21 March 2020
Hi, This is Natasha Korchenkova
This week the world faced something unprecedented: widespread (self) isolation due to the spread of the Coronavirus. Countries are closing their borders and the disruption of transport links is already making it pretty much impossible to travel anywhere. Meanwhile, people around the world are being strongly urged not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary.
Following publication of an article in Vedomosti, there was serious discussion about whether to introduce an emergency situation in Moscow. Possible measures included barring entry to the city and banning people from going outside without special permission. It hasn’t come to that yet, and vice-mayor Anastasiya Rakova completely dismissed Vedomosti’s information as false, but, as my journalist friends joked, once the Mayor’s Office had denied it, this meant that they would definitely shut the place down.
Together with our lawyers, we’ve worked it all out and put together a cheat sheet for you: what all this might mean in practice, how an emergency situation differs from a state of emergency, whether a curfew could be brought in, and whether there will be punishments for breaking the rules.
In it, you’ll learn, for example, that on the introduction of a state of emergency, the law allows for some restrictions on citizens’ rights, whereas under an emergency situation, rights cannot be restricted. In any case, the measures used by the government should always be commensurate with the threat and they should not violate a person’s fundamental rights and freedoms.
That’s what the law says.
But what about when the Russian authorities need solid grounds for arbitrary behaviour, and to legitimise their abuse of power? Just think of the recent ‘reset’ of Putin’s presidential terms – was that even allowed? Well, it’s much easier to do all this behind closed doors, and the pandemic is the perfect excuse. Russian courts, for example, have already cut back on their work, having effectively closed hearings off from spectators and journalists. And the Federal Prison Service has announced, under the pretext of the fight against the Coronavirus, a ban on meetings with detainees in prison camps and remand centres. At this rate, anything could happen, including the possible closure of Russia’s borders.
Whilst you’re at home, have a listen to our ‘Isolation’ podcast about what Russian remand centres are like. In one episode, for example, you’ll learn what men do in the only female prison in Moscow, what life is like in the remand centre at night, and how ‘contraband’ is procured. At the end of the day, being locked up in your flat is a similar experience. Just as long as the whole country doesn’t end up in detention after the quarantine is over…
While you still have the patience, barricade yourself in properly – it really could save lives. Besides, there’s also reason to be cheerful: due to the Coronavirus, they’ve postponed the countrywide traffic blocking tests as part of efforts to cut off the Russian internet.
Natasha and Team 29
Translated by Lindsay Munford