Rights in Russia week-ending 14 May 2021

Our round-up of the week’s news

In other news:

9 May 2021

Caucasian Knot: The mother of Islam Barzukaev, a resident of Derbent, accused of terrorism, has held a picket against the placement of her son into the dungeon (punishment cell). Islam Barzukaev and Gasan Kurbanov, arrested within the same case, need medical care, a member of the Public Oversight Commission (POC) of Dagestan has stated. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that relatives of the Derbent residents, Islam Barzukaev, Gasan Kurbanov and Mirzaali Mirzaliev, regularly hold pickets in Makhachkala in support of the young men. The mother of the third defendant, Mirzaali Mirzaliev, claims that law enforcers demand from him to incriminate Barzukaev and Kurbanov. On February 19, 2021, the women named four law enforcers, who are believed to be involved in torturing the defendants.

10 May 2021

The Guardian: The former chief physician of the hospital where the Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny was first treated for novichok poisoning has been found alive days after disappearing into a Siberian forest. Alexander Murakhovsky emerged from a forest in the Omsk region on Monday three days after vanishing while on holiday, abandoning an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) miles from a hunting lodge where he was staying with friends.

The Moscow Times: Russia has confirmed 4,888,727 cases of coronavirus and 113,647 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.

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11 May 2021

The Guardian: A gunman attacked a school in the Russian city of Kazan on Tuesday morning, killing seven students and a teacher, officials have said. Rustam Minnikhanov, the president of the Tatarstan republic where Kazan is the capital, said four male and three female eighth-grade students died in “a great tragedy for the whole country”. Minnikhanov’s press service later said a teacher was also killed. Eighth-grade children in Russia are 13 and 14 years old. Footage posted on social media showed a young man being pinned to the ground outside the school by a police officer. Minnikhanov said a 19-year-old “terrorist” had been arrested and that the firearm used in the shooting was registered in the suspect’s name. 

CPJ: Russian authorities should not contest the appeals of journalists Aleksey Solovyov and Damir Manzhukov, and should release Solovyov from detention immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. On May 9, the Vysokogorsky District Court in Russia’s central Republic of Tatarstan convicted Solovyov and Manzhukov, correspondents for the independent news website Rosderzhava, on charges of interfering with traffic and disobeying police, according to news reports. The court sentenced Solovyev to five days of administrative arrest, and fined Manzhukov 2,000 rubles (US$27) and released him, those reports said. The journalists did not admit guilt, Solovyov told CPJ, adding that police confiscated their equipment during the arrest and have not returned it. He said that he had already filed an appeal in his case, and that Manzhukov planned to appeal as well.

12 May 2021

RFE/RL: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is calling on authorities in the Russian republic of Tatarstan not to contest the appeals of two correspondents for an independent news website who have been found guilty of interfering with traffic and disobeying police. A local court on May 9 convicted Aleksei Solovyov and Damir Manzhukov. Solovyev was sentenced to five days of administrative arrest, while Manzhukov was fined 2,000 rubles ($27) and released. The journalists denied the charges, Solovyov told CPJ, adding that he filed an appeal in his case and that Manzhukov planned to do so as well. Police have not returned their equipment that was confiscated during the arrest, he said.

The Moscow Times: Russia should do away with online anonymity to prevent future repeats of Tuesday’s deadly shooting at a high school in the central city of Kazan, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament has said. Nine people, most of them children, were killed and over 20 were hospitalized when a former student opened fire at a Kazan school 820 kilometers east of Moscow. Officers detained the 19-year-old shooter, whose official motive remains unclear but who had reportedly announced plans to commit the massacre on social media.

RFE/RL: President Vladimir Putin was hopeful in remarks on May 10 about the coronavirus pandemic in Russia. “The situation with the virus in the country, according to specialists, is stable,” he said in Sochi, urging Russians to get vaccinated. According to official statistics as of May 12, there have been 4,905,059 coronavirus infections in the country and 114,331 fatalities. Those numbers, however, are widely regarded as severely understated.

13 May 2021

RFE/RL: A court in Siberia has sentenced an Orthodox priest to 25 days in jail for taking part in an unsanctioned rally to support jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny in April. Journalist Tatyana Khlestunova told RFE/RL that a court in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk sentenced Andrei Vinarsky on May 13. Vinarsky has already been sentenced twice in recent months for taking part in protests.

The Moscow Times: Only 16% of Russians viewed last month’s nationwide protests in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny positively, according to a poll by the independent Levada Center published Thursday, a signal of flagging momentum for his embattled opposition groups.  Navalny’s team had called on supporters to take to the streets on April 21 to demand proper medical care for the opposition politician after his doctors warned he was near death three weeks into a hunger strike. His allies called the protests the “final battle” between good and neutrality ahead of an anticipated court ruling to ban their activities as “extremist.”  Over one-third (39%) of Russians held negative attitudes toward the protests while 42% said they felt neutral toward them, Levada said.  Young people and new media readers were more likely to view the protests positively, while older age groups and television viewers held more negative attitudes. 

14 May 2021

RFE/RL: A Russian journalist who believes he was targeted by investigators for his expose on massive oil theft in western Siberia has been convicted on blackmail and pornography charges and sentenced to eight years in prison. A court in the city of Surgut, in Russia’s oil-rich Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District, handed down the verdict and sentence against journalist Eduard Shmonin on May 14, both Shmonin and his lawyer told RFE/RL’s Russian Service, known locally as Radio Svoboda. The Khanty-Mansi regional prosecutor’s office also confirmed the sentence and verdict in a statement.

RFE/RL: Russian intelligence services have spied on and filmed Jehovah’s Witnesses in a bathhouse, in the latest example of persecution against the outlawed Christian group. The snooping, carried out by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), was revealed at a trial in the Urals city of Perm, where five Jehovah’s Witnesses received suspended sentences for “illegal” religious activities. The video of the group’s members in the bathhouse was used as evidence against the defendants in the trial, which has lasted for almost three years. In evidence aired in court, 27 male and female members of the group met in a bathhouse in Perm to baptize new members. The FSB installed video cameras in the bathhouse where the baptism ceremony was taking place. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, baptism is seen as a declaration of faith. Before the coronavirus pandemic, large public baptisms were common among believers worldwide.

The Guardian“At 21.50, due to cardiovascular and respiratory failure, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin died,” intones an announcer. A woman takes off her hat, on the verge of tears. A handsome youth in a military uniform stares stoically at his feet. One middle-aged man glances self-consciously at the camera, as if to check it is still watching him, before looking down again. Again and again, our focus is drawn to faces in the crowds all across the Soviet Union. Not all are reverent. Some people shuffle, chat, chew, smoke, even half-smile. The broadcasters’ praise for Stalin becomes ever more ludicrous: “We knew he was the best on our planet … It’s impossible to take your eyes off this infinitely dear face. Your eyes are full of tears, you hold your breath, you are overwhelmed with sorrow shared by millions, hundreds of millions of people.” But is that right? As the focus keeps returning to individuals, the film asks us to consider how each of them really felt.

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