Rights in Russia week-ending 15 May 2020

Freedom of expression

Russian Journalists’ Union urges to add media to list of industries suffered from pandemic

A member of the Presidential Council for Human Rights and Chair of the Russian Union of Journalists Vladimir Solovyev states it necessary to include mass media in the list of industries seriously suffered from the coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, Solovyev submitted the research of problems mass media faced during the COVID-19 outbreak. Over 560 media outlets from 85 regions took part in the research with 66.4% print media among them, the press service of the human rights body reports. RAPSI, 12 May 2020


Tatyana Revva, doctor from Volgograd region, in southern Russia, is facing disciplinary proceedings that may result in dismissal, following her complaints of the shortage of personal protective equipment and other problems in her hospital in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. She should be able to perform her professional duties, and exercise her right to freedom of expression, without fear of reprisals by the administration. Amnesty International, 11 May 2020

Rosneft ‘Controls’ Russia’s Leading Business Paper Vedomosti Through Debt: Investigation

Russian state-controlled oil giant Rosneft exercises leverage over the country’s leading business newspaper Vedomosti through multibillion-dollar debt held by its bank, a multi-outlet investigation said Tuesday. The findings follow widespread suspicion of Rosneft’s involvement in high-profile censorship scandals at Vedomosti, including its new chief editor changing a headline on the Russian government’s majority stake in the oil giant and deleting a column critical of Rosneft head Igor Sechin. The Moscow Times, 12 May 2020

Facebook suddenly remembers the U.S. sanctions against Ramzan Kadyrov and reblocks his Instagram account

Facebook Inc. has again blocked Ramzan Kadyrov’s Instagram account, in observance of U.S. sanctions against the Chechen ruler. Visitors trying to view Kadyrov’s page now find the message: “Sorry, this page isn’t available. The link you followed may be broken, or the page may have been removed.” The head of Chechnya had more than 1.4 million followers on the social network. Meduza, 13 May 2020

Russian court to hear appeal of Crimean journalist Nariman Memedeminov

Russian authorities should not contest the appeal of Crimean journalist Nariman Memedeminov, ensure his safe return to Crimea, and allow him to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A military appeals court in the Russian city of Vlasikha is scheduled to hear the journalist’s appeal tomorrow, according to a report by the Crimean Service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. CPI, 13 May 2020

Russian Court Rejects Crimean Blogger’s Appeal

A Russian military court has rejected an appeal by Crimean Tatar blogger Nariman Memedeminov to overturn his conviction on charges of inciting extremism, leaving him to serve the rest of his sentence in prison. The May 14 decision comes as Russia is accused of stepping up pressure on bloggers and independent media critical of the Kremlin’s policies. Rights groups and Western governments have also denounced what they call a campaign of oppression targeting members of the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar minority and others who opposed Moscow’s seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014. RFE/RL, 14 May 2020

Russia’s Media Regulator Asks Google To Block Article Questioning Coronavirus Death Toll

Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has asked Google to block an article about the controversy over official data on coronavirus deaths in the country on the website of MBKh Media independent online publication. MBKh Media said late on May 14 that its article was based on a report by the Financial Times, which estimated that the real number of people who have died in Russia from COVID-19 could be 70 percent higher than reported by the country’s health officials. RFE/RL, 15 May 2020


Trial Begins Of Russian Couple Charged With High Treason Over Wedding Photos

KALININGRAD — A Russian couple charged with high treason have gone on trial for photographs taken at their wedding five years ago and published online that allegedly revealed the identity of a security operative. Konstantin Antonets and Antonina Zimina were detained in July 2018 in Russia’s Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad. RFE/RL, 14 May 2020

Russia challenges $50-billion award to former Yukos shareholders in the Dutch Supreme Court

The Russian government has filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of the Netherlands against a ruling by the Hague Court of Appeal ordering Moscow to pay $50 billion to the former shareholders of the oil company Yukos, according to an announcement from Russia’s Justice Ministry on Friday. Meduza, 15 May 2020


After Deadly Prison Riot In Siberia, Officials Are Tight-Lipped As Families Seek Information On Survivors

MOSCOW — It wasn’t until two days after Russian authorities violently suppressed a riot at his prison in Siberia that Kristina Ilinova learned her husband was missing. Yevgeny Ilinov was one of 200 inmates of Corrective Colony No. 15 who mutinied on April 9 in protest of their treatment by guards at the maximum-security prison, commencing a two-day standoff that ended only when Russian special forces swept in on April 10 to restore order. RFE/RL, 14 May 2020

Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service admits to ‘use of force and police instruments’ during prison riot in Siberia

Employees of Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) admitted to the “use of force and police instruments” during a riot at Penal Colony No.15 in the Siberian city of Angarsk on April 9. Information about the treatment of the prison’s 415 inmates was issued in response to a request from Vladimir Osechkin, the founder of the human rights project Gulagu.net. The Federal Penitentiary Service emphasized that no firearms were used against the prisoners. Allegedly, medical personnel examined all of the inmates after the riot and found “satisfactory” levels of health. Meduza, 14 May 2020


Officers Launch Flashmob to Demand Freedom for Russia’s ‘Police Ombudsman’

Russian police officers have organized an online flashmob in support of their former colleague, the founder of a popular online community that reports abuse within law enforcement who has been jailed on extortion charges. Vladimir Vorontsov, who founded the “Police Ombudsman” social media channel, has had his home searched by police twice within a month. Last week, officers rappelled down his roof, sawed through his door and arrested him on charges of extorting 300,000 rubles ($3,800) from a former policeman in exchange for not publishing his private photographs. The Moscow Times, 12 May 2020

Domestic violence

Russian Investigators Reject Prosecutor’s Motion To Drop Murder Charges In Khachaturyan Case

Russia’s Investigative Committee has rejected the recommendation of the Prosecutor-General’s Office to reduce the charges against three sisters accused of killing their father in Moscow. Lawyers Aleksei Liptser and Aleksei Parshin said on May 13 that investigators had refused to change the charge from premeditated murder to self-defense in the high-profile case that fueled debate on the issue of domestic violence in the country. Prosecutors wanted the case reclassified as self-defense, which many in the country saw as a sign that the criminal case against Maria, Angelina, and Krestina Khachaturyan would be closed. RFE/RL, 13 May 2020

Pussy Riot Singer Says Latest Songs Challenge Domestic Abuse

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Pussy Riot activist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has described the latest songs by her Russian feminist protest group as challenges to those who abuse women. In an interview with RFE/RL on May 13, Tolokonnikova said the songs — Ona (She) and Nozh (Knife) — were both about women who’ve been victimized by domestic violence and psychological abuse. RFE/RL, 13 May 2020

Psychiatric hospitals

‘Putin-Purging’ Shaman Detained, Sent to Psychiatric Hospital

A Siberian shaman who has attempted several cross-country treks to “purge” President Vladimir Putin from office has been detained and sent to a psychiatric hospital a week after attempts to place him under observation for coronavirus, the MBKh News website reported Tuesday. “Around 20 anti-riot police stormed his house, cuffed him barefoot and bent over, and took him to a psychiatric hospital,” MBKh media quoted activist Alexei Pryanishnikov as saying. The Moscow Times, 13 May 2020

Health care

As Coronavirus Overruns Russia, Doctors Are Dying on the Front Lines

MOSCOW – Facing dire shortages of protective gear and amid fears that the worst is yet to come, more than 180 medical workers are reported to have fallen victim so far and thousands have been infected. Dr. Rimma Kamalova says her hospital’s leadership ignored her warnings about an unexplained pneumonia outbreak back in March. She kept working. The hospital admitted more than 50 people for planned procedures the day that the staff learned a deceased patient had tested positive for the coronavirus, records show. She kept working. By Anton Troianovski. The New York Times, 14 May 2020

Russia defends its ‘exceptionally precise’ Covid-19 death data

Russian officials have defended the country against claims that its unusually low mortality rate from Covid-19 is suspicious, saying its method of ascribing cause of death is “exceptionally precise”. Figures released this week have given an inside look into how Russia – which now has the second highest number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the world – tabulates deaths from the disease, a process that differs significantly from many western countries but which Russian health officials have defended as superior. Russia’s mortality rate is 0.9%, making it an outlier among the countries facing some of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus in the world. “We never manipulate official statistical data,” said Tatiana Golikova, the country’s top health official, when asked about a Financial Times analysis this week. Officials have also decried a New York Times report on the country’s mortality rate. The Guardian, 14 May 2020

Doctors’ protest reveals hidden problems of Chechen medicine

The claims voiced out by doctors of the Gudermes Central District Hospital (CDH) during their protest are addressed to the federal centre, Professor Alexei Malashenko believes. Doctors announced their problems not fearing the measures applied in Chechnya to intimidate critics of the authorities, said Svetlana Gannushkina, a human rights defender. Caucasian Knot, 16 May 2020


Russian Regions to Become Single Federal Subject in Decade-First

Two Russian regions will merge into a single federal subject, the first such move in more than a decade, the state-run TASS news agency reported after their governors signed a memorandum of intent Wednesday. The Arkhangelsk region and the Nenets autonomous district in northwestern Russia near the Arctic could send a petition to President Vladimir Putin as soon as June 10, according to the Znak.com news website. The Moscow Times, 13 May 2020


State Duma backs election ballot ban for average gravity crimes convicts

The State Duma passed a bill banning persons convicted of crimes of average gravity to stand as candidates in any election in a final third reading on Wednesday. The ban is to be active 5 years after expungement of conviction, the document reads. RAPSI, 13 May 2020

Russia to Allow Remote Voting for Putin’s Constitutional Amendments

Russian lawmakers have passed a bill to allow Russians to vote by mail or online for President Vladimir Putin’s constitutional amendments that would allow him to stay in power through 2036. The coronavirus epidemic forced the president to indefinitely postpone the public vote, originally scheduled for April 22. The proposed changes to Russia’s Constitution would allow Putin — who has been in office either as president or prime minister since 1999 — to serve further terms without a break. The Moscow Times, 13 May 2020

Russia adopts draft legislation that will expand political candidacy restrictions

Russian lawmakers have adopted the third and final reading of legislation that will expand prohibitions on ex-convicts’ rights to run for elected office. The bill won the support of 250 deputies and was opposed by 81 members of parliament. The draft law would restrict the candidacy of persons convicted of one of 50 different offenses, including crimes that are often enforced against political dissidents, such as inciting extremism or terrorism, using violence against members of law enforcement, fraud, and repeatedly attending unpermitted demonstrations. Meduza, 13 May 2020


Russia’s Trash-Burning Plants Could Fuel Unrest, Greenpeace Warns

Russia’s ambitious plans to build 25 waste-burning power plants risk provoking social unrest over their environmental and financial costs, Greenpeace Russia warned Thursday. State industrial conglomerate Rostec, state nuclear agency Rosatom and the VEB state development corporation on Thursday announced a 600 billion ruble ($7.6 billion) project to build the 25 waste-to-energy plants in “Russia’s largest tourist centers.” The Moscow Times, 14 May 2020

Foreign policy

Syria: UN must not cut vital aid lifeline to north-west amid Russian and Syrian war crimes

The UN Security Council must not cut a vital aid lifeline for civilians in the context of war crimes and crimes against humanity in north-west Syria, Amnesty International urged today, as a resolution allowing humanitarian assistance to reach Idlib across Syria’s borders is set to expire in the coming weeks. A new Amnesty International report, ‘Nowhere is safe for us’: Unlawful attacks and mass displacement in north-west Syria, details 18 cases – the majority in January and February 2020 – where Syrian and/or Russian government forces targeted medical facilities and schools in Idlib, western Aleppo and north-western Hama governorates. Amnesty International, 11 May 2020

Amnesty International: Attacks By Damascus, Russian Forces In Syria ‘Amount To War Crimes’

Amnesty International says it has documented 18 attacks in northwest Syria carried out by Syrian government and Russian forces over the past year that amounted to war crimes. The rights group said in a report published on May 10 that the 18 attacks were on medical facilities and schools, and were carried out by either the Syrian government or its Russian ally between May 2019 and February 2020 in Idlib and areas adjoining the rebel stronghold. RFE/RL, 11 May 2020

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