Rights in Russia week-ending 2 April 2021

Other news from the week:

27 March 2021

RFE/RL: The leader of Burma’s ruling junta called Russia a “true friend” during a speech marking Armed Forces Day, as security forces in the Southeast Asian country reportedly killed scores of people in the bloodiest day of protests since last month’s coup. The lethal crackdown, which took place on March 27 as Russia’s deputy defense minister visited the country to improve relations, drew swift international condemnation. The United Nations said it had received reports of “scores killed,” including children, in what it described as “shocking violence.” It said there were mass arrests and hundreds were also injured in at least 40 towns and cities. The Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, which documents deaths and arrests, put the number of deaths by late evening at 91, spread over many cities and towns.

29 March 2021

The Moscow Times: A Russian-controlled court in Crimea said Monday it has jailed an elderly woman for 12 years after finding her guilty of spying for Ukraine. The Sevastopol city court said in a statement that the woman — identified only by the initial D., her birth year of 1955 and residence of the town of Bakhchysarai — had been recruited into “secret cooperation” with the Ukrainian military and intelligence.

Human Rights Watch: A Russian court extended the pretrial detention of activist Mikhail Iosilevich, the first person put behind bars in connection with his prosecution under Russia’s abusive “undesirable foreign organization” law. The court, based in Nizhniy Novgorod, made its ruling last week. By the time the extension ends on April 28, Iosilevich will have spent three months behind bars without being convicted of something that should not be a crime in the first place. Iosilevich’s pretrial detention is a violation of his right to liberty and of Russia’s obligations under regional and international human rights treaties. The authorities charged Iosilevich for providing space in his café, which hosts civil society events, for an event on election monitoring. He provided the space to election monitoring watchdog Golos, but the authorities claim he provided it to Open Russia, a group banned by the authorities as “undesirable.” Once designated “undesirable”, an organization must cease all activities in Russia, and anyone deemed to be involved with it can be charged with an administrative or even criminal offence.

CPJ: Russian authorities should investigate the threats made to journalist Vasiliy Vaysenberg and ensure that those behind them are held responsible, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. On March 25, an unidentified person called Vaysenberg’s wife, Alisa, and threatened the couple’s son, saying, “I don’t want [your son] Misha to fall off the scooter next time. Do you understand me?” according to media reports and Vaysenberg, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview and posted about the incident on Facebook.

Civil Rights Defenders: On 15 March 2021, journalist Elena Milashina from the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published an investigation into a mass execution in Chechnya in 2017. Following the publication, Milashina and the newspaper have received serious threats from Chechen authorities. Civil Rights Defenders and the undersigned organisations urge Frank Schwabe, PACE Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Rule of Law in the North Caucasus, and Teresa Ribeiro, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, to react to the threats.  

The Moscow Times: Siberian scientists have blocked the publication of a “bombshell” pollution report out of fear of angering voters ahead of this fall’s legislative elections, the Tayga.info news website reported Friday. The Russian Academy of Sciences’ (RAS) Siberian branch reportedly determined that 78% of Russia’s two dozen most polluted cities are located in Siberia and linked the findings to increased rates of birth defects, childhood disease and cancers in the region. 

30 March 2021

RFE/RL: Police have searched the home of well-known Tatar writer and activist Fauzia Bairamova in Naberezhnye Chelny, the second-largest city in Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan. Bairamova told RFE/RL that the search conducted on March 30 was linked to her participation in the 2019 annual commemoration of Tatars fallen during the 1552 siege of the city by Russian troops.

31 March 2021

RFE/RL: A noted human rights activist in the northwestern Russian city of Cherepovets has been sentenced to two years of “limited freedom” under parole-like conditions on a charge of distributing false information about the coronavirus. The leader of the For Human Rights movement’s branch in the Vologda region, Grigory Vinter, said on March 31 that the sentence forbids him from changing his permanent address and orders him to report to a parole officer twice a month. Vinter was found guilty of posting “false” information on the VKontakte social network about the purported transfer of a group of convicts with coronavirus-like symptoms from Russia’s second city, St. Petersburg, to the Vologda region in 2020. He was also found guilty of insulting police during a search of his apartment in May. Vinter says he will appeal the court’s ruling.

Amnesty International: On 17 March, the NGO Russian LGBT Network reported that lawyers were finally allowed to visit Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev in a remand facility in Chechnya’s capital Grozny. They complained about ill-treatment and multiple violations of fair trial guarantees. They are being prosecuted on spurious charges solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, including in connection with their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, and must be immediately released. All charges against them must be dropped.

Human Rights in Ukraine: The Russian prison authorities have thrown Andriy Kolomiyets into the appalling conditions of a SHIZO, or punishment cell for the second time this month, with both 10-day sentences on absurd pretexts.  Kolomiyets is one of two Ukrainians who were tortured and imprisoned by Russian-controlled courts on preposterous charges linked with their involvement in the Euromaidan protests, and Russia’s revenge appears to be continuing with the young Ukrainian’s treatment in Russian captivity.

RFE/RL: The United States is expressing concern about what it called ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine amid reports of a buildup of Russian troops along Ukraine’s border and in Crimea. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, and U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called top military leaders in Russia and Ukraine, the State Department and Pentagon said on March 31. Blinken reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine “in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression” and “expressed concern about the security situation in eastern Ukraine,” the State Department said. Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said the Pentagon is aware of Ukrainian military reports concerning Russian troop movements near Ukraine’s borders.

1 April 2021

RFE/RL: Milana Magomedova is a 22-year-old woman who, until recently, lived with her parents and younger brother and sister in the Siberian oil city of Tyumen. Since December, Magomedova has been trying to escape her parents, natives of the North Caucasus region of Daghestan who ran their family life according to a strict interpretation of their region’s traditional Islamic values.

RFE/RL: The European Union has accused Moscow of launching a “conscription campaign” in the Russia-controlled Ukrainian region of Crimea, in a move that the bloc said violated international law. The EU’s strongly worded statement came as Ukraine accused Russia of massing troops near their shared border, an accusation rejected by the Kremlin. “Today, the Russian Federation has launched yet another conscription campaign in the illegally-annexed Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to draft residents of the peninsula in the Russian Federation Armed Forces,” the EU said in a statement on April 1.

The Moscow Times: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday accused Moscow of building up troops on his country’s border as the United States warned Russia against “intimidating” Ukraine. Kiev has been locked in a conflict with Russian-backed separatists since 2014, and this week Ukrainian officials reported Russian troop movement in annexed Crimea and on the border, near territories controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. On Thursday, Zelenskiy’s ministers discussed the escalating security situation with Western allies including U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. “Muscle-flexing in the form of military exercises and possible provocations along the border are traditional Russian games,” Zelenskiy said in a statement.

2 April 2021

Human Rights in Ukraine: Bekir Mamutov, Chief Editor of the newspaper ‘Qurim’, is on trial in Russian-occupied Crimea for publishing a United Nations report which mentions the Mejlis,, or self-governing body, of the Crimean Tatar people.  The UN report almost certainly speaks of the Mejlis in the context of Russia’s continuing persecution.  Yet four years after the UN’s International Court of Justice ordered that Russia remove its ban, this binding order from a body which Russia has committed itself to obey is never mentioned, and the Chief Editor has been prosecuted, effectively for not tampering with the UN’s report.  

The Moscow Times: A Russian court on Friday fined Twitter nearly $117,000 for failing to remove calls to opposition protests, as Moscow ramps up pressure against the U.S. tech giant. Authorities in January accused foreign social media platforms of interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs by not deleting calls to rallies in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny late that month and early February.

Front Line Defenders: On 25 March 2021, migrant rights defender Izzat Amon was abducted in Moscow and forcibly transferred to Tajikistan. The human rights defender’s whereabouts were unknown for two days before the Tajikistan Ministry of Interior reported that he was being held in pre-trial detention in Tajikistan and facing charges of fraud, in connection to his human rights work in Russia.

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