Rights in Russia week-ending 21 February 2020

Right to life

Bellingcat Says FSB Behind 2019 Berlin Killing Of Former Chechen Separatist Commander 
The investigative journalism group Bellingcat says a probe into the 2019 killing of a former Chechen separatist commander in Berlin shows that the attack was planned and organized by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Georgian national, was shot dead in broad daylight in a Berlin park on August 23 in a case that has prompted political fallout between Berlin and Moscow — including tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats — after Germany said evidence suggests either the Russian government or authorities in the Russian North Caucasus region of Chechnya likely ordered the killing. RFE/RL, 17 February 2020 

OSCE Calls For ‘New And Full’ Investigation Into Nemtsov Murder 
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on February 20 called for “a new and full investigation” into the murder of Boris Nemtsov, the former Russian opposition politician who was killed almost five years ago near the Kremlin. The OSCE said shortcomings in Russia’s original investigation left many questions unanswered. RFE/RL, 20 February 2020 

Freedom of expression

Following attack in Chechnya, journalist asks Russia’s top investigative official to open criminal case On February 18, Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina publicly appealed to Federal Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin, requesting a criminal investigation into an attack against her and attorney Marina Dubrovina in Grozny on February 6. Milashina says the violent incident should be treated as a case of felony obstruction of professional activity by journalists, which is punishable in Russia by up to six years in prison. According to the text of the letter, shared on Novaya Gazeta’s website, she says she believes she was targeted because of her work as a reporter. Meduza, 19 February 2020

Moscow reporter files complaint about attack in Chechnya, threats 
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the impunity enjoyed by those who attacked Moscow-based Russian journalist Elena Milashina during a visit to Chechnya earlier this month and have continued to threaten her, and calls for a transparent and effective investigation by the federal authorities. A reporter for the independent Moscow tri-weekly Novaya Gazeta, Milashina filed a complaint today with the federal Investigative Committee in Moscow against the people who attacked her in the lobby of her hotel in the Chechen capital of Grozny on 6 February and against those who subsequently threatened her, including the person who sent a threatening letter to the newspaper on 13 February. RSF, 19 February 2020 

Ex-Russian Officer Tells Court He Was Ordered To Plant Drugs On Reporter 
A former Russian police officer told a court his superior ordered him to plant drugs on investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, whose arrest last summer sparked outrage. Denis Konovalov, who was fired in connection with his arrest on fabricating drug charges against Golunov, admitted he framed the journalist but said he did so at the behest of Igor Lyakhovets, who is also on trial. Aleksei Kovrizhkin, Lyazovets’ lawyer, said his client is innocent and that prosecutors are pressuring Konovalov. RFE/RL, 20 February 2020 

‘Extremism’ laws

Public Pressure Mounting On Russian Authorities To Reconsider Harsh ‘Network’ Case Verdicts
Hardly a day goes by without a new expression of support in Russia for seven men who were given harsh prison sentences last week in a case that many observers in Russia and abroad contend was fabricated by the Federal Security Service (FSB). On February 18, a group of more than 200 animators issued an open letter declaring “we cannot remain indifferent to the fact that young people are being punished for crimes they did not commit.” RFE/RL, 18 February 2020

Russia’s State Duma cancels fines for displaying Nazi symbols in non-propagandistic cases 
The State Duma has voted in favor of an amendment to the Codex of Administrative Violations that cancels some existing fines for displaying Nazi symbolism. The amendment passed its third and final reading, practically guaranteeing that it will become law. Fines that previously reached up to 50,000 rubles ($784) will no longer be applied in cases where Nazi symbols are used to express “a negative view toward Nazi and extremist ideology” and where “there are no indicators of the propagandizing or justification of Nazi or extremist ideology.” Meduza, 18 February 2020 

Freedom of conscience

Eight Jehovah’s Witnesses Charged With Extremism In Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region

Russian authorities in the Jewish Autonomous Region in Siberia have charged eight Jehovah’s Witnesses with extremism amid what activists say is an escalating campaign of persecution of the religious group. The branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia said on February 18 that six women and two men in the regional capital, Birobidzhan, are facing charges of illegally resuming the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Similar charges have been filed against 11 other Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia since the start of 2020. RFE/RL, 19 February 2020 

Freedom of expression

Samsung Says Will Comply With Russian Law Forcing Local Apps On Phones, PCs 
Samsung has said it will comply with the requirements of a controversial Russian law, which stipulates that smartphones and other computer devices must have government-approved, pre-installed software on them. “Samsung Electronics will be ready to meet the requirements of the Russian legislation provided by the regulator and adapt the company’s activities in accordance with the adopted regulations,” The Moscow Times reported on February 18. RFE/RL, 19 February 2020 

Right of assembly Last ‘Moscow Case’ Defendant Handed Suspended Sentence
MOSCOW — A Moscow court has given an activist arrested over an unsanctioned rally on July 27 a three-year suspended sentence. Andrei Barshai, a student at the Moscow Aviation Institute is the last defendant in what has been dubbed the “Moscow Case.” Earlier on February 18, prosecutors had asked the Meshchansky District Court to find the 21-year-old Barshai guilty of assaulting a police officer during the pro-democracy rally, and to sentence him to 3 1/2 years in prison. RFE/RL, 18 February 2020

Moscow court upholds extended detention of student involved in illegal rally case
MOSCOW, February 17 (RAPSI) – The Moscow City Court has upheld extension of detention of the Moscow Aviation Institute student Andrey Barshay, who had allegedly given a National Guard officer a poke in the back during an unauthorized summer rally on July 27, 2019, the court press-service informs RAPSI on Monday. Earlier, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow has extended Barshay’s detention until February 27, the appeals instance upheld this decision. RAPSI, 17 February 2020

Сourt orders organizers of unauthorised protests to pay $5,000 to Moscow metro
MOSCOW, February 17 (RAPSI) – The Simonovsky District Court of Moscow has ruled in favor of the Moscow Metro state enterprise, which sought to recover over 311,000 rubles (about $5,000) from opposition figures Lyubov Sobol and Georgy Alburov, RAPSI reports from the courtroom on Monday. In January, the enterprise added to its lawsuit against the two activists a list of metro stations where more employees had to work because of an unauthorized rally on August 3. RAPSI, 17 February 2020 

Russia: Quash Conviction of Peaceful Protester 
Clear Konstantin Kotov of All Charges, Repeal Repressive Protest Law 
(Moscow) – Russian authorities should withdraw all charges and immediately free a civic activist imprisoned for involvement in peaceful protests, Human Rights Watch said today. Russia’s parliament should repeal the 2014 law mandating criminal sanctions for repeated involvement in unsanctioned protests. The activist, Kostantin Kotov, a 34-year-old software engineer, has been behind bars for over 6 months in connection with peaceful political protests in Moscow in the summer of 2019 over the exclusion of opposition candidates from the city council elections. An appeals court hearing on Kotov’s case is scheduled for March 2, 2020. Human Rights Watch, 19 February 2020 

Russia Eyes Amnesty for Imprisoned Moscow Protesters Russian lawmakers from the Communist Party have prepared a new amnesty bill to release prisoners jailed after last summer’s mass opposition rallies in Moscow, the Kommersant business daily reported Thursday. Twenty people have been convicted on charges of “mass unrest” and assault of law enforcement officers after tens of thousands took to the streets in 2019 in support of fair elections. Their sentences, described by critics as harsh, sparked widespread public outcry. The Moscow Times, 20 February 2020 

Political rights

Any victims out there? Police are questioning Navalny’s contributors across Russia, searching for anyone who thinks he cheated them. ‘Meduza’ spoke to two people who have been interrogated. On February 20, journalists learned that police have started questioning individuals who have contributed money to opposition politician Alexey Navalny’s offices and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). Calls and summons from law enforcement have been reported in different regions across Russia, from St. Petersburg to Omsk. Some people have already been interrogated. Meduza spoke to two of these individuals to find out what the police are asking Navalny’s contributors and how the questioning is related to the criminal case against the Anti-Corruption Foundation. Meduza, 21 February 2020 


‘You’ll Infect Us All’: Russian Clinic Turns Away HIV-Positive Patient
A hospital in Russia’s Urals region has refused to treat an HIV-positive patient after a staff physician shouted that he would “infect us all here,” the local 59.ru news outlet reported Monday. More than 1 million people in Russia live with HIV and a record 37,000 people died from HIV-related illnesses there in 2019. Violating medical confidentiality is a criminal offense in Russia. The Moscow Times, 18 February 2020 

Vlogger Smashes Silence On Russian HIV Epidemic With Hard-Hitting Video 
It’s called HIV In Russia, The Epidemic No One’s Talking About – and it’s gotten people talking. The sobering, nearly two-hour video by the popular video blogger Yury Dud, is credited with sparking an uptick in concern in Russia: from a rise in the number of Russians being tested for HIV since the video was uploaded to a surge in HIV-related Internet searches. RFE/RL, 19 February 2020 

LGBTI rightsIn Russia, Students Say A Queen Tribute Band Bit The Dust For ‘Promoting Homosexuality’ MOSCOW — On Valentine’s Day, School No. 375 in St. Petersburg hosted a battle of tribute bands. For the competition, titled Odin v Odin (which roughly translates as “perfect likeness”), students dressed in gold chains, saris, and flamboyant costumes made famous by Western rock acts of the 1970s and ’80s. Zara Larsson’s Lush Life got a new spin, Justin Bieber was honored, and Kiss was embodied by a spirited effort complete with face paint and tinfoil. Last up was a rendition of Queen’s I Want To Break Free. After sitting through 10 performances, the audience was presumably primed for a grand finale. RFE/RL, 17 February 2020

YUKOSDutch Court Reinstates Order For Russia To Pay $50 Billion In Yukos Case A Dutch appeals court has reinstated an international arbitration panel’s ruling that Russia must pay $50 billion in compensation to shareholders in the former Russian oil giant Yukos — a ruling which Moscow said it will appeal. The February 18 decision overturned a 2016 ruling by a Hague district court that canceled the compensation order on the grounds that the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) did not have jurisdiction because the case was based on an energy treaty that Russia had signed but not ratified. Russia’s Justice Ministry said immediately after the February 18 ruling that it will appeal the Dutch court’s decision. RFE/RL, 18 February 2020

Domestic violence

Russian special agents attempt to enter home of domestic violence shelter volunteers where young woman was hiding from family
Officers from the Anti-Extremism Center (Center E), a special division of the Russian police force, attempted to enter an apartment where a 20-year-old woman was hiding under the auspices of Nasiliu.net, a major organization combatting domestic violence in Russia. Seroye Fioletovoye (Gray Purple), the activist and artist whose home was approached, told Nasiliu.net about the incident. Meduza, 19 February 2020

Crimea / Ukraine

Crimean Journalist Semena Moves To Mainland Ukraine ‘Indefinitely’ 
RFE/RL contributor Mykola Semena — a journalist who has been convicted of separatism in Ukraine’s Russia-occupied Crimea region before a court there expunged his criminal record — has arrived in Kyiv following his release from detention in Simferopol. Semena, 69, is seeking medical care in Kyiv for a heart condition and damaged spine. RFE/RL, 19 February 2020

When thoughts are already a crime: The wife of Crimean Tatar Emir-Usein Kuku speaks about the fight for his freedom
Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula surrounded by the Black Sea, came under Russian control following the events of February-March 2014. Reports suggest that Russian regular military forces operating without insignia appeared on the peninsula as early as 20 February. In the following days, key administrative buildings across Crimea were occupied by the Russian forces and armed paramilitaries. On 18 March, a “treaty” was signed in the Kremlin in Moscow on the accession to the Russian Federation of Crimea. These events had dramatic repercussions for those in Crimea who opposed its occupation and annexation. All dissenting voices were immediately subjected to persecution and harassment. Amnesty International, 20 February 2020

Ukrainian Political Prisoner Stohniy Freed From Russian-Administered Jail 
A Ukrainian man considered a political prisoner by local rights groups has resurfaced in Kyiv after completing a 3 1/2-year prison sentence in Russian-controlled prisons on charges of making and transporting weapons and explosive devices. The news of Oleksiy Stohniy’s release was announced on February 19 by human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova. RFE/RL, 20 February 2020


Russia to Consider Making Ex-Presidents Immune from Prosecution Russian presidents could be made immune from criminal prosecution once they leave office under proposed constitutional reforms, a senior lawmaker said on Tuesday. The proposal, made by a parliamentary working group, comes after President Vladimir Putin last month announced sweeping reforms to the political system that would shift some powers away from the presidency. Putin’s initiatives, which were followed by a government shake-up, are widely seen as a way to allow him to extend his grip on power after his term ends in 2024. The Moscow Times, 18 February 2020 

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