Our selection of human rights news from the past week.
Other news from the past week:
Victims of Political Repression
International Federation for Human Rights, Friday, 27 November 2020: Yesterday, the Russian Parliament held its first reading of a draft legislation amending the 1991 law ’On the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repressions’. If adopted, the law would undermine the right of over a thousand elderly Russian citizens, the so-called ’Children of the Gulag’, to return to the place of residence of their deported parents, as guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Law. FIDH and its partner organisation in Moscow believe that the law should be rejected in its entirety. On 26 November 2020, the Russian Parliament began deliberations on a draft legislation amending the Rehabilitation Law, introduced by the government in July 2020 in response to Russia’s Constitutional Court’s ruling 10 December 2019 in favour of reparations for Soviet-era deportees. The legislation under consideration, which passed the first reading, contradicts this Constitutional Court decision. The 1991 Rehabilitation Law provides for the right of deportees to housing in the city where their family lived at the time of the repression. But this law has not worked for years due to ineffective implementing legislation. In March 2019, three children of Soviet-era deportees brought a complaint before the Constitutional Court. All three were born in exile to families once deported from Moscow. They were represented by lawyers of the Institute of Law and Public Policy, a Moscow-based NGO.
Freedom of expression
Human Rights Watch, Monday, 23 November 2020: On November 19, a draft law was submitted to Russia’s parliament that would give authorities power to block websites that have censored Russian state media content. The bill claims these websites violate Russians’ right of access to information. According to the bill’s explanatory note, since April 2020, Russian authorities recorded at least 20 incidents in which platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube censored content from state-owned Russian media companies such as RT, RiaNovosti, and others. Earlier this month, authorities claimed Google intentionally excluded videos of a journalist with Russia’s main state television station from YouTube’s Trending page. In October, Moscow court ordered Google to lift the age restrictions the company imposed on a documentary about the 2004 school siege in Beslan, which featured violent images.
RAPSI, Monday, 23 November 2020: The Presnensky District Court of Moscow on Monday put on hold a defamation lawsuit lodged by Alexey Navalny against the President’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, RAPSI learnt from the court’s press service. Probably, the claim was written with mistakes or there were no all needed documents, a representative of the court said. Navalny seeks to declare certain statements by Peskov about situation with the plaintiff’s illness untrue and defaming. He also demands refutation of the statements on the official Kremlin website. There are no monetary claims, the court’s representative noted.
RFE/RL, Tuesday, 24 November 2020: Unknown arsonists destroyed a car belonging to a journalist at an independent news outlet in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in an attack that the reporter’s employer sees as linked to her professional activities. The Znak.com news website said on November 24 that the car of its reporter, Marina Malkova, was torched overnight. Malkova, the media outlet said, was at home when she heard a loud noise. When she looked outside, her car was in flames. Security cameras recorded two unknown persons fleeing the site after the apparent arson attack.
RFE/RL, Tuesday, 24 November 2020: Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on the Russian parliament to dismiss a new bill giving authorities the power to block websites that have censored Russian state media content, saying it would increase censorship in Russia. Anastasia Zlobina, coordinator for Europe and Central Asia at HRW, said in a statement on November 23 that global Internet companies’ “often opaque and inconsistent policies and practices around removing or moderating online content deserve criticism. “But totally blocking online platforms used by millions of Russians, as this bill proposes, does the opposite of protecting access to information,” she said. The new draft law, which was submitted to parliament on November 19, would introduce a registry for “website owners” that censor “information of public importance,” if the authorities deem the censorship to be “discriminatory or based on economic and political sanctions against Russia.”
RFE/RL, Tuesday, 24 November 2020: Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has opened a case against U.S. tech giant Google for allegedly failing to remove banned content from its search engine. Roskomnadzor said on November 23 that Google had not removed up to 30 percent of “dangerous content” from its search engine. “The company is accused of failing to comply with the requirements of Russian legislation on the removal of Internet resources containing information banned in Russia from search results,” Roskomnadzor said in a statement. Some of the alleged dangerous content involved extremism, pornography, and promoting suicide, it said.
The Moscow Times, Thursday, 26 November 2020: Facebook has paid Russian authorities a 4 million ruble ($53,000) fine over its refusal to comply with controversial data localization laws. Under laws which came into force in 2016, Russia requires all foreign technology companies to store data related to their Russian customers and users on servers located inside Russia. Campaigners saw the law as an attempt by Russia to exert more control over the country’s relatively free online space. Authorities previously blocked Microsoft-owned LinkedIn for refusing to comply. A Moscow court said Thursday that Facebook had paid the fine, which was levied in February, and that proceedings against the U.S. technology giant have been dropped, Russian state-run news agencies reported. Russian authorities started proceedings against both Facebook and Twitter in 2018. The companies responded by questioning the regulations and were separately fined a symbolic 3,000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with rules on sharing user data with law enforcement.
RAPSI, Friday, 27 November 2020: A bill envisaging a ban on the public demonstration of images of Nazi criminals in the territory of the Russian Federation has been submitted to the lower house of Russia’s Parliament. Lately, some high profile incidents related to the public demonstration of Nazi criminals’ images have been registered in Russia. Shops and various websites freely sell a range of souvenir products bearing images of persons, who committed war crimes during WWII. Hence this draft law aimed to stop glorification of war criminals within Russia’s national territory, where dozens of millions of Russian citizens fell victim to the abdominal Nazi regime and its allies, an explanatory note to the document reads.
Meduza, Friday, 30 November 2020: Prosecutors in Russia’s western Oryol region have managed to get postage stamps featuring a portrait of Nazi Germany’s leader Adolf Hitler withdrawn from sale. According to the head of the Karelia-based community organization that printed the stamps, they were meant to underscore the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War. The Oryol Regional Prosecutor’s Office, on the other hand, concluded that the stamps violate Russia’s federal law banning the use of Nazi symbols.
Freedom of assembly
RFE/RL, Saturday, 21 November 2020: Russia’s opposition has long played a cat-and-mouse game with the state, using seemingly any and all legal means at its disposal to skirt increasingly restrictive laws on public assembly and protest. When authorities banned unsanctioned street rallies in 2014, for example, activists continued to get their message out by organizing “strolls” through major cities, or gathering to “feed pigeons” in central squares. When even these brought mass arrests, demonstrators lined up outside government buildings to stage single-person pickets, the one form of spontaneous street protest permissible under Russian law. “The ingenuity of some citizens is at a very high level,” lawmaker Dmitry Vyatkin told the Kommersant newspaper this week. In response, Vyatkin and other pro-Kremlin lawmakers introduced draft legislation that would leave little room for such improvisation, raising the stakes for Russia’s embattled opposition ahead of crucial elections to the State Duma, parliament’s lower house, next year. Bills authored by Vyatkin would recognize picket lines as illegal public demonstrations, ban protests outside buildings that house law enforcement agencies, and introduce criminal liability for rally organizers who receive money from abroad. The proposed changes, Kremlin critics say, are indicative of a pattern that makes activism more and more fraught with danger.
RAPSI, Friday, 27 November 2020: The Petushinsky District Court of Russia’s Vladimir Region on Friday rejected a parole bid filed by activist Konstantin Kotov convicted of repeated violations of a rally holding order, the court’s press service reported. Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court convicted and sentenced Kotov to 4 years in jail in September 2019. A month later, the Moscow City Court upheld the verdict. He filed a cassation appeal against the ruling. In early March, the Second Cassation Court of General Jurisdiction returned the case of Kotov to a lower court for reconsideration. In April, the Moscow City Court reduced a 4-year prison sentence passed on Kotov to 1.5 years. The court included in the sentence the term Kotov spent in detention from August 13, 2019 to April 20, 2020.
RAPSI, Friday, 27 November 2020: Activist Eduard Malyshevsky imprisoned for assault on a police officer at the unauthorized rally held in Moscow on July 27, 2019 was denied release on parole on Friday, RAPSI was told in the Uvinsky District Court in Russia’s Udmurt Republic. A representative of the penal colony where the convict is serving sentence objected to his parole claiming that Malyshevsky had negative recommendations because of repeated violations of the required order and was subject to disciplinary sanctions more than 15 times. The court considered Malyshevsky’s motion and case papers, heard arguments of the convict, his attorney, prosecutors’ conclusions and decided to reject the parole bid. Malyshevsky was sentenced to 3 years in a penal colony in December. He was found guilty of using violence against a representative of authority. In January, the Moscow City Court reduced the sentence by 3 months.
Meduza, Wednesday, 25 November 2020: On November 23, Olga Baranets — the so-called “public commissioner for the protection of the family” from a St. Petersburg-based community group — filed a police report requesting that administrative charges be brought against the director of School Number 962 in Moscow for violating Russia’s “gay propaganda” law. Baranets claimed that teachers at the school instructed students in a fifth grade class to draw rainbows as an LGBTQ symbol. According to parents and teachers however, the drawings were part of a lesson marking the International Day of Tolerance (November 16) and the subject of LGBTQ people was never actually raised in class.
Caucasian Knot, Tuesday, 24 November 2020: About 250 Azerbaijani citizens stay at the “Ogonyok” camp in the Kaitag District of Dagestan and await their return home. The tent camp near the village of Kullar was dismantled with the onset of cold weather. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that for the Azerbaijani citizens, who failed to return to their country due to the borders closed because of coronavirus, a temporary accommodation centre (TAC) was set up near the Dagestani village of Kullar. The camp residents were sent home in groups every week, but due to the hostilities in the Karabakh conflict zone on September 29, sending of another group was cancelled. On October 20, the dispatch of Azerbaijanis home was resumed.
Caucasian Knot, Tuesday, 24 November 2020: The official COVID-19 death statistics fails to explain the dramatic increase in mortality in Russia, says the “Mediazona” study released on November 23. The authors have put Chechnya and North Ossetia in the top ten Russian regions notable for the least transparent statistics of coronavirus deaths. According to the data of the “Rosstat” (Russian Federal State Statistics Service), in April-September 2020, 106,000 more people died in Russia than the previous five-year average over the same period. According to “Rospotrebnadzor” (Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing), only 20,698 of these 106,000 people died from coronavirus. The following four regions of Southern Russia have country’s worst performance: Dagestan, where the mortality during the pandemic went up by 58.6% compared to the same periods in 2015-2019; Chechnya (53%), Ingushetia (37.7%) and Kalmykia (30.2%). This figure is also high in North Ossetia, at 26.5%.
RAPSI, Monday, 23 November 2020: Lawmaker from the United Russia party Dmitry Vyatkin has submitted a bill on stiffer administrative fines for insubordination to law enforcement officers to the State Duma. The initiative stipulates fines from 2,000 to 4,000 ($26 – 50) rubles for disobedience to the police orders. Repeated offences would result in fines from 10,000 to 20,000 rubles ($130 – 260). Moreover, community service is envisaged as an alternative punishment for such violations, an explanatory note to the draft law reads.
RFE/RL, Monday, 23 November 2020: A Russian court has cleared the head and deputy head of a prison in the Russian city of Yaroslavl of involvement in the brutal torture of an inmate. Lower-ranking officers received sentences ranging from three to more than four years. The prosecution had insisted that the torture of Yevgeny Makarov was conducted on the orders of the prison directors. Video footage of the beating emerged in 2018, provoking a public outcry.
RAPSI, Thursday, 26 November 2020: The number of complaints submitted by persons held in penitentiary facilities to Russia’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Tatiana Moskalkova has increased. Every fifth application had been filed with the Ombudsman’s Office from custody, Moskalkova said at a training workshop for rights commissioners which took place in Moscow on Monday. According to the Federal Ombudsman, in 2020 she received 4,061 complaints from penitentiary facilities as compared to 3,567 in 2019 and 3,131 in 2018. Moskalkova pointed increase in the applications touching such problems as provision of medical services, jail conditions, illegal actions of penal officers and requests for sentence serving near home and release from punishment (parole, illnesses).
Meduza, Tuesday, 24 November 2020: Moscow’s Information Technology Department has is soliciting bids to develop a system that will build detailed “digital profiles” for all users of municipal services, as well as constantly monitor the activities of Muscovites throughout the city and at municipal facilities. The website Open Media first reported the 280-million-ruble ($3.7-million) contract’s appearance. Although the system is reportedly designed to collect information anonymously, experts warn that it could include surveillance mechanisms and that abuse of the system could result in people’s personal information ending up on the black market.
Amnesty International, Monday, 23 November 2020: On 22 October, the Dmitrovgrad town court, in Russia’s Ulyanovsk region, rejected the parole application of 21-year-old human rights defender Yan Sidorov. Yan Sidorov and his friend Vladislav Mordasov are prisoners of conscience, serving sentences of four years for trying to organise a peaceful protest in November 2017 in support of dozens of Rostov-on-Don residents who had lost their houses in mass fires. Yan Sidorov is appealing the decision.
RAPSI, Wednesday, 25 November 2020: The Moscow City Court will continue hearing appeals against sentence of defendants in the New Greatness (“Novoe Velichie”) movement case on December 2, RAPSI reports from the courtroom. The court adjourned the appeals because the movement’s alleged leader Ruslan Kostylenkov had not been notified of the hearing date and another defendant Petr Karamzin had not studied case materials yet. The defendants and their defense insist on acquittal. Prosecutors have also challenged sentence delivered in the case.
RFE/RL, Tuesday, 24 November 2020: Russian historian Yury Dmitriyev, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison on a controversial child sexual-abuse charge that he and his supporters have rejected as politically motivated, has gone on trial on a new charge of producing child pornography. The Petrozavodsk City Court in Russia’s northwestern region of Karelia began the hearing on November 24 behind closed doors, citing coronavirus measures. Last week, Karelia’s Ombudsman Gennady Sarayev said that investigators claim that they found pornographic films on Dmitriyev’s computer and have decided to charge the noted gulag researcher with producing child pornography. Dmitriyev has already been acquitted on a similar charge in the past. Sarayev said on November 18 that Dmitriyev, who is also the head of the local branch of the Memorial human rights organization, faces up to an additional 10 years in prison if found guilty.
Human Rights in Ukraine, Tuesday, 24 November 2020: A replica concentration camp for schoolchildren has been built in Karelia (northern Russia), with the first kids due to be taken there for a ‘patriotic weekend’ in December. The initiative is funded by a presidential grant and coincides with officially sponsored efforts to rewrite history by claiming that ‘thousands’ of the nine thousand victims of the Soviet Terror buried in mass graves at Sandarmokh were Soviet soldiers killed in the War. This is by no means the only ‘historical readjustment’ currently underway in Russia, but is especially sinister as one historian has already died in prison, and another, Yury Dmitriev, is facing up to 20 years’ imprisonment on evidently absurd charges.
Human Rights in Ukraine, Monday, 23 November 2020: Air pistols; automatic rifles; sniper and air rifles have been purchased for the Artek children’s camp in occupied Crimea, with this Russia’s latest criminal use of weapons to attract Crimean children to the occupiers’ army and to inculcate a war-focused notion of ‘patriotism’. All of this, human rights activists stress, is part of a major war crime that Russia is committing on illegally occupied territory. The weapons, purchased as part of a tender for an ‘interactive laser trainer’, will almost certainly be used for so-called ‘military-patriotic’ activities linked with the Russian Defence Ministry’s ‘Yunarmia’ or ‘Youth Army’. In November 2019, for example, Yunarmia was involved in a purportedly ‘educational program’ for child ‘soldiers’ from different parts of Russia and ran an event for what Russia calls its ‘Day of the Conscript’ entitled ‘You and I are fated to serve Russia’. The conscription Russia has illegally imposed on occupied Crimea has nothing at all to do with ‘fate’, and is in flagrant violation of international law. Russia has been repeatedly condemned for such behaviour by the UN General Assembly; OSCE; the EU and most democratic states. Since it has, however, seriously curtailed freedom of speech since it invaded and annexed Crimea, it is probably hoping that most people do not know this. Many young men have been forced into exile because they were unwilling to do Russian military service and the Crimean Human Rights Group is aware of at least 145 criminal prosecutions of Crimeans for not responding to such illegal call-ups.
Human Rights in Ukraine, Tuesday, 24 November 2020: Russia’s FSB have accused 63-year-old Oleh Prykhodko of planning serious terrorist attacks, yet they stopped searching his two garages after ‘finding’ a bucket with a small amount of explosives in the first garage. The phone, which the defence believe was also planted, has the wrong dates and is registered in somebody else’s name, but this too the FSB saw no need to investigate. During the 13th hearing in Rostov (Russia) on 18 November, the defence asked a huge number of technical questions about the phone, its location and registration, which Prykhodko was clearly not following. His daughter and friends have all confirmed in court that the 63-year-old’s technical skills stretch far enough to enable him to make calls and use Skype, but absolutely not send text messages and use a memory drive, both of which form part of the surreal charges against him.
Meduza, Wednesday, 25 November 2020: The Hague District Court has rejected a request from the defendants in the MH17 case to investigate alternative explanations for the plane crash, reports the Russian state news agency TASS. The petition was filed in June by the defense attorneys representing one of the accused, Russian citizen Oleg Pulatov. The defense requested more time to investigate an alternative scenarios alleging that the plane was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet or a Buk missile fired by the Ukrainian army. The prosecutor opposed the request on the grounds that in order to justify investigating alternative explanations for the plane crash, Pulatov’s defense attorneys would have to find evidence of inconsistencies in the main version of the events, which they had not done. Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the defense had not provided clear alternative scenarios for an investigation, Reuters reports.
Human Rights in Ukraine, Thursday, 26 November 2020: Ukraine’s Crimean Prosecutor has passed to the court an indictment against a turncoat ‘judge’, involved in Russia’s politically-motivated persecution of Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader, Ilmi Umerov. This is the second such indictment with the first against Andrei Sergeevich Kulishov who, on 27 September 2017, handed down a two-year sentence, despite preposterous charges; a falsified transcript of the interview Umerov had given; and the latter’s very serious health issues. The Crimea and Sevastopol prosecutor informed on 24 November 2020 that the charges, sent to the court, are against a former judge of the Bakhchysarai District Court of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, under Article 111 § 1 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code (state treason). Their investigation has established that after Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea, the individual betrayed his oath of allegiance to Ukraine and began working for the illegally-formed ‘courts’ of the aggressor state. In his work, “he provided aid to a foreign state in carrying out subversive activities against Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The accused also “took a direct part in carrying out the policy of the occupying state aimed at persecuting Ukrainian citizens who oppose the occupation of the peninsula. The said ‘judge’ illegally applied Russian legislation, for example, during consideration of ‘administrative protocols’ drawn up against one of the leaders of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people”.
Human Rights in Ukraine, Friday, 27 November 2020: In August 2020, Vladimir Domnin was sentenced in Russia to 9 years’ imprisonment for supporting Ukraine in the conflict in Donbas and the court is now claiming to have not received either his appeal against the sentence, or other complaints and applications regarding the case. The Memorial Human Rights Centre, which has declared Domnin a political prisoner, reports that Domnin’s lawyer, Igor Popovsky visited the Second Western District Military Court on 17 November and was told that nothing had been registered from Domnin. This is despite the latter having sent two complaints and two applications to see the material of the case, as well as a brief appeal against the sentence sent back in August.