Rights in Russia week-ending 14 August 2020

Compiled by Simon Cosgrove

This week a great deal of attention has been focused on Belarus, not least, one might assume, by the Russian authorities. After all, it is not so very far fetched to think that current events in Belarus represent at least one possible scenario for the future of Russia, and our Quote for the Week (in which protesters in Khabarovsk voiced their support for protesters in Belarus) is a salient reminder of this. The fact that human rights violations can be a direct result of interventions by political authorities in Russia (as demonstrated by Memorial’s designation of Yana Antonova a political prisoner, for example) may also be in some way a partial explanation of why, in terms of human rights, this past week has been relatively quiet: the authorities have been otherwise engaged watching developments in Belarus. And indeed if it is the case that President Putin and his team have not yet decided what to do, lower level authorities may also be waiting to see what line the administration will take on Belarus – a line that would almost certainly also be reflected in domestic affairs.

Right to fair trial

On 10 August, 2020, in a post on Telegram, Ukrainian Ombudswoman Liudmyla Denisova said Russia is currently holding 133 Ukrainian citizens on politically motivated charges, including 97 Crimean Tatars. RFE/RL reported that Denisova said 112 Ukrainian citizens “are being illegally held on the territory of the Russian Federation and temporarily occupied Crimea, while restriction of movement has been imposed on the rest, and they have to permanently stay in the places of their residence.” Denisova also said 62 wives of the jailed men remain in Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula.

On Tuesday, 11 August 2020, a Russian court in Rostov trying eight Crimean Tatar civic activists refused to allow four defence witnesses to give testimony once it was ascertained that they had nothing to say against the men, and then expelled Server Mustafayev until the end of the trial after the latter tried, perfectly politely, to object, Human Rights in Ukraine reported.  The presiding judge is Judge Rizvan Zubairov who is hearing the case with two colleagues.

On 10 August, the de facto Crimean High Court, with Judge Aleksei Kozyrev presiding, extended the pre-trial detention of Osman Arifmemetov until 15 September, when the journalist will have been imprisoned for almost 18 months.  Human Rights in Ukraine reported that Judge Kozyrev ignored the fact that Arifmemetov has two small children and is not accused of any actual crime.  Nor did it bother him that no ‘investigative activities’ are being carried out – Arifmemetov is simply imprisoned without a trial.

On 23 July, Arifmemetov’s appeal against his extended detention had – unexpectedly – been allowed.  He has been arrested on 27 March 2019 together with 22 other Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists.  He had been remanded in custody until 23 August 2020. There had been no application from the prosecution to extend his detention, and therefore Arifmemetov should have been shortly released. 

Right of assembly

On Monday, 10 August 2020, protesters in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk , where rallies against President Vladimir Putin’s role in a regional political crisis have been going on for almost a month, voiced their support for demonstrations against the presidential vote in Belarus, RFE/RL reported. More than 80 protesters shouted “Belarus, we are with you!” as they marched through Khabarovsk on August 10.

On Saturday, 8 August 2020, three Russian opposition activists were detained as they travelled to Belarus to observe a tense presidential election there, the group said. Andrei Pivovarov and two other members of Open Russia, an opposition group established by self-exiled Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, were taken off a bus in the western Pskov region, The Moscow Times reported. Pivovarov, Open Russia executive director who is a prominent Kremlin critic, and two activists “have been detained by Russian border guards without any explanation,” the group’s chairperson Anastasia Burakova said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.

Freedom of expression

On Monday, 10 August 2020, RAPSI reported that the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office has approved indictment against Aleksei Navalny in a case the blogger’s statements about 93-year-old veteran of the Great Patriotic War Ignat Artemenko. The case is to be sent to a magistrate court for consideration. On 17 August 2020 a magistrate’s court will conduct a preliminary hearing of a case against Aleksei Navalny over his statements about veteran of the Great Patriotic War Ignat Artemenko, RAPSI reported on 31 August. In early June, Russia Today TV channel published a video where the 93-year Artemenko and other respondents were reading the Constitution preamble. Following that, Navalny released a video with comments on his social networks allegedly insulting the veteran.  

On Monday, 10 August 2020, RAPSI reported that a magistrate court fined Google 1.5 million rubles ($20,300) for repeated violation of the obligationton to filter content banned in Russia. The company was found guilty of repeated failure to perform a search engine operator’s obligations.  

On 10 August, 2020, RFE/RL reported that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement that day said Washington was “deeply concerned” by fresh efforts by Russia to target foreign media operating there. Pompeo said a recent draft order published by Russia’s state media regulator would “impose new burdensome requirements” on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, which he said already faced “signficant and undue restrictions.” Referring to the 2017 law requiring foreign media to register as ‘foreign agents’, Pompeo said: “We remain troubled by the ongoing crackdown on independent press in Russia and call on Russia to uphold its obligations and OSCE commitments to freedom of expression.” In July, Russia’s federal media regulator, Rozkomnadzor, issued a draft order that would require all media outlets registered as “foreign agents” to identify that fact in published or broadcast materials.

On Wednesday, 12 August 2020, a court in Moscow said Russian YouTuber Andrei Pyzh, who filmed industrial sites and abandoned facilities, had been remanded in custody on Thursday, 6 August 2020, until October on charges of illegally obtaining and disseminating state secrets. RFE/RL reports Andrei Pyzh, whose YouTube channel has nearly 800,000 followers, could face up to eight years in jail if found guilty. It was not immediately clear whether he had denied the accusation or not. In his videos, Pyzh visited sites including abandoned bunkers and a functioning radar station used for Russia’s nuclear strike early-warning system, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported.

LGBT rights

On Friday, 14 August 2020, Meduza reported that Russian journalist and host of the YouTube project, “Straight Talk with Gay People,” Karen Shainyan, has released a new, hour-long film about the persecution of LGBTQ people in Russia’s Chechnya. In the film, titled The Chechen War on LGBT, Shainayan talks to the main subjects and creators of the documentary film Welcome to Chechnyawhich followed activists who worked to secretly evacuate LGBTQ people from Russia’s repressive Chechen Republic. 

Indigenous peoples

On Wednesday, 12 August 2020, dozens of representatives of the indigenous peoples of Russia’s far northern Taimyr Peninsula – Nenets, Nganasans, Dolgans, and Enets communities – marched against operations of Nornickel, the world’s largest palladium and nickel producer, in traditional dress across the industrial Arctic city of Norilsk, saying their rights are being violated by local officials and large businesses — including Nornickel — operating in the region, RFE/RL reported. The protest lasted for more than an hour with many residents of the city joining the protesters. “August 9 was marked in the world as the Day of Indigenous Peoples, but we have nothing to celebrate. We are deprived of our rights to fish and hunt on the territories that we inherited from our ancestors and that are currently being exploited by companies that have enormous sums of money to ‘win’ tenders on our lands,” one of the leaders of the group, Valeria Bolgova, told RFE/RL.

Right to life

On Wednesday, 12 August 2020, Caucasian Knot reports, Terman Alimagomedov, a former militant from Dagestan, was shot dead by a police officer when the police tried to detain him in St Petersburg. The police found firearms and ammunition in the suspect’s car, the Investigating Committee of the Russian Federation (ICRF) reported. According to investigators, on the night of 12 August, while the police tried to stop a car to check documents, the driver hit the policeman and tried to escape. During his detention, the suspect tried to take possession of the policeman’s service weapon, and as a result, the policeman shot three times. “The attacker was wounded and was provided with the first aid, but died. The suspect was identified as Terman Alimagomedov, born in 1992, a native of Dagestan, who had an earlier criminal record for organizing an illegal armed formation (IAF) and participating in it, as well as for arms trafficking,” the ICRF reports on its official website.

End note

That productive cooperation is possible between the authorities and civil society is shown by the work during the Covid-19 pandemic of our CSO of the Week, Memorial Human Rights Centre’s Migration and Law Network, headed by Svetana Gannushkina. Yet the case of Ivan Safronov continues to weigh heavily on the domestic atmosphere this week, and to that end we highlight the nature of Article 275, the treason article of the criminal code with which he has been charged. But this is not the only article concerning state secrets to give cause for concern. This week it became known to a wider public that the remarkable and adventurous YouTuber Andrei Pyzh was remanded in custody on 6 August on charges relating to an offence under Article  283.1 of the Russian Criminal Code: illegally obtaining access to state secrets. And in this case we may also catch the authorities’ concerns, mentioned last week, about maintaining control of the younger generation. As the work of Russia’s human rights organisations and human rights defenders so often reminds us, in Russia specific political motivations can often be seen to lie behind and motivate on-going human rights violations.

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