the Union for Solidarity with Political Prisoners.

Translated by Rights in Russia

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