Team 29: Putin on Safronov and extremism in preaching

12 December 2020

Hi. This is Max Olenichev, a senior lawyer at Team 29

This week highlighted once again the problems caused by the lack of transparency in Russia. I thought I’d tell you how Team 29 has addressed them.

At the weekend, we teamed up with Article 19 and the online publication 7×7 to run training for Siberian activists. In it, we explained how to find out about the activities of government bodies, with an eye on Russian law. Although a hard winter set in long ago in Krasnoyarsk, there was heated debate in the training sessions. Members of non-profits, advocacy groups, and bloggers took our methods and approaches away with them. Now, they’ll be able to put in requests correctly and get some answers. Incidentally, if you have a question about access to information, you can write to us on our Telegram Chat, and Team 29 lawyer Stasya Bocherenok will get back to you.

The case of Ivan Safronov, the former Kommersant journalist, has reached Vladimir Putin. On Thursday, Human Rights Day, he decided to meet with members of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, which he heads. Although such rights are now in short supply in Russia, these issues still haven’t been taken off the government’s agenda. The head of state reported, quite unexpectedly, that Ivan Safronov 1. had been convicted (not true), and 2. that it wasn’t to do with his activity as a journalist (also not true). Ivan Pavlov, Team 29’s captain and the journalist’s defence lawyer, explained yesterday how the president had got it wrong. Still, we agree with the guarantor of the Constitution in at least one respect; that it is ludicrous to prosecute someone for treason when he has relayed information that is not protected in any way and is publicly available. The president’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, later explained that Putin had misspoken, but that this “didn’t alter the overall meaning”. You can support Vanya Safronov during his detention by writing to him.

The day before, 9 November, the Third Cassation Court considered Team 29’s cassation appeal in the case of Vecherny Svet [Evening Light]. It decided not to overturn the ridiculous appellate ruling by St. Petersburg City Court, which in May 2020 recognised the works of the preacher William Branham as extremist literature. It’s clear to us that this constitutes an attack on freedom of conscience. Specialists in religious studies, linguistics, psychology, and sociology, have assessed the texts to contain no elements of extremism. Team 29 is preparing an appeal to Russia’s Supreme Court.

This week, Team 29 released the next episode of its Malenky Terror (Little Terror) podcast. In it, we discuss the case of Georgy Shakhet, which has altered practice regarding access to the criminal case files of the unrehabilitated, which are being held in the archives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Georgy tells us about the history of his family and what spurred him to keep going in his search. We offer advice on how to look for information about relatives you may have who were arrested during the Great Purge and never returned home.

Shakhet’s story is about how human rights can actually be protected – even in our country. 72 years have passed since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and yet these rights still aren’t so paramount as to be guiding the government as they should. But we’re looking forward with optimism. There’s a long way to go before human rights and the rule of law become commonplace. In the meantime, we recall how the document that changed life for humankind after WWII came into existence.

Take care of yourself and know that good news is sure to come!


Translated by Lindsay Munford

Leave a Reply