Rights in Russia week-ending 19 November 2021

Our weekly news round-up

13 November 2021

RFE/RL: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Russian authorities of attacking freedom of expression by trying to shut down one of Russia’s most venerated human rights groups and demanded that they quit using a controversial law on “foreign agents” to persecute and intimidate society. Blinken’s remarks, via Twitter, follow reports of a two-track campaign by Russian prosecutors to close down the widely respected Memorial Human Rights Center and International Memorial.

14 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Sunday confirmed 38,823 Covid-19 infections and 1,219 deaths.

15 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Monday confirmed 38,420 Covid-19 infections and 1,211 deaths.

RFE/RL: Pyotr Verzilov, the publisher of the independent media website Mediazona, has been added to Russia’s wanted list for allegedly hiding his dual citizenship. Verzilov’s lawyer, Leonid Solovyov, confirmed on November 15 that his client’s name appeared on the wanted list on the Interior Ministry’s website over his alleged failure to report to authorities that he also holds Canadian citizenship.

FIDH: The Observatory has been informed about the risks of liquidation of the non-governmental organisations International Memorial and the Human Rights Center “Memorial” (HRC Memorial) in Moscow. On November 11, 2021, International Memorial received a notification from the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation informing them that the Prosecutor General’s Office filed a lawsuit against the NGO. In the lawsuit, the Prosecutor General’s Office requested the liquidation of International Memorial on the ground that the NGO systematically violated Russia’s ”Foreign Agent” law, in particular, the requirements to label all their materials.

Human Rights in Ukraine: The Council of Europe remains one of the partners of Russia’s Rosfinmonitoring, a body heavily involved in the political and religious persecution of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians.  The Russian agency’s role looks set to become even more repressive with amendments now proposed enabling it to freeze the bank accounts of those individuals and legal entities accused of spending money on ‘unauthorized’ public demonstrations, rallies, etc.  In Russia and occupied Crimea, virtually no public event that is not pro-regime receives ‘authorization’, so the amendments would be yet another weapon against peaceful assembly and freedom of speech.

16 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Tuesday confirmed 36,818 Covid-19 infections and 1,240 deaths.

RFE/RL: “We consider this assault by the prosecutor’s office to be just one of many actions by the authorities in recent times that are systematically intended to suppress the institutions of civil society, among which Memorial occupies a leading position,” reads a November 12 statement by Moscow’s Sakharov Center.

RFE/RL: A group of leading Russian scholars has called on the authorities to reconsider a move aimed at shutting down one of Russia’s most respected human rights groups — Memorial. More than 60 Russian scholars, including members of the Academy of Sciences and the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center, said the announcement last week by Memorial that it had been notified by Russia’s Supreme Court that prosecutors had filed a demand to dissolve the group over systematic violations of “foreign agent” legislation “is an attempt to deprive the nation of its memory.”

Front Line Defenders: On 11 November 2021, the International Historical and Human Rights Society ‘Memorial’ (International Memorial) received a notice from the Supreme Court of Russian Federation, stating that the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation filed a motion to permanently shut down the association citing systemic violation of the “foreign agents” law. The court hearing is scheduled for 25 November 2021. On the same day, Human Rights Center “Memorial” (HRC “Memorial”) received a confirmation that the Prosecutor’s Office in Moscow filed a motion to the Moscow City Court to permanently shut down the HRC Memorial; the date of the hearing is not yet confirmed.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russia has come up with yet another charge against Nariman Dzhelyal, First Deputy Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, who has been imprisoned since shortly after he attended the inaugural meeting of the international Crimea Platform on 23 August.  That meeting, which elicited hysteria from Moscow, was attended by high-ranking representatives of 45 countries and Dzhelyal had ignored clear threats from the occupation regime by taking part and by speaking publicly about the dire huge rights situation in occupied Crimea.

RFE/RL: The European Union is planning to draw up a list of possible sanctions against a Russian mercenary group involved in multiple global conflicts, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

17 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Wednesday confirmed 36,626 Covid-19 infections and 1,247 deaths.

The Moscow Times: Russia’s Supreme Court has banned the criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses for joint worship, potentially putting an end to the law enforcement practice of jailing believers for prayer sessions. The ruling could also affect the 152 convictions that have not yet entered into force or are being appealed, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia organization said in a statement on its website Tuesday.

The Moscow Times: The United States on Monday added Russia to a blacklist of countries singled out for “egregious violations of religious freedom,” a move that comes as ties dip to their lowest ebb since the Cold War. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was designating Russia, as well as China and eight other states, as countries of concern “for having engaged in or tolerated ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.’”

Human Rights in Ukraine: In its latest attempt to crush the Memorial Human Rights Centre, Russia has used a new and very dangerous weapon, with major implications for occupied Crimea.  In its application to the Moscow City Court to have Memorial HRC dissolved, the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office claimed that the NGO’s materials contain “elements of the justification of extremism and terrorism”.  The material in question would appear to be Memorial’s list of political prisoners and its reports on individual cases, where Russians, Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians are imprisoned as Jehovah’s Witnesses or for alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir.  While at present Russia is using this weapon very selectively, it could become a widespread form of terror against all of those who speak out against mounting religious persecution.

Human Rights Watch [Tanya Lokshina]: Throughout Russia’s contemporary history, Memorial has been the backbone of the country’s human rights community. It has been the epicenter of Russian civil society, the protector of memory about Soviet repression and post-Soviet human rights abuses, and a go-to place for critical thinkers, artists, academics and others concerned about the future of their country. 

The Moscow Times: A Moscow court has fined a music video channel for “gay propaganda” after its awards show featured gender-flipping stars and what viewers said resembled a same-sex wedding, Russia’s independent Dozhd TV broadcaster reported Wednesday.

The Moscow Times: A former U.S. Marine serving a nine-year prison term in Russia ended a hunger strike he launched to protest against alleged violations of his rights, his lawyer told AFP Wednesday. U.S. citizen Trevor Reed is serving his sentence in a penal colony some 500 kilometers southeast of Moscow after being convicted of assaulting police officers while drunk in 2019. 

18 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Thursday confirmed 37,374 Covid-19 infections and a new record of 1,251 deaths.

The Guardian: A public inquiry is to be launched into the death of a woman killed in the 2018 Wiltshire novichok poisonings, the home secretary has announced.

The Moscow Times: Russian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov and his newspaper Novaya Gazeta have been fined for failing to properly label “foreign agents” mentioned in their news coverage, Russian media reported Wednesday. […] According to the Mediazona news website, Muratov and Novaya Gazeta were unaware of the Moscow court session fining them a total of 132,000 rubles ($1,800). Moscow’s Basmanny district court found Muratov and Novaya Gazeta guilty of failing to mention the “foreign agent” status of two groups affiliated with jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, Novaya Gazeta’s legal team told the ChTD Telegram news channel.

RFE/RL: The Russian state media monitor Roskomnadzor has filed a lawsuit in a Moscow court seeking a 500,000-ruble ($6,800) fine against the news website The Insider, which was added to the country’s controversial registry of “foreign agents” in July. The case is over the lack of appropriate labeling of content on The Insider website, according to TASS, citing a source in the court. A court document cited by TASS is dated November 17. A hearing date has not been set.

Human Rights in Ukraine: A ‘court’ in occupied Crimea has sentenced a Russian military serviceman to just three and a half years’ imprisonment for a fatal attack on the security guard of an Evangelical Baptist church in the village of Sofiivka.  This is the latest of several insultingly short sentences that contrast sharply with the 18-20-year sentences passed against Crimean Tatar civic activists who have committed no crime at all.

RFE/RL: After video of the concert, whose title roughly translates as You’re On Your Own From Here, was posted to YouTube, Chuzhoi said friends in his hometown of Zheleznogorsk began receiving visits from police officers asking for the comic’s contact details.

19 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Friday confirmed 37,156 Covid-19 infections and a new record of 1,254 deaths.

RFE/RL: The former lawyer of a regional organization for jailed opposition activist Aleksei Navalny has left Russia amid an ongoing crackdown on the defunct organizations associated with the Kremlin critic that were labeled as extremist earlier this year. Fyodor Telin worked as a lawyer for Navalny’s network of regional campaign groups until Navalny’s team disbanded them in April after a Moscow prosecutor went to court to have them branded extremist. A court later accepted the prosecutor’s appeal and labeled the national network extremist, effectively outlawing it.

Dunja Mijatović, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe: As various Council of Europe bodies, including the Secretary General and my Office, have repeatedly stated, the “foreign agents” law falls short of international and European human rights standards and should be repealed as a matter of priority. Applying it to shut down Memorial groups serves as another illustration of its use as a tool of reprisals against civil society and human rights defenders. In addition, I am dismayed to learn that the Human Rights Centre Memorial is also under a liquidation procedure on the grounds of their legitimate work being considered as justification of extremist and terrorist activities. Instead of harassing and stigmatising human rights NGOs, the Russian authorities should co-operate with them and civil society at large and create a safe and enabling working environment. They should therefore discontinue the liquidation proceedings against International Memorial and the Human Rights Centre Memorial. I intend to raise these issues with the Russian authorities as a matter of priority.

Amnesty InternationalCivil Rights Defenders: We, the undersigned Russian and international human rights organization condemn the escalating attacks against Russian LGBT Network, its leadership and partners. We call on the Russian authorities to cease targeting the largest and most prominent LGBTI rights group in Russia and foster a normal working environment for activists for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and transgender people in the country. [Statement signed by: Amnesty International, Anti-discrimination Centre “Memorial”, Civic Assistance Committee (designated a “foreign agent” by Russia’s Ministry of Justice), Civil Rights Defenders, Committee against Torture, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Centre “Memorial” (designated a “foreign agent” by Russia’s Ministry of Justice), Human Rights Watch, Norwegian Helsinki Committee]

CPJ: Russian authorities should stop harassing journalist Dmitry Muratov and cease labelling news outlets and members of the press as “foreign agents,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.  Muratov and Philippine journalist Maria Ressa were jointly awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize in October.

RFE/RL: Two Russian Nobel Peace Prize winners have issued a joint appeal for authorities to drop a bid to close one of Russia’s most venerated human rights groups — Memorial. In a joint statement on November 18, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, and the editor in chief of the Novaya gazeta newspaper, Dmitry Muratov, said attempts to close Memorial have “caused anxiety and concern in the country, which we share.”

The Moscow Times: Russian police have launched a probe into a photograph of a woman flashing her buttocks in front of a church, the latest in a string of racy photos snapped outside religious landmarks, state media reported Thursday. Authorities have launched at least four cases in recent weeks against young people, mostly women, for posting sexually suggestive content on social media near places of worship.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Two Crimean Tatars, Lenur Seidametov and Timur Yalkabov, are facing 15-year sentences on the basis of an illicitly taped conversation five years ago with an unidentified individua, first in a mosque, then over a cup of tea.  Although it was the stranger who raised all the religious subjects on which the flawed charges are now based, and at least one of the men can be heard trying to politely end the conversation, the FSB have claimed that this was a ‘conspiratorial’ meeting and arrested the two Crimean Tatars. The provocateur with a taping device is not officially part of the prosecution at all. 

RFE/RL: Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging Turkmenistan to provide information about the whereabouts of a human rights activist who went missing in Russia last month, saying he was likely a victim of an enforced disappearance by the Turkmen security services.

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