Rights in Russia week-ending 19 February 2021

Our selection of news from the past week

More news from the past week:

15 February 2021

The Guardian: A Russian former journalist held for seven months on treason charges has described a Kafkaesque legal process in which he has not been told the substance of the charges against him because they are secret. In an interview from prison, Ivan Safronov said his family had been named witnesses in the case in an attempt to isolate him and pressure him to plead guilty. “No one must hear my voice – it’s a threat to national security, nothing less,” he said in his first extended remarks since his arrest, published in the Kommersant newspaper. Safronov, a former military affairs journalist at Kommersant and Vedomosti newspapers, was arrested last July in the first high treason case against a reporter since 2001. Treason cases have risen fivefold in the last decade in Russia, in what has been called a return of spy mania.

RFE/RL: The Moscow-based Novaya gazeta newspaper on February 15 published official documents it says prove that many of the people allegedly killed in extrajudicial executions in Chechnya in 2017 had been detained by local police. Novaya gazeta reported in 2017 that 27 detained individuals had been summarily executed in late January that year. Chechen authorities have denied the individuals in question had ever been arrested, while the Investigative Committee rejected Novaya gazeta’s request to launch an investigation into the allegations.

The Moscow Times: The annual march in honor of slain Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov will not take place this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, one of its organizers announced on Monday.  Supporters have held memorial marches for Nemtsov every Feb. 27 near the site on a bridge steps away from the Kremlin where he was shot dead in 2015. Though five men have been convicted for his killing, his supporters say the architects of the murder have yet to be brought to justice. The march’s organizing committee has asked Moscow authorities to not interfere with those who wish to lay flowers at the spot where Nemtsov was murdered, liberal lawmaker and march co-organizer Dmitry Gudkov wrote on Telegram.

RFE/RL: A man sentenced for his involvement in two terrorist attacks in Moscow in 1999 has been found dead in a Siberian prison. Media reports in Russia on February 15 identified the man as 65-year-old Khalid Khuguyev, who was serving his 22-year prison term in Correctional Colony No. 47 in the town of Volchanets in the Primorsky Krai region. […] Khuguyev was expected to be released later this year.

The Moscow Times: Russia confirmed 14,207 new coronavirus cases and 394 deaths.

16 February 2021

The Moscow Times: Russian academics are warning that lawmakers seek to curb their freedoms with a new law that would require state permission for public outreach, the weekly journal Nature reported Monday. Amendments to Russia’s education law advancing through the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, seek to stamp out “anti-Russian” influence in educational activities outside formal settings. Observers caution that government control could expand to online courses on YouTube, podcasts and popular lectures. Nearly 220,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for the repeal of what it describes as restrictive amendments, while almost 1,700 Rusian academics have signed on to a declaration defying them. Prominent educators and the presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences have urged lawmakers to repeal the measures they described as “prior restraint.”

RFE/RL: Sergei Petrochenko’s family spent the early morning hours of January 28 frantically calling hospitals and morgues [in Tomsk]. Petrochenko was supposed to arrive home from a construction job before midnight the previous night, but he had disappeared without a trace. The family’s uncertainty continued until shortly after 6 a.m., when Petrochenko himself called from an unfamiliar number. In a short conversation, he was able to tell his wife, Nellya, that he was in police custody, that he had been beaten up, and that his car was damaged and left by the side of the road. […] At a court hearing on January 29, Petrochenko was found guilty of the administrative offense of disobeying a law enforcement officer. The court acknowledged that Petrochenko had been detained mistakenly by officers of the National Guard. Nonetheless, it ruled that he had “hindered them in the execution of their duties.”

The Moscow Times: Russian security forces have taught Siberian schoolchildren how to detain protesters in a simulated riot, according to video published by local television Tuesday.  The footage comes on the heels of a mass protest crackdown during rallies calling for jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s arrest. More than 10,000 were detained nationwide during those protests, with widespread allegations of police brutality against peaceful demonstrators.

17 February 2021

CPJ: Russian authorities should investigate the nonconsensual release of journalist Elena Solovyova’s financial information online and ensure that the perpetrators are held to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. In several posts on February 4 and 10, the anonymous Telegram channel “Komi-Telega,” which has over 6,000 subscribers, published copies of Solovyova’s tax forms for work she did as a reporter for a number of media outlets, including U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Russian independent news website 7×7, and a copy of her work contract with RFE/RL, according to Solovyova, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview, a Facebook post by the journalist, and the Telegram posts, which CPJ reviewed. The posts called Solovyova, a freelance reporter based in the northwestern city of Syktyvkar in the Russian republic of Komi, a “foreign agent” and “parasite” involved in “dark financial deeds.” On February 13, the account posted that it would publish “more revelations” about the journalist. “Komi-Telega” frequently posts criticism of independent journalists and human rights activists, alleging that they have sold out to the West, according to CPJ’s review of the account.

RFE/RL: Russian authorities have detained and placed under house arrest a Jehovah’s Witness in Siberia amid a continued crackdown on the religious group, which was labeled as extremist and banned in the country in 2017. The Investigative Committee said in a statement on February 17 that a 53-year-old resident of the town of Belovo in the Kemerovo region was placed under house arrest on suspicion of organizing a Jehovah’s Witnesses “cell.”

RFE/RL: Last week’s court hearing in the northern city of Syktyvkar was supposed to be a routine preliminary session: the initial appearance of Aleksei Ivanov, charged with attending an unauthorized rally in support of jailed opposition activist Aleksei Navalny. Things got interesting when the judge started asking him questions in Russian — and Ivanov, who speaks Russian fluently, opted instead to answer in his native language, Komi. “Do you have a Russian passport?” she yells at him in Russian, according to an audio recording of the proceeding. “You live in Russia! You studied at a Russian school!” “We live in the Komi Republic. There are two state languages here: Komi and Russian,” he replies in Komi.

18 February 2021

Amnesty International: On 4 February, 20-year-old Salekh Magamadov and 17-year-old Ismail Isaev were abducted by police in Central Russia and taken to Chechnya. They had fled Chechnya in 2020, following their arbitrary detention and reported torture for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and fearing further reprisals, including in connection with their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Their whereabouts are currently unknown. They are victims of enforced disappearance, and their physical and mental integrity and their lives are at risk.

19 February 2021

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russian prison authorities are effectively threatening reprisals against Oleksiy Bessarabov because he is refusing to hand over the Ukrainian government’s grant to him as a political prisoner in order to pay a preposterous fine.  44-year-old Bessarabov and Volodynyr Dudka (56) are both serving 14-year sentences on entirely fabricated ‘Crimean saboteur’ charges, with both men also ordered to pay fines of 300 thousand and 350 thousand roubles, respectively. Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsperson, Lyudmyla Denisova reported on 12 February, citing Bessarabov’s family, that the Russian prison administration have been trying to force him to pay the fine via the state assistance which Ukraine allocates for political prisoners and their families, or by doing forced labour.  Bessarabov’s refusal has been met with blackmail and threats to throw him into a SHIZO, or punishment cell, where the conditions are even worse than where he is presently held.  

RFE/RL: Russian police have once again removed a makeshift memorial to slain opposition politician Boris Nemtsov in central Moscow and detained two activists guarding it, local media reported. Grigory Simakov, one of the volunteers who help guard the memorial, told the Novaya gazeta newspaper that police destroyed it and later placed two metal barricades on the spot. Simakov said police took two of the volunteers to the station to check their documents while he and his wife were chased away. The memorial consisting of flowers, photographs, and candles is located on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge — a short walk from the Kremlin — where Nemtsov was gunned down nearly six years ago, on February 27, 2015.

The Moscow Times: The Moscow Civic Chamber plans to launch a citywide vote next week on whether to restore the statue of the Soviet secret police’s notorious founder 30 years after it was toppled, its senior member announced Friday. The monument to “Iron” Felix Dzerzhinsky, who headed the Cheka secret police following the 1917 revolution, was removed from the KGB headquarters with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It currently stands in the open-air Fallen Monument Park an hour’s walk south of the building that now houses the Federal Security Service (FSB).

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