Rights in Russia week-ending 25 December 2020

Other news of the week:

19 December 2020

Caucasian Knot: In Chechnya, investigators treat the testimonies of relatives of the missing Movsar Umarov that he had been held by law enforcers as trustworthy. The investigators’ position contradicts the statements of the Russia’ representative at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), rights defenders assert. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that relatives of the missing Movsar Umarov managed to initiate a murder case. His mother has stated that he was detained on July 18 for watching the blog of Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a critic of the Chechen authorities. She has suggested that Umarov had fallen victim to an extrajudicial execution. His relatives doubt that he is still alive, since they receive no news from him. In their testimonies, Umarov’s relatives described in detail the place of their last meeting with him in the territory of the regiment, said Shamil Khamidov, a deputy head of the first division for investigating especially important cases of the Investigating Committee (IC) of Chechnya. He has noted that investigators have no doubts about the objectivity of these testimonies, says the website of the “Committee against Torture” (CaT). Thus, the above IC has refuted the position of the Russian authorities, Dmitry Piskunov, the head of the CaT’s North-Caucasian branch, has concluded. Musa Umarov, Movsar’s brother, treats the investigators’ response as an indicator of law enforcers’ work efficiency.

20 December 2020

RFE/RL: Aleksei Vasilyev is a Yakut photographer and a rising Instagram star with tens of thousands of followers. His most famous project, titled My Dear Yakutia, evokes what he calls the “magic realism” of this part of Russia’s Far North, where people and spirits seem to cohabitate in frozen spaces. Vasilyev shared his images with the Siberia Desk of RFE/RL’s Russian Service, along with stories from behind the scenes.

21 December 2020

Human Rights in Ukraine: The trial has begun in Russian-occupied Crimea of Aider Kadyrov, a civic journalist reporting on human rights violations for Crimean Solidarity and the Russian website Grani.ru.  Kadyrov is charged under a menacing recent addition to Russia’s legislation against so-called ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’ that punishes for failing to report a person to the FSB.  Since the charges pertain only to a discussion five years ago on a social network page, Kadyrov is not alone in seeing the prosecution as politically motivated.   

RAPSI: Russia’s Interior Ministry will include in its structure cyber police; such a decision has been already taken by Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, the Ministry’s Deputy Head Igor Zubov has said in his interview as part of the “Personally to Children” project realized by the country’s Child Rights Commissioner and Children’s Community Council. Author of the cyber police initiative forwarded to the President’s Administration in 2018 is a member of the Russian Civic Chamber Sultan Khamzayev. According to Khamzayev, two years ago his colleages and he turned to the Government in order to draw attention at the crime rate increase in cyberspace, including drug distribution and others. Several days ago the Interior Ministry reported creation of such police. Khamzayev welcomed the move but added that if the initiative was realized earlier, authorities were ready for the current cybercrime rise during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Moscow Times: Public schools across Moscow have received a survey that measures their teachers’ political activity and loyalty to the authorities, the independent Dozhd broadcaster reported Sunday. The survey asks teachers whether they participated in pro-Kremlin or opposition rallies in recent years, as well as whether they backed coups to achieve political change, Dozhd reported. The teachers are also reportedly asked whether they discuss current global and national events with their students. Citing two unnamed teachers, the outlet said that superintendents are pressing their subordinates to take the survey authored by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA).

22 December 2020

RFE/RL: A Russian documentary filmmaker was detained briefly by police after publicly expressing support for opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, who says the release of a phone conversation with a Russian agent shows how the country’s Federal Security Service (FSB) poisoned the Kremlin critic with a Novichok nerve agent. Vitaly Mansky was picked up by police after he neared the FSB building in Moscow on December 22 while holding a blue pair of men’s underwear, a nod to the phone conversation where FSB agent Konstantin Kudryavtsev admitted Navalny’s underwear had been laced with poison in an apparent assassination attempt on the 44-year-old opposition leader.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Yet another ‘trial’ of Crimean Tatar political prisoners has begun, with this one dangerously likely to cause the death of one of the ‘defendants’ well before the predetermined verdict.   Amet Suleymanov’s heart condition is so grave that even the Russian FSB settled for house arrest, rather than placing him in detention following the wave of arrests on 11 March 2020.  They have, however, prevented him from having urgently needed heart surgery and are now taking him in a prison van on the gruelling 12-hour journey, through the night, from Bakhchysarai to the court in Rostov-on-Don (Russia).  Suleymanov’s wife, Lilya Lyumanova, travelled to Rostov separately, in the hope that she would at least be able to pass him medication if needed, but the hearing was behind closed doors and she was only able to speak with her husband’s lawyer who reports that Suleymanov was exhausted from having to sit in a vehicle for so many hours, and without the food and medication regime that is so important given his condition.  His blood pressure rose as a consequence and he was simply not in a state to take a proper part in the court hearing.  His very ‘trial’ under such circumstances is akin to torture and in serious violation of his right to a fair trial.

RFE/RL: A court in Russia has sentenced a Chechen man to 12 years in prison for his role in a deadly hostage-taking in in the southern city of Budyonnovsk in 1995, a turning point in the first of the two post-Soviet separatist wars in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya. The Southern Military District Court in the city of Rostov-on-Don on December 22 found Aslan Daudov guilty of banditry, kidnapping, terrorism, and premeditated murder. He was sentenced immediately. It is not clear whether Daudov pleaded guilty.

RFE/RL: A former U.S. Marine convicted earlier this year by Russia as a spy has told the BBC of his “very, very grim existence” as he prepares to spend Christmas alongside murderers and thieves in a labor camp. “I get up in the morning and try to be as positive as I can,” Paul Whelan told the BBC from Correctional Colony No. 17 in the region of Mordovia, some 350 kilometers east of Moscow. The 50-year-old Whelan, giving his first detailed interview since his arrest in December 2018, said he was spending his days sewing prison uniforms in the camp “workhouse” and is taking “one day at a time” — not focusing on his 16-year sentence on espionage charges that he has always rejected. Prison guards are waking him at night every two hours to take his photograph, he said.

23 December 2020

RFE/RL: The prosecutor in a high-profile trial in Moscow has asked a court to sentence Azat Miftakhov, a mathematician who says he was tortured in custody, to six years in prison on hooliganism charges. Miftakhov’s lawyer, Svetlana Sidorkina, said on December 23 that the defendant, who has rejected all of the charges and believes he was targeted by police because of his anarchist views, and his lawyers will testify as the process resumes on December 25. Miftakhov, 25, a postgraduate mathematics student at Moscow State University, was arrested on February 1, 2019, and accused of helping make an improvised bomb found in January in the city of Balashikha near Moscow. The Public Monitoring Commission, a human rights group, has said that Miftakhov’s body bore the signs of torture, which the student claimed were the result of investigators unsuccessfully attempting to force him to confess to the bomb-making charge. Others who were detained along with Miftakhov, but later released, have also claimed to have been beaten by the police. Miftakhov was released on February 7, 2019, after the initial charge failed to hold, but he was rearrested immediately and charged with involvement in an arson attack on the ruling United Russia party’s office in Moscow in January 2018. A prominent Russian human rights organization, Memorial, has declared Miftakhov a political prisoner.

The Moscow Times: Ruslan Shaveddinov, an associate of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, has returned to Moscow following a year of forced military service in the Arctic, the Mediazona news website reported.  Shaveddinov worked for Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) which leads investigations into corrupt individuals among the Kremlin’s ruling elite. In December 2019, men in uniform broke into Shaveddinov’s apartment in the middle of the night and he was sent to the Novaya Zemlya archipelago to complete a year of military service.  

RAPSI: Moscow’s Basmanny District Court on Wednesday extended house arrest of the leader of the movement For New Socialism Nikolay Platoshkin charged with aiding and abetting mass riots and distribution of misleading information until spring, the court’s press service told RAPSI. He will remain under house arrest until March 2, 2021. Platoshkin is a Russian diplomat, political analyst and historian, head of diplomacy and international affairs department of the Moscow Humanitarian University, leader of the movement For New Socialism.

The Moscow Times: Kremlin-linked businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin has sued Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and a close ally for defamation, a Moscow court said Tuesday. The lawsuit appeared Tuesday on the website of a Moscow court, which later told the Russian news agency TASS that the claim sought 5 million rubles ($66,000) each from Navalny and his ally Vladimir Milov for defamatory statements.

RFE/RL: “It wasn’t easy,” artist Kirill Gorodetsky wrote on Facebook on December 20: It took years for him to gain access to the documents of the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police, and finally “read the story of the destruction of my great-grandfather’s family.” “Someone really doesn’t want me to know my family’s history,” he added. December 20, a date on which Russia each year marks a professional holiday celebrating the “organs of state security,” is the anniversary of the 1917 founding of the Soviet secret police by Bolshevik official Feliks Dzerzhinsky. Gorodetsky noted that in the corridor of the building where he read the file of his family’s case there hung a banner celebrating decades of “protecting law and order.” Until this month, Gorodetsky had almost no idea what had happened to his family. “I knew that my great-grandfather, Mikhail Bart, was an interesting and successful and talented man,” the artist told RFE/RL’s Russian Service. “At home we had some nice old furniture that once belonged to him. But what happened to him personally, no one knew.”

24 December 2020

RFE/RL: A Russian court has sentenced a married couple in Kaliningrad to lengthy jail terms after finding them guilty of spying for Latvia and state treason. The wife, Antonina Zimina, received 13 years in a penal colony while her husband, Konstantin Antonets, was sentenced to 12 1/2 years in a maximum-security prison. The prosecutors had requested 14 years for Zimina and 13 years for Antonets. The couple denied any wrongdoing and will appeal the verdict, their lawyer, Mikhail Bayev, said. Antonets and Zimina were detained in July 2018 in Kaliningrad and went on trial behind closed doors in May. They were charged with treason after state prosecutors accused them of sharing a photograph with Latvia of a counterintelligence officer from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) who had attended their wedding.

Human Rights in Ukraine: A Russian prosecutor has demanded sentences of 19, 18 and 13 years against three Crimean Tatars who are not accused of any recognizable crime.  The three recognized political prisoners: 59-year-old Enver Omerov; his son Riza Omerov (32) and Aider Dzhapparov (39), are the latest victims of the worst conveyor belt ‘trials’ that Russia has brought to Crimea, with the ‘court’ in Rostov clearly eager to pass sentence, and refusing to hear 10 of the defence witnesses.  This is the same Southern District Military Court involved in most political trials of Ukrainians since Russia’s invasion of Crimea, including Enver Omerov’s son-in-law, Rustem Ismailov.

RAPSI: Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court on Thursday detained opposition figure Sergey Udaltsov for 10 days for breaching the order of running public events, the court’s press service told RAPSI. Earlier, Moscow’s Simonovsky District Court refused to toughen administrative supervision imposed on Udaltsov. In September 2018, the city’s Simonovsky District Court ordered Udaltsov to be subject to administrative supervision until August 2021 when his criminal record is to be canceled. The opposition activist was ordered to visit police twice a month, banned from attending mass rallies, demonstrations and other public events and leaving Moscow Region.  Later, he filed a complaint against this decision with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

25 December 2020

RAPSI: A 17-year college student suspected of preparation for execution of a terrorist attack was arrested in Russia’s town of Tambov, the Investigative Committee’s press service reports. Investigators found and seized chemical matters, devices and tools meant for a homemade bomb during searches conducted in a rented flat. According to investigators, the student, an adherer of destructive subcultures, prepared for committing a terrorist attack in one of the Tambov buildings using a selfmade explosive device. Allegedly, he received an instruction for its fabrication on the Internet.

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