Rights in Russia week-ending 10 April 2020

Law enforcement

Chechnya’s leader praises the cops who beat up a man for violating coronavirus self-isolation

In a new video live-streamed on Instagram and aired on local state television, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov says he supports the police officers who recently beat up a local resident for violating the republic’s self-isolation restrictions. Meduza, 6 April 2020

Three Russian Gamers Arrested On Terrorism Charges That Relatives Reject

Three residents of Russia’s Far Eastern island of Sakhalin, an oil and gas hub, have been arrested on terrorism charges that their relatives say are a case of a misunderstanding. Yevgeny Balabas, the lawyer for the three men, told the Sakh.com Information Agency on April 6, that the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk city court approved the arrest of the three men on charges of the organization of a terrorist group and being members of such a group. RFE/RL, 7 April 2020

Freedom of association

Russia Declares U.S. Think Tank ‘Undesirable’

The Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office has added the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based global research and analysis group, to its list of undesirable organizations. “After researching the materials sent to the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office, it was decided to consider the nongovernmental organization Jamestown Foundation undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation,” the prosecutor’s press service said on April 7. RFE/RL, 8 April 2010

Freedom of expression

‘They Don’t Like How I’m Breathing’: Russian Journalist Documents Her Coronavirus-Related Death

PERM, Russia — “Today should have been my first day of vacation,” Anastasia Petrova wrote on her Facebook page on the afternoon of March 23. “But instead it’s my first day of sick leave.” “During the night, I developed a high fever,” the 36-year-old journalist continued. “I had a sore throat and a nasty cough. I called the doctor and answered their questions about my contacts with people who had returned from abroad (there were three of them, but all had returned more than two weeks before).” RFE.RL, 7 April 2020

Twitter Joke Over Origins Of Coronavirus Lands Russian ‘Satirist’ In Hot Water

A Twitter user in Russia is in trouble after making on online joke that pinned the coronavirus outbreak on a laboratory in Russia. The Investigative Committee said on April 7 that it had launched a probe into a tweet in which the user said that the coronavirus had been developed at a lab in Russia and then was spread from Russia to China.  RFE/RL, 8 April 2010

Russian Activist Says She’s Hit By First Investigation Under ‘Fake’ Coronavirus News Law

Russia has launched what appears to be its first criminal probe into suspected public dissemination of false information about the new coronavirus just two days after President Vladimir Putin signed a new law on knowingly misinforming the public into the nation’s criminal code. St. Petersburg activist Anna Shushpanova said on her personal social-media page on April 4 that local investigators searched her apartment a day earlier and took her computers and telephone after she posted local residents’ concerns about possibly inadequate quarantine measures at a clinic and hospital in the town of Sestroretsk in a group on VKontakte, a popular Russian equivalent of Facebook. RFE/RL, 5 April 2020

‘She Pricked His Butt Roleplaying’: ‘Putin’s Chef’ Sues Activist Sobol for Libel

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a sanctioned catering magnate with close ties to President Vladimir Putin, has sued opposition activist Lyubov Sobol for libel over her claims that he ordered a poisoning attack on her husband. Prigozhin is seeking Sobol and the pro-Putin religious television channel Tsargrad to retract her remarks made on the air last summer. Sobol’s husband was stabbed in the thigh with a near-deadly dose of a psychotropic substance in 2016, rendering him convulsing and unconscious. The Moscow Times, 7 April 2020

Russian radio journalist accused of justifying terrorism goes on trial

The Second West District Military Court will start hearing a case against journalist of the radio Echo of Moscow in Pskov Svetlana Prokopyeva charged with justifying terrorism on April 20, attorney Vitaly Cherkasov has told RAPSI. The case read that the journalist voiced on-air an opinion that the state authorities induced the youth to radical actions when discussing the self-destruction of a 17-year student in the premises of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in the city of  RAPSI, 8 April 2020.

In Russia’s far east, a feminist theatre director comes under attack

“Ifeel that today there are so many invisible female political prisoners: mothers, wives – women who bear an incredible burden thanks to political trials,” says Russian artist Yulia Tsvetkova, who’s been designated a political prisoner by the Memorial human rights association. “Political prisoners are heroes, but women are the invisible service staff.” Tsvetkova, a theatre director, feminist and LGBT activist, has had time to reflect. In October 2019, she was interrogated in her hometown of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and in November her social media posts led to her flat and theatre studio being searched for evidence of pornography. Tsvetkova was charged with spreading pornography and has been under house arrest since 23 November last year. Open Democracy, 7 April 2020

Meet the Activist-Doctor Who Has Become the Kremlin’s Loudest Coronavirus Critic

After weeks of working on overdrive, Anastasiya Vasilyeva, a doctor turned activist, finally had some time to kill. It was late Thursday morning and the head of the independent Doctors’ Alliance labor union had just passed the halfway point between Moscow and the Novgorod region, six hour’s drive northwest of the Russian capital. Vasilyeva, 36, was traveling in a convoy of four cars stocked with personal protective equipment (PPE) — gloves, masks, respirators — that she and nine other union members were planning to deliver to two local hospitals. “What we’re doing is helping our government,” Vasilyeva told The Moscow Times by phone. “They’re not doing this work, so we’re taking it on ourselves.” The Moscow Times, 7 April 2020

Why Russian mathematician Azat Miftakhov is on trial

Aleksandr Litoy: In Russia, the authorities are increasingly taking aim at left-wing activists – using any means necessary. The charges against Miftakhov, his lawyers say, stem from his anarchist beliefs and support for political prisoners. Open Democracy, 1 April 2020

Prisoners’ rights

COVID-19: Jailed Human Rights Defenders Must Be Released Immediately

In light of the serious threat posed to prisoners by the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, FIDH and its undersigned member organisations recall governments’ obligation to ensure the safety and health of detained individuals that are under their responsibility, and launch a campaign, #ForFreedom , to call for the release of all jailed human rights defenders (HRDs). FIDH, 8 April 2020

‘It’s a threat to his life’ 64-year-old Gulag historian Yury Dmitriev was acquitted on child porn charges in 2018, but he’s still in jail on appeal. Now, his attorney fears COVID-19 could be the end.

In April 2018, historian Yury Dmitriev was acquitted on two counts: sexual misconduct toward a minor and the production of child pornography. Dmitriev leads the Karelian branch of the human rights organization “Memorial,” whose activists and scholars have faced police persecution across Russia; he has also worked to discover the locations of multiple mass graves made during the Stalinist Terror. In 2018, Dmitriev was accused of abusing his adopted daughter Natalia, who was 12 years old at the time. The historian, now 64 years old, said he periodically took pictures of his daughter to document her good health after her teachers mistook ink stains on her skin for bruises. Even though Dmitriev was ultimately found not guilty, Karelia’s regional Supreme Court overturned that verdict in June 2018, ultimately sending Dmitriev back to a pretrial detention center where he still remains today. Now, activists who have advocated in the past two years for Dmitriev to be transferred to house arrest worry that he may become even more vulnerable as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads through Russia’s penitentiary system. Journalist Katerina Gordeeva spoke with Dmitriev’s attorney, Viktor Anufriyev, about this new development in the historian’s case and what the defense is doing to respond. Meduza, 9 April 2020

RUSSIA/UKRAINE: Detained Rights Defender Must Be Released: Server Mustafayev

Crimean human rights defender Server Mustafayev has recovered from a viral respiratory infection he suffered for almost a month. During his illness he received inadequate medical care and he continued to be brought to appear in court. His trial before a Russian military court has been adjourned and he remains in detention. Server Mustafayev’s health remains frail which makes him more vulnerable to COVID-19. He is a prisoner of conscience and should be immediately and unconditionally released. Amnesty International, 9 April 2020

Rights advocate turns to Foreign Minister urging help for Russian convicts abroad

Chair of the Coordination Council, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council Alexander Brod has turned to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov seeking information on the measures the body undertakes to ensure health and safety of Russian citizens serving jail terms in foreign countries. The Human Rights Council, Brod informs the Minister in a letter a copy of which RAPSI has, receives calls from relatives of Russian convicts abroad, who find themselves in a situation of danger because of the coronavirus pandemic and encounter problems due to worsening incarceration conditions and catering. RAPSI, 8 April 2020

Freedom of religion

Belarus Refuses To Extradite Russian Jehovah’s Witness Wanted For ‘Extremism’

Belarusian authorities have ruled against extraditing a Russian citizen who is a Jehovah’s Witness back to Russia, where he is wanted for alleged extremism. The Jehovah’s Witnesses group in Russia said on April 8 that Nikolai Makhalichev was released the day before in the eastern Belarusian city of Vitsebsk immediately after the Prosecutor-General’s Office announced its decision to deny the Russian extradition request. RFE/RL, 9 April 2020

Surveillance / Privacy

Moscow Rolls Out Virus Quarantine Passes Despite Pledging Otherwise – BBC

Authorities in Moscow have begun issuing digital QR code passes to employees of city-funded media and large companies, as well as volunteers, despite pledges not to enforce the coronavirus lockdown with the technology, BBC Russia reported Thursday. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin ruled out using QR codes to police people’s movements during the monthlong lockdown as long as Muscovite continue to follow self-isolation orders. BBC Russia said it obtained several passes with scannable QR codes designating holders as people allowed to move around the city.  The Moscow Times, 9 April 2020

Moscow woman fined for exercising far from her place of residence

The Preobrazhensky District Court in Moscow fined 15,000 rubles (about $200) a woman, who had exercised at a sportsground situated at a significant distance from her place of residence in infringement on the self-isolation regime, Ulyana Solopova, the Moscow City Court’s press-secretary, informed RAPSI on Thursday. The court found the woman guilty of violating an order of the capital’s Mayor prohibiting residents to wander more than 100 meters from their registered places of residence. RAPSI, 9 April 2020

The Courts

Law and order under lockdown How the coronavirus quarantine is making it even harder to find justice in Russia’s courts

On March 18, in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus, Russia’s Supreme Court imposed a moratorium on all hearings across the nation’s judicial system except for particularly “urgent cases.” Individual judges get to decide what qualifies as urgent, and sources in the justice system tell Meduza that they worry Russia’s COVID-19 containment measures are making it even harder for defendants to get a fair trial. Cases are now moving through the courts in the absence of public audiences, defendants, and sometimes even witnesses or defense attorneys. Meduza, 8 April 2020

Historical atrocities

Russian Investigators Probe Wartime Nazi Massacres

Russia on Thursday launched a probe into three World War II-era atrocities in areas occupied by Nazi forces. The investigation was opened following findings in historical archives about killings in several locations in southern Russia’s Rostov region, including Zmiyovskaya Balka, a village where “no less than 27,000 people” were shot by firing squad. The Moscow Times, 9 April 2020

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