Rights in Russia week-ending 14 February 2020

Terrorism cases: Network, Hizb ut-Tahrir

Russia: Harsh Verdicts in Controversial Terrorism Cases 
Allegations of Torture, Unfair Trials, Misuse of Terrorism Law 
(Berlin) – Russian military courts handed down guilty verdicts on February 5 and 10, 2020 in three separate, deeply flawed terrorism cases in which the defendants alleged incommunicado detention, torture, and other ill-treatment to extract confessions, Human Rights Watch said today. A total of 18 defendants in the cases were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to 23 years. Human Rights Watch, 12 February 2020 

Board of the Forum is Dismayed at the Trial for the “Set’” (Network) Group 
The Board of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is dismayed at the trial for the “Set‘” (Network) group, which was labelled by the Russian authorities a terrorist community – without any plausible ground. Besides, the trial was marked with numerous law violations, including torture, and followed by the inhumane verdict, which was delivered on 10 February in the City of Penza, Russia. Seven young men (aged from 23 to 31) were sentenced to jail terms from 6 to 18 years; the court stated that they were planning to carry out attacks inside Russia and to overthrow the government. EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, 12 February 2020 

Russian Intellectuals Express Support For Political Prisoners In Letter 
More than 100 Russian writers, poets, journalists, interpreters, literature experts, publishers, and other cultural figures have issued a letter expressing solidarity with political prisoners. “Every Friday, hundreds of demonstrators in Moscow and St. Petersburg gather at metro stations, demanding justice and freedom for you. The weekly pickets are turning into a tradition in other cities of Russia,” says the letter, which was published on February 11 by the website Colta.ru, says. Colta.ru, 12 February 2020 

Man Killed in Homophobic Attack in Moscow Deserves Justice
LGBT People Lack Equal Protection Under the Law
Tanya Lokshina: Last week, the vice-speaker of Russia’s lower chamber of the parliament, Piotr Tolstoi demanded that the country’s constitution explicitly state marriage is a “union between a man and a woman.” “This will create a barrier to the efforts to bestow some special additional rights on the persons of non-traditional LGBT orientation,” he said. The reality is that far from getting “additional” rights, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia still struggle to enjoy the same fundamental protection as everyone else. A stark example of this came three days after Tolstoi’s remarks, when a Moscow jury acquitted someone who killed a gay man. Human Rights Watch, 10 February 2020 

Russian activist and artist, Yulia Tsvetkova, is facing prosecution and harassment for defending women’s and LGBTI rights. She has been under house arrest since 22 November, under absurd charges of “production and dissemination of pornography” for her drawings of the female body. She is facing up to six years in prison if convicted. Yulia Tsvetkova is a prisoner of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released. Amnesty International, 13 February 2020

Freedom of conscience

Investigators open case over activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses chapter in Siberia
MOSCOW, February 11 (RAPSI) – Investigative authorities of Russia’s Zabaikalsky Krai region in Siberia have initiated a criminal case over activities of a chapter of banned Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to a statement of Russia’s Investigative Committee. Investigators believe that a local chapter of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been operating in the town of Chita and several districts of the Zabaikalsky Krai for some years; the case was opened on the grounds that this religious society had been banned by a court decision as an extremist organization. RAPSI, 11 February 2020

Jehovah’s Witness Says Russian Police Used Torture in Siberian Crackdown 
A Jehovah’s Witness from the Siberian city of Chita has claimed he was tortured by local police on Monday during a mass crackdown on believers in the region, Russian investigative news site The Insider reported Friday.  Lawyer Artur Ganin told the outlet his client Vadim Kutsenko was taken to a local forest by police, where they beat his face and neck, suffocated him and used a taser on him to force him to admit to practicing the religion. The Moscow Times, 14 February 2020

Russian Court Accepts Case To Try Scientologists In St. Petersburg 
A court in the Russian city of St. Petersburg has accepted a case to try a group of people who follow the Church of Scientology on charges of illegal entrepreneurship, extremism, money laundering, and incitement of hatred. The Neva district court said on February 12 that it had received the case involving five scientologists: Ivan Matsitsky, Sakhib Aliyev, Galina Shurinova, Anastasia Terentyeva, and Konstantsia Yesaulkova. RFE/RL, 12 February 2020 

Right of association

Russia: Court Convicts Journalist for Activism (Moscow) – A Russian court on February 11, 2020 found a journalist criminally responsible for involvement in an “undesirable” organization, Human Rights Watch said today. The journalist, Maxim Vernikov, was the first person convicted under a 2015 law that allows the authorities to ban from the country any foreign or international organization that allegedly undermines Russia’s security, defense, or constitutional order. The law also provides for administrative sanctions to organizations and people that engage with “undesirable organizations” and criminal liability for “continued involvement,” that is, more than two administrative penalties in a year. Human Rights Watch, 11 February 2020 

Russia Adds U.S. News Site RFE/RL to ‘Foreign Agent’ Roster 
Russia has added the legal entity of U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty news organization to its list of “foreign agent” media Wednesday under a controversial law that requires listed outlets to disclose their funding sources. President Vladimir Putin signed the law in November 2017, allowing the “foreign agent” designation to be placed on news outlets that receive funding from abroad. Russian lawmakers said they acted in response to U.S. pressure for Kremlin-funded media to register under anti-propaganda laws, a claim that RFE/RL’s parent company called “severely” misguided. The Moscow Times, 13 February 2020

Alfa-Bank reportedly refuses to release funds controlled by several prominent anti-corruption activists 
Alfa-Bank continues to block the accounts of at least three Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) employees, as well as one staff member at Alexey Navalny’s headquarters, despite the fact that the sequestration of these funds in the criminal case against FBK has expired, according to FBK project manager Leonid VolkovMeduza, 13 February 2020

Freedom of expressionRussian Police Shut Down Pussy Riot Video Shoot For Second Straight Day

Russian police in St. Petersburg have for the second consecutive day shut down the shooting of a music video by anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot. Thirteen people were detained, including band leader Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, during a photography session in a studio, Pyotr Verzilov, a band member and Tolokonnikova’s former spouse, said on February 10 in a social-media post. The group has been trying to record a video of their song Besit, which roughly translates as being irked or vexed by something. Later the same day, Verzilov posted a video of Tolokonnikova at the police station showing her saying the reason for the group’s detention was because of an alleged carbon-monoxide leak at the studio. RFE/RL, 11 February 2020

Moscow Court Fines Twitter, Facebook For Refusal To ‘Localize’ Russian Users’ Data 
A court in Moscow has fined Twitter and Facebook for failing to move Russian user data onto servers in Russian territory.  The Tanagka district court on February 13 ordered the two global behemoths to pay 4 million rubles ($63,336) each for violating a law that obliges social-media companies to store their clients’ data solely inside the country. RFE/RL, 13 February 2020

Russian Ministry’s Controversial Order Restricting Scholars’ Contacts With Foreigners Rescinded 
MOSCOW — A controversial order by Russia’s Ministry of Education and Science that restricted interaction between Russian scholars and their foreign counterparts last year has been rescinded. Education and Science Minister Valery Falkov told reporters in Moscow on February 10 that the ministry “is interested in cooperation [with foreign scientists] that will develop on the principles of open science,” adding that the order in question is no longer valid. He gave no further explanation as to why the order was annulled. RFE/RL, 10 February 2020

Freedom of assembly

Russian Anti-Surveillance Activists Detained At Moscow Protest 
MOSCOW — Police in the Russian capital have detained a group of activists protesting against expanded government surveillance on February 9 after the demonstrators gathered outside the presidential administration with their faces demonstratively painted to evade facial-recognition tools. The group, which refers to itself with a Russian-language social-media hashtag that roughly translates as “Follow” (#следуй), launched a campaign last week against the government’s growing use of street-mounted technology to surveil citizens. RFE/RL, 9 February 2020

Russian Police Detain and Pressure Convicted Anti-Fascists’ Supporters – Reports 
Police in the central Russian city of Penza detained and allegedly pressured a group of activists who had come to support jailed members of an anti-fascist group, Russian media reported Tuesday. Seven members of the group Set — Russian for “Network” — were sentenced to up to 18 years on terrorism charges in Penza on Monday in a case that observers have compared to a Soviet-era show trial. Olga Misik, Anna Loyko, Sergei Zapolnov and Nikolai Sokolov had come to Penza from Moscow to join other activists in supporting the seven anti-fascists as their verdicts were being read. The Moscow Times, 12 February 2020

Protesters Twice as Likely to Be Jailed for Assaulting Police in Russia, Study Says 
Protesters in Russia are twice as likely to receive real prison time for violence against law enforcement authorities than those tried for the same crime under different circumstances, the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported Thursday.  Novaya Gazeta compared nearly 12,000 assault sentences in 2016-2019 with the 57 sentences handed down to protesters over their role in the mass rallies that swept Moscow last summer. The Moscow Times, 13 February 2020

Freedom of movement

More Than 3 Million Russians Can’t Travel Abroad Due To Unpaid Debt 
More than 3 million Russians face foreign travel bans as of the end of 2019 due to unpaid financial debt, Interfax reported, citing data from the Federal Service of Court Bailiffs. Throughout last year, nearly 8 million Russians were placed on the temporary travel ban list, with about two-thirds of them extinguishing their debt by the end of the year, leaving 3.2 million penalized debtors. Their combined debt is the equivalent of $24 million. RFE/RL, 12 February 2020

DagestanJustice Comes to Dagestan
Villagers Win Compensation Years After Authorities Nearly Destroyed Their Village
Tanya Lokshina: Justice is finally coming to the small, remote village of Vremenny, located in Dagestan, the largest and arguably the most complex region of Russia’s Northern Caucasus. The residents there are finally being compensated after an abusive 2014 counterterrorism operation practically destroyed the village. We documented the crackdown on Salafi Muslims in Vremenny and elsewhere in Dagestan, detailing the abusive counterinsurgency operations by Russian law enforcement and security officials, and in the summer 2015 published the findings in our report, “Invisible War.”Human Rights Watch, 12 February 2020 

Police Raid Activists Homes, Offices In Daghestan 
The homes and offices of activists who help domestic violence victims in the Russian North Caucasus region of Daghestan have been raided by police, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on February 15. According to HRW, police seized computers and other electronic equipment during the raids on February 13 in Khasavyurt and Makhachkala, the regional capital. RFE/RL, 15 February 2020

Russia: Raids on Rights Defenders in Dagestan 
Stop Assault, Intimidation of Activists 
(Moscow) – Police in southern Russia on February 13, 2020 raided the homes and office of activists who provide legal and psychological assistance to survivors of domestic violence, Human Rights Watch said today. The raids took place in Makhachkala and Khasavyurt, two cities in Dagestan, a republic in Russia’s Northern Caucasus region. Human Rights Watch, 15 February 2020

Swimming Pool in Russia’s North Caucasus Must Overturn Ban on Women 
Court rules the pool’s decision to ban women was illegal and a violation of human rights, but not discrimination. 
A swimming pool in southern Russia that banned women has been ordered to reverse its decision, the Kommersant business daily reported Wednesday. The prosecutor’s office in the majority Muslim republic of Dagestan ruled that the Anzhi Arena’s actions were illegal and a violation of human rights, although it stopped short of calling the ban discrimination. The Moscow Times, 12 February 2020 

Law enforcement agenciesReport: Russian Couple Faces Charges For Wedding Photos That Include FSB Officer A Russian newspaper says that a married couple faces criminal charges for photographs taken at their wedding five years ago and published online that reveal the identity of a counterintelligence officer with Russia’s main security agency. Kommersant reported on February 11 that Konstantin Antonets and Antonina Zimina were detained in July 2018 in the Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad. The couple have denied the allegations. According to the newspaper, the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, has been investigating how details of a Kaliningrad FSB officer had been obtained by the intelligence agency in neighboring Lithuania. RFE/RL, 11 February 2020

Two Russian police officers receive prison sentences for torturing teenager 
Two beat officers in the St. Petersburg police force have been sentenced to prison time on charges of torturing a teenage boy. The human rights organization Zona Prava first reported on the sentencing. Alexander Zabroda was sentenced to one year and eight months in a prison colony, while Yevgeny Auning was sentenced to one year and six months. Both have been barred from future state service. Zona Prava, 11 February 2020

Russian law enforcement officers celebrate promotion with mafia slogans, triggering official investigation
Russia’s Investigative Committee has opened an official investigation following the appearance of a video in which high-ranking law-enforcement officials celebrated their colleague’s promotion using chants associated with organized crime. Meduza, 12 February 2020

Former Top Russian Penitentiary Official Kills Himself In Courtroom The former chief of a directorate of Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) has killed himself in a Moscow courtroom after being sentenced to three years in prison for extortion. Viktor Sviridov, who was found guilty on February 12 of a charge of extorting 10 million rubles ($157,000) from the FSIN’s former deputy chief, Aleksandr Sapozhnikov, shot himself at the Chertanovo district court right after the judge pronounced his sentence. RFE/RL, 12 February 2020 


Dutch Refused Moscow Request to Try MH17 Russian Suspects There: Minister 
THE HAGUE — The Netherlands refused a request by Moscow to consider allowing Russia to prosecute three Russian nationals identified as suspects in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the Dutch justice minister revealed on Wednesday. The first court hearing in the Dutch case against the three Russian suspects and one Ukrainian is scheduled for March 9. If the case eventually goes to trial, the four may be tried in absentia under Dutch law. The New York Times, 12 February 2020 

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