Rights in Russia week-ending 28 February 2020

Extremism laws – the Network case

Two Defendants In Russia’s High-Profile ‘Network’ Case On Trial In St. Petersburg 
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Two activists from a group known as “Set'” (Network) have gone on trial in St. Petersburg on terrorism charges that opposition figures and rights defenders have called “fabricated.” The Military Court of the 224th Garrison in Russia’s second-largest city opened the trial of Viktor Filinkov and Yuly Boyarshinov to the defendants’ relatives and several journalists on February 26, a day after the court held a 20-minute closed-door session to start the proceedings. Dozens of other people and journalists were barred from entering the courtroom. The trial started 15 days after a court in another Russian city, Penza, sentenced seven other activists of the group to prison terms of between six years and 18 years after convicting them of terrorismRFE/RL, 26 February 2020 

Defendant in controversial terrorism case says murder allegations reported by ‘Meduza’ are ‘insane’ 
Dmitry Pchelintsev, a defendant in the Penza Network case, has stated in a letter to MBK Media journalist Zoya Svetova that he has no connection to the information presented in a recent investigative report by Meduza about his alleged role in drug dealing and a potential homicide.  “To say that I’m shocked would be an understatement,” Pchelintsev wrote in his letter. “I have absolutely no connections to Ekaterina Levchenko and Artyom Dorofeyev. I’m not even sure that I understand who we’re talking about, because I haven’t seen their photographs. I can only guess that I saw Artyom when I was working as a waiter, but we didn’t speak to each other. I have no information about their disappearance, except for the story that circulated as rumors.” Meduza, 27 February 2020 

Freedom of expression

Tried on drug charge, Ingush reporter testifies he was tortured
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Russian authorities to acquit Rashid Maysigov, a journalist who has testified at his trial on a trumped-up drug possession charge in Magas, the capital of the southwestern republic of Ingushetia, that he was tortured.  Referring to an article in the Russian constitution that says citizens are not obliged to give evidence against themselves, Maysigov drew laughs from the courtroom when he testified on 18 February: “When I explained my rights under article 51, I certainly didn’t ask to be given electric shocks.” Reporters Without Borders, 21 February 2020

Moscow police officer reportedly details how he planted drugs in ‘Meduza’ journalist Ivan Golunov’s possessions
Former police officer Denis Konovalov, who has been jailed to await trial in connection with the fabricated drug case against Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov, has reportedly testified about the logistics of framing Golunov. The anonymous news outlet Baza published what it claims is a summary of and excerpts from Konovalov’s testimony. Meduza, 25 February 2020 

Russian Ex-Police Officer In High-Profile Golunov Case Transferred To House Arrest A former Russian police officer who testified against his ex-supervisor in a high-profile case on planting drugs on investigative journalist Ivan Golunov last year has been transferred to house arrest. The Basmanny district court ruled on February 26 that Denis Konovalov, who is charged with forging documents related to the probe against Golunov that sparked public outrage in June, can be transferred to house arrest from his current incarceration at a detention center. RFE/RL, 26 February 2020 

‘Assassination Attempt’ On Well-Known Chechen Blogger Raises Alarm Bells Among Watchdogs 
Media freedom watchdogs say they are alarmed over the reported assault of a well-known Chechen blogger in an unidentified European country where he lives in hiding. An assailant broke into Tumso Abdurakhmanov’s apartment on February 26 while he was asleep and beat him with a hammer, according to the Sweden-based human rights group Vayfond.RFE/RL, 28 February 2020 

Freedom of conscience

Belarus Arrests Jehovah’s Witness at Russia’s Request
Belarus has for the first time arrested a Jehovah’s Witness at Russia’s request, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia organization said Tuesday amid an ongoing crackdown on the religious group across Russia.  More than 300 believers have been charged or convicted since Russia banned the religious group as an “extremist” organization in 2017. Russian authorities have in the past year escalated the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses with raids and other forms of punishment, Human Rights Watch has saidThe Moscow Times, 26 February 2020

Freedom of assembly 

On 2 March 2020, the Second Court of Cassation in Moscow will review the case of human rights defender Konstantin Kotov, who has been sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for “repeated violation of rules governing public events” under Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code. On 27 January, Russia’s Constitutional Court ordered a review of the conviction and sentence of Konstantin Kotov noting that criminal punishment for the respective violations should be proportionate to the actual damage or public danger caused by an offence. Furthermore, it obliged courts to check if the person has criminal intent to commit such violations. Amnesty International, 27 February 2020

St. Petersburg government permits Nemtsov march after two refusals
After twice denying permits for a proposed February 29 protest in honor of assassinated opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, the government of St. Petersburg has granted permission for activists to hold a memorial march instead.  Maxim Reznik, a city-level legislator, told Interfax that the march will take place in the Petrogradsky neighborhood, away from the city’s downtown. “Of course, this isn’t the march of our dreams, but the alternative to what we’re suggesting now is mass arrests and, God forbid, violence in the middle of the city. This will essentially be a mass picket and, in many ways, a memorial event,” Reznik said. Meduza, 27 February 2020

Putin Justifies Police Violence During Unsanctioned Protests
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said protesters who took part in unsanctioned rallies last summer were provoking security forces who responded with violence. In an interview with Russian news agency TASS that was published on February 27, Putin said people who complain about being beaten by police at such rallies “must first receive permission to rally, and then express their opinions.” RFE/RL, 27 February 2020

Thousands Rally In Moscow, Other Russian Cities To Mark Anniversary Of Nemtsov Killing MOSCOW — Thousands of people have marched in Moscow and staged protests in other Russian cities, marking the anniversary of the killing of Boris Nemtsov, a charismatic Kremlin critic and former deputy prime minister who was gunned down five years ago near the Kremlin.  The February 29 demonstrations were the biggest political protests in Russia since last summer, when several weeks of anti-government meetings challenged the authorities in Moscow over local city council elections. RFE/RL, 29 February 2020 

Violence against women

Russia Reports Dramatic Rise in Rape Cases 
New rape cases in Russia have shot up by 72%, according to federal prosecutors’ criminal data cited by the state-run TASS news agency Friday.  Authorities opened 296 rape and attempted rape cases in January, 72.1% more than they did in January 2019. Rape made up 0.18% of all crimes committed in January 2020, according to the cited Prosecutor General’s Office data. The Moscow Times, 28 February 2020 

Rights of indigenous peoples

Pipeline problems for indigenous peoples on Russia’s Yamal Peninsula 
The Yamal Peninsula contains some of the biggest known reserves of natural gas on the planet. This remote peninsula in the Russian Arctic extends for 700 kilometres into the Kara Sea, and now several pipelines, offshore gas fields, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals have made it their home. Those tens of millions of cubic metres of natural gas have attracted Russia’s state-owned gas companies and several international investors; in 2008, Gazprom announced its Yamal Project, to unlock the region’s hydrocarbons on a vast scale.  Yamal is also home to 15,000 people, 10,000 of whom are Nenets reindeer herders. Indigenous rights activists have also raised concerns about what this large-scale energy extraction could mean for the Nenets and other indigenous peoples of Russia’s far north. Dmitry Berezhkov is a member of the Itelmen people from the Kamchatka Peninsula and the former vice-president of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), a Moscow-based NGO. Berezhkov says that he was pressured by the Russian security services in the capital into framing RAIPON as a threat to the state. Global Voices, 20 February 2020 

Prisoners’ rightsNumber of convicts’ complaints about convoy conditions rises fourfold – Russian ombudsman 
MOSCOW, February 28 (RAPSI) – Over the year, the number of complaints concerning respect of human rights during convoying of defendants from pretrial detention facilities to courts and to correctional facilities has risen fourfold as compared with figures registered in 2018, according to Russia’s Rights Commissioner Tatiana Moskalkova. Her office, the ombudsman said addressing a meeting held to discuss the problems related to transportation of defendants and convicts, received four times more respective complaints in 2019 than in 2018; in about 18,000 complaints submitted to the European Court of Human Rights from Russia this problem was cited almost just as frequently as that of detention conditions. RAPSI, 28 February 2020 

Boris Nemtsov

‘The Magic Of A Free Person’: Boris Nemtsov Is Remembered In The City Where He Rose To Prominence 
Stanislav Dmitriyevsky, who was in the crowd that day as a 22-year-old democratic activist, remembers being struck by the contrast between Nemtsov — a young, witty academic with distinctive black curls and a mischievous smile — and the staid, stone-faced, middle-aged bureaucrats who ran the city administration. “He embodied this whole generation of young democrats who came to power, with all their flaws and delusions,” Dmitriyevsky, now an opposition activist in a very different Russia, told RFE/RL in an interview in the city, which regained its original name, Nizhny Novgorod, in 1990. “But for all his pluses and minuses, he was alive.” RFE/RL, 25 February 2020 

U.S., European Diplomats In Moscow Mark Fifth Anniversary Of Nemtsov’s Killing
Foreign diplomats have laid flowers on the Moscow bridge where Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was fatally gunned down five years ago.  The deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Bart Gorman, and the ambassadors of several European countries were among those marking the anniversary of Nemtsov’s killing on February 27.  Gorman called on the Russian authorities to find those who masterminded and ordered Nemtsov’s killing. RFE/RL, 27 February 2020 
Life in emigration

‘Change your name and forget where you came from’ In new portraits of the latest Russian émigré wave, a journalist shares his experience coming out to his Dagestani family and remaking his life in Brooklyn 
Russian photographer Evgeny Feldman, a regular contributor to Meduza, is working to document the lives of the newest wave of Russian émigrés: those who have left the country within the past fifteen years, forming a distinct group from the migrations of the late 20th century. Feldman edits a self-published samizdat magazine whose next issue will tell nine stories from within that rapidly growing community. Meduza is featuring one of those stories, the memories of a Moscow journalist who was raised in a village in Dagestan, one of Russia’s Northern Caucasian republics. After the journalist came out as gay, he faced threats from family members and ultimately moved to New York City to begin a new life. Meduza, 27 February 2020 

Russian Constitution 

Levada Center: 25 percent of Russians favor constitutional changes; 65 percent don’t understand them 
A new survey conducted by the independent Levada Center and published by Open Media indicates that one quarter (25 percent) of Russians are willing to vote for the major constitutional changes proposed by President Vladimir Putin in January. Another 37 percent of respondents said they would participate in the nationwide vote on the measures but were not yet sure whether they would vote in favor.  23 percent of respondents said they would not take part in the vote, and 10 percent said they would vote against the measures. Meduza, 28 February 2020 

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