Rights in Russia week-ending 24 December 2021

Our round-up of the week’s news

18 December 2021

RFE/RL: An organization that provides legal and counseling assistance to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia’s Far East has been listed as a “foreign agent.” The nonprofit organization Mayak, which says it has been operating in Russia since 2016, was added to the Justice Ministry’s list of “unregistered public associations performing the functions of a foreign agent” on December 17.

RFE/RL: German regulators have launched proceedings against Russian state-controlled media RT for broadcasting in the country without a valid license. RT DE, the German-language channel of broadcaster RT, suddenly began satellite broadcasts in Germany on December 16 using a questionable Serbian license, the MABB media regulator for Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg said on December 17.

19 December 2021

RFE/RL: A Russian court has handed a three-year suspended sentence to Yury Zhdanov, the father of Ivan Zhdanov, a close associate of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, in a corruption case critics say is politically motivated. Zhdanov, who spent several months in pretrial detention, was released from custody after sentencing, his lawyer, Vladimir Voronin, announced on Twitter on December 19.

RFE/RL: “Officially in Russia there are about 60 regions where the base pay of a teacher is less than the legal minimum wage (MROT),” said Daniil Ken, chairman of the independent Alliance of Teachers union. “You can find figures of 5,500 to 6,500 rubles ($75 to $88).”

20 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Sunday confirmed 27,967 Covid-19 infections and 1,024 deaths.

RFE/RL: A retired Moscow police officer has been detained after holding a picket in the Russian capital’s Red Square to demand the release of imprisoned opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “killer.” Former police Major Oleg Kashintsev was holding a poster saying “Free Navalny. Putin Is A Killer” when police detained him near the Kremlin on December 19.

RFE/RL: The Prague-based MEDIUM-ORIENT news agency has been fined in Russia for failing to follow the requirements of Russia’s controversial “foreign agent” law. Islam Tekushev, the editor in chief of the online Caucasus Times journal founded by MEDIUM-ORIENT, told RFE/RL that he was informed on December 20 of a ruling a week earlier by the Taganka district court to fine the journal 500,000 rubles ($6,730) for violating the law on “foreign agents.”

The Moscow Times: Russian authorities have forced several news organizations to delete their coverage of a blacklisted outlet’s investigative reports on President Vladimir Putin’s alleged extramarital daughter and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s alleged second wife. State media watchdog Roskomnadzor notified the independent Dozhd broadcaster that it must delete 30 articles and videos based on the Proekt investigative outlet’s reporting. “The notifications say that there is one day to inform the website owner about the blocked materials, after which they must be immediately deleted,” Dozhd said.

Meduza: Exiled human rights lawyer Ivan Pavlov has launched a new legal group that specializes in defending those accused of treason and espionage in Russia. Pavlov, who fled abroad to escape criminal charges in September, previously led Team 29 — a similar human rights initiative that tackled some of Russia’s most challenging political prosecutions. The group disbanded in July 2021, to protect its members and supporters from persecution. Pavlov’s new project, dubbed “Pervy Otdel” (which translates as “First Department” or “Department One”) also aims to take on cases that are handled “behind closed doors” and will function in cooperation with colleagues working “on the ground” in Russia.

Meduza: Activists from Gulagu.net (No to the Gulag) have obtained and released new footage further evidencing the torture and abuse of inmates in Russian prisons.  On Monday, December 20, the human rights group published a new video on YouTube that allegedly shows incidents of torture in a prison colony in Krasnoyarsk. Gulagu.net activists said that this “footage is from a new component of the secret FSB/FSIN video archive.”

Human Rights in Ukraine: At least two Crimean Tatars were seized by the FSB in Russian-occupied Crimea last week after early morning armed ‘searches’ of their homes.  Both Kurtumer Chalgozov and Nariman Ametov were, purportedly, interrogated as witnesses or over possible involvement in the alleged act of sabotage that Russia is using to imprison renowned Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Nariman Dzhelyal.  The only grounds would appear to be that they too are Crimean Tatars and Ametov has shown support for political prisoners.  It is, however, increasingly the case in Russian-occupied Crimea that no more is required, with the FSB using such methods either to torture out false testimony or as a form of terror, reminding Crimean Tatars that nobody is safe.

The Moscow Times: Dutch prosecutors said Monday that four suspects accused of downing a Malaysia Airlines flight with a surface-to-air missile were seeking to serve “their own military interests,” as they launched closing arguments in the closely-watched trial.  Four suspects are being tried in absentia for launching a BUK missile that hit flight MH17 over war-torn eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board. 

RFE/RL: Dutch prosecutors said on December 20 that the 298 victims of the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine “didn’t stand a chance” once a rocket hit the aircraft, as they began their closing arguments in the closely watched trial. MH17 was shot down on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine, killing all passengers and crew. The four suspects — Russians Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov, and Igor Girkin, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko — are being tried in absentia for involvement in the tragedy. Only one of the suspects, Pulatov, is represented by lawyers at the trial.

FIDH: On the eve of the next hearing in the the Memorial Human Rights Centre on 16 December 2021, the International Federation for Human Rights has filed an extra-procedural appeal to Moscow City Court in support of the Memorial Human Rights Centre. In its appeal, the Federation asks the Court to dismiss the suit filed by the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office to liquidate the Memorial Human Rights Centre.

FIDH: On the eve of the next hearing in the case against International Memorial on 14 December 2021, the International Federation for Human Rights has filed an extra-procedural appeal to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation in support of the organization International Memorial. In its appeal, the Federation asks the Court to dismiss the suit filed by the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office to liquidate International Memorial. The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation received a total of 26 appeals in support of the organization.

The Moscow Times: Kickbacks in Russia’s public procurement system amount to one-third of Russia’s budget revenue, according to a survey published by the RBC news website Monday.

RFE/RL: Russia says it is expelling two German diplomats from Moscow in a tit-for-tat move following Germany’s expulsion of two Russian diplomats after a court in Berlin convicted a Russian man of fatally shooting a former Chechen militant in Berlin on the Kremlin’s orders in 2019.

21 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Tuesday confirmed 25,907 Covid-19 infections and 1,027 deaths.

The Moscow Times: Russia has passed legislation granting police the right to break into homes and cars without a search warrant. According to the law President Vladimir Putin signed on Tuesday, officers can now enter homes without a warrant even if persons inside are not officially classified as suspects. The latest law grants police officers the power to search personal belongings “if there are grounds to suspect” that they may be holding drugs, explosives or stolen goods. Police can also open vehicles to save lives, fight crime and terrorism, as well as ensure safety during situations of mass unrest or emergencies. Persons who come into contact with Russian police officers are required to give their full names and provide identity documents when asked, according to the law.

The Moscow Times: Russian authorities have published new regulations on the expedited mass burial of humans and animals who die as a result of military conflicts or noncombatant emergencies, stoking already heightened tensions that the country may be preparing to invade Ukraine.

RFE/RL: The Russian human rights group Gulagu.net has released new videos purportedly showing instances of torture in a prison hospital for tuberculosis patients in Siberia. The group published the latest clips on YouTube on December 20, saying that they had been recorded in the tuberculosis infirmary No. 1 in the city of Krasnoyarsk.

The Moscow Times: Russian lawmakers seek to declare the fall of the Soviet Union three decades ago “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” The proposal submitted Monday by the right-wing nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) to the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, borrows from President Vladimir Putin’s famous 2005 remark about the Soviet collapse. It comes ahead of the 30th anniversary of the U.S.S.R.’s disintegration.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russia has brought criminal charges against Nabi Rakhimov many months after its enforcement officers killed the Uzbek refugee, who was living peacefully in occupied Crimea with his wife and two underage children.  The FSB are claiming that Rakhimov “used force against representatives of the authorities carrying out their duties’ (Article 318 of Russia’s criminal code) and was killed in the confrontation.  There was, however, no reason for the armed operation against Rakhimov and his family, let alone for him to have shown any resistance against a large contingent of armed officers.

Meduza: A Russian court has rejected a petition from the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) to transfer student journalists Alla Gutnikova and Vladimir Metelkin to a remand prison. The two editors from the student journal Doxa have been under pre-trial restrictions since April, and are only allowed to leave their homes for two hours per day (between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.). 

Meduza: In December 2019, “Moscow Case” defendant Egor Lesnykh proposed to his girlfriend Dasha during his final courtroom remarks. The next day, he was sentenced to three years in prison. Egor was charged with assaulting a police officer at a rally after he tried to protect other protesters from being beaten by members of the National Guard. Today, he’s serving his sentence in an open prison near Volgograd; he’s due to be released in June 2022. Approximately once every two months, Dasha is able to visit Egor in prison. Over the course of several weeks, Meduza photographer Evgeny Feldman snapped photos of Dasha before and after one such visit.

22 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Wednesday confirmed 25,264 Covid-19 infections and 1,020 deaths.

RFE/RL: The editor in chief of Russia’s Novaya gazeta, who shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, has denounced the Russian government’s so-called “foreign agents” law as “a filthy stigma that the authorities try to hang on all of their opponents.”

RFE/RL: Dutch prosecutors have requested life sentences for three Russians and a Ukrainian on trial in absentia on charges of playing a role in downing a passenger jet over Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people.

RFE/RL: The segment, which aired on December 20, marked an escalation in the already hyperbolic tone adopted by anchors and commentators on Russian talk shows. In recent days and weeks, as the Kremlin has warned of a “military response” in Ukraine if the West does not agree to its demands, the narrative on TV has reached fever pitch.

The Moscow Times: Russian billionaire and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich has reached a settlement with journalist Catherine Belton in a defamation lawsuit brought against her and her publisher over claims in her 2020 book “Putin’s People.” In a statement issued Wednesday, publishers HarperCollins said they had “settled their dispute with Roman Abramovich over certain passages in Putin’s People,” acknowledged that the book contains “some inaccurate information,” and agreed to amend sections in a new and updated edition. Some 1,700 words will be deleted or added to the new version of the book.

Human Rights Watch: United Nations member countries currently haggling over the organization’s 2022 budget should stand firm against Russia and China-led efforts to slash funding for UN human rights work.

EU-Russia Civil Society Forum [Anikó Bakonyi, Nikola Mokrović, Co-Chairs of the Board, EU-Russia Civil Society Forum]: We dubbed last year as „A Year Like No Other“. The spirit of that statement contained an implicit expectation that we would overcome at least the political and social problems caused by the pandemic. The pandemic created an open-ended situation where huge social and political changes and interventions became an everyday phenomenon, but often with no foreseeable outcomes. Uncertainty is the new habit, which we all had to get used to. Our experience of this year has shown us that in many respects the situation can become even worse and more uncertain, or at least, more complex.

23 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Thursday confirmed 25,667 Covid-19 infections and 1,002 deaths.

RFE/RL: The Moscow City Court started hearings on a prosecutor’s request to shut down one of Russia’s oldest rights watchdogs, the Memorial Human Rights Center. Some 25 journalists were allowed to follow the December 23 hearing from a special room outside the courtroom.

RFE/RL: A court in Moscow has extended the pretrial detention of the former leader of a regional organization for jailed opposition activist Aleksei Navalny in Bashkortostan. The Basmanny district court ruled of December 23 that Lilia Chanysheva must stay in pretrial detention at least until April 9, 2022.

Meduza: Meduza’s sources say that recruiters have started mobilizing mercenaries for a “combat trip to the Donbas.” Whether or not they’ll actually fight on the frontline remains unknown. Meduza special correspondent Liliya Yapparova spoke with the mercenaries themselves and discovered that they, too, are skeptical.

The Moscow Times: Inventor, scientist, educator, entrepreneur and philanthropist Dmitry Zimin died in Switzerland at the age of 88 on Wednesday. He had been undergoing treatment for cancer for many years.

24 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Friday confirmed 24,703 Covid-19 infections and 998 deaths.

The Guardian: A Moscow court has said it is fining Alphabet’s Google 7.2bn roubles (£73m) for what it says is a repeated failure to delete content Russia deems illegal, the first revenue-based fine of its kind in Russia. Moscow has increased pressure on big tech this year in a campaign that critics characterise as an attempt by Russian authorities to exert tighter control over the internet, something they say threatens individual and corporate freedom. Google said in an email it would study the court ruling before deciding on further steps.

The Moscow Times: Russia has in recent weeks deployed mercenaries to eastern Ukraine to help pro-Moscow separatists defend against Ukrainian government forces, Reuters reported Thursday, citing four unnamed fighters who had been recruited.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Four days after Nariman Ametov was taken from his home in handcuffs and with a bag over his head, the young Crimean Tatar father has publicly spoken of the torture he endured during the following hours.  While impossible to independently verify the allegations, they correspond to those of others seized in similar circumstances, as well as to the methods already demonstrated by the FSB in fabricating a ‘terrorism plot’ to imprison renowned Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Nariman Dzhelyal

The Moscow Times: By the end of the year, little had changed for Russian women as the country’s increasingly conservative leadership and the pandemic relegated feminist concerns to the backburner.

Human Rights WatchRussian authorities redoubled their efforts in 2021 to repress internet freedoms, Human Rights Watch said today. The government blocked popular censorship circumvention tools, experimented with novel censorship technologies, expanded oppressive internet legislation, and pressured tech companies to comply with the increasingly stifling regulations. “The Russian government is using its growing technological capacity to engage in nontransparent, unlawful, and extrajudicial restriction of digital rights in Russia,” said Anastasiia Kruope, assistant Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This past year’s dramatic crackdown on internet freedoms is the culmination of many years’ efforts by the authorities to restrict the rights and freedoms of Russians online.”

Meduza: The Presidential Administrative Directorate spent a grand total of 117 million rubles (about $1.6 million) on organizing Putin’s press event — of which about 1.4 million rubles, or $19,000, went toward spraying journalists with silver particles, according to public procurement records. (This includes the cost of renting six disinfection booths for a period of two days and purchasing the disinfectant spray).

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