Rights in Russia week-ending 12 November 2021

Our round-up of the week’s news

6 November 2021

Meduza: Legendary Soviet news anchor Igor Kirillov died in Moscow on October 30. He was 89 years old. For more than two decades, Kirillov hosted Vremya — a nightly news program viewed religiously throughout the entire USSR — and in doing so became a Soviet institution. Like hundreds of millions of others, journalist Ekaterina Barabash experienced Kirillov live and on the air. At Meduza’s request, she reflects on the man and his broadcasts. 

7 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Sunday confirmed 39,165 Covid-19 infections and 1,179 deaths.

RFE/RL: Russian prosecutors in the southern region of Rostov have opened a criminal investigation into the torture of inmates at a prison hospital, local rights activists said. Igor Omelchenko, the chairman of the local Public Monitoring Commission, told Meduza news agency that the case was opened in September and focuses on the torture of prisoners at Interregional Tuberculosis Hospital No. 19.

8 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Monday confirmed 39,400 Covid-19 infections and 1,190 deaths.

RFE/RL: Russian prosecutors in the souther region of Rostov have opened a criminal investigation into the torture of inmates at a prison hospital, local rights activists said. Igor Omelchenko, the chairman of the local Public Monitoring Commission, told Meduza news agency that the case was opened in September and focuses on the torture of prisoners at Interregional Tuberculosis Hospital No. 19.

The GuardianThe videos from the Russian prison hospital are almost too horrific to describe. In the worst, the victims are tied down while other inmates rape or penetrate them with metal objects, the screams and abuse recorded in bodycam footage that was later used as blackmail. Sergey Savelyev says he spent two of his years as an inmate secretly copying hundreds of videos of rape and other abuse, taking them from an internal network in a prison hospital that activists call one of the country’s most notorious torture chambers. “I was always scared,” he said in an interview from France, where he has requested asylum. “If I ever talked about what I was doing, I wouldn’t be talking to you today.”

RFE/RL: Russia on Monday declared the main group defending LGBTQ rights a “foreign agent” on Monday, as part of a continuing crackdown on media outlets and rights groups. The ministry also declared several lawyers close to the Russian opposition “foreign agents.” The Russian LGBT Network, which was set up in 2006 and operates in several regions, was entered in the justice ministry’s register of foreign agents, which already includes journalists, lawyers and activists.

RFE/RL: A Russian court has ordered Google to pay 2 million rubles ($28,085) for violating the country’s rules on banned content. In recent months, Russian courts have ordered Google to pay fines totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars for failing to delete banned content on its search engine and YouTube.

RFE/RL: A court in Russia has confirmed the refusal of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Mordovia to consider a request by former U.S. marine Paul Whelan to serve out in his home country the rest of his prison term on espionage charges that he says are fake.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russia has deprived Ivan Yatskin of his liberty, and now appears intent on leaving him crippled through its failure to provide him with any medical care or to even pass on the medication provided by his family. The treatment he has received over recent weeks is tantamount to torture.

RFE/RL: Several dozen Chinese workers in Russia’s Far East staged a protest on November 7 against their employer, Kremlin-controlled oil giant Rosneft. Roughly 50 workers walked out of their temporary housing in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and walked toward the center of the city, local media reported.

The Moscow Times: On Nov. 7, 1917, the Russian Bolshevik Party, led by its leader Vladimir Lenin, seized control of Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), the capital of Imperial Russia, and overthrew the Provisional Government. The events would herald the Russian Civil War and eventually the formation of the Soviet Union. Over 100 years later, Russian Communist Party members and other devotees continue to celebrate the anniversary with a parade on Red Square in Moscow.

9 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Tuesday confirmed 39,160 Covid-19 infections and a new pandemic record of 1,211 deaths.

RFE/RL: One of Russia’s top human rights lawyers has been added to a Russian registry of “foreign agents” along with four associates. Ivan Pavlov, who has defended jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, his organizations, and journalist Ivan Safronov, was added to the list by the Justice Ministry on November 8.

Amnesty International: Reacting to the news that LGBT-Network, a prominent Russian group defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, and five human rights lawyers from Komanda 29 have been added by the Ministry of Justice to its list of “foreign agents”, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, said: “Beyond shameful, the justice ministry’s decision reveals that committed, principled lawyers defending the rights of people targeted in politically motivated cases and frontline LGBTI rights defenders are unwelcome and “foreign” in Putin’s Russia.

RFE/RL: The creators of a YouTube channel that broadcasts an online series about a fictional chairman of the executive committee of the Russian Far Eastern city of Ussuriisk say a probe has been launched against them. Producer Andrei Klochkov said on November 9 that police searched his home and homes of his team members last week, saying that they are suspected of “major hooliganism.” Members of the team have not been charged with any crimes.

RFE/RL: Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed has begun a hunger strike at the Russian prison where he is serving a nine-year sentence. Attorneys Sergei Nikitenkov and Viktoria Buklova told the Interfax news agency on November 9 that their client had been on hunger strike for four days to protest violations of his rights, including his “illegal” placement in solitary confinement in September.

RFE/RL: Prosecutors are seeking lengthy prison terms for seven people who led protests in Ingushetia against a change to the administrative boundaries between the Russian North Caucasus regions of Chechnya and Ingushetia.

The Moscow Times: Russians are increasingly facing prosecution for posting provocative photos of themselves in front of religious landmarks in what analysts say reflects the Kremlin’s intensifying focus on defending conservative values.

The Moscow Times: Russia’s internet watchdog is considering sweeping bans of “perverted” TV shows and movies on streaming platforms in a proposal criticized by industry players as vague and punitive, the Vedomosti business daily reported Tuesday. Roskomnadzor, the state media and communications regulator, has reportedly proposed simultaneous changes to three Russian laws regulating media, protection of children from harmful content and banning displays of “gay propaganda” toward minors.

The Moscow Times: An underground crematorium in central Russia was found to have continued burning human remains despite being shut down by authorities two years ago, the Znak.com news website reported Monday. The outlet said it initiated an inspection in 2019 of an illegal site near two major Kurgan city hospitals 2,000 kilometers east of Moscow. The inspection led to the site’s operators being fined and liquidated at the time.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Exactly five years ago, on 9 November 2016, Russia’s FSB arrested two internationally known Ukrainian academics, Dmytro Shtyblikov and Oleksiy Bessarabov, and Volodymyr Dudka, a retired naval captain. This was Russia’s second attempt in three months to claim that they had foiled a ‘Ukrainian saboteur’ plot, and the first in which the alleged ‘plotters’ actually knew each other.  The fact that the men were friends did not make the FSB’s plot any the more plausible, yet all of the men remain imprisoned to this day. 

10 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Wednesday confirmed 38,058 Covid-19 infections and a new pandemic record of 1,239 deaths.

RFE/RL: The Russian human rights group Gulagu.net has released new videos purportedly showing instances of torture and rape in a prison hospital in the city of Saratov. The group said the clips published on YouTube on November 9 had been recorded in the OTB-1 tuberculosis infirmary between July 2015 and September 2020. The nine videos appear to show instances of anal and oral rape allegedly recorded in the infirmary. Seven of them have dates on them.

The Moscow Times: A prominent NGO that tracks abuses in Russia’s prison system has released a new leaked video that shows inmates being sexually assaulted in a notorious prison hospital at the heart of a national torture scandal.

The Moscow Times: Russian prosecutors on Wednesday dismissed the criminal case against a former prison inmate who leaked videos of torture inside a Russian jail and is now seeking asylum in France. Last month, the Gulagu.net NGO published footage of abuse at a prison in the central city of Saratov. The videos were leaked by Sergei Savelyev — a Belarus national who had served time there for drug trafficking. 

RFE/RL: The former head of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s support group in Russia’s Bashkortostan region has been placed in pretrial detention on extremism charges. The Kirov district court in Bashkortostan’s capital, Ufa, ruled on November 10 that Lilia Chanysheva must remain in pretrial detention in Moscow until at least January 9.

Human Rights in UkraineMuslim Aliev is one of at least two Crimean Tatar political prisoners who are almost permanently held in the appalling conditions of a Russian punishment cell [SHIZO].  Aliev has been recognized by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience due to the lack of any grounds for the 19-year sentence passed by a Russian court, and it seems safe to assume that these extra ‘punishments’ are equally unwarranted.

RFE/RL: In a far northeastern corner of Yakutia, about 1,600 kilometers from Yakutsk, ecologist Sergei Zimov and his son Nikita have created what they call Pleistocene Park. They have turned a 145-square-kilometer plot of land into an experiment in reversing the effects of climate change. To halt the thawing of permafrost, they are repopulating the area with wild animals.

11 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Thursday confirmed 40,759 Covid-19 infections and 1,237 deaths.

RFE/RL: The Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office has asked the Supreme Court to shut down the international branch of one of the country’s most prominent human rights groups, Memorial, for failure to comply with requirements of the controversial law on “foreign agents.” International Memorial was added to the “foreign agents” registry in October 2016. The group said on November 11 that the hearing on the case will be held on November 25. International Memorial said the “foreign agents” legislation was meant to suppress independent organizations and that it saw no legal basis for it to be dismantled.

The Moscow Times: Russian prosecutors are moving to shutter the country’s most respected rights group Memorial, it announced Thursday, in the latest legal effort to silence independent voices critical of President Vladimir Putin. Memorial said it was notified by Russia’s Supreme Court that prosecutors had filed a demand to dissolve the group over systematic violations of “foreign agent” legislation.

The Guardian: Russian authorities have threatened to shutter Memorial, the country’s oldest civil rights group, in a move that the celebrated NGO has called politically motivated. Prosecutors have filed a lawsuit to liquidate the human rights organisation for alleged violations of Russia’s “foreign agents” act. If successful, the NGO’s closure would be a watershed moment in the Kremlin’s assault on independent thought in Russia.

The Moscow Times: A court in central Russia has jailed an ally of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, making her the first member of his network to be arrested on retroactive charges of extremism, her lawyer said Wednesday. Liliya Chanysheva is the former head of Navalny’s political headquarters in the city of Ufa 1,000 kilometers east of Moscow. The headquarters disbanded last spring in anticipation of a court ruling that outlawed Navalny’s groups as “extremist” organizations.

RFE/RL: A Russian court has extended the pretrial detention of Andrei Pivovarov, the former executive director of the pro-democracy Open Russia movement. On November 11, a court in the southern city of Krasnodar ruled that Pivovarov must be remanded in custody for another six months. He was first detained in late May when he was taken off a Warsaw-bound plane just before takeoff from St. Petersburg.

RFE/RL: Russian authorities deny that they deported noted Turkmen opposition activist Azat Isakov, who for several years lived in Russia’s Moscow region, saying that he left of his own accord for his native Turkmenistan where rights groups say he may face imprisonment and torture. The Chronicles Of Turkmenistan website obtained an official letter from Russia’s Interior Ministry saying that Isakov left Russia for the city of Turkmenabat in Turkmenistan on October 22 and recommending that Turkmen authorities should be contacted to ascertain his whereabouts. Exiled opposition politician Chemen Ore voiced concern about Isakov last week, saying that the 37-year-old opposition activist had been missing since October 20.

The Moscow Times: Plans to renovate the iconic central Moscow building that houses Russia’s state-run TASS news agency are facing fierce opposition from residents and architects. The unique Soviet brutalist building was built on Ulitsa Bolshaya Nikitskaya in 1977, with plans to reconstruct its facade and fit its windows with metal frames mothballed since 2016.

RFE/RL: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, best known for his novels Crime And Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and The Idiot, was born in Moscow on November 11, 1821. Considered one of Russia’s greatest writers, Dostoyevsky is still widely read around the world and influenced many later writers, both at home and abroad. His books have been translated into at least 170 languages. He died on February 9, 1881.

12 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Friday confirmed 40,123 Covid-19 infections and 1,235 deaths.

The Council of Europe: Statement by Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić: The news that the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office seeks to liquidate International Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most reputable human rights organisations, on the basis of the so-called “Foreign Agents” law is very regrettable. As the Council of Europe repeatedly indicated, this law stigmatises NGOs, media and individuals and has had a repressive impact on civil society in Russia over recent years. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation has not acted upon the Council of Europe’s repeated calls to repeal the Foreign Agents legislation. The liquidation of International Memorial would deal a further devastating blow to civil society, which is an essential pillar of any democracy. We therefore urge the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office to reconsider this move and reiterate our availability to assist the Russian authorities in reviewing the “Foreign Agents law” in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.

RFE/RL: The head of the Council of Europe (CoE) says Russia’s moves aimed at closing down the rights group Memorial are “regrettable” and would deal a “devastating blow” to civil society in the country.

The Moscow Times: Closing down respected Russian rights group Memorial would deal a “devastating blow” to civil society in the country, the secretary-general of pan-European rights body the Council of Europe said Friday.

Human Rights WatchAmnesty International, Civic Assistance Committee (designated a “foreign agent” by Russia’s Justice Ministry), Civil Rights Defenders, Committee Against Torture, Conflict Analysis and Prevention Center, European Human Rights Advocacy Center (EHRAC), EU-Russia Civil Society Forum’s Board, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Norwegian Helsinki Committee: Joint statement by Russian and international human rights groups in support of Memorial: Russian authorities’ move to shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most prominent civil society organizations standing up for human rights, working to commemorate victims of Soviet repression, and providing a platform for free debate and artistic expression, is an outrageous strike into the very heart of Russia’s human rights community. Memorial has two key entities: Memorial Human Rights Center and International Memorial Society. On November 11, International Memorial Society received a letter from Russia’s Supreme Court informing them that on November 8 the Prosecutor General’s Office had filed a lawsuit seeking their liquidation over repeated violations of Russia’s “foreign agents” legislation. The court hearing is set for November 25.

Amnesty International: Reacting to news that Russian prosecutors have requested the judicial liquidation of the prominent human rights group International Memorial, and its sister organization Human Rights Centre Memorial, Marie Struthers, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International, said: “The Russian authorities’ move to extinguish one of the oldest and most influential human rights groups in the country demonstrates their relentless determination to end all ongoing human rights work in Russia. By targeting Memorial and its mission to preserve the memory of victims of human rights violations during the Soviet era, the authorities believe they can simply erase the state’s past crimes against its own people from the history books forever.”

Human Rights Watch [Tanya Lokshina]: Russian authorities have moved to shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most prominent rights organization, an outrageous assault on the jugular of Russia’s civil society. Memorial, which defends human rights, works to commemorate victims of Soviet repression, and provides a platform for open debate, has two key entities: Memorial Human Rights Center and International Memorial Society.

EU-Russia Civil Society Forum: The Board of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum strongly condemns the recent decisions taken by the Russian authorities and calls for the quashing this legislation. We also call on European civil society actors, authorities of the European Union and its member states, as well as the institutions of the international community, such as the Council of Europe, to express their solidarity with these organisations and individuals and demand the quashing of these repressive laws.

BASEES: It is with utter shock and disbelief that BASEES received the news that Russia’s Prosecutor General has requested that the Supreme Court ‘liquidate’ Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest civil rights organisations.

RFE/RL: Shortly after it received a notice from Russia’s Supreme Court saying prosecutors were seeking its closure, Russia’s oldest and perhaps most revered human rights group, Memorial, shared the news in a tweet that summed up the reaction of its staff: “We can’t believe it.” And yet, many observers of Russia’s increasingly authoritarian turn under President Vladimir Putin were not surprised by this development.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russia has taken legal steps to get both the International Memorial Society and the Memorial Human Rights Centre forcibly dissolved.  In both cases, alleged infringements of the notorious ‘Foreign Agents’ law are cited as the pretext, however the two organizations, which play a vital role in monitoring political and religious persecution in Russia and occupied Crimea, have long faced different forms of attack.

RFE/RL: A Russian court in southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don has handed lengthy prison terms to a third group of individuals from the North Caucasus region of North Ossetia who took part in a massive rally in April 2020 against anti-coronavirus restrictions. The Kirov district court on November 12 found Akhsartag Ailarov, Dzhon Dzhioyev, Valery Melikyan, and Bimbolat Bekuzarov guilty of taking part in mass disorders and sentenced them to 3 1/2 years in prison each. A fourth individual, Zaur Kaitmazov, was sentenced to four years in prison on the same charge.

Human Rights in Ukraine: In a chilling new escalation in Russian repression in occupied Crimea, lawyer Edem Semedlyaev has been jailed for twelve days essentially for representing Crimean Tatars facing prosecution for trying to attend a political hearing.  Semedlyaev was also fined four thousand roubles for disobeying the officer who illegally ordered the lawyer to strip naked.  As fellow lawyer Nikolai Polozov has commented, this is not just the Russian occupation authorities’ personal revenge against Edem himself for his active position in politically motivated cases, but ‘a red spot’ to terrorize all lawyers involved in such cases.  

RFE/RL: Russian authorities have added the founding leader of a human rights group that recently released a second batch of videos purportedly showing torture and rape at a prison hospital to the country’s list of wanted criminals.Vladimir Osechkin’s name appeared on the wanted persons registry of Russia’s Interior Ministry on November 11, two days after his Gulagu.net organization released a second batch of videos that Osechkin says were recorded in the OTB-1 tuberculosis infirmary between July 2015 and September 2020.

The Moscow Times: Russia has added the founder of a prominent prisoners’ rights NGO that has leaked video of alleged widespread prison torture to its wanted list for a second time, the activist said Friday. Gulagu.net founder Vladimir Osechkin, who has lived in France since 2015, was added to Russia’s wanted list two days after the NGO published a new batch of videos showing graphic torture and rape of inmates at a Saratov region prison hospital. 

EU-Russia Civil Society Forum: Civil society organizations and activists defending democratic values, human rights and environment in Bulgaria and Russia continue to be exposed to strong online pressure and hate speech in the media and internet. However, independent and democratic journalists and media outlets have the power to help activists to overcome this problem by reporting on their work and covering cases of repression against them. It was concluded at the online round table with representatives of civil society organizations from Bulgaria and Russia on the topic “From Russia to the EU? Media and online pressure against the defenders of human rights and the environment in Bulgaria”. The discussion, organized by the BlueLink Foundation, took place on November 10, 2021 as part of the events dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.

The Moscow Times: Two Russian paratroopers died during snap military drills with Belarus near its western border with EU member Poland on Friday when their parachutes malfunctioned in strong winds, the Defense Ministry in Moscow said. “Despite doctors’ efforts both Russian servicemen died of their wounds,” the  ministry said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

Leave a Reply