Rights in Russia week-ending 13 November 2020

Freedom of assembly

RFE/RL, Monday, 9 November 2020: A court of appeals in Moscow has intervened to ease the terms of the three-year prison term activist Yegor Lesnykh received during a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Moscow last year. The Court of Appeals No.2 on November 9 ruled that Lesnykh will serve the remaining part of his sentence in a colony settlement instead of a prison. A colony settlement is a penitentiary in which convicts live close to a facility where they work. Lesnykh, who is currently serving his prison term in the Correctional Colony No. 12 in the Volgograd region, was arrested along with several other activists and charged with assaulting police during rallies in July and August that year. At the rallies, demonstrators in the Russian capital demanded opposition and independent candidates be put on the ballot for the Moscow City Duma election that was held in September.

Freedom of conscience

The Moscow Times, Tuesday, 10 November 2020: More than 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been charged or convicted in Russia since the country banned the religious group as an “extremist” organization three years ago, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia has said. Since the April 2017 ban by Russia’s Supreme Court, law enforcement officers raided the homes of 1,166 worshippers’ families, the Jehovah’s Witnesses said. Authorities have opened 175 criminal cases into “extremism” against worshippers as of late October 2020, with 148 of them still in progress, the Christian denomination said on its website.  More than half of the 400 worshippers spent between several days to three years in detention while awaiting trial. Some 310 have lost their jobs, businesses, pensions and bank accounts as a result of the “extremist” label. Four Jehovah’s Witnesses have died while under investigation.

Human Rights in Ukraine, Friday, 13 November 2020: Abliakim Galiyev has become the latest Imam in occupied Crimea to be convicted of ‘illegal missionary activity’ for holding Friday prayers in his own mosque in Sudak.  Like its Soviet predecessors, the Russian occupation regime will not tolerate ‘dissidents’ of any kind, and is systematically persecuting Crimean Muslims and members of other faiths whose religious activities do not fall within those officially approved.   Galiyev was charged under Article 5.26 § 4 of Russia’s code of administrative offences which punishes for something claimed to be “illegal missionary activity”.  The prosecutor had produced a video as ‘proof’ of the charges which the defence (Seiran Kamilov, together with well-known human rights lawyer Emil Kurbedinov and a civic defender, Seytosman Karaliyev) asked to have shown in court.  Although there was absolutely nothing unlawful in Galiyev’s actions on the video, Sudak magistrate, Lyudmilla Sologub  pronounced him ‘guilty’ and fined him five thousand roubles.  The defence will be appealing. As Karaliyev points out, his local community consider Galiyev to be the Imam of the Adzhi Bei Dzhami Mosque in the village of Dachnoye, near Sudak, and that he should, in this capacity, lead Friday prayers. Karaliyev believes that this prosecution is part of Russia’s systematic pressure on autonomous religious communities and Imams who are not under the control of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Crimea, or Muftiat. 

RAPSI, Friday, 13 November 2020: The Fifth Appeals Court of General Jurisdiction has granted a prosecutor’s motion to ban a cell of Falun Dafa movement (Chinese religious doctrine Falun Gong) in Russia’s Republic of Khakassia, the press service of the Prosecutor General’s Office reports. The court has therefore overturned the republican Supreme Court’s refusal to prohibit the organization as extremist. According to the appeals instance, the organization has operated since 2006 using and distributing literature labeled as extremist. In July, seven foreign organizations supporting the followers of Chinese religious doctrine Falun Gong or Falun Dafa were declared undesirable in the Russian Federation.

Freedom of expression

RAPSI, Tuesday, 10 November 2020: A court in the Volgograd Region has fined a local resident 35,000 rubles (over $450) for publishing a comment condoning activity of Adolf Hitler on one of the social networks, the Investigative Committee’s press service reports. The man has been found guilty of rehabilitating Nazism. According to the investigation, in May 2019, he posted a text defending and approving ideas of Nazism and criminal activity of Hitler during World War II.

RAPSI, Thursday, 12 November 2020: Moscow’s Simonovsky District Court on Thursday upheld imposition of a 100,000-ruble ($1,300) fine on director of Alexey Navalny’s foundation Ivan Zhdanov for refusal to delete video defaming businessman Alisher Usmanov, the court’s press service told RAPSI. In late July, Zhdanov was fined for publishing posts on the Instagram account of  Navalny’s foundation without noting that the materials had been distributed by a foreign agent. He was found guilty of breaching the order of the operation of an NGO operating under the label of a foreign agent. In early July, the court also fined Navalny’s associate 100,000 rubles for a similar violation. In early November 2019, Moscow’s Zamoskvoretsky District Court refused to overturn the Justice Ministry’s October decision to include Navalny’s organization in the list of NGOs acting as foreign agents. The Justice Ministry established the fact of the organization’s conforming to the “foreign agent criteria” during the monitoring of its activity conducted by the Justice Ministry’s Moscow Main Directorate, the Ministry’s official website informed at that time. The decision to give Navalny’s foundation the status of a foreign agent was made based on evidence of its funding from abroad, the acting director of the Justice Ministry’s NGO affairs department Vladimir Titov told journalists.

Right to Marry

Caucasian Knot, Wednesday, 11 November 2020: The conclusion of the Russian Spiritual Administration of Muslims (SAM) on the inadmissibility of interfaith marriages is in line with Muslim traditions, Salakh Mezhiev, the Mufti of Chechnya, has stated after the publication of the conclusion of theologians that Muslims should not marry adherents of other religions. The theological conclusion of the Russian SAM on the inadmissibility of interfaith marriages “is a common truth in Islam,” said the Mufti Salakh Mezhiev. “These marriages were not allowed … Everyone already knows that in Islam any (marriage) with a non-Muslim woman is prohibited; there is no need to discuss it and talk about it; there are no disputes or disagreements on this issue,” the RIA “Novosti” quotes the Mufti saying on November 10. Mr Mezhiev has added that some Islamic scholars allow such marriages under certain conditions, but in general, the ban is aimed “at strengthening the family, its spiritual foundations, and reducing the number of divorces and conflicts,” the RIA “Novosti” has added. The theological conclusion of the Council of Ulamas (Islamic scientists) of the Russian SAM was adopted back in July, but it was published on the website of the Muftiate only on November 10, the “Interfax” reported on the same day. According to the conclusion, Russian Muslims should not marry adherents of other religions.

High profile court cases

RAPSI, Wednesday, 11 November 2020: Prosecution has lodged an appeal against a 6-year jail sentence given to a member of the New Greatness movement Pavel Rebrovsky for organization of an extremist community, RAPSI has learnt in the Lyublinsky District Court of Moscow. The convict’s appeal has also reached court. In late October, Moscow’s Lyublinsky District Court convicted and sentenced Rebrovsky. Prosecutors asked to jail the defendant for 7 years.

RFE/RL, Thursday, 12 November 2020: Russia’s Supreme Court has eased the detention terms for U.S. investor Michael Calvey and six others from house arrest to a restriction on “certain activities.” The court ruled on November 12 that the the seven businessmen, accused of embezzlement may not change their permanent addresses, leave their homes between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., visit financial institutions involved with the case, communicate with other suspects in places other than the courtroom, send or receive mail, or use telephones unless it’s an emergency. The restrictions will last until at least January 13, 2021. Calvey and several other executives and employees of the Russian-based private-equity group Baring Vostok, including French national Philippe Delpal, were detained in Moscow in February 2019 and charged with financial fraud.

Human Rights in Ukraine, Friday, 13 November 2020: A third trial is due to begin on 24 November of Yury Dmitriev, world-renowned historian of the Soviet Terror and Russian political prisoner.  He faces charges over which he has twice been acquitted, however there are reasons for fearing that this time a guilty verdict is planned.  Those reasons, like the four-year-long persecution of the historian, have nothing to do with the course of justice. The trial will be held at the same Petrozavodsk City Court as the previous two attempts, however under a new judge, Yekaterina Khomyakova.  The main cause of concern is that this new trial follows the shock ruling by the Karelia High Court on 29 September 2020.  This overturned all of the previous acquittals, and added an extra 10 years to the one sentence on equally flawed charges.  The resulting 13-year sentence against 64-year-old Dmitriev received international condemnation, with the horrific sentence, like the entire prosecution, widely viewed as linked with Dmitriev’s work in researching the crimes of the Soviet Terror and, particularly, in uncovering the graves and the identity of the Russian, Ukrainian and other victims of the Terror in the mass graves at Sandarmokh in Karelia.  Dmitriev has been imprisoned for most of the last four years, with the greater part of that period being in connection with the initial charges which resulted in acquittals.  Since the sudden increase in sentence to 13 years on a very dubious charge, that arose 18 months after his original arrest, was so widely seen as an act of reprisal against the historian, it seems likely that the plan now is to try to resurrect the first charges and convict him on those as well.  According to Dmitriev’s lawyer, Viktor Anufriev, the maximum sentence would be 20 years.


RFE/RL, Thursday, 12 November 2020: Sergei Vinichenko, who has served as an independent deputy on a St. Petersburg district council since 2014, was deprived of his mandate in October for purportedly failing to submit a mandatory declaration of his assets. Vinichenko told RFE/RL that he carefully put all the required documents in the mail in the spring. When he left for his summer vacation, a letter arrived warning him that the documents had not been received. “The district council convened instantly while I was on vacation,” he told RFE/RL. “They quickly decided to revoke my mandate based on a letter from the District Development Committee that should have been considered merely informative.” Under normal circumstances, a deputy receiving such a letter should be given time to submit the documents or to explain why they were not filed on time.

The Courts

RAPSI, Monday, 9 November 2020: A bill on powers and formation order of the country’s Constitutional Court on Monday became law. A corresponding document signed by President Vladimir Putin was published on the official website of legal information. The document was prepared to realize amendments to the Constitution adopted on March 14. The law envisages that the Constitutional Court is to be consisted of 11 judges including a chairperson and a deputy chair. On a presidential request the Court will check necessary validity of draft laws on amendments to the Constitution, federal constitutional draft laws and federal and regional bills and adopted initiatives before their signing by the President, the legislative proposal reads. Under the law, the Constitutional Court must solve issues on the possibility of execution of decisions and rulings of international bodies, foreign or international courts and arbitration. 

RAPSI, Friday, 13 November 2020: Russia’s State Duma will discuss submitted 18 draft laws taking into account opinion of the Constitutional Court, according to the 2019 law administration monitoring report published on the Government’s website. Between January 1, 1992 and August 24, 2020, the Constitutional Court of Russia adopted 276 legal resolutions declaring regulatory acts fully or partially unconstitutional under the Constitution of the Russian Federation, including 18 in 2019 and 18 thus far in 2020. Since 1992, 240 orders of the Constitutional Court have been executed, including 21 in 2019 and 10 this year, the document reads. According to the report, as of August 24, 2020, 34 rulings of the Constitutional Court require performance.

Federal Human Rights Ombudsman

RAPSI, Monday, 9 November 2020: President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed a bill prohibiting Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner to have accounts with foreign banks into law. The document is published on the official website of legal information. The initiative was earlier submitted to the State Duma by the Head of the State as part of realiation of amendments to the Constitution. Under the law, the Federal Ombudsman must permanently reside in Russia and be banned from keeping accounts at foreign banks after appointment to the post. Moreover the country’s rights commissioner must not be under the age of 35.


RFE/RL, Monday, 9 November 2020: The Russian military says one of its servicemen has killed three people at a military air base in the country’s west. The incident occurred in the Voronezh region early in the morning of November 9, the Western Military District’s press service said in a statement. “A soldier on duty…attacked officers who had arrived to check the on-duty shift, took a gun from one of the officers, and fled the site. Three servicemen sustained lethal injuries as a result of the attack,” the statement said. Media reports later said that the soldier suspected in the attack had been detained by police.

RAPSI, 11 November 2020: The Voronezh Garrison Military Court on Wednesday ordered military conscript Anton Makarov suspected of murdering an officer and two comrades-in-arms at a military base to be placed in detention until January 8, the court’s press service reports. The court granted a motion of investigators. The common soldier and his defense petitioned for house arrest. Makarov is also suspected of stealing weapon. According to investigators, on the morning of November 9, Makarov killed an officer using an axe, took his weapon and shot his comrades-in-arms. Two of them died, another one was injured and admitted to hospital where he later died.


Meduza, Tuesday, 10 November 2020: Late October marked the beginning of the trial against the former police officers accused of illegally detaining Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov and falsifying evidence against him. The five Interior Ministry officials arrested Golunov on July 6, 2019, and planted drugs in his bag. After just a few days, the case was dropped, thanks in part to a widespread show of solidarity that extended beyond Russia and the journalism industry. After the incident, Golunov, who usually conducts economic investigations, spent months studying hundreds of drug-related court sentences. Golunov reports how Moscow police officers systematically force people with drug addictions to serve their investigations.

Penitentiary Service

RFE/RL, Thursday, 12 November 2020: An investigation has been launched into the death of an inmate that reportedly caused a prison riot in Siberia. The Novosibirsk Regional Prosecutor’s Office said on November 12 that the probe was launched into the “murder” of a 39-year-old inmate in the Correctional Colony No. 13. The inmate, whose identity was not disclosed, was found dead a day earlier, the statement said, adding that prosecutors had started an inspection of the penitentiary. Media reports on November 11 cited sources as saying that inmates began to riot after the dead man’s body showed signs of being beaten.


Human Rights in Ukraine, Wednesday, 11 November 2020: A court in Russian-occupied Simferopol has ordered the head of the prison medical unit to provide information about medical care (if any) given to Dzhemil Gafarov, a political prisoner with a life-threatening medical condition.  Even according to Russian legislation, 58-year-old Gafarov is much too ill to be held in detention, yet he remains imprisoned, with his lawyer constantly ignored or given evidently false information about Gafarov’s condition. Lawyer Rifat Yakhin’s application to the Zheleznodorozhny District Court was only partially allowed on 9 November, with the judge refusing to declare unlawful the failure by the prosecutor to react to the situation. 

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