Rights in Russia week-ending 20 August 2021

Our round up of the week’s news

14 August 2021

The Guardian: A senior BBC journalist who is to be expelled from Russia has condemned “an increasingly repressive environment” for critical journalists in the country. Sarah Rainsford, whose visa is due to expire at the end of the month and will not be renewed, said her impending departure came in the context of “a massive deterioration in relations between Russia and the UK” and attacks on press freedom.

The Moscow Times: The BBC’s Moscow correspondent said Saturday she was told by the Russian authorities that she “can’t ever come back to Russia” after her visa was not renewed and she was effectively expelled from the country. 

The Moscow Times: Russia on Saturday said the expulsion of BBC reporter Sarah Rainsford was “retaliation” for London denying accreditation to an unnamed Russian reporter and had nothing to do with Moscow’s alleged bid to muzzle the media. 

The Moscow Times: Russia on Saturday reported 22,144 new coronavirus cases and a new pandemic record of 819 deaths.

RFE/RL: Heavy rains have triggered widespread flooding in southern Russia, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,500 people, officials say. Authorities in the Krasnodar region said on August 14 that more than 1,400 houses had been flooded following storms and heavy rains that swept the area this week. About 108,000 residents of 11 settlements were left without power.

15 August 2021

The Guardian: BBC news executives vowed on Saturday night to continue to report from Russia and China despite growing fears that both countries are becoming increasingly difficult to cover.

The Moscow Times: Luxembourg has refused to grant a licence for Russian state-backed network RT to broadcast a German-language channel from the country, the authorities said. 

The Moscow Times: Russia does not plan to evacuate its embassy in Kabul as Taliban fighters reached the outskirts of the Afghan capital in their blistering military takeover of the country, foreign ministry official Zamir Kabulov told Russian agencies Sunday. “No evacuation is planned,” Kabulov said, adding that he was “in direct contact” with Moscow’s ambassador in Kabul and that Russian embassy employees continued to work “calmly”.  According to the RIA Novosti agency, Kabulov also said that Russia was among a number of countries to receive assurances from the Taliban that their embassies would be safe. 

16 August 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Monday sentenced four Crimean Tatars to between 12 and 18 years in prison for taking part in a banned Islamic group, the defendants’ lawyer said.   A military court in southern Russia “has carried out a guilty verdict,” lawyer Ayder Azamatov told the Interfax news agency. 

The Moscow Times: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh has been sentenced over her role in this winter’s protests calling for his release, Russian media reported Monday. Yarmysh is at least the fourth Navalny ally to be convicted for violating coronavirus restrictions on mass events by calling on supporters to take to the streets in January in what has become known as the “sanitary case. Moscow’s Preobrazhensky district court found Yamyrsh guilty and sentenced her to 1.5 years of so-called “restricted freedom.”

Human Rights in Ukraine: The first closed hearing in Russia’s trial of Ukrainian Kostiantyn Shyrinh on ‘spying’ charges ended abruptly on 12 August, with an ambulance needing to be called.  The 61-year-old suffers from cardiovascular problems, however the administration at the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison] in occupied Crimea has simply ignored his repeated requests for medical care.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Ruslan Nagayev gave a powerful final address on 12 August to the Russian court about to pass ‘sentence’ on him and three other recognized Crimean Tatar political prisoners.  He recalled the Russian proverb ‘Don’t come to somebody else’s monastery, foisting your own rules’.

Amnesty International: The fate and whereabouts of Salman Tepsurkaev, moderator of the 1ADAT Telegram channel, critical of Chechen authorities, remains unknown almost a year after his abduction on 6 September 2020 in Gelendzhik, Krasnodar Region, southern Russia. 

CPJ: Russian authorities should extend the visa of BBC correspondent Sarah Rainsford and allow foreign correspondents to work in the country freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

RFE/RL: Daily coronavirus deaths in Russia have exceeded 800 for four days straight, while many other countries continue to report setbacks in their efforts to contain the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

The Moscow Times: In the day since a Taliban offensive swept away the U.S.-backed Afghan government, Russian officials are taking satisfaction from their principle global adversary’s humiliation as they prepare to work with the Islamist militia, Russian Afghanistan experts told The Moscow Times on Monday.

17 August 2021

RFE/RL: The number of political prisoners in Russia has increased to at least 410, the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center said. In its latest updated accounting of political prisoners released on August 16, Russia’s leading human rights group said its list is “only a minimum estimate of the number of political prisoners” languishing in jail or under house arrest.

RFE/RL: The Moscow City Court has rejected a request by imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei Navalny to annul his designation as being as a “flight risk,” which subjects him to hourly nighttime checks while he is incarcerated at a penal colony.

RFE/RL: Russian authorities have detained five Crimean Tatars after their homes were searched in Ukraine’s Russian-controlled Crimea region. The Crimean Solidarity public group told RFE/RL on August 17 that the searches were conducted at the homes of Raif Fevziyev, Dzhebbar Bekirov, Zaur Abdullayev, Rustem Murasov, and Rustem Tairov. All five men were detained later.

RFE/RL: A Moscow court has leveled more fines against Google for violating Russia’s rules on banned content. On August 17, the magistrate court of Moscow’s Taganka district found the U.S. technology giant “guilty of committing an administrative offense” and handed the company three administrative fines totaling 10.5 million rubles ($142,877), the court’s press service said.

RFE/RL: A court in Siberia has eased the pretrial restrictions imposed on two teenagers charged with terrorism in a controversial case rights groups have called politically motivated. Pavel Chikov of the legal-defense organization Agora wrote on Telegram on August 17 that the First Military District Court of Khabarovsk, at a session in the city of Kansk, cancelled the pretrial detention for Denis Mikhailenko and house arrest for Bogdan Andreyev.

The Guardian: A month after a Hungarian bookshop chain was fined for selling a children’s story about a day in the life of a child with same-sex parents, the same picture book has been published in Russia – but with an “18+” label on it in deference to the country’s so-called “gay propaganda” law.

RFE/RL: A Russian court has reinstated a Moscow subway train driver who was fired in May after he joined an online campaign to support jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. The driver, Vladimir Shlyapkin, said on August 16 that the court in Orekhovo-Zuyevo near the capital ordered the Moscow Metropolitan Company to allow him back to work, and pay compensation for the period of time he was unemployed as well as pay damages.

The Moscow Times: Russia’s 2021 wildfires are already its largest in the history of satellite observations, burning across 17.08 million hectares of land, the Greenpeace Russia environmental group has said.

The Moscow Times: The Russian foreign ministry said Monday the situation in Kabul was “stabilizing” after the Afghan capital fell to the Taliban who have started to “restore public order.” Russia’s ambassador was due to meet the Taliban on Tuesday and Moscow claimed the militants had vowed to “guarantee the safety of local people,” despite thousands of Afghans trying to flee the group’s hardline version of Islam. 

18 August 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Wednesday reported 20,914 new coronavirus cases and 799 pandemic deaths.

RFE/RL: On the 30th anniversary of a coup that failed to stop democratic reforms in the Soviet Union and expedited its collapse, the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, said Russian society must stand against “usurping power,” the phrase often used by critics of Russia’s current President Vladimir Putin.

The Moscow Times: Thirty years ago today, an attempted coup shook Moscow and signaled the impending end of the Soviet Union. Unhappy with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost reforms, a group of hard-line military and civilian leaders that called themselves the State Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP) seized control of Moscow — and of Gorbachev himself, placing him under house arrest at his dacha in Crimea. Many Russians today still remember the television switching to a continuous loop of “Swan Lake” as tanks rolled into Moscow.

RFE/RL: Moscow police are using leaked online personal data from projects linked to jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny to investigate people who have supported the Kremlin critic.

Human Rights in Ukraine: The Russian occupiers changed their tactics this week and did not prevent Crimean Tatars from travelling to Russia for the passing on 16 August of appalling sentences against four political prisoners.  Instead, they staged new armed raids early the following morning, with Rustem Murasov,, one of the Crimean Tatars who travelled to Rostov to show his support, arrested on grotesque ‘terrorism’ charges within hours of his return.  The message could not be clearer: demonstrate solidarity with political prisoners and you could be next. The five Crimean Tatars now imprisoned: Zavur Abdullayev; Dzhebbar Bekirov; Rayif Fevziyev; Rustem Murasov and Rustem Tayirov have all been active in attending politically motivated court hearings; have taken part in flash-mobs, single-person pickets, etc and in helping the families of political prisoners. 

The Moscow Times: Over two-thirds of women killed in Russia in the past decade were murdered by their partners or relatives, according to a study by the Russian Consortium of Women’s Non-Governmental Organizations.

19 August 2021

The Guardian: Exactly one year ago, I did not die from poisoning by a chemical weapon, and it would seem that corruption played no small part in my survival. Having contaminated Russia’s state system, corruption has also contaminated the intelligence services. When a country’s senior management is preoccupied with protection rackets and extortion from businesses, the quality of covert operations inevitably suffers. A group of FSB agents applied the nerve agent to my underwear just as shoddily as they incompetently dogged my footsteps for three and a half years – in violation of all instructions from above – allowing civil investigating activists to expose them at every turn.

The Guardian: The jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has written from behind bars to urge western politicians to take meaningful action against global corruption and to impose personal sanctions against oligarchs “in the entourage of Vladimir Putin”.

RFE/RL: Jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has urged Russian voters to use a Smart Voting strategy, a project designed by his team to promote candidates to defeat Kremlin-linked figures, in the September elections. In a statement on Instagram on August 19, exactly one month before the elections, the outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin again called the Kremlin-backed ruling United Russia party “a party of scoundrels and thieves” who “are scared of our Smart Voting.”

The Moscow Times: Russia on Thursday reported 21,058 new coronavirus cases and 791 pandemic deaths.

The Moscow Times: Russia on Wednesday declared an independent election monitor a “foreign agent,” one month before a parliamentary election in which President Vladimir Putin’s unpopular United Russia party is expected to struggle. Created in 2000, Golos had notably denounced election rigging in the 2011 parliamentary election and the 2012 presidential vote which saw Putin return to the Kremlin. The Russian Justice Ministry included Golos, a local organization that observes elections, in its new list of “foreign agents.” 

The Moscow Times: A Moscow court on Thursday again fined Google for failing to remove banned content as foreign tech giants face mounting pressure in Russia. 

RFE/RL: Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has notified RFE/RL that it has filed in court the first of a new set of 130 protocols against the independent media outlet for violating Russia’s controversial “foreign agent” law requiring the labeling of content. According to Roskomnadzor, the first 10 protocols of the new set have been sent to Moscow’s Tver district court. Earlier in June, the media watchdog informed RFE/RL that the 130 protocols it was preparing envision a total fine of 71.5 million rubles, or about $964,000.

The Moscow Times: American investor Michael Calvey has launched an appeal against his controversial conviction on embezzlement charges, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported Thursday.

Amnesty International: On 17 August, Mikhail Iosilevich was released from pre-trial detention following his lawyers’ petitions to the investigator and court. He was arbitrarily held on remand since January for allegedly threatening a witness in the case – the claim proven by the experts’ reports to be unfounded. His prosecution for alleged cooperation with an “undesirable” organization is ongoing and the trial might start in September. Mikhail Iosilevich is being targeted for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association. Charges against him must be dropped and he must be able to continue his peaceful activism without fear of prosecution.

OpenDemocracy: In the city of Petrozavodsk, Russian Gulag historian Yuri Dmitriev is on trial for a third time – and proceedings are coming to an end.

20 August 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Friday reported 20,992 new coronavirus cases and 785 pandemic deaths.

Amnesty International: The anniversary of Aleksei Navalny poisoning and attempted killing marks one year of shameful injustice, says Amnesty International. The Russian authorities last week hit Navalny with yet another absurd criminal charge, while his supporters’ calls for accountability have been brutally repressed, and those behind the assassination attempt enjoy absolute impunity.

RFE/RL: Amnesty International has slammed Russia’s “utter disregard for justice” for its failure to investigate the poisoning of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny one year ago.

RFE/RL: On the anniversary of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s poisoning, Britain imposed targeted sanctions on Russian intelligence operatives amid blistering international criticism aimed at Moscow’s alleged role in the attack.

The Moscow Times: German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to free his jailed opponent Alexei Navalny on the anniversary of a nerve-agent attack on the politician, whose life was saved by Berlin doctors. 

The Moscow Times: The Kremlin has failed to mention French President Emmanuel Macron’s calls for Russian President Vladimir Putin to release his critic Alexei Navalny from jail in its readout of the two leaders’ phone conversation Thursday.

RFE/RL: On the anniversary of Aleksei Navalny’s poisoning, Britain and the United States imposed targeted sanctions on Russian intelligence operatives as German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to release the jailed opposition politician.

RFE/RL: A student at Moscow State University from Chechnya has been sentenced to five years in prison on a criminal charge of attacking police officers during January 23 rallies in support of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

The Moscow Times: Russia added the independent Dozhd broadcaster and the investigative site Important Stories (iStories) to its registry of “foreign agents” on Friday.

The Moscow Times: At least 20 Russians who attended protests calling for the release of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny this winter have received real prison terms, the independent news website MediaZona reported Friday.

The Moscow Times: Russia has ordered Apple and Google to remove jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s app from their app stores as his movement faces unprecedented pressure ahead of key elections next month. Navalny began actively promoting the app after the authorities last month blocked access to his main website and 49 other associated sites and called for blocking social media linked to him. 

RFE/RL: A wave of wildfires has hit Russia’s Republic of Mari El in the Volga region, blanketing the republic’s capital, Yoshkar-Ola, in a thick layer of smoke.

RFE/RL: A Russian-Chinese company has been charged with violating environmental safety regulations in Russia’s Republic of Chuvashia, where expanding Chinese investment has sparked protests over alleged corruption.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russia’s Ministry of Education has approved school history textbooks which present Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea as “a peaceful process” which did not involve the deployment of a single Russian soldier. 

The GuardianBoris Yeltsin, Russia’s president and most popular politician, was holding firm last night against the dawn coup which ousted President Gorbachev. The action by communist hardliners threatened to end the longest and most successful period of democratic advance in the country’s tumultuous history.

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