Rights in Russia week-ending 1 May 2020


Eastern Europe and Central Asia: Human rights must be protected during COVID-19 pandemic

Governments in Eastern European and Central Asian countries are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with repressive and abusive measures which fall far short of their human rights obligations, Amnesty International said today. The organization has released a new briefing Eastern Europe and Central Asia Confronted with COVID-19: Responses and Responsibilities setting out the responsibilities of governments in the region. Amnesty International, 29 April 2020

Russia’s ombudsman proposes altering approach to limitation periods amid pandemic

MOSCOW, April 27 (RAPSI) – Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner Tatiana Moskalkova insists that there is a need to adopt a regulation legally defining the current regime of restrictive measures introduced because of the pandemic, which would envisage in particular changes in the approach to periods of limitation. There is a pressing need to collect applications of citizens, to monitor the situation and preventively adopt a regulation or a law defining the legal status of the current regime, Moskalkova observes. Russia’s citizens are still at loss about the regime they live under as it is not an emergency situation regime, it is a complex of restrictive measures; however, it is to remember that in the post-crisis period to come, these questions are to be answered, the ombudsman notes. RAPSI, 27 April 2020

Moskalkova states necessity of international human rights instrument during pandemic

MOSCOW, April 27 (RAPSI) – Russia’s federal ombudsman Tatiana Moskalkova on Monday voiced the necessity to draft an international instrument on rights and obligations of people at times of epidemics, quarantine and pandemic. The document must include not only rights and obligations but also guarantees of human rights and liberties at such times, she said. RAPSI, 27 April 2020

Russian Doctors Count Their Own Dead From Coronavirus

Russian doctors mistrustful of official coronavirus data have launched an unofficial list of their colleagues who have died from the virus. The news comes as a growing number of hospitals across Russia have reported Covid-19 outbreaks among doctors and patients in recent weeks. The Moscow Times, 27 April 2020

Nurses Quit En Masse From Russia’s Top Coronavirus Hospital: Reports

Nurses have quit en masse from Russia’s top coronavirus hospital in Moscow over poor working conditions and low wages, the investigative news website Open Media reported Monday. The Moscow Times, 27 April 2020

‘I did my duty’ Former nurse at Moscow’s main coronavirus hospital says unsafe working conditions have led to mass resignations

In a video published on April 27 by the news website Open Media, a former assistant nurse at Moscow’s Kommunarka hospital says many staff aren’t given adequate protective gear and haven’t receive promised bonus payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meduza, 28 April 2020

Concern as coronavirus threatens Russia’s closed ‘nuclear cities’

Rosatom nuclear chief warns of ‘particularly alarming situation’ in three areas as country reports biggest daily rise in cases The head of Russia’s state-run nuclear corporation has expressed concern about the spread of the new coronavirus to three “nuclear cities”, including one that houses a top-secret research institute that helped develop the Soviet atomic bomb. The cities are closely linked to Russia’s nuclear industry, which is managed by the Rosatom corporation. Several are closed to foreigners and Russians require special clearance to enter them as facilities located there are closely guarded secrets. The Guardian, 28 April 2020

‘Are We Pigs?’: Gazprom Pipeline Workers Protest Conditions Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Gas workers in Russia’s Far East staged a mass rally to demand better working conditions and more transparency amid a reported coronavirus outbreak at their gas field, local media reported Tuesday. The Moscow Times, 28 April 2020

Freedom of expression

International: protect free speech and expression during COVID-19 outbreak

As COVID-19 spread rapidly around the globe, it has engaged humanity in a fight that has claimed far too many lives against an enemy that appears to indiscriminately target its victims. ‘PEN International mourns the loss of life and expresses its solidarity with families, loved ones and friends,’ said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International. She added that ‘While the virus is ruthlessly arbitrary, we are particularly concerned that some groups find themselves more at risk than others, including those who are at the core of our work.’ PEN International, 24 April 2020

RSF decries interference in editorial independence at a leading Russian business daily

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is alarmed by repeated interference in editorial decisions at the leading Russian business newspaper Vedomosti since its acquisition in March. This meddling is clearly one more phase in the process by which Kremlin allies have taken control of the Russian media. RSF, 25 April 2020

Vedomosti Sale Delayed Amid Pro-Kremlin Censorship Scandal

The sale of Russia’s top business newspaper Vedomosti has been postponed as the paper struggles to maintain independence under its new chief editor, the Open Media investigative website reported Wednesday. Claims of censorship have swirled around Vedomosti since its sale was announced in March. In the span of a month, acting editor-in-chief Andrei Shmarov has been accused of removing columns critical of Russian oil giant Rosneft, as well as banning coverage of independent poll results and articles criticizing President Vladimir Putin’s proposed constitutional changes. The Moscow Times, 30 April 2020

Prosecutions mount as Russia intensifies fight against COVID-19 ‘fake news’

Russia is once again at the heart of an international “fake news” scandal. Since February, some media have accused Moscow of unleashing a coronavirus disinformation campaign. This claim was repeated in an internal document drafted by the EU’s foreign policy arm on March 18. Global Voices, 24 April 2020

He Found One of Stalin’s Mass Graves. Now He’s in Jail.

SANDARMOKH, Russia — The discovery by Yuri Dmitriev, after years of searching, “has clearly made some people very uncomfortable,” his daughter says. – The day began, like many others in her childhood years, with hours of tramping through an insect-infested forest with the family dog while her eccentric father, Yuri Dmitriev, wandered off to hunt in vain for corpses buried among the trees. On that day more than 20 years ago, however, Mr. Dmitriev, an amateur but very determined historian, finally found the gruesome prize he had long been searching for — burial mounds containing the remains of political prisoners executed by Stalin’s secret police. “Everything started here,” said Mr. Dmitriev’s 35-year-old daughter, Katerina Klodt, during a recent visit to the forest at Sandarmokh in Karelia, a peninsula in northern Russia. “My dad’s work has clearly made some people very uncomfortable.” Mr. Dmitriev is now in jail, awaiting trial on what his family, friends and supporters dismiss as blatantly fabricated charges of pedophilia, an accusation that has frequently been used to discredit and silence voices the Russian authorities do not like. By Andrew Higgins. The New York Times, 27 April 2020

‘A runaway bus’ Russian government denies federal aid to ‘Vedomosti,’ citing newsroom scandals as a reason to withhold ‘strategic’ status

According to a report by Vedomosti on April 28, Russia’s Communications Ministry has declined to add the newspaper to its list of “strategic enterprises,” citing two reasons: (1) its audience is too small and (2) its newsroom scandal makes it unstable and threatens to drive away readers. Meduza, 29 April 2020

Russian journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva says charges against her are ‘an act of intimidation’

In February 2019, police in Pskov, in northwestern Russia, raided the home of journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva. Authorities launched an investigation against Prokopyeva, a stringer and freelance correspondent for the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian service and the liberal Ekho Moskvy radio station, over comments she made on a November 2018 Ekho Moskvy broadcast. CPI, 30 April 2020

Journalism, not heroism ‘Vedomosti’ editor-at-large Maxim Trudolyubov reviews the fate of his own newspaper and other authoritative news outlets

In mid-March 2020, Vedomosti’s ownersannounced the preliminary sale of the newspaper to “Versiya” publishing house head Konstantin Zyatkov and “Arbat Capital” investment firm managing director Alexey Golubovich. Andrey Shmarov was then hired as acting editor-in-chief and several employees resigned immediately. The newsroom openly opposes his appointment and continues to observe longstanding independent editorial policies, despite Shmarov’s efforts to reshape the paper. In a special text for MeduzaVedomosti editor-at-large Maxim Trudolyubov explains how journalists can survive amid pressure from their own management and owners. Meduza, 1 May 2020

Global: Crackdown on journalists weakens efforts to tackle COVID-19

The backlash against journalists and others who criticize their governments’ handling of COVID-19 is hampering efforts to tackle the virus, Amnesty International said today. The organization warned that censorship of vital information related to the pandemic has become a global phenomenon and urged governments to prioritise public health over their own egos. Amnesty International, 1 May 2020

Prisoners’ Rights

Inside Russia’s Secretive Prisons as Coronavirus Takes Hold

Prisoners described an anxious state of affairs in jails across the country. Meanwhile, calls for amnesty have been ignored.

A prisoner in penal colony no. 1 in the city of Yaroslavl has less than three months left of his three-year sentence for drug possession. But with the coronavirus raging around Russia, July 15 feels like an eternity away.  “It’s impossible to keep any sort of distance from each other here,” he said. “The guards wear masks, but when they bring us out for checks they bunch us together in big groups.” The Moscow Times, 27 April 2020

Man In North Caucasus Faces New Terrorism Charge After Serving 16 Years

STAVROPOL, Russia — A man from Russia’s North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia has been charged with masterminding the financial support of a terrorist organization just as he was to be released from prison after serving a 16-year term for the attempted killing of a law enforcement officer. Aslan Sanashokov’s lawyer, Ramazan Uzuyev, told RFE/RL on April 28 that his client was charged with organizing a cash transfer in 2014 while in custody to a man allegedly linked to a terrorist group in Syria. RFE/RL, 29 April 2020

Russia: Coronavirus Poses Serious Risk to Political Prisoners

The COVID-19 pandemic poses a serious threat to people in forced detentions around the world. The Russian Duma recently announced that no prisoners will be amnestied on 9 May – the Victory Day anniversary – this year, after human rights groups called for an amnesty given the ongoing public health emergency. There are now growing concerns over the potential consequences the coronavirus could have for the country’s political prisoners. Civil Rights Defenders, 29 April 2020

Pandemic to be a factor in decisions concerning detentions – Russia’s Supreme Court

Russia’s Supreme Court has recommended to take into account quarantine measures introduced in temporary and pretrial detention facilities as a factor to influence court decisions on detentions, the Court’s materials on,specifics of proceedings amid the pandemic read. The Supreme Court reminds that according to the Criminal Code courts may order pretrial detention or extension of detention in minor crime cases only as an exception in view of specific circumstances defined by law; even then courts have discretion to meet or dismiss respective moves on the part of investigators. RAPSI, 30 April 2020

Videoconference trials do not violate rights of defendants – Russian Supreme Court

Court proceedings conducted through video link meet the criteria for fair and public hearing of a case and do not violate the rights of accused persons, the Russian Supreme Court explains in its second judicial review published during the pandemic of coronavirus. Russia’s highest instance cites legal positions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) reading that the use of the videoconference at the hearings does not contradict the definition of fair trial assuming that detained suspects and accused persons taking part in the proceedings can follow the course of the trial, hear the parties and speak without encumbrance (the ECHR ruling of February 16, 2016 “Yevdokimov and Others v. Russia”). RAPSI, 30 April 2020

Russian Supreme Court advises against jailing people accused of minor offenses due to COVID-19 pandemic

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the Russian Supreme Court has issued a recommendation advising judges to only detain people suspected or accused of non-serious crimes in exceptional cases. This recommendation appeared in a Supreme Court review of judicial practices, in connection with the implementation of legislation and measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Meduza, 30 April 2020

Freedom of religion

U.S. Religious-Freedom Report Cites Improvement in Uzbekistan, Deterioration In Russia

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is proposing the State Department remove Uzbekistan from its “worst of the worst” list of offenders of religious freedom, while reiterating that Russia should be put on that list. The independent, bipartisan advisory body created by Congress to make recommendations about global religious freedom proposed in its annual report on April 28 that 14 countries be put on the “country of particular concern” list, a category reserved for those that carrying out “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious freedom. RFE/RL, 28 April 2020

Political opposition

Yandex says its experimental search results trashing Alexey Navalny were ‘a mistake’

The Russian Internet giant Yandex has acknowledged a flaw in an experimental feature being tested on its search engine that caused some users to see overwhelmingly negative content when seeking information about opposition politician Alexey Navalny. The company says the search results were designed to capture trending content and the beta widget has now been removed from its website. Meduza, 28 April 2020

Sexual harassment

Sexual Harassment Claims Plague Liberal Radio Station Chief: BBC Russia

Two women have accused Alexei Venediktov, the head of Russia’s liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy, of sexual harassment, according to an extensive profile of the editor published by BBC Russia on Wednesday. The Moscow Times, 29 April 2020


Russia Says Suspected Terrorists ‘Liquidated’ In Yekaterinburg

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK) says security forces have “liquidated” three suspected extremists in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg. According to the NAK, the three men were killed in a counterterrorist operation early in the morning on April 30. The NAK said that weapons, ammunition, and handmade explosive devices were found at the residence of the killed suspects. The NAK asserted that the men were members of the Islamic State extremist group and were planning terrorist attacks in the city, but did not give details. RFE/RL, 30 April 2020


Senior Russian FSB Officer Named as Key MH17 Figure: Bellingcat

Federal Security Service (FSB) Col. Gen. Andrei Burlaka is believed to be the highest-ranking Russian official linked to the investigation into the downing of Flight MH17, according to a joint investigation by the investigative outlet Bellingcat and Russia’s The Insider news website published Tuesday. Dutch-led investigators have so far named four pro-Russian separatists as suspects in criminal proceedings into the deaths of 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014. The investigation appealed for witnesses last fall to help name a key figure identified as “Vladimir Ivanovich” in intercepted calls with separatist commanders. The Moscow Times, 28 April 2020

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