Rights in Russia week-ending 24 April 2020

Freedom of expression

Russia: Kremlin Dismisses Threats Against Newspaper

(Moscow) – Last week, the Kremlin’s spokesperson dismissed a grave threat by Chechnya’s governor, Ramzan Kadyrov, against an independent outlet, Novaya Gazeta, Human Rights Watch said today. Russian authorities should immediately take the threat seriously, investigate effectively, and ensure the safety of Elena Milashina, the newspaper’s correspondent reporting on abuses in Chechnya. Human Rights Watch, 21 April 2020

RFE/RL Says Kadyrov’s Threat To Its North Caucasus Journalist Part Of A ‘Dangerous Trend’

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has called on Russian authorities to secure the safety of journalists and their relatives in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya after the Kremlin-installed leader of the area openly threatened the broadcaster’s North Caucasus Service chief, Aslan Doukaev. Ramzan Kadyrov threatened Doukaev while discussing an RFE/RL article challenging the Chechen authorities’ policies toward farmers during the coronavirus pandemic. RFE/RL, 21 April 2020

Kremlin urged to protect Russian journalist after alleged threats by Chechen leader

More than 100 Russian rights activists and other public figures have called on the Kremlin to protect a prominent journalist after the leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, posted what were seen as thinly veiled threats on Instagram. Kadyrov’s video addressed the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, after it published a critical exposé by the reporter Elena Milashina on Chechnya’s coronavirus crackdown. The article alleged that the government’s measures to isolate those suspected to be infected were so severe that some were hiding from the police. The Guardian, 21 April 2020

‘The Government Knows Where You Live’: Russia’s Journalists Walk A Dangerous Tightrope Covering COVID-19 Pandemic

The Novosibirsk-based news website Taiga.info recently published an interview with a woman who told the independent outlet that she called an ambulance after experiencing severe flu-like symptoms that she feared could be COVID-19. The paramedics who showed up had no gloves, masks, or other personal protective equipment (PPE), she said. RFE/RL 22 April 2020

Leading Russian Paper Vedomosti’s New Editor Bans Putin Criticism

The new chief editor of Russia’s leading business newspaper Vedomosti has banned employees from publishing articles that criticize President Vladimir Putin’s proposed constitutional changes, the paper’s media editor said Wednesday in the latest report of recent censorship at the publication. The Moscow Times, 22 April 2020

EU Monitors See Coordinated COVID-19 Disinformation Effort By Iran, Russia, China

EU monitors have identified a “trilateral convergence of disinformation narratives” being promoted by China, Iran, and Russia on the coronavirus pandemic and say they are being “multiplied” in a coordinated manner, according to an internal document seen by RFE/RL. RFE/RL, 22 April 2020

Russia Bans ‘Discussions’ of Fake Coronavirus News

Russia’s Supreme Court has ruled it illegal to discuss “fake news” about the deadly coronavirus pandemic in public in addition to publishing it. Facing public mistrust toward the country’s relatively low infection numbers at the time, Russia made spreading false information about Covid-19 punishable by up to five years in jail starting April 1. The Moscow Times, 23 April 2020

Struggling Russian newspaper ‘Vedomosti’ publishes an editorial condemning its own new editor-in-chief

Senior staff at Vedomosti, one of Russia’s best-respected independent business newspapers, have published an editorial condemning their own new acting editor-in-chief, Andrey Shmarov. The text’s authors warn that Shmarov’s efforts to change Vedomosti’s long-standing editorial policies are undermining trust in the newspaper. Meduza, 23 April 2020

Russian newspaper staff rebel against editor accused of censorship

Journalists at the Russian business newspaper Vedomosti have rebelled against their new management after the paper’s editor was accused of banning criticism of constitutional amendments backed by Vladimir Putin and the use of data from an independent pollster. The Guardian, 24 April 2020

The Kremlin’s man at ‘Vedomosti’? Sources say the controversial new chief editor at a top business newspaper was handpicked by the Putin administration

The sale of Vedomosti, a highly respected business publication in Russia, is apparently in jeopardy. On April 22, one of the newspaper’s supposed new buyers, “Arbat Capital” founder Alexey Golubovich, informed Vedomosti’s publisher, Gleb Prozorov, that he might withdraw from the deal. The stumbling block appears to be the newspaper’s new acting editor-in-chief, Andrey Shmarov, whose abrasive personality and censorship of certain political coverage have surrounded Vedomosti in controversy. At the same time, no one involved in the newspaper’s potential sale has taken any responsibility for the new chief editor’s questionable leadership. Multiple sources told Meduza that Andrey Shmarov is in fact “the Putin administration’s candidate.” Meduza, 24 April 2020

Journalists at Russian Business Newspaper Complain of Pro-Kremlin Censorship

MOSCOW — Journalists at Vedomosti, a prominent Russian business publication, on Thursday accused their editor of imposing pro-Kremlin censorship upon them and suggested the board of directors appoint someone else. The New York Times, 24 April 2020

Russia: Statement by the Spokesperson on threats against and the intimidation of journalists

The European Union calls on the Russian authorities to condemn and investigate threats made by the Chechen government authorities against journalist Elena Milashina, and to ensure her safety. EEAS, 24 April 2020

Freedom of assembly

Russia: Prisoner of conscience Konstantin Kotov will remain in jail

Following today’s decision by Moscow City Court to uphold the conviction of human rights defender Konstantin Kotov and sentence him to a year-and-a-half in a penal colony, Amnesty International Russia’s Director Natalia Zviagina said: “This decision is a profound injustice. Konstantin Kotov has spent more than eight months behind bars simply for taking part in peaceful protests, after being convicted under the notoriously repressive Article 212.1. Amnesty International, 20 April 2020

Russian Opposition Activist Kotov’s Prison Term Shortened

A Russian court has cut the four-year prison term of an opposition activist imprisoned for repeatedly taking part in unsanctioned rallies. The Moscow City Court ruled on April 20 that Konstantin Kotov’s term must be lowered by 2 1/2 years. Kotov reiterated at the hearing at the court that he does not consider his participation in the rallies as a crime. RFE/RL, 20 April 2020

Russia: Continuing judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of Mr. Konstantin Kotov

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the continuing judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of Mr. Konstantin Kotov, member of the Moscow-based “For Human Rights” movement and of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, and a volunteer for OVD-Info — an independent media outlet and a public organisation defending the rights of those detained, accused or condemned on politically motivated charges. Apart from participating in numerous peaceful protests himself, he has organized peaceful assemblies and trained protesters on how to behave during such gatherings and when facing arrest. FIDH, 24 April 2020

Russians launch mass virtual protests using satnav application

Russia is the midst of a strict COVID-19 lockdown. Although protesters cannot take to the streets, they are still holding mass demonstrations — digitally. Today, residents of the southern city of Rostov-on-Don gathered outside the local government building to protest the strict self-isolation regime, which has been in force in the region since early April. They also demand the payment of social benefits to those who have lost their jobs as the country fights to contain the pandemic. Global Voices, 20 April 2020

Opera Singer Arrested For Initiating Anti-Government Rallies In Russia’s North Ossetia

Authorities in Russia’s North Caucasus region of North Ossetia have arrested opera singer Vadim Cheldiyev for initiating anti-government rallies. Cheldiyev’s lawyer, Batraz Kulchiyev, told Current Time on April 21 that his client had launched a hunger strike to protest his two-month pretrial arrest. RFE/RL, 21 April 2020

North Ossetia Protesters Against COVID-19 Measures Receive Jail Terms

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia – Authorities in Russia’s North Caucasus region of North Ossetia have sentenced 13 people to jail terms of between three and 15 days for taking part in an unsanctioned rally against measures local authorities have put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus. A court in the regional capital, Vladikavkaz, sentenced the 13 local residents late on April 21 after finding them guilty of resisting police and organizing a public event that led to the violation of public order. RFE/RL, 22 April 2020

Investigators open cases over violence against police at unlawful Vladikavkaz rally

The North Ossetia republican directorate of Russia’s Investigative Committee has opened criminal cases over violence against police officers and Russian National Guard at an unauthorized rally in the town of Vladikavkaz, the body’s press-service informs on Wednesday. Investigators believe that on April 20, 2020, about 2,000 people took part in an unpermitted rally on the central square of the town of Vladikavkaz; the participant demanded resignation of the authorities of the North Ossetia – Alania Republic. RAPSI, 22 April 2020

Terrorism trials

Trial Of Two Defendants In High-Profile Russian ‘Network’ Case Postponed Over Coronavirus

The high-profile trial of two activists from a group known as “Set'” (Network) charged with terrorism in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. A spokeswoman for St. Petersburg’s courts, Daria Lebedeva, told RFE/RL on April 21 that the trial had been postponed indefinitely until restrictions implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus are lifted. RFE/RL, 21 April 2020

Prisoners’ rights

Breaking with a policy that’s repeated since the mid-90s, Russia won’t amnesty prisoners for Victory Day this year

Federal lawmakers are not planning to adopt legislation to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the USSR’s victory over Nazi Germany with a general amnesty of certain prisoners, Pavel Krasheninnikov, who chairs the Duma’s State Building and Legislative Committee, told the news agency TASS on Tuesday.  Meduza, 21 April 2020

Penitentiaries in the pandemic Russian officials say coronavirus hasn’t infected a single inmate, but COVID-19 has undeniably changed life behind bars in big ways

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, several countries around the world have begun releasing large numbers of inmates to curb the spread of the disease behind prison walls. In Russia, however, it’s now impossible even to try to get early parole. Meduza looks at how coronavirus has changed life for prisoners in Russia, why the country’s prison system still hasn’t confirmed a single case of COVID-19, and how inmates have been mobilized for industrial labor during the country’s “non-working” holidays. Meduza, 22 April 2020

Russian rights advocates push for more releases on parole during pandemic

Members of the Presidential Council for Human Rights plan to turn to the Supreme Court of Russia with the request to recommend courts to extend the practice of releases on parole during the coronavirus pandemic, the advisory body’s press service reports Thursday. Earlier, the body’s standing commission on NGO Assisting, penitentiary system reforming and crime prevention held a meeting as part of which the Sverdlovsk Region ombudsman and the human rights council’s member Tatiana Merzlyakova reported measures taken in the region to prevent the spread of coronavirus in penitentiary facilities. RAPSI, 23 April 2020


Russia quarantines thousands of soldiers after parade rehearsals

Russia has quarantined thousands of soldiers who took part in rehearsals for a Victory Day parade that appeared to flout physical distancing guidelines brought in to stem the country’s coronavirus outbreak. The defence ministry said it would be sending the soldiers, estimated to number 15,000, back to their bases, where they would be put under a two-week quarantine. The ministry did not indicate that any of the soldiers had been infected with the coronavirus. The Guardian, 20 April 2020

Russian Opposition Plans Online Coronavirus Lockdown Protest

Russia’s opposition has called for an online protest next week to press the Kremlin for financial aid for people struggling under the coronavirus lockdown. During an online YouTube rally next Tuesday, Moscow councillors Yulia Galyamina, Ilya Azar and their allies also plan to seek an amnesty for prisoners and oppose President Vladimir Putin’s plan to change the Constitution in a move that could allow him to stay in power until 2036. The Moscow Times, 21 April 2020

Russian Supreme Court recommends reducing punishments for coronavirus lockdown violations

People who violate Russia’s self-isolation regime but are not suspected of having the coronavirus should receive lesser punishments for their offense, says a new judicial practice review from the Supreme Court, TASS reports. According to RBC, Russian courts have generally sentenced violations of the self-isolation regime under Section II, Article 6.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code, which outlines hefty fines ranging from 15,000 to 40,000 rubles (between $197 and $525). Meduza, 22 April 2020

Domestic Violence / Women’s Rights

Russia Seeks Protections for Domestic Abuse Victims During Coronavirus Lockdown

The authors of Russia’s delayed domestic abuse law have asked the government to take emergency steps to protect victims during the coronavirus quarantine, the RBC news website reported Tuesday. Experts have warned that lockdown measures to slow the spread of Covid-19 would lead to even more abuse in Russia, where domestic violence has been decriminalized since 2017. The Moscow Times, 22 April 2020

Moscow Halts Abortions During Coronavirus Outbreak: Activists

More than 100,000 pregnant women will be unable to undergo medical abortions in Moscow because of restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak, the women’s rights organization Nasiliyu.net (“No to Violence”) Center has said. Only three out of the Russian capital’s 44 clinics have said they would continue to provide abortions through the national compulsory medical insurance program, the group said on its website Monday. The other 41 clinics told Nasiliyu.net that the procedure is unavailable “unless you’re brought in an ambulance.” The Moscow Times, 23 April 2020


Russian citizens to be allowed register their biometrics individually – bill

Lawmakers of the Federation Council and the State Duma have introduced a bill seeking to permit individuals registering and adding to the unified biometric system their personal data by themselves, Deputy Chair of the Federation Council Nikolay Zhuravlev is quoted as saying in a statement of the upper house of Russia’s parliament on Wednesday. The persons wishing to register and add their personal data to the database may use mobile phones, smartphones, tablets, or personal computers. RAPSI, 22 April 2020

Migrants’ Rights

Russia Suspends Deportations During Coronavirus Pandemic

Russia will temporarily suspend deportations of foreigners over the next two months due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Interior Ministry said Thursday. President Vladimir Putin signed an order this weekend banning authorities from deporting migrants and denying them refugee and temporary asylum status between March 15 and June 15. The act also automatically extends visas and other temporary residence permits that expire after March 15 to June 15 as Covid-19 disrupted international travel and left migrants stranded in Russia. The Moscow Times, 23 April 2020


Bill on simplified access to Russian citizenship becomes law

The law simplifying the procedure of obtaining Russian citizenship by foreigners on Friday was enacted by President Vladimir Putin. The document’s version is published on the official website of legal information. The law envisages access to Russian citizenship without filing applications for the existing citizenship withdrawal with foreign authorities. RAPSI, 24 April 2020


Russia’s Justice Ministry to be empowered challenge regional laws in courts – bill

The government of the Russian Federation has submitted to the State Duma a bill seeking to authorize the Justice Ministry to dispute provisions of regional legal acts, chapters, and municipal acts in courts, according to the database of the lower house of Russia’s parliament. The document envisages amendments to the Administrative Procedure Rules, which will allow the Ministry to submit to courts administrative claims seeking to rule regulations, chapters and municipal acts invalidated in full or in part in cases where legal examination show them to be not in compliance with some other higher legal act, or infringing on the rights and lawful interests of citizens. RAPSI, 21 April 2020

The Military

Russia’s New Military Mega-Church to Feature Putin, Stalin, Crimea Mosaics

The walls of Russia’s new Orthodox cathedral dedicated to the Armed Forces will be decorated with the faces of President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Soviet leader Josef Stalin, the MBKh News website reported Friday. The Moscow Times, 24 April 2020


Journalists publish new evidence of Russian mercenaries torturing and killing a Syrian deserter in 2017

The newspaper Novaya Gazeta has published two new videos corroborating the brutal torture and murder of a man in Syria. Mercenaries from the “Wagner” Russian private military company allegedly carried out the killing in June 2017.  Meduza, 21 April 2020

FSB Stops Refugees in Barents Sea

Today marks what is likely the first-ever attempt by individuals to enter Schengen Europe via the Barents Sea. The attempt occurred on Oct. 8, 2019, but first became known to the public today as the verdict from the Pechenga District Court was announced by the Murmansk region prosecutor’s office. The Moscow Times, 21 April 2020

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