Rights in Russia week-ending 22 May 2020

Right of Assembly

Amnesty International issues Urgent Action in the case of Konstantin Kotov: Activist Jailed for Peaceful Protests

Konstantin Kotov was arrested on 10 August 2019 and later imprisoned for repeated participation in peaceful “unsanctioned” rallies, a crime under Russian law. On 20 April, his conviction was upheld and his sentence reduced from four years to eighteen months, which he is appealing. He is a prisoner of conscience and should be immediately and unconditionally released. Amnesty International, 19 May 2020

Freedom of expression

‘Rosneft’ files lawsuit against Russian news agency ‘RBC’ for report on the transfer of its Venezuelan assets

Russian energy giant “Rosneft” has presented the news agency “RBC” with a lawsuit. According to a statement posted on the oil company’s website, Rosneft is taking RBC to court for its report claiming that a private security company in Ryazan acquired a stake in Rosneft’s former Venezuelan project. Rosneft claims that RBC’s article “provoked a wave of disinformation in the print and electronic media.” Moreover, “the source materials referenced in RBC’s publication contains” information about the Russian state becoming the owner of Rosneft’s Venezuelan assets, the statement says (rather than the company in Ryazan). Meduza, 20 May 2020

Russia’s largest private university threatens to sue ‘Stalingulag’ blogger for defamation

Russia’s largest private university, Synergy University in Moscow, is demanding that blogger Alexander Gorbunov (better known as “Stalingulag”) delete two videos that mention the university from his YouTube channel. Gorbunov reported this himself, referencing a letter of claim from the university.  Synergy University said that the information in the video is incorrect and defames its business reputation. In one of the videos, Gorbunov explains that the university received 1 billion rubles (approximately $14 million) from the state budget. The second video explains that Synergy has faced fines for collecting the fingerprints of schoolchildren. Meduza, 20 May 2020

St. Petersburg court declares books by U.S. missionary Branham extremist

Brochures authored by XX century U.S. missionary William Branham have been defined as extremist literature and banned for dissemination in the territory of the Russian Federation, the United press service of St. Petersburg courts informs RAPSI on Thursday. The ban on Branham’s books was demanded by St. Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office, which submitted a claim against their publisher NGO Vecherny Svet (Evening Light) to the Pushkinsky District Court of St. Petersburg. Although the claim had been dismissed by the first instance court, the Prosecutor’s Office appealed in the City Court, which ruled in favor of prosecution. RAPSI, 21 May 2020 (by Mikhail Telekhov) 

One more case opened in Russia over Nazism rehabilitation at Immortal Regiment event

Tula Region investigators opened a case over rehabilitation of Nazism against a young woman, who had allegedly published a photo of Adolf Hitler on the website of the Immortal Regiment movement, the Investigative Committee’s press service reports Thursday. According to the preliminary information, on May 8, the young woman registered on the website of the Immortal Regiment movement and published the photo of Hitler naming him as a hero of the Great Patriotic War and the Second World War. RAPSI, 21 May 2020

Russian man charged over Muller photo on Immortal Regiment website

Charges of rehabilitation of Nazism were brought against resident of Volgograd Denis Vorontsov, who had allegedly published a photo of chief of Hitler’s Gestapo Heinrich Muller on the website of the Immortal Regiment movement, the press service of Russia’s Investigative Committee reports. During interrogation Vorontsov denied his guilt. However, his involvement was confirmed by the findings, the statement reads. RAPSI, 22 May 2020

Woman to stand trial in Amur Region on coronavirus fake news charges

A court in the Amur Region will proceed with a case against a woman who has allegedly disseminated in one of messengers a fake about mass infecting local citizens with coronavirus, the press service of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office reports Friday. Indictment has been approved. The 56-year woman is charged with public distribution of knowingly false information about measures taken to ensure people’s safety in dangerous circumstances, the statement reads. RAPSI, 22 May 2020

LGBTI rights

HBO Airs Trailer for Oscar-Nominated Director’s Chechnya Gay Purge Doc

HBO has aired a trailer for its upcoming documentary on the anti-gay crackdown in Russia’s republic of Chechnya that was produced using groundbreaking face-swapping technology to protect the safety of its subjects. Oscar-nominated American director David France’s documentary “Welcome to Chechnya” traces attempts by a Moscow-based LGBT association to exfiltrate gay Chechens to safety. Russian investigative outlets have since 2017 reported on the torture and killing of Chechens suspected of being gay, which local leaders deny, claiming that no homosexuals live in Chechnya. The Moscow Times, 21 May 2020

Coronavirus and its impact

Russia: Intrusive Tracking App Wrongly Fines Muscovites

Moscow authorities have wrongly fined hundreds, if not thousands, of people for allegedly breaching self-quarantine based on dubious interpretations of behavior by a “social monitoring” tracking app, Human Rights Watch said today. The app, designed to track people with Covid-19 and symptoms of other respiratory diseases, unjustifiably invades users’ privacy, is mired in flaws and technical glitches, and should immediately be discontinued. Human Rights Watch, 21 May 2020

Russians Give More to Charity During Coronavirus Lockdown: Study

Russians have significantly increased their charitable donations in the weeks since most of the country entered coronavirus lockdown, the Kommersant business daily reported Tuesday, citing an analysis of charitable giving data. The latest statistics follow warnings from NGOs that only 5% of the country’s foundations and charities have enough resources to cover a lengthy disruption to their incomes caused by the pandemic. The Moscow Times, 19 May 2020

Prosecutors to check protection of coronavirus lockdown violators’ personal data

Moscow prosecutors will check the use of personal data of violators of the coronavirus self-isolation, RAPSI has learnt in the city prosecutor’s office. Earlier on Monday, Kommersant newspaper reported alleged violtions related to the use of personal data of people, who had been fined for breaching the lockdown. According to the media report, everyone can find through a fine payment service passport information of persons brought to administrative liability by entering a uniqe identificator of 20 or 25 figures on the website. RAPSI, 18 May 2020

Putin Is Using the Pandemic to Consolidate Power. Public health is a convenient pretext for extending authoritarian controls.

On Sunday, Russia became the country with the second-highest number of official coronavirus infections in the world, after the United States. This grim news comes amid a number of increasing, and increasingly restrictive, measures to combat the virus, including a digital pass system requiring residents to register for a code in order to move around their city by vehicle or public transit. Moscow implemented such a system on April 15, and the following week 21 federal regions were reported to have submitted applications to launch their own programs. Author: Josh Nadeau; Foreign Policy, 18 May 2020

‘Rage Is Brewing’: Navalny Warns Of Public Anger Over Russia’s COVID-19 Response

Russian citizens are expressing greater protest sentiment as the spread of the coronavirus and the state’s fight against it has left many people dissatisfied, including doctors and small-business owners, said one of the nation’s most influential opposition activists. “Right now the degree of protest activity among citizens is probably one of the highest in recent times,” Aleksei Navalny, the founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, said in a video interview with RFE/RL from his Moscow home on May 20. RFE/RL, 21 May 2020

Health system

Chechen Leader Orders Sacking of Medics Complaining of PPE Shortage

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has ordered the firing of local medics who complained of personal protective equipment shortages and the death of at least one colleague, the regional Caucasus Knot news outlet reported Sunday. Staff at a hospital repurposed for coronavirus patients in the town of Gudermes staged protests last week claiming that many of their colleagues are infected and demanding PPE from their employers. They apologized on Chechen television two days later for what they said were unfounded complaints. The Moscow Times, 18 May 2020

State Duma reacts to Kadyrov’s appeal to fire doctors of Gudermes CDH

The medics’ dismissal issues must be resolved according to the law, Leonid Ogul, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Health Care, has stated in his comment to the appeal of the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, to dismiss the doctors of the Gudermes Central District Hospital (CDH) after their complaints about the shortage of protective means. However, according to hospital medics, only one radiologist has been fired so far, while the rest of the staff has escaped sanctions. Caucasian Knot, 18 May 2020

Putin Intervenes as Russia’s Dagestan Faces Virus ‘Catastrophe’

President Vladimir Putin was forced to intervene personally on Monday in the epidemic sweeping Russia’s North Caucasus region of Dagestan, as local officials described the coronavirus situation as a “catastrophe.” For several days now, there have rumours of mounting fatalities and overwhelmed hospitals in the mountainous majority-Muslim region and local medical staff have taken to social media to make frantic appeals. The Moscow Times, 19 May 2020

Coronavirus is reportedly 16 times more fatal for healthcare workers in Russia than in other countries

Russia has faced criticism at home and abroad for its remarkably low coronavirus mortality rate. State officials have even threatened to revoke the accreditation of journalists from The New York Times and The Financial Times after those two newspapers published evidence suggesting that the Russian authorities are underreporting fatalities caused by COVID-19. In a new report about coronavirus deaths among medical workers, however, the website Mediazona demonstrates how Russia’s low coronavirus mortality rate isn’t all rosy if taken at face value: it would mean one in every 15 COVID-19 deaths in Russia is a medical worker, making the disease 16 times deadlier for healthcare providers than in six other countries with similar coronavirus outbreaks. Meduza, 19 May 2020

Dagestan doctors speak out over ‘tragically high’ death toll

Doctors and activists in Dagestan have described the death toll in the Russian region as “tragically high”, after officials said more than 600 people had died from pneumonia since April – far more than the official Covid-19 death toll for the region of 36. “In some towns, five to seven people were dying a day … some have seen 20 or 40 people die,” said Ziyatdin Uvaisov, the head of Patient Monitor, a Dagestani NGO that advocates for the rights of patients and medics and has canvassed for information about coronavirus deaths. The Guardian, 21 May 2020

Women’s rights

In Locked-Down Russia, Rising Domestic Violence Is Fueling A Culture War

MOSCOW — When the lockdown order came, Yevgenia found herself shut in with a recidivist abuser. Her husband had beaten her two weeks earlier, and she knew he was capable of doing so again. She had begun making plans to leave. “If not for the coronavirus, perhaps I’d have managed to avoid this situation,” she said in a phone interview from Yekaterinburg, where she lives. RFE/RL, 19 May 2020

Activists Call For Investigation Into Case Of Female Genital Mutilation, Saying It Would Be A First For Russia

The girl screamed and struggled but was held down by medical staff and her stepmother when female genital mutilation was performed on her at a medical clinic in June 2019 in Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, a region in Russia’s North Caucasus. Her mother filed criminal charges and the pediatric gynecologist who performed the procedure is on trial. Now, activists have petitioned for a fuller probe into the case by the Investigative Committee, which lawyers say would be a first in Russia. RFE/RL, 19 May 2020

Doctors treat girl’s circumcision in Ingushetia as exceptional

Female circumcision is not a common practice in clinics of Dagestan and Ingushetia, but doctors can make such surgeries secretly, medics have commented on the story of the nine-year-old girl, who was circumcised in Ingushetia. The child risks having a psychological trauma from the surgery itself and from the public resonance, a Dagestani psychotherapist has pointed out. Caucasian Knot, 20 May 2020

Russia’s Top University Ignores ‘Commonplace’ Sexual Harassment Amid Controversy

Officials at the prestigious Moscow State University are refusing to investigate widespread claims of sexual harassment by faculty members while some students face veiled threats of academic retribution for speaking out, the Meduza news website reported Tuesday. The Moscow Times, 20 May 2020


Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service lashes out at television channel ‘France 24’ over its coverage of Siberian prison riot

Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service in the Irkutsk region has accused French television channel France 24 of provocations, over its coverage of the April 9th riot at Penal Colony No.15 in the Siberian city of Angarsk.  The department’s statement refers to a video report that France 24 released on May 20. The Federal Penitentiary Service claims that the report is based on inaccurate information from citizens “interested in the destabilization of the situation” in the Russian penitentiary system.  Meduza, 22 May 2020

Moscow region courts are sentencing residents to compulsory labor at hospitals for violating quarantine

Courts in the Moscow region have sentenced several local residents who violated self-isolation restrictions to compulsory labor at hospitals, reports the head of the Main Directorate for Regional Security, Roman Karataev. Meduza, 22 May 2020


Russia’s Federation Council approves amendments streamlining electoral legislation

Russia’s Federation Council has approved several bills seeking to change laws on elections as concerns improvement of organization of elections and referendums, further development of procedures governing collection of signatures and verification of candidacy lists, as well as those on more precise review of nominees. Among the new legal provisions are those permitting voting by regular or electronic mail; the respective procedure is to be established by the Central Election Commission. The amendments also envisage that voting may be organized outside polling stations. RAPSI, 20 May 2020


Plans To Merge Three Russian Regions Spark Concerns, Protests

Plans by Russia’s government to merge the northwestern region of Arkhangelsk, the Nenets Autonomous District, and the Republic of Komi, have sparked protest among residents who fear losing their ethnic identity. Since leaders of the Arkhangelsk region and the Nenets Autonomous District signed a memorandum on merging their territories into one single administrative unit last week, protests have broken out in Naryan-Mar, the Nenets district capital. RFE/RL, 21 May 2020


Putin Adds Patriotism, War History to School Curriculum

President Vladimir Putin submitted legislation Thursday adding patriotism and war history to Russia’s education law. Putin’s amendments seek to add “a sense of patriotism and citizenship, respect for the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland and the achievements of the Fatherland’s heroes” to the law’s current definition of upbringing. The Moscow Times, 22 May 2020

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