Rights in Russia week-ending 10 December 2021

Our round-up of the week’s news

5 December 2021

The Guardian: For Muratov, too – speaking in a rare interview over Zoom on a flying visit to New York last month – there is no doubt that the award is symbolic not just of an existential threat to press freedom but of a world on the brink. “I think our world has stopped loving democracy and has started reaching for dictatorships. Journalists are like independent media. They’re the defence line between dictatorship and war.”

RFE/RL: Human rights and media-freedom watchdogs are calling on Russia to stop prosecuting media lawyers and allow reporters to receive proper legal assistance as the authorities are “stepping up their harassment” of journalists via the controversial “foreign agents” law. Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued the pleas this week after one of the lawyers defending Ivan Safronov, a jailed investigative reporter charged with treason, fled Russia late last month.

5 December 2021

RFE/RL: Russian President Vladimir Putin is hoping for World Health Organization (WHO) approval soon for Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine so that it can be used more broadly around the world. “We intend to expand such assistance,” Putin said on December 5 in a video call with Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

6 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Monday confirmed 32,136 Covid-19 infections and 1,184 deaths.

RFE/RL: Another associate of jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has left Russia amid an ongoing crackdown against the defunct organizations associated with the Kremlin critic that were labeled as extremist earlier this year. Aleksandr Chernikov, the former head of Navalny’s network of regional campaign groups in Russia’s far-western exclave of Kaliningrad, told the Novy Kaliningrad newspaper on December 6 that he and his family are currently in the United States where they have asked for political asylum.

RFE/RL: Bashkir ethnic activist Ruslan Gabbasov has left Russia for Lithuania, where he has asked for asylum, Gabbasov told RFE/RL’s Idel.Realities on December 6. Gabbasov said his decision was influenced by pressure from Russian authorities, who tried to connect him with criminal cases in Russia’s Bashkortostan region.

RFE/RL: Amnesty International has launched an online petition demanding the immediate release of RFE/RL freelance correspondent Vladyslav Yesypenko, who has said he has been tortured while in detention in Russian-occupied Crimea since March. Yesypenko, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen who contributes to Crimea.Realities, was detained on March 10 on suspicion of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence. The father of one daughter had worked in Crimea for five years reporting on the social and environmental situation there before being detained.

Meduza: Blogger Yuri Khovansky, currently in pre-trial detention on charges of justifying terrorism, penned an open letter from jail, where he has been since June. In the text, Khovansky says investigators threatened him with serious prison time when he refused a plea bargain. Officers also allegedly promised “problems” for his girlfriend, Maria Nelyubova (who spoke about this before). Khovansky says the authorities suggested that they would plant drugs on her. Meduza is publishing a translation of Khovansky’s letter. 

Human Rights in Ukraine: The order to arrest Nariman Dzhelyal and two other Crimean Tatars doubtless came ‘from above’, but that does not absolve those FSB officers; ‘investigators’, and others implicated in torturing the men and fabricating charges against them of direct culpability.  Ukrainian legislators may shortly take the first step to ensuring that the perpetrators face both Ukrainian and, hopefully, western sanctions.  Russia is currently holding well over 100 Ukrainian political prisoners, of whom the majority are Crimean Tatars, so this move can only be the beginning. 

Meduza: Since August 2020, Russia has detained at least 20 Belarusian nationals facing persecution in their home country amid Alexander Lukashenko’s opposition crackdown, says a new report from BBC News Russian. What’s more, many of these detainees have been extradited to Belarus — either in response to official requests from Minsk or for allegedly violating Russian immigration laws. In other cases, Russian law enforcement agencies have expelled Belarusian nationals without going through the courts. Meduza summarizes the Russian BBC’s investigation here.

RFE/RL: The campaign targeting Russia’s rappers accelerated during protests in Moscow against the exclusion of opposition candidates from city council elections in 2019.

RFE/RL: The post included claims that Chistova, who teaches at public school No. 114 in the Volga region city of Perm, had bound the hands of children and kicked them out of her classroom, had gagged children with adhesive tape, and had regularly shouted and cursed at them.

7 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Tuesday confirmed 31,096 Covid-19 infections and 1,182 deaths.

RFE/RL: An online real estate service in Russia has started deleting advertisements with xenophobic elements after an RFE/RL report focusing on ads offering rentals “for Slavs only” was published last week.

RFE/RL: A court in Moscow has ordered Google to pay another fine, this time 5 million rubles ($67,600), for violating the country’s rules on banned content.

The Moscow Times: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s investigation into President Vladimir Putin’s alleged $1.3 billion palace was the most popular video on Russian YouTube in 2021, the video platform announced Monday.

RFE/RL: German federal prosecutors have demanded life in prison without parole for a Russian man accused of murdering a former Chechen commander in Berlin more than two years ago — allegedly on the orders of Moscow.

8 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Wednesday confirmed 30,752 Covid-19 infections and 1,179 deaths.

RFE/RL: A court in Moscow has sentenced a man to 32 months in prison for damaging a vehicle of the Federal Security Service (FSB) during January protest rallies in support of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. The Tver district court on December 8 found vlogger Konstantin Lakeyev guilty of damaging FSB property and sentenced him the same day.

The Moscow Times: A popular Russian TikTok blogger has been sentenced to nearly three years in a prison colony for damaging a car belonging to the security services during anti-government protests in January.

RFE/RL: Russia’s media regulator has blocked the online anonymity service Tor in what is seen as the latest move by Moscow to bring the Internet in Russia under its control.

RFE/RL: Russia’s Supreme Court has annulled the sentences of two former neo-Nazi activists convicted of involvement in the killing of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova in 2009. A lawyer of Baburova’s family, Pyotr Zaikin, told the Novaya gazeta newspaper on December 8 that the Supreme Court sent the case to a cassation entity, meaning a retrial is extremely doubtful. The Supreme Court decision comes after the European Court of Human Rights ruled in February that the 2011 trial of Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgenia Khasis, former members of the neo-Nazi group called Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN), was not fair and that the case must be revised. Markelov and Baburova, who were known for crusading against ultranationalist violence, were shot dead in broad daylight near the Kremlin in 2009.

Meduza: The Russian Supreme Court has deemed lawful a 1995 presidential decree that classified information about NKVD employees involved in Stalin-era repressions.  As reported by Novaya Gazeta, this decision was made on Wednesday, December 8, during a Supreme Court hearing on a claim filed by historian Sergey Prudovsky. In his lawsuit, the historian argued that decree No. 1203 was drafted in such a way that it allows for classifying NKVD employees as counterintelligence officers, whose personal data is not subject to disclosure. 

Human Rights in Ukraine: Crimean Solidarity Coordinator Mustafa Seidaliev should have been released on 7 December, after being jailed for 14 days.  He was the last of 22 Crimean Tatars to end jail sentences imposed for having come to greet lawyer Edem Semedlyaev on 23 November, after the latter finished a 12-day jail sentence in Russian-occupied Crimea for doing his job.  Instead, the young Crimean Tatar father of three has remained imprisoned with lawyers prevented from being present while two new protocols of administrative prosecution are drawn up. 

Human Rights in Ukraine: 43-year-old Ivan Yatskin has gone on hunger strike in protest at the systematic pressure and ill-treatment he is being subjected to in Russian captivity. Yatskin is currently being taken, in slow and very gruelling stages, to a harsh regime prison colony in the Kemerov region of Russia, and it is the deprivation of vital medication and the treatment he is receiving during these stages where he has limited contact with his lawyer and family that have left him with no other choice but to refuse food.

9 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Thursday confirmed 30,209 Covid-19 infections and 1,181 deaths.

RSF: The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to two journalists in Oslo, Norway on 10 December, the Philippines’ Maria Ressa and Russia’s Dmitri Muratov, who together embody all of the threats to journalism. The worst of which is murder. More than 1,600 journalists have been killed in the past 20 years, 46 of them in 2021 alone, according to data gathered by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Meduza: On Thursday, December 9, a district court in Russia’s Vladimir Region held a preliminary hearing on Alexey Navalny’s latest lawsuit against the administration of the prison where he is serving out his sentence. The Kremlin critic is suing to overturn the prison administration’s decision to place him under preventive supervision as an inmate “prone to commit crimes of an extremist orientation.” Navalny took part in the hearing via video link. The next court date is scheduled for December 28. 

Front Line Defenders: On 1 December 2021, the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Court upheld the previous decision by the Nizhny Novgorod Soviet District Court to find human rights defender Igor Kalaypin guilty of “participating in the activities of an undesirable organization” under Article 20.33 of the Code of Civic Conduct of the Russian Federation. The Court fined him 10,000 Russian Roubles. Igor Kalaypin considers this prosecution a consequence of his human rights work. He and his lawyers will appeal this decision.

RFE/RL: A Crimean Tatar rights activist being held in prison in Ukraine’s Russia-annexed Crimea had his detention extended on the day he should have been released. The Crimean Solidarity human rights group said that on December 7 its coordinator, Mustafa Seidaliyev, was found guilty of uploading to the Internet allegedly extremist material and was ordered to remain in detention a further 10 days. That action came the same day Seidaliyev was ending a 14-day jail term.

Human Rights in Ukraine: A Russian-controlled ‘court’ in occupied Crimea has sentenced Crimean Solidarity Coordinator Mustafa Seidaliev to a further ten days’ imprisonment over a video dated 2012 and posted on a VKontakte page which he last looked at back in 2016.  Two ‘rulings’ were passed a day after two absurd administrative protocols were drawn up to avoid releasing Seidaliev from a 14-day term of imprisonment (scroll down for details of the new imprisonment in chronological order).  

Human Rights in Ukraine: 43-year-old Ivan Yatskin has gone on hunger strike in protest at the systematic pressure and ill-treatment he is being subjected to in Russian captivity. Yatskin is currently being taken, in slow and very gruelling stages, to a harsh regime prison colony in the Kemerov region of Russia, and it is the deprivation of vital medication and the treatment he is receiving during these stages where he has limited contact with his lawyer and family that have left him with no other choice but to refuse food.

Meduza: A St. Petersburg court has jailed prominent investor August Meyer for two months pending trial for fraud. Meyer, a U.S.-born businessman who now holds Russian citizenship, is the owner of the beauty chain Rive Gauche and co-owner of the online retailer Ulmart. He stands accused of two counts of fraud totaling 2.4 billion rubles ($32.6 million). Meyer’s wife, Inna, is also a suspect in the case and was placed under house arrest. Speaking in court, in English (see the video below), Meyer recounted coming under pressure from Russian investigators. Allegedly, he was told that if he plead guilty, the authorities would release his wife. “Is it appropriate to hold a wife hostage?” Meyer asked. “Is this 1931 Soviet Union?”

RFE/RL: Authoritarian leaders are undermining the media and democratic institutions at the peril of peace, Dmitry Muratov, a joint winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, said on December 9 ahead of the award ceremony in Norway’s capital. Muratov, editor in chief of independent Russian newspaper Novaya gazeta, and Maria Ressa of the Filipino news website Rappler won the award “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said when announcing the prize in October. “Lack of belief in democracy means that, with time, people turn their backs on democracy, you will get a dictator, and dictatorship leads to war,” Muratov told a news conference in Oslo.

The Moscow Times: Russia will return to Greece the pre-war archives of Jewish communities that were stolen by Nazi forces, the country’s Jewish council said Thursday. “Our history returns home,” the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KISE) said in a statement.

10 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Friday confirmed 30,873 Covid-19 infections and 1,176 deaths.

The Guardian: Journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov were awarded the Nobel peace prize on Friday, at a ceremony that Ressa was almost blocked from attending because of travel restrictions related to legal cases filed against her in the Philippines.

The Nobel Prize: Antidote against tyranny. “Honorable members of the Nobel Committee, honorable guests! On the morning of October 8, I received a phone call from my mother. She wondered how things were going. -Well, Mom, we’ve got the Nobel Prize … -That’s nice. Anything else? … Look here, mom I’ll tell you everything,.”

Amnesty International: Responding to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov collecting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnes Callamard said: “For the first time in almost a century, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to journalists, highlighting the bravery and outstanding achievements of media in an increasingly polarized world where facts and truth are under relentless attack. Amnesty congratulates Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov on this prestigious award. It is a momentous day for these champions and defenders of human rights and press freedom. We hope it inspires others to follow in their path and speak truth to power.”

The Moscow Times: Giving the infamous “foreign agent” status to newspaper Novaya Gazeta, a rare independent outlet in a Russian media landscape largely under state control, would be “stupid,” its editor-in-chief said Friday, hours before receiving his Nobel Peace Prize.

Meduza: Lawyer Vladimir Voronin says he’s been removed from the proceedings on the criminal case against his client Liliya Chanysheva, the former head of Alexey Navalny’s campaign office in Ufa.

Meduza: “Hypothetically, there’s the possibility of a complete block of Tor — if the agency [Roskomnadzor] disconnects the [entire] Internet: that’s if we take the situation to the point of absurdity,” the expert concludes. “But if they leave access to a global network, there may still be [a block] — but, perhaps, thanks to future releases of Tor, this task will become more difficult with the help of updates.” 

Human Rights in Ukraine: Since the arrest in early September 2021 of Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader and journalist Nariman Dzhelyal, there has been a sharp escalation both in mass detentions, and in hate speech aimed at inciting enmity both towards the Mejlis, or self-governing body, of the Crimean Tatar people, and towards Crimean Tatars in general. It has been clear since 2016 that taking a strong civic stand, especially if you also report repression under Russian occupation, can get you arrested and sentenced to huge terms of imprisonment. Since early September, any Crimean Tatar, regardless of age or gender, can end up detained simply for standing on the street outside a political trial or for trying to greet those released from jail.

Amnesty InternationalCivil Rights DefendersEU-Russia Civil Society Forum [Board]: Memorial, a cornerstone of Russian civil society, is under threat of liquidation by the Russian authorities on baseless charges. Memorial’s two entities – Memorial Human Rights Centre and International Memorial Society – were labeled “foreign agents” in 2014 and 2016, respectively. In November 2021, prosecutors filed lawsuits for their liquidation, accusing both of not adhering to the repressive “foreign agents” legislation which stigmatises activism and is contrary to Russia’s international human rights obligations. They have also accused Memorial Human Rights Centre of “justifying terrorism and extremism.” The court hearings are ongoing at the time when this statement is issued: the next hearing for International Memorial will take place on 14 December, the next preliminary hearing for Memorial Human Rights Centre – on 16 December. At stake is the organisation’s very existence and its staff’s ability to continue their human rights work.

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