Rights in Russia week-ending 25 September 2020

Other news of the week:

Judiciary / Legal cases

Meduza, Tuesday, 22 September 2020: A Federal Security Service (FSB) investigator has rejected a petition from jailed journalist Ivan Safronov, who had requested clarification on the nature of the treason charges against him. FSB Investigator Alexander Chaban refused to grant the request on the grounds that he “misunderstood the petition,” Safronov’s lawyer Ivan Pavlov told MBX Media. “I found out that the investigator somehow, as he put it, misunderstood Ivan’s petition and will not show him the documents he’s asking for,” Pavlov says. “[He] ‘misunderstood’ our petition. How could it be misunderstood?” On September 15, Pavlov said that Investigator Chaban had granted Ivan Safronov’s application, but had yet to provide him with the requested materials. The petition, submitted on September 9, asked investigators to provide Safronov with evidence of the classified information that they are claiming he collected and allegedly gave to Czech intelligence agents. Safronov asked for the opportunity to familiarize himself with the case materials and requested that he be interrogated afterwards.

The Moscow Times, Thursday, 24 September 2020: Russian investigators refused to allow jailed U.S. investor Michael Calvey to remove his electronic ankle bracelet in order to undergo an MRI scan required for cancer treatment, the Financial Times reported Thursday.  Lawyers for Calvey, who was detained last February on embezzlement charges that he says are being used to pressure him in a business dispute, revealed in June that he had a malignant tumor in his leg. While the court allowed him to seek treatment at a private hospital, his appeal for an early house arrest release was rejected. In the absence of MRI results, doctors were forced to remove the tumor using an outdated method that required Calvey to undergo an additional round of radiation therapy, the FT reported, citing unnamed sources.  Calvey’s cancer is reportedly in remission following the treatment. 

RAPSI, Monday, 21 September 2020: President of Russia Vladimir Putin on Monday signed an order increasing wages of judges, according to the document’s version published on the official website of legal information. The salaries of are to be increased by 3% starting October 1. The wage hikes will be applied to the judges of Russia’s Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, federal courts of general jurisdiction, federal commercial courts and regional magistrate courts, the decree reads.

Freedom of expression

The Moscow Times, Thursday, 24 September 2020, TikTok has deleted hundreds of Russian videos featuring LGBT content since the start of 2020, the popular short video app’s European policy executive said this week. The Chinese-owned app removed or restricted nearly 700 videos worldwide following government requests between Jan. 1-June 30, according to its latest transparency report published this week. Nearly 300 pieces of content were taken down or restricted at the Russian government’s request. The transparency report does not specify what types of content were restricted. TikTok’s director of government relations and public policy in Europe, Theo Bertram, suggested that Russia’s requests could be linked to a 2013 law prohibiting “gay propaganda” toward minors.

RAPSI, Friday, 25 September 2020:  The Moscow City Court has received appeals against sentence in a high-profile  Seventh Studio stage company embezzlement case, RAPSI has learnt from the court’s press service. Appeals have been fined by all defendants except the Gogol Centre theater director Kirill Serebrennikov. The hearing date has not been set yet. On June 26, the court passed a 3-year suspended sentence and an 800,000-ruble fine on the Gogol Center theater director Kirill Serebrennikov for embezzlement of 129 million rubles (about $2 million) of budget funds allocated for the theater project Platforma.  Ex-head of Seventh Studio Yury Itin also received a 3-year suspended term and a fine. Producer Alexey Malobrodsky was given a 2-year suspended sentence and a fine.

Freedom of religion

The Guardian, Tuesday, 22 September 2020: Russian authorities mounted a special operation to arrest a former traffic police officer who claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus and has run a cult based in the depths of Siberia for the past three decades. Helicopters and armed officers stormed communities run by Sergei Torop, known to his followers as Vissarion, and arrested him and two of his aides. Russia’s investigative committee said it would charge him with organising an illegal religious organisation, alleging that the cult extorted money from followers and subjected them to emotional abuse.

RAPSI, Wednesday, 23 September 2020: The Central District Court of Novosibirsk, a city in Russia’s Siberia, has placed three alleged religious sect leaders in detention for two months, according to information on the court’s website. Sergey Torop, Vadim Redkin and Vladimir Vedernikov are charged with creating a religious organization fraught with violence against citizens and infliction of harm to health of two or more people. According to the investigation, in 1991 through September 22, 2020, Torop, Redkin and Vedernikov ran a religious community in the Krasnoyarsk Krai called The Church of Last Testament. Torop styled himself the Son of God Christ under the name of Vissarion.

RAPSI, Friday, 25 September 2020: Prosecutors have filed a lawsuit with the Krasnoyarsk Krai Court demanding liquidation of the Church of Last Testament religious organization, the press service of the Prosecutor General’s Office reports. Prosecutors insist that the Church of Last Testament threatens the interests of society and state, attacks human personality, rights and freedoms and implicates damage to morality and health of people.  On Wednesday, three alleged leaders of the organization were put in detention for two months. Sergey Torop, Vadim Redkin and Vladimir Vedernikov are charged with creating a religious organization fraught with violence against citizens and infliction of harm to health of two or more people. According to the investigation, in 1991 through September 22, 2020, Torop, Redkin and Vedernikov ran a religious community in the Krasnoyarsk Krai called The Church of Last Testament. Torop styled himself the Son of God Christ under the name of Vissarion.


Caucasian Knot, Tuesday, 22 September 2020: Movsar Umarov, a resident of Grozny, declared as runaway after detention by law enforcers, has failed to contact his relatives and is hardly still alive, his brother believes. An Umarov’s relative feared for his life after a telephone conversation with the Chechen minister. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) was considering special security measures for Movsar Umarov. His mother said that her son was detained for watching the blog of Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a renowned critic of Chechen authorities. Movsar’s brother disbelieves in his escape from law enforcers, and suggests that he is no longer alive, the “Kavkaz.Realii” reports. According to Musa Umarov, right after his brother’s disappearance, he urged his mother to turn to human rights defenders. However, law enforcers, contrary to the widespread practice, did not hide that Movsar was kept by them; and relatives hoped for his soon release.


Human Rights in Ukraine, Tuesday, 22 September 2020: Nariman Memedeminov was released on 21 September from the Russian prison colony where he had been forced to serve out a politically motivated sentence.  The Crimean Tatar civic journalist has said that he may continue covering the political persecution of Crimean Tatars once he is back in Crimea.  Although no restrictions have been imposed on his public activities, any such journalist activities in occupied Crimea carry enormous risks. Memedeminov is one of over ten civic journalists who have been imprisoned on fabricated charges, with almost all of the others either sentenced to or facing horrifically long sentences. Memedeminov told Krym.Realii that he still considers himself a civic journalist, but that it would be clear how possible it is to continue such work only after he is back in Crimea.  He is, however, certain that the politically motivated arrests and trials are continuing, and pointed out that it is not just their view that the prosecutions are political, but that of the international community.  According to human rights lawyer, Edem Semedlyaev, an application to the European Court of Human Rights over Memedeminov’s imprisonment is already being prepared.

Human Rights in Ukraine, Tuesday, 22 September 2020: 17 years after Russia’s Supreme Court passed a secret ruling declaring a peaceful organization ‘terrorist’, three judges from that same court have upheld sentences of up to 24 years against 19 men who have committed no crime and whose involvement in that peaceful organization was never proven.  The ruling is a shocking travesty of justice and one that Ukraine should not ignore, as Russia is staging the same fatally flawed ‘trials’ in occupied Crimea.  The appeal hearings, against the sentences passed on 30 July 2018, had been continuing for many months, and there had seemed a flickering hope of some limited modicum of justice.  Despite a formidable team of lawyers, nobody seriously expected the judges to be courageous enough to overturn 19 manifestly wrongful sentences, but they could have at least reduced them. However, on 21 September presiding judge Igor Vladimirovich Krupnov, together with Aleksandr Vladimirovich Voronov and Oleg Anatolyevich Derbilov,  upheld all of the sentences, reducing only one – that against Khalil Mustafin – from 22 to 21 years.   All of the defendants were recognized as political prisoners by the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre back in 2016, and the lawyers had presented a massive amount of evidence demonstrating the flawed nature of the charges; the likely use of torture and falsifications, but to no avail.  The lawyers now plan to turn to the European Court of Human Rights, with well-known human rights lawyer, Karina Moskalenko taking this under her control.  


Meduza, Friday, 25 September 2020: Yalta Mayor Ivan Imgrunt has fired his deputy over statements he made in support of the protests in Belarus. The former deputy mayor, Mikhail Zagortsev — who held this post for just four days — used to be a district official in Belarus. “His statements are incompatible with holding this position,” the Yalta mayor told the newswire Kryminform. In conversation with RIA NovostiImgrunt said that the decision was made over an interview Zagortsev gave in August, which the Yalta leadership didn’t know about when he was hired as an official. On Instagram, Imgrunt clarified that he dismissed his deputy following an investigation into “video materials involving Zagortsev, M. G., about supporting the Belarusian opposition.”

The Moscow Times, 25 September 2020: Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, voiced his support for the Belarusian opposition Thursday as the country continues to see mass protests against long-serving strongman Alexander Lukashenko. His statement came the day after Lukashenko was sworn into office in a secret ceremony following more than a month of unprecedented protests against his disputed re-election on Aug. 9. “I respect the Republic [of Belarus] and love the Belarusian people…They have now shown their true strong character — that’s very good,” Gorbachev, 89, said in an interview with the Podyom media outlet. The ex-Soviet leader said that he is closely following the developments in Belarus and described the mass arrests of protesters on the day of Lukashenko’s secret inauguration as “devilish.” Gorbachev voiced hope that protesters’ efforts will be rewarded, but acknowledged that there is still a lot of work left to do. “There is a colossal amount of work ahead… All of it is for the current youth to take on.”

Human rights ombudsmen

RAPSI, Tuesday, 22 September 2020: The Office of Russia’s Rights Commissioner Tatiana Moskalkova continues its work on improvement of the legal status of regional Ombudsmen, the body’s press service informs RAPSI on Tuesday. Thus, representatives of the federal Rights Commissioner took part in a meeting of the State Duma Committee on the Federative Framework and Local Governments convened to discuss a bill envisaging adaptation of the law on regional authorities to provisions of a new law on regional Ombudsmen signed by the President on March 18. Regional Ombudsmen register numerous applications of citizens, what is evidence that people see this institution as a real mechanism helping in the settlement of difficult real-life situations and restoration of justice; therefore it is important that people residing in different regions have equal opportunities and instruments to protect their rights, Moskalkova observed on her Instagram page.

National Guard

RFE/RL, Tuesday, 22 September 2020: Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the introduction of “military-political work” in the country’s National Guard, paving the way for Soviet-style ideological political education within its ranks. A decree signed by Putin on September 21 gave no details about what the new practice would entail. But it comes after National Guard (Rosgvardia) head Viktor Zolotov announced plans to introduce “an institute of military-political instructors” within Russia’s federal service.


Human Rights Watch, Monday, 21 September 2020: “Please tell them to send more trains!” I heard this repeated often last week while visiting a temporary migrant camp on Russia’s border with Kazakhstan, filled with Uzbek migrants desperate to be repatriated home to Uzbekistan. People started flocking to the camp, near the Kinel train station in Russia’s Samara region, in late August from around Russia. The camp is designed for 900, but officials say over 4,000 people are there, including at least 43 children. They all want to get on a train bound for Uzbekistan, but trains run only weekly and can hold around 950 people. Repatriating the camp’s current inhabitants could take over a month, not to mention those who continue to arrive daily. Migrant workers in Russia were hard hit by the financial consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, and with effectively no social support from the Russian government or their own embassies, many have long wanted to return home. In response to Covid-19, Russia and Uzbekistan, like many countries, closed their borders. Migrants faced erratic and ad hoc repatriation measures. Lacking information and fearing the reintroduction of more stringent travel restrictions later in the year, many have latched on to rumors that they can catch a train home.

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