Other news from the week includes:
The Guardian, Monday, 28 September 2020: The Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has confirmed German media reports that Angela Merkel visited him in hospital where he was treated after being poisoned with the nerve agent novichok. Navalny, who was released from the Charité hospital in Berlin last week after 32 days of treatment, said he was grateful to the German chancellor for her visit. He said that, contrary to a report by the magazine Der Spiegel, her visit had not been secret. “There was a meeting, but you shouldn’t call it ‘secret’, he wrote on Twitter, “rather it was a private meeting and conversation with the family.” Navalny added he was “very grateful to Chancellor Merkel for visiting me at the hospital”.
Meduza, Tuesday, 29 September 2020: The coordinator of Alexey Navalny’s Arkhangelsk office, Andrey Borovikov, is facing charges for the criminal distribution of pornography. He could now face between two and six years in prison. As Navalny’s Arkhangelsk office reported on Twitter, officers searched Borovikov’s apartment on the morning of September 29, and seized all of his devices. Afterwards, he was taken in for questioning and placed under a recognizance not to leave. Borovikov told MBX Media that the criminal case was brought against him over a video clip of a song by the German band Rammstein, which he posted among his personal videos on the social networking site VKontakte several years ago. “They’re charging me [because] I, on January 19, 2014, six and a half years ago, posted a clip of the Rammstein video for the song ‘Pussy.’ The clip is allegedly pornographic. I don’t have this clip in my videos now, I don’t even remember when this was,” the activist explained.
The Guardian, Thursday, 1 October 2020: The Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny says he believes Vladimir Putin ordered intelligence agencies to poison him, possibly to avoid a “Belarusian scenario” of civil unrest. Navalny, who is recovering in Germany after falling ill on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow in August, told the news magazine Der Spiegel that the use of the rare nerve agent novichok meant the assault on his life would have been ordered from the top. “I assert that Putin was behind the crime, and I have no other explanation for what happened”, Navalny said in his first interview since the poisoning. “Only three people can give orders to put into action ‘active measures’ and use novichok. Those who know Russian states of affairs also know: FSB director Alexander Bortnikov, foreign intelligence service head Sergey Naryshkin and the director of GRU cannot make such a decision without Putin’s orders.” The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement, and in response to Navalny’s claim, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the accusations were “insulting and unacceptable”.
The Moscow Times, Thursday, 1 October 2020: Russia’s most prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny suddenly felt unwell on a flight over Siberia — a frightening queasiness with cold sweat pouring down his brow. At first, the crew thought it was food poisoning. Navalny, in his first media interview since his hospitalization with what Western experts identified as exposure to the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, recounted his chilling near-death experience. “Perhaps 30 minutes passed from the point where I thought something was off to unconsciousness,” Navalny, 44, told Germany’s Der Spiegel news weekly.
Meduza, Thursday, 1 October 2020: Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova has spoken out in favor of opening a criminal case in connection with the poisoning of opposition figure Alexey Navalny. “I’m in favor of initiating a criminal case, because we are all interested in establishing the truth in this situation. It has received great public interest,” Moskalkova said, as quoted by Interfax.
The Moscow Times, Friday, 2 October 2020: Five European members of the UN Security Council have demanded an explanation from Russia on the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, which they called “a threat to international peace and security.” The letter from Germany, Britain, Belgium, Estonia and France — released Thursday — was submitted to the Council on the eve of Moscow’s taking over the presidency of the panel for the month of October. “We call on the Russian Federation to disclose, urgently, fully and in a transparent manner, the circumstances of this attack and to inform the Security Council in this regard,” the five countries said in the letter. They pointed to a November 22, 2019 Security Council declaration that “any use of chemical weapons anywhere, at any time, by anyone, under any circumstance is unacceptable and a threat to international peace and security.” “As such, we consider that the use of a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group in the abhorrent poisoning of Mr Alexey Navalny constitutes a threat to international peace and security.”
Meduza, Friday, 2 October 2020: The head of Russia’s Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has published a public statement addressed to opposition figure Alexey Navalny on his Telegram channel, responding to Navalny’s claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin is responsible for his recent poisoning. “There are still patriots in Russia who see your true nature and your hidden plans aimed at destroying [this] great state, and [their] hands itch to respond to your lies. But it’s Putin who’s holding them back,” Kadyrov wrote. “Thanks to Putin, there’s a tolerant attitude towards the opposition in the country.” Kadyrov maintained that if they wanted to kill Navalny in Russia, “not a single doctor would have lifted a finger” and the plane that evacuated Navalny to Berlin “wouldn’t have been allowed to land at the Omsk airport.” Kadyrov also posed a rhetorical question, asking why — “for the sake of persuasiveness and plausibility” — Navalny didn’t name him as the perpetrator or “customer” behind the poisoning.
Meduza, Friday, 2 October 2020: A third of Russians (33 percent) believe the reports that opposition politician Alexey Navalny was poisoned, while more than half (55 percent) do not, says a new poll from the independent Levada Center. Overall, 77 percent of respondents had heard about Navalny’s poisoning; 18 percent are following the development of the situation closely. A fifth of respondents (21 percent) felt sympathy upon hearing the news, while approximately the same number (19%) were bewildered. Nearly half of respondents (45 percent) didn’t experience any strong feelings about it. Among those who believe that Navalny was poisoned, 30 percent believe the Russian authorities are behind it. Eight percent believe it was someone featured in his anti-corruption investigations and another eight percent believe Western intelligence services are responsible. Asked about Navalny’s activities in general, 20 percent of Russians say they approve, 50 percent disapprove, and 18 percent had never heard of him.
RFE/RL, Tuesday, 29 September 2020: In June, a high school student discovered a decapitated and dismembered body in a swimming hole on the Mga River just outside St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city. Using the serial numbers of Irish-made breast implants found on the body, police identified the victim as 23-year-old Jamshid Hatamjonov, a transgender sex worker from Uzbekistan who preferred the name Tamara. She had disappeared in St. Petersburg five months earlier, on the night of January 12-13. Last week, a court sanctioned the arrest of 53-year-old actor and theater producer Yury Yanovsky in connection with the case. Investigators allege that Yanovsky was Hatamjonov’s last client and that he killed her in a St. Petersburg hotel using a knife and a saw.
Meduza, 1 October 2020: Member of Parliament Oksana Pushkina, the deputy head of the State Duma’s Committee on Family, Women, and Children’s Issues, has asked Russia’s Attorney General to confirm reports about the Investigative Committee allegedly planning to arrest a number of single, gay men, who became fathers through in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures and surrogate mothers. The single fathers in question are reportedly being accused of child trafficking and state investigators are allegedly threatening to place their children in foster care for the duration of the investigation. Pushkina’s letter to Attorney General Igor Krasnov was obtained by RBK. These fathers are facing charges because under Russian law, only married couples and single women are allowed to act as donors during IVF, not single men — even though, according to the constitution, men and women have equal rights, Pushkina explained in the letter. She also added that although a bill designed to regulate IVF has been introduced to the State Duma Committee on Health Protection, it’s “lying motionless.” “This is unsurprising, given the influence the ROC [Russian Orthodox Church] has today,” Pushkina noted.
Freedom of expression
RAPSI, Friday, 2 October 2020: Cases against two Russian men, who had allegedly published photos of Nazi criminals on the website of the Immortal Regiment movement, were forwarded to court for consideration, the press service of the Prosecutor General’s Office reports Friday. According to investigators, not later than May 6, Kemerovo resident Dmitry Borodayenko published a photo of Adolf Hitler on the website of the Immortal Regiment movement while Perm resident Daniil Shestakov posted a photo of Andrey Vlasov, a Russian Red Army General, who had defected to Nazi Germany after being captured during World War II, there not later than May 5. During pretrial investigation the both men pleaded not guilty.
New Greatness Trial
RAPSI, Tuesday, 29 September 2020: Prosecutors have challenged sentence delivered in a case over organization of an extremist community against the New Greatness (“Novoe Velichie”) movement, RAPSI has learnt in the press office of Moscow’s Lyublinsky District Court. On August 6, Dmitry Poletayev, Maxim Roshchin, Maria Dubovik and Anna Pavlikova received 6, 6.5, 6 and 4 years of suspended sentence respectively. The movement’s leader Ruslan Kostylenkov was ordered to serve 7 years in penal colony, Vyacheslav Kryukov and Petr Karamzin were imprisoned for 6.5 and 6 years in jail respectively. The court found that Anna Pavlikova, Maria Dubovik, Dmitry Poletayev, Maxim Roshchin, Ruslan Kostylenkov, Vyacheslav Kryukov and Petr Karamzin created the community for a violent upheaval. Prosecutors earlier asked the court to sentence alleged leader of the extremist movement Kostylenkov to 7.5 years in penal colony; Karamzin and Kryukov to 6.5 and 6 years behind bars respectively. Suspended terms were demanded for other defendants.
Freedom of conscience
Human Rights in Ukraine, Wednesday, 2020: The renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has condemned Russia’s persecution of four Crimean Tatars, including the head of an independent religious community in Alushta, and has declared all four men to be political prisoners. The charges against at least two of the men are particularly unconvincing as they coincide with a systematic offensive against the ‘Alushta’ religious community, aimed in part at seizing control over the 19th century mosque which was legally transferred to the community almost 30 years ago. Memorial HRC writes that the four men from Alushta: Lenur Khalilov; Ruslan Mesutov; Ruslan Nagayev and Eldar Kantimirov are charged under Russia’s terrorism articles, without actually being accused of terrorism and are imprisoned for the “non-violent exercising of their right to freedom of conscience, religion and association”.
Human Rights Watch, Thursday, 1 October 2020: Last week, Russia’s Supreme Court upheld the terrorism-related convictions of 19 men who are all serving prison sentences ranging from 10 to 24 years because of their alleged affiliation with Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), an Islamic organization banned in Russia since 2003, when the Supreme Court designated it a terrorist organization. But despite the charges, none of the men were found to have planned, committed, or supported any act of violence. Although HuT does not call for violence in its organization or teachings, in Russia, affiliation with any organization banned as “terrorist” carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years. A year after the men were arrested and charged for their alleged affiliation with HuT , they were further charged with plotting a coup d’etat for having attended gatherings, fundraising, and spreading the organization’s religious teachings.
Human Rights Watch, Friday, 2 October 2020: Russian authorities are planning to expand the use of CCTV cameras with facial recognition software, despite weighty concerns about the lack of regulation, oversight, and data protection, Human Rights Watch said today. On September 25, 2020, Kommersant daily reported that CCTV cameras with facial recognition software, already used in Moscow, will be installed by the regional authorities in public spaces and at the entryway of apartment buildings in 10 pilot cities across Russia with the purported aim of protecting public safety. Moscow authorities are also planning to expand the use of this technology, installing CCTV cameras with facial recognition software in trams and on 25 percent of all underground trains. “The authorities’ intention to expand the use of invasive technology across the country causes serious concern over the potential threat to privacy,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Russia’s track record of rights violations means that the authorities should be prepared to answer tough questions to prove they are not are undermining people’s rights by pretending to protect public safety.” The expansion of facial recognition technology in Russia has already given rise to criticism by privacy groups and digital rights lawyers and prompted some legal action.
RFE/RL, Friday, 2 October 2020: The parents of a prominent antigay ultranationalist whose death in custody last month was ruled a suicide have alleged that their son was killed or driven to suicide and vowed to file a police complaint in the case. Thirty-six-year-old Maksim Martsinkevich — a leader of the neo-Nazi group Format 18 who was known as Tesak (Machete) — was found dead in a solitary-confinement cell in the west-central Russian city of Chelyabinsk on September 16 and his body transported to Moscow. His parents were quoted by Kommersant Daily on October 2 as saying the morgue in Moscow refused to allow independent forensics experts to see the body before burial but that it might show traces of violence. His lawyers rejected an Investigative Committee finding that it was suicide, saying their client had never been suicidal. Martsinkevich’s parents said an independent expert said postmortem photos and videos did not point to suicide. Martsinkevich’s father has said two of his son’s toenails were missing and there was a possible indication he had been administered an injection.
Caucasian Knot, Tuesday, 29 September 2020: The Tver District Court of Moscow recognized as a “fake” the Elena Milashina’s article about the spread of the coronavirus infection in Chechnya posited by the newspaper “Novaya Gazeta”. The court also obliged the newspaper to pay a fine for the publication of the above article. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that the Elena Milashina’s article on the situation with COVID-19 in Chechnya and another publication of the “Novaya Gazeta” gave rise to administrative protocols against the newspaper and Dmitry Muratov, its editor-in-chief. In her article entitled “Death from coronavirus is the lesser evil”, posted in the “Novaya Gazeta” on April 12, Elena Milashina criticized the measures taken by the authorities of Chechnya in connection with the fight against the coronavirus infection.
Caucasian Knot, Wednesday, 30 September 2020: An investigation into a case on the genital mutilation procedure, to which a girl from Chechnya was subjected in Magas, is proceeding too slowly, and, moreover, a number of mistakes have been made during the investigation, activists from the project “Legal Initiative” state. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that in May, a woman from Chechnya succeeding in seeking an institution of a criminal case in Ingushetia on the deliberate infliction of slight harm to the health of her nine-year-old daughter.
Caucasian Knot, Friday, 2 October 2020: In Ingushetia, the authorities try to evict 13 families of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from North Ossetia and Chechnya from a barrack in Nazran, without offering any housing in return, the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Memorial” reports. The human rights defenders promise to appeal to the Russian government. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that in Ingushetia, there have already been registered cases of eviction of Chechen refugees from a temporary accommodation centre (TAC). The authorities are going to evict 12 families of IDPs from the Prigorodny District of North Ossetia and one Chechen family from a barrack located in the Gamurzievsky administrative district of Nazran, the HRC “Memorial” reports on its website. The forced migrants are not offered any other housing, and the authorities intend to evict them into the street on the eve of the cold season, the human rights defenders report in their press release.
Caucasian Knot, Friday, 2 October 2020: The searches and interrogations of Magomed Khashtyrov, the former Mufti of Ingushetia, and Imam Adam Maloroev have to do with the authorities’ desire to minimize the chances of new protests, Zakrij Mamilov, an MP, has stated. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that on September 30, law enforcers searched the household of Magomed Khashtyrov, a former acting Mufti and the head of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims (SAM) of Ingushetia, and took him and Imam Adam Maloroev to Vladikavkaz, where they were questioned about the protests against the agreement on the Ingush-Chechen border. Searches and interrogations of members of the Muftiate (SAM) outside Ingushetia look like some “psychological treatment”, an attempt to intimidate the clergymen, Zakrij Mamilov, an MP of the People’s Assembly of Ingushetia (Parliament) told the “Caucasian Knot” correspondent.
Amnesty International, Friday, 2 October 2020: The recent death of a young man in custody in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, followed by allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of two detainees in Tskhinvali detention center, has sparked widespread protests in Georgia’s breakaway region. Torture and other ill-treatment have been widespread in this territory for more than a decade in the context of ongoing impunity for human rights violations: the Russian and de-facto authorities have refused access to South Ossetia for international monitors. The authorities must ensure impartial investigations into this recent unlawful killing and reports of torture, uphold the right to freedom of expression, and grant international human rights organizations and monitors unhindered access to the region.