Team 29: Enforced loyalty and corporate conspiracies

16 January 2021

Hi. It’s Dmitry Zair-Bek, Team 29 support co-ordinator

This is the first Team 29 newsletter of the new year, and the first time that I’m writing to you. Let’s get acquainted!

Team 29 is thrilled to present its new special project ‘Enforced loyalty’! The name is fairly self-explanatory. In this project, we’ll use case studies to explain how citizen activists and journalists are being pursued, fined, and intimidated across Russia’s regions. In each of their contributions, Team 29 lawyers will share advice that’ll prove useful in today’s reality. Have a read for yourself and share it with your friends on social media.

There’s been a flood of major events over the past fortnight. The year got off to a stormy start and it was quite clear that no one will have it easy. That includes Americans, who are going through another crisis on the back of a transfer of power. Following casualties on both sides during an attempt to seize the Capitol, major social networks banned Trump and several of his followers on social media. Apple and Google, the biggest players in the mobile app market, removed the social network Parler from their stores. Parler had become a platform for right-wing Americans. Looking out from across the flood, we’re witnessing a phenomenon that some are calling, “the fight against violence and extremism”, and others see as a, “corporate conspiracy akin to a cartel”.

Back to Russia. At the start of the week, right off the bat, came several court hearings in high-profile cases. On Monday, a sentence on the mathematician Azat Miftakhov was supposed to be passed in Golovinsky District Court. The Prosecutor’s Office had requested six years for Azat in a prison camp. A large group of supporters assembled by the court, and the hearing was postponed to 18 January without justification. The police then arrested some well-known activists. The reason for the arrests was ‘information about a posible robbery’.

On Tuesday, a sentenced was pronounced in Moscow City Court on the appeal in the New Greatness (‘Novoe Velichiye’) case. The sentences were hardly reduced: Ruslan Kostylenkov’s and Petr Karamzin’s terms were shortened by just 3 months. Before very long, the three youngsters face being transferred to prison. The New Greatness case means a great deal to me. I co-ordinate the public campaign to support the parties involved. For me, this case served as a sort of entry point to human rights advocacy.

On Wednesday, a trial was held in a cassation appeal by Team 29 lawyers in the case of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. For several years now, we’ve been assisting Wallenberg’s niece and those researching his history in attempting to get evidence released from the Soviet archives. On Wednesday, the court ruled once again that access to such information would not be provided. Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews at the end of WWII. In January 1945, he was arrested by Soviet security forces and put in the Lubyanka prison. What ultimately happened to him remains a mystery.

Another important topic this week was the statement by the politician Aleksey Navalny. He announced that he’s going to return to Russia and even named a date for his return: 17 January. Aleksey’s supporters created a Facebook Event, to which over 5,000 people have already checked in. Almost immediately, several media outlets published the news that Aleksey Navalny had been on the federal wanted list since 29 December. Will Aleksey be arrested on arrival? We’re hoping for the best.

Well, that’s quite enough developments for the first fortnight of the new year. We’ll write again very soon.

Take care in the new year!

Yours, Dmitry.

Translated by Lindsay Munford

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