Rights in Russia week-ending 16 October 2020

Other news:

Right of assembly

RFE/RL, Thursday, 15 October 2020: A court in Moscow has refused to look into a case brought by police against a member of the well-known Pussy Riot protest group who was detained over his participation in an anti-homophobia rally on President Vladimir Putin’s birthday last week. The Tver district court late on October 14 said it was sending the case against Temuuzhin Sambuudavaagiyn back to the police. Sambudavaagiyn was detained a day earlier and charged with the “repeated violation of regulations for holding public events,” for which he could face up to 30 days in jail if found guilty. Sambudavaagiyn took part in Pussy Riot’s action against “state homophobic policies” on October 7, Putin’s 68th birthday.

RFE/RL, Friday, 16 October 2020: Russia says it put Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya on its wanted list in line with regional agreements after Belarus first made the move claiming she had called for overthrowing the constitutional order in the country. Russian media on October 16 quoted Russia’s Interior Ministry as confirming the move, made within the framework of the Russia-Belarus Union State. The report comes three days after Tsikhanouskaya openly demanded that Alyaksandr Lukashenka should step down from the post of Belarusian president by October 25 or face a nationwide strike.

LGBT rights

Civil Rights Defenders, Wednesday, 14 October: While 2020 has brought unique challenges to civil society, NGOs and initiative groups have demonstrated inspiring resilience. Despite the pandemic, the annual festivals QueerFest in St. Petersburg and OpenArt in Moscow find new ways to bring the LGBTI+ community and wider public together to learn, discuss, and raise awareness about LGBTI+ rights in Russia. From 9 to 11 October, people gathered in Moscow for the third annual OpenArt – a three-day event for musicians, artists, and activists from the LGBTI+ community. This year’s festival included an online portal with live video streaming between Moscow and Stockholm, linking OpenArt with Cinema Queer in Stockholm. Participants from both sides of the Baltic Sea were able to see each other, chat, and enjoy some of the activities together.  In St. Petersburg, the 10-day QueerFest is currently under way, providing a space for the LGBTI+ community and wider public to participate in lectures, performances, and workshops about LGBTI+ rights. While the pandemic has brought several challenges, they’ve found new ways to connect people from Russia and the post-Soviet space.  “This year has brought many difficulties for the whole world, and not excluding the festival. However, despite all the obstacles, we have been able to not only hold the festival this year but also integrate new components,” says one of the organisers of QueerFest. 

Abuse of Psychiatry

Amnesty International, Thursday, 15 October 2020: Siberian shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev was released from psychiatric detention on 22 July after his defence team succeeded in their request for a psychological and psychiatric examination on 21 July. Aleksandr Gabyshev was targeted for his open criticism of the authorities and spent more than two months arbitrarily deprived from his freedom.

Human Rights in Ukraine, Friday, 16 October 2020: A Russian-controlled court in Simferopol has ordered 36-year-old Alexander Sizikov to be placed in a psychiatric hospital for a month, supposedly for a psychiatric assessment.  Sizikov is totally blind, and needs a special diet, making such incarceration akin to torture of the young man who has been under full house arrest since 7 July 2020. Lawyer Emil Kurbedinov says that he and his colleagues have grounds for fearing that the plan is to declare Sizikov mentally unfit, and effectively imprison him in a psychiatric hospital for many years.


RFE/RL, Tuesday, 13 October 2020: Among the 75 people whose portraits gaze out from a makeshift memorial to medical workers who have died of COVID-19 in St. Petersburg since the pandemic began, the youngest is 30-year-old Maria Tyshko. For eight years, Tyshko worked as a nurse’s aide at a veterans hospital and dreamed of one day becoming a nurse. But after she died of COVID-19 on April 15, hospital and city officials refused to recognize her as a medical worker or to offer her family the compensation promised to front-line health-care personnel who fell victim to the illness.

Human Rights Watch, Tuesday, 13 October 2020: My phone number is now supposed to be shared with the Moscow government, along with the numbers of everyone in the city working remotely because of the Covid-19 pandemic. My organization asked if I was fine with that, but according to the Moscow authorities, they don’t need my permission and the employers don’t have a choice. Responding to the rapid spike in Covid-19 cases this autumn, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin earlier this month ordered all organizations to ensure at least 30 percent of their staff work remotely. On October 6, the mayor ordered employers to file weekly updates with the city that include remote employee information, such as phone numbers, vehicle registration information, and metro pass numbers. Failure to provide this information can result in fines up to RUB 200,000 (US$2,600). Many employerslegal professionals, and activists have criticized the new regulations as infringing on the right to privacy.


Amnesty International, Tuesday, 13 October 2020: On 22 October Dmitrovgrad Town Court, in Ulyanovsk Region, western Russia, will consider the parole application of youth human rights defender Yan Sidorov. Both he and his friend Vladislav Mordasov are prisoners of conscience, serving sentences of over six years, simply for trying to organise a peaceful protest in November 2017 in support of dozens of Rostov-on-Don residents who had lost their houses in mass fires.

Meduza, Wednesday, 14 October 2020: The trial of graduate student and anarchist activist Azat Miftakhov is ongoing at Moscow’s Golovinsky District Court. He stands accused of attacking a United Russia office in 2018. Miftakhov, who has pleaded not guilty, has received support from world-famous academics, including linguist Noam Chomsky. During the latest hearing on Monday, October 13, one of the prosecution’s key witnesses was supposed to testify — he allegedly saw Miftakhov at the United Russia office on the night in question and later recognized him by his “expressive eyebrows.” But the secret witness wasn’t able to appear before the court — during the hearing, state prosecutors announced that he had died. “Meduza” breaks down the latest developments in Azat Miftakhov’s case.


Caucasian Knot, Thursday, 15 October 2020: Members of a unit of an international terrorist organization were plotting a series of terror acts in Volgograd, and today, two of them have been killed in a shootout with law enforcers, the FSB reports. In Volgograd, a unit of international terrorists from the “Katiba Tawhid wal-Jihad (Battalion of Monotheism and Jihad) (an extremist organization, banned in Russia by the court, – note of the “Caucasian Knot) had been defeated, the Russian secret services reported. According to the FSB, members of the unit, natives of a country of the Central Asian region, were plotting to commit sabotage and terror acts in Volgograd. “During the detention, the ringleader and his accomplice, who were trying to extract means of terror from a hiding they had arranged in Volgograd earlier, rendered armed resistance to Russian FSB agents and, as a result, were neutralized,” reported the FSB as quoted by the RIA “Novosti”.

North Caucasus

RFE/RL, Tuesday, 13 October 2020: Authorities in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Chechnya say police in the regional capital, Grozny, have killed “four militants.” Media reports quoted sources in local law enforcement as saying that two officers of the National Guard were killed and a police officer was wounded during the special operation on October 13. Other sources, including the state TASS news agency, said that three law enforcement officers also were killed during the shoot-out. According to the officials, the special operation lasted for 30 minutes and the house where the “militants” were hiding was burned to the ground. Two days earlier, Chechen officials said they killed two other “militants” in the west of the region.

Caucasian Knot, Wednesday, 14 October 2020: Investigators refused to give out the bodies of the Lolokhoev brothers and Aslangirei Gadaborshev, killed by law enforcers in counterterrorist operations (CTOs), to their relatives. The latter considered the investigators’ refusal as unfounded and filed a lawsuit to the Magas District Court. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that on August 23, in the village of Troitskoye, law enforcers conducted a special operation. As a result, according to the law enforcement bodies’ information, three supporters of the “Islamic State” (a terrorist organization, banned in Russia by the court, – note of the “Caucasian Knotwere killed, and two law enforcers were injured. The suspects killed by the law enforcers, were identified as Magomed Saraliev, Aslangirei Gadaborshev, and Ibragim Lolokhoev, the “Ingushetia” NTRK (National TV and Radio Broadcast Company) reported. According to the intelligence services, the suspects were plotting to commit a series of terror acts in Ingushetia.

Caucasian Knot, Wednesday, 14 October 2020: The words of the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, that the alleged militants, who were killed during the counterterrorist operation (CTO) conducted in Grozny on October 13, had entered Russia from abroad, have raised questions about the work of special services, the experts interviewed by the “Caucasian Knot” have noted. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that on October 13, in the Oktiabrsky District of Grozny, during a CTO, law enforcers killed four alleged militants. According to law enforcers’ data, voiced out by Ramzan Kadyrov, the alleged militants arrived from abroad and had planned to commit a series of terror acts in Chechnya. The CTOs accompanied by killing alleged members of the armed underground in Chechnya, same as in any other region of Russia, where they are often conducted even at a large scale, may indicate an illusory stability in the security sphere and the absence of full control, which is often reported by the heads of various special services and heads of regions, Zaurbek Sadakhanov, a lawyer of the Moscow Bar Association, asserts.

Caucasian Knot, Thursday, 15 October 2020: A special operation in Grozny with the killing of four suspected militants had been staged to receive new generous subsidies from the federal authorities, Instagram users suggested. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that on October 13, during the counterterrorist operation (CTO) held in the Oktyabrsky District of Grozny, four suspected militants, two fighters of the National Guard of Russia, and one policeman were killed. According to the law enforcement bodies’ information, voiced by the leader of Chechnya, the suspected militants arrived from abroad and were plotting a series of terror acts in Chechnya.

Caucasian Knot, Thursday, 15 October 2020: The public renunciation of relatives is a disgrace in the eyes of Chechen natives, and, using such a method, the authorities of Chechnya have silenced many of their opponents from the diaspora, blogger Said-Khusein Magomadov suggests. The Chechen authorities reproduce the methods typical for totalitarian regimes, note human rights defenders, interviewed by the “Caucasian Knot“. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that relatives of Said-Khusein Magomadov, who lives in Austria and criticizes Chechen authorities, had held a gathering, where they cursed Said-Khusein for his texts criticizing Ramzan Kadyrov and Chechen authorities. Blogger Said-Khusein Magomadov believes that everyone understands the artificial nature of apologies. “This is done to intimidate others who would like to criticize the Chechen authorities openly. To prevent that, they put pressure on relatives,” Said-Khusein Magomadov told the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent.

Caucasian Knot, Friday, 16 October, 2020: Kazbek Baidulaev, who was killed during a counterterrorist operation (CTO) in the Sernovodsk District of Chechnya, had been kidnapped and tortured before he joined the armed underground, the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Memorial” has stated. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that on October 11, two alleged militants were killed during the CTO conducted in Chechnya. The casualties were identified as Rustam Borchashvili and Kazbek Baidulaev. Earlier, the latter’s relatives had claimed fabrication of criminal cases against him. Kazbek Baidulaev joined militants in 2012, but had been kidnapped and tortured since 2008, and by 2011, he was twice convicted for involvement in illegal armed formations (IAFs), says the publication of the HRC “Memorial” posted on October 15. Kazbek Baidulaev was first detained on April 12, 2008; he was 20 years old at the time. After the arrest, he was tortured, forced to self-incriminate and was soon sentenced to six months in prison under the article on links with militants.

Caucasian Knot. Friday, 16 October 2020: Video records of street prayers in Dagestan confirm that the number of believers strictly observing the Islam requirements is growing, Akhmet Yarlykapov, an expert on the Caucasus, is sure. Magomedrasul Omarov, the head of the “Fikr” Centre, said, in his turn, that prayers in streets are not a new phenomenon and are quite widespread in Islamic countries. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that in Dagestan, videos of performing namaz (prayer) in public places posted on social networks had caused a resonance. The namaz administered in public places is not a new phenomenon; and the widespread practice thereof indicates that young people are becoming seriously practicing Muslims, said Akhmet Yarlykapov, a senior researcher at the Centre for Caucasian Studies of the MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations).

Caucasian Knot, Friday, 16 October 2020: After detention, three residents of the Naursky District were subjected to torture and forced to confess to creating an armed grouping and swearing allegiance to a leader of the terrorist organization “Islamic State”*, a defender claimed. The Zavodskoi District Court of Grozny considers the case against Khasan Islamov, Turpal-Eli Demelkhanov, and Mikail Gazimagomadov, three residents of the village of Savelievskaya in the Naursky District of Chechnya, the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent has been informed by Dmitry Piskunov, the director of the North-Caucasian branch of the “Committee against Torture” (CaT). “The three (defendants) allegedly formed an illegal armed formation (IAF), since they allegedly possessed three grenades […] Furthermore, the defendants were allegedly plotting some abstract plan to attack law enforcers. No place, time, no specifics are reported. There are also no injured or victims,” explains Dmitry Piskunov, who is involved in the case as one of the defenders.


RFE/RL, Thursday, 15 October 2020: Russia says it has decided to halt consultations with Australia and the Netherlands on the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger flight over eastern Ukraine more than six years ago, after the Dutch government took Russia to court in July for its alleged role in the tragedy. “Such unfriendly moves by the Netherlands make further trilateral consultations and our participation in them senseless,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on October 15. Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said in a tweet that the Netherlands “greatly regrets this decision. It is extremely painful for the survivors.” MH17 was shot down on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine. Nearly two-thirds of the 298 victims were Dutch nationals.


RFE/RL, Thursday, 15 October 2020: The European Union has denounced forced military conscription of residents in the Russian-occupied Crimea region and called on Moscow to “stop all violations of international law” in the peninsula. “This is part of continued efforts to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, with further attempts to forcibly integrate the illegally-annexed Crimea and Sevastopol into Russia,” a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement on October 15. The spokesman, Peter Stano, said the EU “does not, and will not” recognize the annexation and expects Russia to “stop all violations of international law” in the peninsula.

Human Rights in Ukraine, Thursday, 15 October 2020: A young man from occupied Sevastopol was caught by Ukrainian border guards in the Sumy oblast on 12 October in circumstances that prove both his determination to study in mainland Ukraine and the obstructions that Russia is illegally imposing. The 17-year-old, who for obvious reasons is not named, has explained to the Crimean Human Rights Group that he was accepted to the Kherson State Maritime Academy in July this year and returned in September to begin his studies  At the beginning of October, he returned to Sevastopol to collect some things.  On trying to return to Kherson, he was stopped by Russian border guards who claimed that he had already exhausted the possibility, set out in a Russian government directive, of a single exit during the quarantine period.  They told him that he could only leave if there were “a humanitarian reason” for this. 


Human Rights Watch, Thursday, 15 October 2020: The Syrian and Russian armed forces’ repeated attacks on civilian infrastructure in Idlib in northwest Syria were apparent war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Dozens of unlawful air and ground strikes on hospitals, schools, and markets from April 2019 to March 2020 killed hundreds of civilians. The attacks seriously impaired the rights to health, education, food, water, and shelter, triggering mass displacement. The 167-page report, “‘Targeting Life in Idlib’: Syrian and Russian Strikes on Civilian Infrastructure,” details abuses by Syrian and Russian armed forces during the 11-month military campaign to retake Idlib governorate and surrounding areas, among the last held by anti-government armed groups. The report examines the abusive military strategy in which the Syrian-Russian alliance repeatedly violated the laws of war against the 3 million civilians there, many displaced by fighting elsewhere in the country. It names 10 senior Syrian and Russian civilian and military officials who may be implicated in war crimes as a matter of command responsibility: they knew or should have known about the abuses and took no effective steps to stop them or punish those responsible.

United Nations

The Guardian, Monday, 12 October 2020: China, Russia, Cuba, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are expected to be elected to the board of the UN human rights council on Tuesday, leaving human rights campaigners in the countries aghast and pleading with EU states to commit to withholding their support. The Geneva-based monitoring NGO UN Watch described the situation as the equivalent of allowing five convicted arsonists to join the fire brigade.

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