Rights in Russia week-ending 23 October 2020

Other news of the week:

Freedom of expression

RAPSI, Wednesday, 21 October 2020: A case against five former police officers charged with planting drugs on journalist Ivan Golunov has reached the Moscow City Court, RAPSI has learnt in the court’s press service. Earlier, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow extended detention of three defendants Maxim Umetbayev, Akbar Sergaliyev and Roman Feofanov and house arrest of ex-police officer Denis Konovalov, who had confessed and given testimony against the others, as well as detention of a former drug control police department chief for Moscow’s Western Administrative District Igor Lyakhovets, who had allegedly headed the arrest of Golunov, until December 7. In late February, Alexey Kovrizhkin, the lawyer for Lyakhovets, told RAPSI that another defendant Konovalov had testified against his client, saying it was him who had ordered to plant drugs on Golunov’s bag and apartment. Investigators believe Lyakhovets, who does not admit guilt, is the organizer of the crime.

The Moscow Times, Tuesday, 20 October 2020: A group of former Vedomosti business daily senior editors and journalists has launched a new Russian-language news website Tuesday in partnership with The Moscow Times.  The project came to life after the appointment of a pro-Kremlin editor-in-chief at Vedomosti sparked accusations of censorship and a mass resignation earlier this year. VTimes, which aims to continue Vedomosti’s tradition of independent and objective journalism, will be accessible via the Russian flag icon on The Moscow Times’ homepage. 

Human Rights Watch, Friday, 23 October 2020: Prosecutors have ordered a university in Moscow to submit detailed information on students and faculty who participated in mass protests and had contacts with foreign groups, Human Rights Watch said today. The order is part of an inspection of the university by a local prosecutor’s office. The inspection comes a year after mass protests in Moscow attracted thousands of students and other younger people. It seems aimed at intimidating students and faculty, limiting free speech and academic freedom, and falsely portraying critics and protesters as linked to foreign influence.

Freedom of assembly

RFE/RL, Wednesday, 21 October 2020: A court in central Russia is set to consider on October 22 an application for parole of Yan Sidorov, who was sentenced to prison last year for organizing a peaceful protest in 2017. Ahead of the hearing in the Ulyanovsk region, Amnesty International called on the authorities to “end a gross injustice by immediately and unconditionally releasing” Sidorov, whom it considers a prisoner of conscience. At the hearing, penitentiary officials are expected to present evidence of “regime violations” he allegedly committed while in a penal colony, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow office director, said in a statement. “One of these so-called violations consisted of Yan not tucking his blanket under his mattress properly. The record of this ‘violation’ only goes to show how desperate Russian authorities are to justify the continued imprisonment of a brave human rights defender,” Zviagina added.

RAPSI, Tuesday, 20 October 2020: An action group of seven Russia’s State Duma lawmakers has developed a bill envisaging that participants of rallies are to be allowed to wear masks in cases where high alert or emergency rules are enacted. The bill envisages amendment of the federal law on assemblies, meetings, demonstrations, marches, and pickets to the effect that participants thereof could comply with mandatory mask requirements. The changes are needed as currently the law obliges organizers of such mass events to demand that the participants did not use any special means, including masks, for hiding their faces. At the same time, the authors of the bill note, the legislation requires that citizens wear face masks under high alert or emergency regimes, including those introduced in the situations of high epidemiological risks.

RAPSI, Thursday, 22 October 2020:  The Sverdlovsk Regional Court  on Thursday upheld a lower court’s refusal to release activist Kirill Zhukov, who had committed an assault on a National Guard officer during an unauthorized rally in Moscow on July 27, 2019, on parole, the court’s press service told RAPSI. In September, the Second Cassation Court of General Jurisdiction reduced his sentence from 3 years in penal colony to 2.5 years in penal colony settlement. Earlier, the activist was denied parole. On September 4, 2019, Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court convicted Zhukov of the use of force against a representative of authority. The court found that the defendant knocked down an officer by butting him in the face.

Freedom of conscience

Human Rights in Ukraine. Thursday, 22 October 2020: A new trial has begun in Sevastopol of Viktor Stashevsky, the latest Jehovah’s Witness to be prosecuted for his faith under Russian occupation.  Since the 54-year-old could be facing a long prison sentence, it is particularly worrying that the judge in the trial that began with a preliminary hearing on 19 October is to be Pavel Kryllo, a Russia who was earlier involved in the political persecution of Ihor Movenko.  This is to be a totally new ‘trial’ at the same Russian-controlled Gagarin District Court in Sevastopol, although only because the previous judge, Valentin Norets, resigned.   Fortunately, Stashevsky is not presently in detention, however two Ukrainian Jehovah’s Witnesses from occupied Crimea – Serhiy Filatov and Artem Gerasimov –  have been sentenced to six-year terms of imprisonment during the past year, and four men recently remanded in custody, on the same flawed charges as those brought against Stashevsky.  Armed searches were carried out through the night of 4 – 5 June 2019 in at least nine homes in Sevastopol, with computer technology and telephones removed. Stashevsky, who is married with two daughters, was detained that evening and taken away, however he was released the following day under a signed undertaking not to leave the city.

The Network case; the New Greatness case

RAPSI, Friday, 23 October 2020: A prosecutor has asked the Lyublinsky District Court in Moscow to sentence an alleged member of the New Greatness movement to 7 years in penal colony for organization of an extremist movement, RAPSI has learnt in the court. In October 2019, his case was sent back to a lower court for reconsideration. The Moscow City Court therefore overturned a 2.5-year jail sentence passed on him. The first trial of Rebrovsky was held without examination of evidence and witness interrogation as the defendant had pleaded guilty. However, he failed to fulfill the plea deal conditions that led to the sentence vacation and retrial. On August 6, other New Greatness defendants 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 had 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.

Aleksei Navalny

RFE/RL, Monday, 19 October 2020: Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny says the Kremlin is doing everything in its power to prevent him from returning to Russia, but he still plans to go back. Navalny told U.S. broadcaster CBS in an interview that aired on October 18 that he is determined to go back in a couple of months and take up his work fighting corruption where he left off. Navalny spoke with the CBS News program 60 Minutes in Berlin, where he is recovering from a poisoning in August with a toxic chemical belonging to the Novichok group. He said he goes to rehab every day and still feels “a little wooden…because the body lost all flexibility.” Navalny also said that he believes he was exposed to the poison by touching a bottle. The nerve agent was not inside the bottle, but on it, he said.

RAPSI, Tuesday, 20 October 2020: Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin has lodged a 5 million-ruble defamation lawsuit (about $65,000) against Leonid Volkov, an associate of opposition blogger Alexey Navalny, the press service of Concord Company has told RAPSI. The tycoon seeks to recover compensation for moral harm inflicted by false discrediting information distributed by the opposition activist, the claim reads. Moreover, Prigozhin asks court to recognize disseminated statements calling him “a dangerous special criminal funding a private military company responsible for hundreds of human liмes” as inaccurate. Earlier, Prigozhin lodged defamation claims with two Moscow courts demanding 5 million rubles (about $65,000) from Alexey Navalny and his associate Lyubov Sobol each. The billionaire seeks compensation for posts published by the opposition figures, removal and refutation of the statements.

Meduza, Thursday, 22 October 2020: Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that he helped ensure opposition figure Alexey Navalny’s medical evacuation to Germany personally. The Russian president also added that if the “defendant” had been poisoned by the Russian authorities, he wouldn’t have been allowed to go abroad. Putin also noted that Moscow is ready for international cooperation in the poisoning investigation, and lamented that Germany has ignored requests from Russian law enforcement agencies.

Meduza, Friday, 23 October 2020: According to Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, he isn’t subject to any travel restrictions that would have prevented him from leaving Russia, and therefore didn’t need President Vladimir Putin’s personal authorization to go abroad for treatment following his poisoning in August. In an Instagram post denying Putin’s statements, Navalny maintained that he considers the Russian president personally responsible for orchestrating his poisoning.

The Moscow Times, Friday, 23 October 2020: Russian military scientists continued working on the Novichok nerve agent’s development long after Moscow said it destroyed its chemical weapons stockpiles, an international investigation said Friday.  The investigation comes amid mounting questions in the West over Russia’s alleged use of chemical weapons on foreign and domestic soil, accusations that Moscow denies. The European Union and Britain have slapped sanctions on Russia over the suspected Novichok poisonings of a former Russian double agent in Britain in 2018 and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny this summer. While Russia was said to have destroyed its last chemical weapons arsenal in 2017, the clandestine Novichok development program continued under cover of civilian research, the Bellingcat investigative website said in a joint year-long investigation with Russia’s The Insider news website, the U.S.-funded RFE/RL media group and Germany’s Der Spiegel weekly. Obtained phone logs showed close coordination between the state institutions behind Novichok’s continued development and the GRU military intelligence agency’s Unit 29155 that has been linked to several Novichok poisonings, the outlets said.


RFE/RL, Thursday, 22 October 2020: A lawyer and civil right activist says he has been attacked and severely beaten by unknown assailants in the Russian city of Ulyanovsk. Almaz Kuchembayev told RFE/RL that he was attacked on October 21 as he made his way home from his office late on October 21. Kuchembayev said the men used pepper spray and an iron rod in the attack, in which he suffered a broken nose and multiple head injuries that required stitches. Kuchembayev, an active member of a group uniting local lawyers and architects who fight against the illegal construction of buildings and mansions in Ulyanovsk, said he believed the attack was planned and connected to his professional and civil rights activities.

RFE/RL, Thursday, 22 October 2020: Russian media says U.S. whistle-blower Edward Snowden has been granted permanent residency by the government. News agencies TASS and RIA Novosti quoted Snowden’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, as saying on October 22 that his client had requested a three-year extension of the permit earlier this year before it expired in April 2020, but the procedure was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. He added that Snowden, at the moment, was not considering applying for a Russian passport. Snowden was charged under the U.S. Espionage Act for leaking 1.5 million secret documents from the U.S. National Security Agency on government surveillance, prompting public debate about the legality of some of the agency’s programs, on privacy concerns, and about the United States snooping on its neighbors. If convicted, Snowden faces up to 30 years in prison. Snowden has been living in Russia since 2013 after revealing the documents.

Meduza, Wednesday, 21 October 2020: Russia’s media and censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, has determined that the state television channel Rossiya didn’t violate the rights of historian Yuri Dmitriev’s underage foster daughter by airing nude photos of her leaked from a court case file, Karelia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner Gennady Saraev wrote on his page on the social media site Odnoklassniki. According to Saraev, Roskomnadzor’s response pointed out that the “photographs were subjected to special processing, they were covered with double computer retouching, which excludes the possibility of identifying both the child herself and the individual fragments of the images that fall under the definition of pornographic materials.”


Caucasian Knot, Monday, 19 October 2020: Salakh Dagaev, a well-known surgeon in Chechnya, has made a surgery, which failed: his female patient has died. She turned out to be a relative of an associate of the head of the republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. The surgeon was kidnapped and beaten to death; and his family was forced to say that he died of a heart attack. The incident on September 22 was reported by the 1Adat Telegram Channel. An elderly sister of one of Kadyrov’s closest associates died during the surgery. On the same day, some masked men kidnapped the surgeon. “There was no unbeaten piece on Salakh’s body; and his face was like a black spot,” said Zaurbek, a resident of the village where the surgeon was buried.

Caucasian Knot, Tuesday, 20 October 2020: A sister of Rostislav Melnichenko, who complained about the beating by a law enforcer and was refused in the institution of a criminal case, recorded a video appeal to the Russian President and asked him to intervene in the situation. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that Yulia, a sister of a resident of Mozdok, said that on March 11, 2019, her brother was beaten by a law enforcer and hospitalized with injuries. Rostislav Melnichenko said that a district police inspector who witnessed the incident “did not try to prevent it in any way.” Investigators suggested that Rostislav Melnichenko himself attacked the law enforcer, and the latter defended himself. Yulia Melnichenko recorded a video appeal to Vladimir Putin, in which she complained about the ineffective investigation into the case on the beating of her brother, the “Kavkaz.Realii” reports.

Caucasian Knot, Tuesday, 20 October 2020: The hopes of a wife of Salman Tepsurkaev that he is alive are justified, because the young man could be left alive in connection with a public outcry around his case, human rights defenders believe. They also suggest that relatives will get a chance to see Salman Tepsurkaev if he is declared to be a defendant in some criminal case. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that in September, the wide public outcry was provoked by the video in which naked Salman Tepsurkaev was sitting down on a bottle and explaining that he was doing that as punishment for his cooperation with the 1Adat Telegram Channel, which criticized the Chechen authorities. If Salman Tepsurkaev is still alive, it is partly due to the public outcry around his case, suggests Oleg Orlov, a member of the board of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Memorial”. Meanwhile, he notes that people should be very careful in their comments in order not to inflict harm to Salman Tepsurkaev. Svetlana Gannushkina, the chair of the “Civic Assistance Committee”, finds it difficult to understand who benefits from holding Salman Tepsurkaev captive and not letting him go if he is alive. “Why do people disappear in Chechnya? This is some kind of sadism … All these stories negatively affect the image of not only Chechnya, but also Russia,” Svetlana Gannushkina noted.

Caucasian Knot, Wednesday, 21 October 2020: The Kadyrov family clan forced Moscow to make a series of concessions and during 17 years built a real totalitarian regime in Chechnya, the leaders of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Memorial” stated. The Chechen authorities are unpopular, but they are trying to strengthen themselves at the expense of the personality cult of Akhmat Kadyrov, participants in the discussion note. After the Kadyrov family clan came to power in Chechnya, the Kremlin gave them more and more power, said Oleg Orlov, a member of the board of the “Memorial” International Society. From the beginning, Moscow realized that “mass violence reproduced the armed underground and did not suppress it,” said Alexander Cherkasov, the chairman of the Council of the HRC “Memorial”. “Then the presidential administration transferred a significant part of the administrative and security functions to the bodies formed from ethnic Chechens, who knew better how and with whom to ‘deal’,” said Alexander Cherkasov.

Caucasian Knot, Wednesday, 21 October 2020: In Europe, Chechen young people are susceptible to Ramzan Kadyrov’s propaganda, who defamed the authors of caricatures on Prophet Muhammad, said Magomed, a Chechen refugee, who was acquainted with the family of the young man, accused of murdering the teacher in Paris. There are many in Europe, who feel sympathy to Kadyrov, and Anzorov could fall under their influence, said the head of the French Association of Chechens. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that on October 16, a teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded near Paris. He had shown caricatures on Prophet Muhammad from the Charlie Hebdo magazine to his pupils. Relatives of Abdulak Anzorov, who is accused of assassinating the teacher, had not noticed any radicalization of his views, said a refugee who knew his father and uncle. According to his story, the incident has shocked Anzorov’s relatives. Djambulat Suleimanov, head of the French Association of Chechens “Bart Marshaut” (Accord and Freedom), has noted that the murder took place amid the October 2 speech of the President of France against radicalism.

Caucasian Knot, Thursday, 22 October 2020: After the murder of teacher Samuel Paty for showing pupils the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, the French Interior Minister intends to visit Moscow to agree on the deportation of Russian citizens who have been denied refugee status in France. The French secret services are concerned about the radicalization of Chechen young people, says Nicolas Hénin, an author of the book “Jihad Academy”. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that the alleged killer was shot dead by the police. The suspect was identified as 18-year-old Abdulak Anzorov, a Russian citizen of Chechen origin. He was granted refugee status in France. French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced that 231 foreign nationals on the File of Alerts for the Prevention of Terrorist Attacks (FSPRT), which tracks radicals, will be expelled from the country (of them, 180 are being kept in custody). In total, there are 8132 Muslims in France, who are being watched by the secret services as supporters of extremism; for 428 of them, the deportation procedure has already been completed, while 233 others are still to be deported.

OpenDemocracy, Thursday, 22 October 2020: Zhalavdi Geriev writes: “It’s been two months since Salman Tepsurkayev, a resident of Chechnya, was subjected to sexual violence and torture, and then disappeared without a trace. In early September, videos showing the ill-treatment of the 19-year-old man emerged online, sparking a strong reaction in Chechen communities around the world. The Tepsurkayev case is shocking, but it’s already the new norm – whether inside or outside Chechnya, the republic’s authorities abduct, torture and kill those who disagree with them online. […].”


RFE/RL, Thursday, 22 October 2020: A man broke down in tears as he told a national television audience that his wife died after being sterilized under duress while living at an assisted-living facility in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg. A woman on the same program said that she was browbeaten by doctors at the same state-run residence into giving up her baby for adoption, and then coerced into undergoing sterilization. The rapidly unfolding scandal involving allegations that at least 15 female residents of the Uktussky Residence were sterilized under coercion reached the national stage on October 21 when the Rossia-1 television channel ran an hour-long segment featuring several alleged victims and experts.


RFE/RL, Monday, 19 October 2020: Rinat Akhmetchin, the mayor of the Russian Arctic city of Norilsk, has been sentenced to six months of correctional work and docked 15 percent of his salary after he pleaded guilty to negligence charges over his response to a spill that dumped thousands of tons of diesel fuel into local waterways in late May. Krasnoyarsk Krai regional court spokeswoman Olga Vesyolova told RFE/RL that Akhmetchin was sentenced on October 19, three days after his trial began. Akhmetchin, who had been Norilsk’s mayor since September 2017, resigned from the post in July.


Human Rights in Ukraine, Tuesday, 20 October 2020: A Russian prosecutor on 19 October demanded an 18-year sentence against Crimean Tatar civic activist Rustem Emiruseinov; 16 years against Eskender Abdulganiev, who was just 21 when arrested, and 15 years against Arsen Abkhairov.  This is the latest of many such prosecutions without any recognizable crime which the Russian FSB have brought to occupied Crimea.  Even in Russia, FSB officers are known to get all kinds of perks and promotions for fabricating criminal charges, while in occupied Crimea such ‘trials’ are also increasingly used as part of Russia’s offensive against Crimean Tatars. One of the record-breakers in occupied Crimea for persecution of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians is undoubtedly Sergei Makhnev. Brought to Crimea, after Russia’s annexation, this Russian FSB ‘investigator’ has either been, or is directly involved in the politically motivated cases against at least 60 Ukrainian citizens, all recognized by the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre as political prisoners.  Makhnev was one of the ‘investigators’ involved in Russia’s illegal prosecution of 24 Ukrainian seamen, seized after Russia attacked three naval boats near Crimea.  He played a role in the persecution of six Ukrainian Muslims from the Yalta region, including human rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku, and has since headed the team appointed to concoct similar prosecutions of 25 Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists. 

Human Rights in Ukraine, Friday, 23 October 2020: In a move that perfectly demonstrated Russia’s contempt for the law, a ‘judge’ in occupied Crimea has extended Medzhlit Ablyamitov’s detention for six months, until 1 April 2021, without either the political prisoner or his lawyer being present or even informed.  According to lawyer Aider Azamatov, they only learned during the preliminary hearing in the trial against Ablyamitov at the Kirov District Court on 20 October that  ‘judge’ Igor Degtarev had extended the detention back on 14 October.  It was certainly true that Ablyamitov’s detention had only been up till 17 October,, however this was grounds for releasing him or holding a hearing at which he and his lawyer could be present, not secretly issuing an illegal ruling. The defence, understandably, demanded that Degtarev be removed from the case but since it was Degtarev himself who was left to consider this application, it was clear that he would reject it.  Russia’s FSB announced on 19 August 2020 that it had arrested a person whom it accused of involvement in the Noman Çelebicihan (or Asker) Battalion, which, despite the name and Russia’s assertion, is not an armed formation.  The FSB often seek anonymity in these cases, probably to avoid the men receiving proper legal advice.  Here it was immediately clear that they had arrested Medzhit Ablyamitov, a 26-year-old who had returned to Crimea from mainland Ukraine to care for his mother who has stage IV (metastatic) cancer. 

The Courts

RAPSI, Thursday, 22 October 2020: Russia’s Justice Ministry under the chairmanship of its head Konstantin Chuichenko has excluded 7 out of 34 judicial candidates for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) during the first meeting of the candidacy selection commission. The candidates had been struck off because of non-compliance with qualifying requirements (competence in languages, age), RAPSI was told in the Ministry on Thursday. The commission also determined an order of performance of English and French languages tests for the competitioners. The test results will be taken into account during personal interviews with the candidates in order to match their compliance with the recommendations of the European Convention on Human Rights, PACE and Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, according to the statement.

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