Rights in Russia week-ending 27 March 2020


Watchdogs Warn Human Rights Could Be Collateral Damage In Fight Against COVID-19

As countries around the world take extraordinary steps to fight the coronavirus pandemic, global watchdogs are concerned that human rights and civil liberties could become a casualty. In crafting their individual response to the deadly COVID-19 crisis, many governments are invoking emergency powers and introducing measures that observers warn could be abused for political gain and could be difficult to revoke when the crisis passes. RFE/RL, 26 March 2020

Coronavirus could crash Russia’s already overstretched healthcare system

Russia’s healthcare system was already working at full capacity before coronavirus. We spoke to one of the people organising Russian healthcare workers on workloads, optimisation and wages. Open Democracy, 25 March 2020

People Who Violate Coronavirus Quarantine Should Be Killed, Chechen Leader Says

Anyone who violates their coronavirus quarantine and infects others should be punished with death, the leader of Russia’s republic of Chechnya said Tuesday. Ramzan Kadyrov made the statement at a Chechen government meeting after the majority Muslim republic confirmed its first three coronavirus infections. He pointed to a Chechen resident who returned from a visit to Mecca and didn’t comply with quarantine. The Moscow Times, 25 March 2020

Russia’s Pretrial Prisons Vulnerable as COVID-19 Spreads

Some of the world’s top human rights bodies are issuing guidelines for how governments should deal with preventing and fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in prisons, and with good reason. People in custody do not enjoy the same hygiene and sanitation protections as those outside, and live in close proximity to each other, so the virus can be easily spread. Human Rights Watch, 24 March 2020

Russian official questions Putin over coronavirus

When Vladimir Putin sat down for a briefing on coronavirus, Moscow’s mayor had a tough message for him: the number of infected people is far higher than you’ve been told, he said, and Russia’s healthcare system could be overrun. The Guardian, 24 March 2020

Contagious Solidarity: As Russia Faces Growing COVID-19 Crisis, Independent Activists Gear Up To Help

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Aleksandra Krylenkova is a human rights activist with a long track record. In recent months, she has been campaigning in support of the defendants in the so-called Network (Set) case, a terrorism prosecution that many believe was trumped up by the Federal Security Service. She has also publicized alleged human rights abuses in Ukraine’s Crimea region, which was seized by Russia in 2014. Now, like the rest of the world, Krylenkova is turning her attention to the COVID-19 pandemic. RFE/RL, 25 March 2020

Four rooms Muscovites infected with coronavirus describe life under hospitalization

According to data released on March 24, Russia has confirmed 495 cases of coronavirus, mostly in Moscow. People in the capital who test positive for COVID-19 and those who are suspected of having contracted the disease are sent to a medical center in Moscow’s Kommunarka community. On social media, patients at this hospital have praised the living conditions, writing about comfortable beds and delicious meals served five times a day. Many have also complained, however, about shortages of needed medications, long waits for test results, and doctors who won’t answer their questions. Meduza, 25 March 2020

Russian Military Says Busloads of Troops Near Moscow ‘Routine’

Russian National Guard troops have been deployed in Moscow as part of a planned action that should not cause panic, the military branch said Thursday. Footage of a Moscow-bound bus convoy with men in military fatigues circulated widely online that day. Coupled with Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s closure of public gathering places for a week starting Saturday, the sighting prompted speculation that authorities could place the Russian capital under a full lockdown. The Moscow Times, 27 March 2020

Freedom of expression

Chechen blogger and government critic Tumso Abdurakhmanov: ‘I am constantly at risk’

Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a prominent blogger critical of the Chechen authorities, survived a violent assault in his home in Swedish town of Gävle on February 26, 2020. Two Russian nationals have been arrested in connection with the attack, according to a report by Agence France-Presse. CPJ documented the incident and spoke to the blogger after his release from police custody. CPJ, 16 March 2020

CPJ Calls On Russia To Stop Censoring News Outlets Reporting On COVID-19

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged Russian authorities “to stop censoring news outlets” that report on the coronavirus outbreak in the country. Citing staffers at two media outlets, the New York-based freedom-of-speech watchdog said on March 24 that Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, had ordered articles to be removed from their websites and social media and threatened them with fines. RFE/RL, 25 March 2020

Accused Of Downplaying COVID-19 Figures, Kremlin Clamps Down On ‘Fake News’

MOSCOW — On March 16, the day Russia recorded a spike in coronavirus cases and officials began urging the population not to panic, political analyst and Kremlin critic Valery Solovei made a guest appearance on the radio station Ekho Moskvy. RFE/RL, 24 March 2020

‘Pro-Western’ Activists Posing as Journalists Are Infiltrating Russia’s Military, Defense Minister Claims

Members of a “pro-Western opposition division” in Russia are posing as journalists to “hide behind” the country’s mass media law and infiltrate its military facilities, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday. Speaking to Russia’s upper chamber of parliament, Shoigu urged lawmakers to change the nation’s mass media law to counter so-called “information attacks.” The Moscow Times, 25 March 2020

One of Russia’s most respected newspapers has a new chief editor. He reportedly says he doesn’t read the paper, the owners should be able to edit stories, and Harvey Weinstein isn’t so bad

On March 24, the staff of the established Russian newspaper Vedomosti was introduced by its new co-owner, Konstantin Zyatkov, to its new editor-in-chief, Andrey Shmarov. In Russia’s early post-Soviet years, Shmarov was the science editor for Kommersant, and he later became the CEO of the online general interest outlet Snob. Meduza, 24 March 2020

Russian media regulator orders 2 outlets to take down COVID-19 reports

Vilnius, Lithuania, March 24, 2020 — Russian authorities should stop censoring news outlets reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak and allow journalists to report freely and safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. On March 20, Russia’s state media regulator, Roskomnadzor, ordered liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy and independent news site Govorit Magadan to remove articles about the COVID-19 outbreak from their websites and social media, according to staffers at those outlets, who spoke to CPJ, and media reports. CPJ, 24 March 2020

Russia suppresses coronavirus information at home, manipulates it abroad

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned to see the Russian government stepping up control of domestic reporting in connection with the coronavirus epidemic while, according to the European Union, conducting a disinformation campaign about it internationally. Russian journalists covering the coronavirus are being targeted by Roskomnadzor, the media control agency that RSF has included in its list of Digital Predators of Press Freedom. RSF, 26 March 2020

Russia Orders Twitter, Facebook to Delete ‘Fake’ Coronavirus News

The takedown orders come amid public suspicion toward Russia’s officially reported coronavirus numbers, which jumped to 840 on Thursday.Sergei Kiselyov / Moskva News Agency Russia’s state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor said it has asked Twitter and Facebook to delete “fake” stories surrounding the deadly coronavirus pandemic. The Moscow Times, 26 March 2020

Journalist Faces Prison for Radio Comment: Svetlana Prokopyeva

Journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva is facing criminal charges of “justification of terrorism”, punishable by seven years in prison, for her comment on a local radio station in Pskov, north-western Russia, made on 8 November 2018. She criticised the government and expressed her views on why youth are radicalized. The charges against Svetlana Prokopyeva stem solely from her exercise of her right to freedom of expression and should be dropped. Amnesty International, 27 March 2020

Russian Journalist Charged With Extremism Laments State’s ‘Black PR’ Campaign Against Her

MOSCOW — On March 25, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu gave a speech to parliament in which he warned that a “pro-Western opposition division,” supposedly trained and funded by outside forces, was sneaking onto military bases and hospitals across the country and publishing classified information relating to the Russian Army. RFE/RL, 26 March 2020

Right of Association

Continued harassment of environmental rights organisation Ecodefense!

On 13 March 2020, human rights defender and co-chair of Ecodefense! Vladimir Slivyak was detained during a protest against coal mining in Novokuznetsk and held at a police station for half an hour. On the same day, police stopped a bus with participants of a press tour on coal mining organised by Ecodefense! and held it up for an hour near Novokuznetsk without providing any explanation. This is not the first time Ecodefense! has been targeted for its peaceful human rights activities. Frontline Defenders, 16 March 2020

“This is a public execution”: Russian activist Anastasia Shevchenko on a year of house arrest

Shevchenko is the first Russian citizen on trial for working for a foreign organisation. Open Democracy, 17 March 2020

EU Criticizes Russia For Labeling Brussels-Based Organization ‘Undesirable’

The European Union says it rejects Russia’s decision earlier this month to designate the Brussels-based European Endowment for Democracy (EED) an “undesirable” organization. In a statement on March 27, the EU urged the Russian authorities to remove the EED from its list of “undesirable” organizations, saying EED “represents tenets and principles that are also enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.” The EED is a joint initiative of EU institutions and member states. RFE/RL, 27 March 2020

Right of Assembly

HRD Lev Ponomarev detained during peaceful protest and beaten by police

On 14 March 2020, human rights defender Lev Ponomarev was violently detained during a peaceful protest against political repression held in front of the Federal Security Service (FSS) headquarters in Moscow. He was taken to a police station, where he was beaten. He was released on the same day and had to be hospitalised. Frontline Defenders, 20 March 2020

Protester’s sentence for assault on police officer at Moscow rally mitigated

MOSCOW, March 27 (RAPSI) – The Second Cassation Court of General Jurisdiction has changed a place of serving sentence given to protester Danila Beglets for using violence against a police officer at an unauthorized rally held in Moscow on July 27 from penal colony to penal colony settlement, lawyer of the International Advocacy Group Agora Leonid Solovyev. The 2-year term meanwhile was upheld. He was convicted and sentenced to 2 years in jail in October. RAPSI, 27 March 2020

Freedom of Religion

As coronavirus spreads, the Russian Orthodox Church stays open and flouts Moscow’s calls to avoid religious sites

The Russian Orthodox Church says it will not close cathedrals and churches next week in Moscow, during the national holiday called yesterday by President Putin to curb the spread of coronavirus. The church issued this statement in defiance of Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, who has asked Muscovites to refrain from visiting religious sites next week. Meduza, 26 March 2020

Russia Overturns First Jehovah’s Witnesses Convictions

A Russian court has overturned the convictions of six Jehovah’s Witnesses accused of extremism, marking the first instance of the group’s worshippers having their verdicts overturned in Russia, the group announced Wednesday. The court in Penza, some 550 kilometers southeast of Moscow, handed five adherents suspended two-year prison sentences in December. The sixth worshipper, Vladimir Alushkin, was jailed for six years after an investigation had shown that he had continued to run the local Jehovah’s Witnesses branch despite the group being outlawed in Russia. The Moscow Times, 26 March 2020

Facial Recognition

Russian Shops Test Facial-Payment Technology, Possible Rollout In 2020

Russia is testing facial-payment technology at supermarkets and could roll it out on a large scale by the middle of the year. VTB, Russia’s second-largest lender, is testing the technology in the Lenta supermarket chain, the head of the bank’s digital division told Izvestia. RFE/RL, 22 March 2020

Coronavirus Outbreak Is Major Test for Russia’s Facial Recognition Network

On Feb. 21, as the coronavirus claimed its first victims in Italy and Iran, Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin took to his official blog to reassure the citizens of the Russian capital. Emphasizing that Moscow was still, for now, free of the virus, he announced a string of new measures to keep it that way. Chinese citizens would be banned from entering Russia, those already in Russia would be tracked down and monitored and potential carriers would be ordered into self-isolation. The Moscow Times, 25 March 2020

Moscow Silently Expands Surveillance of Citizens

Moscow’s officials are forging ahead with installing one of the world’s biggest surveillance camera systems equipped with facial recognition technology, despite protests from activists. The system is ostensibly to help in the fight against COVID-19 as facial recognition cameras are being used to ensure that everyone placed under self-quarantine stays off the streets. Human Rights Watch, 25 March 2020


Children’s Ombudsman urges ministry to protect Russian HIV-infected minors

MOSCOW, March 25 (RAPSI) – Russia’s Children Rights Commissioner Anna Kuznetsova has asked Minister of Labor and Social Policy Anton Kotyakov to undertake measures aimed to prevent violation of the right to social assistance of HIV-infected minors not registered as disabled persons, the ombudsman’s press-service informs on Wednesday. RAPSI, 25 March 2020

The Constitution

Putin Postpones Vote On Constitutional Changes Due To Coronavirus

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has postponed an April 22 vote on sweeping constitutional changes that could allow him to remain in power until 2036 because of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. Speaking in a live television broadcast on March 25, Putin said a new date for balloting will be determined based on the recommendations of health experts. RFE/RL, 25 March 2020

The Appeal to the Council of Europe on Amendments to the Russian Constitution Received Strong Support from Russian Citizens

The appeal to the Council of Europe asking the Venice Commission for an urgent legal examination of the amendments to the Russian Constitution and the procedures for their adoption has been signed by more than a hundred thousand Russian citizens in a week. Among the many recent protests in Russia in response to what many have called a ’constitutional coup’ and an ‘usurpation of power’, this initiative has received the most active support of Russian citizens. A number of media outlets including “Ekho Moskvy”, “Meduza”, “Novaya Gazeta”, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, “Vedomosti” and others have written about the initiative and its strong support in the population. EU-Russia Civil Society Form, 19 March 2020 [?]

Global Warming

Life in Earth’s deepest deep freeze – in pictures

It is one of chilliest spots on the planet. But it’s warming up three times faster than the rest of the world. Alexis Pazoumian captures life in the snow forests of Yakutia. The Guardian, 24 March 2020

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