Rights in Russia week-ending 21 May 2021

Our news round-up of the week

Other news of the week:

15 May 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Friday formally designated the United States and the Czech Republic as “unfriendly states” amid the biggest crisis in ties between Moscow and Washington in years. The Russian government released a decree signed by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin that was accompanied by a list of “unfriendly states” that “have carried out unfriendly actions” against Russia, Russian nationals or Russian entities. The list now includes the U.S. and the Czech Republic. 

16 May 2021

RFE/RL: Pyotr Zuyev, a diabetic pensioner from Kaliningrad, knows the dangers the elderly face by actively participating in Russia’s pro-democracy protest movement. On May 9, Zuyev marked his 75th birthday in the infectious-diseases ward of a hospital in the Baltic coast city while serving a 15-day administrative-custody term for participating in a protest the previous month. He had tested positive for COVID-19 while in jail. “I have been charged under that statute several times already,” Zuyev told RFE/RL. “I guess it will be with me for the rest of my days.”

17 May 2021

CPJ: Russian authorities should unfreeze the accounts of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and cease labeling outlets as “foreign agents,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. On May 14, Russian authorities froze the local bank accounts of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty for allegedly failing to pay fines issued for noncompliance with the country’s foreign agents law, according to news reports and Kiryl Sukhotski, RFE/RL’s regional director for Europe and TV production, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview. Separately that day, the Russian Justice Ministry added Stichting 2 Oktober, a Dutch journalism nonprofit that administers the independent news website VTimes, to its list of foreign agents, according to news reports and the Justice Ministry’s website. “Russian authorities should cease fining and harassing news outlets for alleged violations of its foreign agents law—an unjust piece of legislation that should be repealed,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty should be able to access its resources freely, and websites such as VTimes should not be forced to jump through hoops and risk large fines due to their ownership structures.”

RFE/RL: The European Union has called on Russia to repeal its controversial “foreign agent” law, which has been used to target a growing number of Russian-language media outlets, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The call, made on May 17 by a spokesman for EU foreign-affairs chief Josep Borrell, comes as Russian authorities both expand their targets of the 9-year-old law, as well their enforcement of it. Last week, court bailiffs moved to begin seizing property from RFE/RL’s Moscow bureau, requesting a list of equipment that potentially could be seized. Bailiffs also obtained a court order freezing the Moscow bank accounts used by RFE/RL.

19 May 2021

RFE/RL: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has challenged Russia’s “foreign agent” law and the millions of dollars in fines levied on its Russian operations, arguing to the European Court of Human Rights that Moscow was violating its international obligations with the moves. RFE/RL said it filed its complaint with the Strasbourg-based court on May 19 and called for its case to be granted priority status. The company said the designation, and the punishing fines imposed, violate the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press protected under the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Moscow is a signatory.

20 May 2021

RFE/RL: A 73-year-old Jehovah’s Witness in Russia’s Far Eastern Primorye region has been handed a four-year suspended sentence on extremism charges amid an ongoing crackdown on the religious group that has been banned in the country since 2017. On May 19, a district court in the town of Volno-Nadezhdinskoye found Lyudmila Shut, an elderly woman who can hardly move due to her medical condition, guilty of taking part in the activities of an “extremist organization.”

RFE/RL: Members of Russia’s Mari minority have voiced concern over what they see as efforts to restrict the practice of their ancient pagan religion. Mikhail Danilov, the minister for domestic development in the western Russian republic of Mari El, has instructed local authorities not to allow “radically-inclined followers of the Mari traditional religion” to worship on municipal property. The written instructions were issued in April but only became known to the public on May 19.

The Moscow Times: The Vedomosti business daily announced Wednesday that its editor-in-chief Andrei Shmarov will step down one year after his controversial appointment sparked a mass exodus of senior editors and journalists.  The decision came a week after VTimes, The Moscow Times’ Russian-language partner founded by the editors and journalists who had left Vedomosti, was declared a “foreign agent” in Russia. The designation puts the independent news site’s future in jeopardy as it risks cratering its advertising budget and steep fines for auditing violations.

21 May 2021

RSF: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Aleksandr Dorogov and Yan Katelevskiy​, two Russian journalists specialising in investigating police corruption who have been detained for nearly ten months and whose pretrial detention has just been extended. This judicial persecution is unacceptable and must stop, RSF says. A court ruled yesterday that Dorogov and Katelevskiy, who are both deputy chief editors at the independent investigative news website Rosderzhava, should remain in detention until the end of July while the police continue to investigate the case.

RFE/RL: The Memorial Human Rights Center says it has recognized four Crimean Tatars being tried for their alleged association with a banned Islamic group as political prisoners. The Moscow-based group said the four are being illegally persecuted for political reasons after being arrested “in connection with their non-violent exercising of their rights to freedom of religion and association” “The Memorial Human Rights Center, according to international criteria , considers Seytumer Shukrievich Seytumerov, Osman Seytumerov, Amet Suleimanov and Rustem Seytmemetov political prisoners, and Seytumer Veliyevich Seytumerov — illegally persecuted for political reasons,” the group said in a statement released on May 20.

The Moscow Times: Like many Russians, Darya Apakhonchich is an enthusiastic Facebook user. Her wall is filled with posts about her young children, her work as a language teacher and topics she worries about. But everything Apakhonchich posts includes a prominent disclaimer in Russian: “THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) WAS CREATED AND (OR) DISTRIBUTED BY FOREIGN MASS MEDIA PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT, AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT” Apakhonchich is one of five private citizens in Russia designated as a “foreign media agent” by the country’s Justice Ministry at the end of last year. Since then she has been legally obliged to mention her status on all her social media posts or face steep fines.

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