Rights in Russia week-ending 11 June 2021

Week-ending 11 June 2021

Our round-up of news from the past week

In other news:

5 June 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia has confirmed 5,117,274 cases of coronavirus and 123,436 deaths, according to the national coronavirus information center. Russia’s total excess fatality count since the start of the coronavirus pandemic is above 460,000.

RFE/RL: It was an undertaking that endured as a symbol of Soviet brutality and flawed planning. Prisoners of the gulag forced labor camp system would die in their thousands toiling on the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM), a showpiece communist project that was never completed. Now, decades later, Russian prisoners are set to help finish the task. Amid an exodus of Central Asian migrant workers who traditionally man construction sites across the country, the penitentiary service is moving to bring in convicts to replace them — and spearhead the expansion of a track that now stretches from Lake Baikal to the Sea of Japan. […] “This will not be the gulag,” said Aleksandr Kalashnikov, the penitentiary service head, as he announced the program at a meeting with officials on April 20. “These will be completely new, decent conditions.” But for many human rights activists and government critics, the idea cuts too close to the bone. The very notion of sending prisoners for hard manual labor in remote, often inhospitable climes was meant to be a vestige of the Soviet past, of a time when dictator Josef Stalin purged the ranks of the political elite and the intelligentsia and many lived in fear of being the next perceived enemy to be exiled, shot, or carted away to camps in Siberia.

6 June 2021

RFE/RL: There’s the gun-rights activist who infiltrated U.S. Republican Party circles and served 15 months in U.S. detention for being an unregistered Russian agent. There’s the well-known nationalist writer who formed a volunteer battalion to fight on the side of Russian-backed militias in eastern Ukraine. There’s the former Hollywood martial arts action hero who now does cameos in cell phone commercials. […] What makes the September Duma election important is 2024. That’s when Putin’s current term expires. The Duma last year tweaked the constitution, amending it to make Putin eligible to remain in office for another 12 years. But he hasn’t shown his hand yet. If United Russia loses its absolute majority, or if another party gains substantially, in this year’s vote, it could be problematic for another Putin run.

7 June 2021

RFE/RL: David Dushman, the last surviving Soviet soldier involved in the liberation of Auschwitz, has died, the AP reported. He was 98. Dushman flattened the fence around the Nazi death camp located in southern Poland with his tank on January 27, 1945 as Soviet forces moved westward toward Berlin. The Nazis deported at least 1.3 million people to the Auschwitz complex between 1940 and 1945, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. About 1.1 million were murdered by the camp authorities.

8 June 2021

RFE/RL: Although the protagonist died one year ago, the strange saga of Russia’s so-called accidental dissident continues to play out in a courtroom in the northern city of Arkhangelsk. On May 31 and June 1, a court heard testimony in the case of Sergei Mokhnatkin, who died in Moscow on May 28, 2020, at the age of 66 after a long illness brought on, his family says, by abuse he received while in prison in the Arkhangelsk region in 2016. That incident left him with a fractured spine. Mokhnatkin is charged posthumously with “disrupting prison routine,” but his defense attorneys say the case remains crucially important because, bit by bit, detailed information about the dark side of Russian prison life is emerging.

9 June 2021

RFE/RL: A fire caused by the malfunction of an artificial-lung ventilation device has killed three COVID-19 patients in a hospital in Russia’s western city of Ryazan. The governor of the Ryazan region, Nikolai Lyubimov, said on June 9 that the device, produced by the Boaray company in China, exploded overnight, sparking a fire in the medical institution. According to the regional administration, eight people, including two nurses, sustained severe burns in the blaze.

RFE/RL: Police have detained a popular blogger in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, over his song mocking governm ent’s efforts to solve the deadly 2002 hostage-taking incident at Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater. The investigative Committee said on June 9 that Yury Khovansky, whose YouTube channel has more than 4.4 million subscribers, was detained overnight on suspicion of “justifying terrorism.” The committee also placed a video on YouTube showing Khovansky lying facedown on the floor with his hands behind his head as he is being detained.

The Moscow Times: A Dutch court heard Wednesday how two defendants discussed the procurement of a surface-to-air missile which prosecutors say was eventually used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014. Judges this week began hearing evidence in the trial of four people — three Russians and a Ukrainian — charged in connection with an attack on the airliner over war-torn eastern Ukraine which crashed, killing all 298 people on board. Russian nationals Oleg Pulatov, Igor Girkin and Sergei Dubinsky, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko were charged with murder after the Boeing 777 was blown from the sky on a routine flight between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur. 

The Moscow Times: Russia will probe the recent national music awards for “gay propaganda” after it featured attendees in gender-flipped clothing and what viewers said resembled a gay marriage ceremony. Last Friday’s Muz-TV music awards broadcast sparked controversy when beauty blogger Igor Sinyak walked the red carpet in a gown and one of Russia’s highest-paid TikTokers Danya Milokhin appeared in a half-dress, half-tuxedo. 

10 June 2021

CPJ: Russian authorities should thoroughly and swiftly investigate the recent attack on journalist Andrey Afanasyev, hold the perpetrators to account, and ensure that members of the press can work safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The Moscow Times: A Siberian journalist investigating a U.S.-sanctioned Chechen fight club said Wednesday that he had been severely beaten by unknown men. Andrei Afanasyev said at least three people had hit him “with either a pipe or piece of rebar” outside his apartment in the Far East city of Blagoveshchensk 7,500 kilometers east of Moscow. 

The Moscow Times: A lawsuit filed with a Moscow court accuses popular YouTuber and journalist Yury Dud of “online drug propaganda,” the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported Thursday.  The government-affiliated Safe Internet League — a nonprofit that acts as an online morality watchdog — filed a police appeal against Dud in April, accusing him of promoting drugs in his recent interviews with blogger Ivangai and rapper Morgenshtern.

RFE/RL: A court in Moscow has fined social media outlets Facebook and Telegram for their “failure” to remove content “banned” by Russian authorities. The Magistrates Court in the Taganka district on June 10 fined the U.S.-based social network giant Facebook 17 million rubles ($235,300) and Telegram 10 million rubles ($138,400) for what it called “administrative offenses.”

11 June 2021

The Moscow Times: The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has issued a note of protest to the Russian Foreign Ministry over its lack of access to jailed ex-Marine Trevor Reed and “grave concern” for his health, it said in a statement Friday.  The Embassy said Reed, who was diagnosed with coronavirus on May 25 and hospitalized after his condition worsened, has been repeatedly denied phone calls to his family and Embassy personnel. It also said the hospital treating Reed has withheld updates on his health since he was admitted.

RFE/RL: A daughter of a close associate of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov who was forcibly removed by police from a shelter for domestic violence victims and rights activists has warned that she could be killed in an “honor killing” if she is returned to her home. The June 11 warning about Khalima Taramova’s fate came one day after Chechen and Daghestani police raided the apartment in Daghestan, where Taramova fled, and took her away. The apartment where she was staying was used by domestic violence advocates to protect women fleeing their homes. Taramova’s whereabouts were not immediately clear.

RFE/RL: A Chechen asylum seeker controversially deported from France to Russia has been sentenced to 1 1/2 years in prison on alleged weapons charges. Magomed Gadayev, an opponent of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, was deported from France to Russia in April despite concerns from rights groups that he could be tortured or killed. The Paris-based Chechen diaspora organization Bart Marsho and Russia’s leading human rights group, Memorial, confirmed on June 9 that a court in Chechnya had sentenced Gadayev to 1 1/2 years in prison.

RFE/RL: Russian protest artist Pavel Krisevich has been detained after his “suicide” performance in which he used a nonlethal firearm on Red Square in Moscow. Witnesses say Krisevich fired a pistol twice into the air on June 11 at Moscow’s main tourist attraction, and then once more while he held the gun to his head. His girlfriend Anastasia Mikhailova said the pistol was a noncombat model loaded with blank ammunition.

The Moscow Times: Every day at 6 a.m., former Russian army officer Yevgeny sits bolt upright in bed, remembering security officers in black balaclavas storming his apartment during an early morning raid.  His was one of 16 Moscow households targeted by the authorities earlier this year for being Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination outlawed in Russia since 2017, when the Supreme Court labeled it an extremist organization on par with jailed Kremlin critic Alexei  Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. 

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