Rights in Russia week-ending 27 August 2021

Our round-up of the week’s news

21 August 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Saturday reported 21,000 new coronavirus cases and 797 pandemic deaths.

The Moscow Times: Russian police Saturday detained a handful of journalists in central Moscow protesting against the government’s crackdown on independent media outlets. At least nine people, most journalists from independent outlets, including TV Dozhd, The Bell, Takie Dela and Romb, were detained Saturday afternoon in Moscow, the independent Meduza website reported. 

Amnesty International: Reacting to the news that Russia’s Ministry of Justice has branded Dozhd TV, one of the last remaining independent television channels in Russia, Vazhnye Istorii, an investigative online media organization, and seven journalists as “foreign agents,” Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, said: “These latest designations further prove that the Kremlin is unleashing its repressive “foreign agents” law against independent media and decimating unbiased reporting and investigative journalism in the country. The Russian authorities’ blatant attempt to classify independent media as “foreign agents” must end. This stifling “foreign agents” legislation must be abolished immediately.”

22 August 2021

RFE/RL: Russia reported 20,564 new coronavirus cases on August 22, taking the national tally to 6,747,087. The fresh figures include 1,661 in Moscow and 1,481 in St. Petersburg. The Russian coronavirus task force said 762 more deaths of coronavirus patients had been confirmed in the past 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 176,044.

23 August 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Monday reported 19,454 new coronavirus cases and 776 pandemic deaths.

RFE/RL: Russia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office has deemed four evangelical groups from Latvia and Ukraine as “undesirable,” saying they pose a threat to constitutional order and the country’s security.”Following the examination of materials filed in the Prosecutor-General’s Office, a decision was made to deem undesirable the following nongovernmental organizations: the New Generation International Christian Movement (Latvia), the New Generation Evangelical Christian Church (Latvia), the New Generation Spiritual Directorate of the Evangelist Christians (Ukraine), and the New Generation International Biblical College spiritual educational facility (Ukraine),” the office said in a statement on August 23.

The Moscow Times: The Kremlin was not behind Russia’s labeling of two leading independent media outlets as “foreign agents,” its spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday.  On Friday, the Justice Ministry added the Dozhd broadcaster and investigative site Important Stories (iStories), as well as six journalists from iStories, to its registry of “foreign agents.” Kremlin critics say the designations are part of an ongoing crackdown aimed at silencing critical voices ahead of September’s parliamentary elections.

RFE/RL: Russian authorities have detained a Ukrainian citizen on suspicion of espionage in the city of Tula, some 200 kilometers south of Moscow. The Federal Security Service (FSB) said on August 23 that the man, whose identity was not revealed, is suspected of collecting classified data related to Russia’s latest firearms technologies for Ukraine’s secret services.

The Moscow Times: A Russian man swam 20 kilometers from the disputed Kuril Islands to Japan to ask for political asylum, state media reported Sunday following Japanese media reports that the man had been detained in Hokkaido. Authorities in the Yuzhno-Kurilsk municipal administration said the refugee was an Urals native who had received free land on the Kuril island of Kunashir as part of Russia’s program to rejuvenate its Far East regions.

24 August 2021

The Moscow Times: Russian authorities have declared an interregional state of emergency as tough-to-contain forest fires threaten the country’s top-secret nuclear weapons research center, Interfax reported Tuesday, citing the emergencies ministry.  Wildfires have raged in the Nizhny Novgorod region and the neighboring republic of Mordovia, both roughly 500 kilometers east of Moscow, since early August.

The Moscow Times: Russia’s Justice Ministry has said that gifts from relatives and participation in international conferences are fair game for a media outlet to be labeled a “foreign agent,” a member of the presidential human rights council said Monday. Eva Merkacheva’s account of the Justice Ministry briefing appeared after the ministry added the independent Dozhd broadcaster and investigative site Important Stories (iStories) to its registry of “foreign agents” Friday.

HRW: The Russian government is not providing adequate resources for home-based services for older people, denying some of them the ability to live independent and dignified lives, Human Rights Watch said today.

OSCE: OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Teresa Ribeiro today expressed her grave concern regarding the expanding practice by Russian authorities to designate media outlets and journalists as ‘foreign agents’. Ribeiro’s comments follow the Ministry of Justice’s decision of 20 August to add the Moscow-based independent television channel Dozhd (TV Rain) and the Latvia-registered investigative media portal Vazhniye Istorii (iStories) to its list of ‘foreign agents’. On the same day, the Ministry also registered six journalists from iStories as ‘foreign agents’. 

25 August 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Wednesday reported 19,536 new coronavirus cases and 809 pandemic deaths.

CPJ: Russian authorities should cease labeling news outlets as “foreign agents,” and shou ld let all independent media companies work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Human Rights in Ukraine: A Russian-controlled ‘court’ in occupied Crimea has fined the Head of the St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki Men’s Monastery for holding a church service on the private land on which the monastery stands.  Russia, which is internationally condemned for its illegal occupation of Ukrainian Crimea, claimed that such worship constituted ‘unlawful missionary activities’.   

Human Rights Watch: The health of a Ukrainian journalist in custody in Simferopol on the Crimean peninsula is reported to be deteriorating, following alleged torture by Russian security services. Vladyslav Yesypenko, a freelance journalist who covered environmental problems and social issues in Crimea, including for U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/EL), was arrested in March 2021 on apparently fabricated charges. According to Russian security services he confessed shortly after his arrest to spying for Ukraine and to keeping a self-made explosive device in his car. He was charged with illegally obtaining and transporting explosives and unlawfully storing weapons.

The Moscow Times: Russia’s central regions on Wednesday battled “extreme” wildfires fueled by an unusual heatwave that comes after forest fires linked to climate change ravaged Siberia for most of the summer. 

The Moscow Times: Nearly two out of every five Russians have avoided buying necessities because they can’t afford them, according to a survey by the independent Levada Center pollster published Wednesday. 

RFE/RL: As the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin accelerates its campaign against independent journalism, declaring multiple investigative outlets “foreign agents,” reporters caught up in the dragnet have long been wondering why some have been targeted while others have not.

26 August 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Thursday reported 19,630 new coronavirus cases and 820 deaths, a new record fatality count since the start of the pandemic.

The Guardian: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has compared Russian prison to a Chinese labour camp and says he is forced to watch eight hours of state television a day. Navalny, who built his political career on exposing corruption in Russia, is being held in a maximum security prison colony in Pokrov, 100km east of Moscow.

RFE/RL: In his first media interview from the penal colony where he is being held, Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny discussed his life as a political prisoner, saying he was being forced to watch Russian state television and selected propaganda movies for more than eight hours a day.

RFE/RL: A Moscow court has sentenced another supporter of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny to one year of so-called “restricted freedom,” a parole-like sentence, for allegedly violating restrictive measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

RFE/RL: The Russian LGBT Network says Daghestan native Ibragim Selimkhanov was abducted earlier this year in Moscow and forcibly brought to the North Caucasus region of Chechnya, where authorities pressed him for information on gay people in the region.

The Moscow Times: A court in Moscow has fined two activists for picketing the Afghan Embassy to demand that women’s rights be protected in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. On August 25, the Presnensky district court ordered members of the SotsFem Alernativa group, Anna Pavlova and Ksenia Bezdenezhnykh, to each pay a fine of 200,000 rubles ($2,700).

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russia’s latest ‘trial’ of three Ukrainian Muslims from occupied Crimea has had to be adjourned, with the material sent back to the prosecutor for it to be translated into Braille.  The Russian court accepted that it was a violation of Oleksandr Sizikov’s rights if he could not read the indictment, etc.. It remains to be seen whether Russian judges will find the courage to reject the ‘evidence’ against Sizikov, namely the ‘prohibited Islamic literature’ which are not in Braille, yet which the FSB claimed to have found during the armed search of Sizikov’s home. The Russian prosecution is asserting that books which Sizikov could not see ‘prove’ charges that could carry a sentence of 20 years or more. 

The Moscow Times: The Russian government’s public services portal should avoid showing non-Slavic people and excessive fun in its advertising materials, its branding book that resurfaced on social media this week recommends. Russia’s Communications Ministry admitted Thursday that the 2015 brand book was “inappropriate” and plans to issue a new set of guidelines.

RFE/RL: Russian President Vladimir Putin was in a generous and agreeable mood when he attended a congress of the ruling but reeling United Russia party just weeks ahead of nationwide legislative elections. After he and party leaders considered a range of proposals on ways the pro-Kremlin party could move forward, Putin gave his stamp of approval to some new programs and sweetened others with federal funds.

The Moscow Times: Russia has fined Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp for failing to store the data of Russian users on local servers, the country’s internet watchdog said Thursday, as authorities clamp down on foreign internet companies.

27 August 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Friday reported 19,509 new coronavirus cases and 798 deaths.

The Moscow Times: Police visits of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s supporters have spread to St. Petersburg, Russian media reported early Friday after rights activists said several hundred Moscow residents were subjected to similar visits recently.

The Guardian: Russia’s leading independent media have appealed to Vladimir Putin and other top government officials to halt a crackdown on journalists under which some of the countries’ top outlets have been declared foreign agents or banned outright over the last year.

The Moscow Times: Several Russian media outlets on Friday published an open letter to President Vladimir Putin and other top officials demanding an end to the “state campaign” against independent journalism. 

RFE/RL: A court in Russia’s northwestern region of Pskov has ruled that the mass killings of Soviet citizens in the area during World War II were an act of genocide. According to the court ruling on August 27, 75,000 civilians and 377,000 military personnel were killed during the war in the Pskov region, which at the time was divided between the Leningrad and Tver regions.

RFE/RL: The Moscow City Court has refused to consider a request filed by former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was convicted in Russia on espionage charges that he denies, to transfer him home to serve the remainder of his sentence there.

The Moscow Times: Russia has slapped online travel agency Booking.com with a $17.5 million fine for “abusing” its dominant position in the market, a government regulator said Thursday.

The Moscow Times: Russia plans to rely on its forests and swamps to absorb enough greenhouse gases to meet its climate goals while continuing to increase its carbon emissions through 2050, the Kommersant business daily reported, citing the Economic Development Ministry’s draft strategy.

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