Rights in Russia week-ending 28 May 2021

Our round up of the week’s news

Other news from the week:

22 May 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia has confirmed 4,992,554 cases of coronavirus and 118,125 deaths, according to the national coronavirus information center. Russia’s total excess fatality count since the start of the coronavirus pandemic is above 460,000.

23 May 2021

Caucasian Knot: The apologies of the parents of a Dagestani teenager to the camera are humiliating; and Ramzan Kadyrov has reacted excessively harshly to the teen’s comment in social network, Magomed Magomedov, a journalist of the “Chernovik” (Draft) weekly, believes. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that on May 17, the head of Chechnya threatened to destroy then Instagram user for his comment “you are not a human being, you are just a shaitan.” Then, the “Grozny” TV Channel posted a video with apologies pronounced by the teen’s father and other relatives. The commentator has turned out to be a 15-year-old boy, a native of Dagestan, living in near Moscow. Ruslan Kutaev and Svetlana Gannushkina, human rights defenders, have suggested that at law enforcers’ instruction the apologies could have made by occasional people. The head of Chechnya has once again shown that residents of other regions will have to apologize to him, if they say anything wrong, said Magomed Magomedov, a deputy editor-in-chief of the Dagestani “Chernovik” weekly.

24 May 2021

RFE/RL: Russia’s communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, has given Google 24 hours to delete what it said was prohibited content as it faces the possibility of a punitive slowdown measure on it. Google faces a fine of up to 4 million rubles ($54,300) if the company does not respond to Roskomnadzor’s May 24 notifications about the removal of prohibited information within 24 hours, the watchdog was quoted as saying by TASS. Roskomnadzor said that YouTube, which is owned by Google, did not remove about 5,000 “prohibited” videos, out of which some 3,500 incite “extremism.”

The Moscow Times: Russian officials have defended Belarus’ use of a military jet to divert a passenger plane carrying a dissident, an act Western leaders have called “state terrorism” and that may spark tougher sanctions against Minsk. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists that Belarus had treated the incident with an “absolutely reasonable approach.” “A representative of the Belarusian foreign ministry… stressed the readiness of the Belarusian authorities to act on the issue in a transparent manner and to follow all international rules,” Lavrov said during a press conference following a meeting with his Greek counterpart. “I think this is an absolutely reasonable approach.”

25 May 2021

The Moscow Times: The Kremlin said Tuesday it regrets Europe’s plans to cut air links with ex-Soviet Belarus and avoid its airspace after the diversion of a Ryanair flight carrying an opposition activist. The aircraft traveling from Athens to Vilnius landed in the Belarus capital Minsk after a supposed bomb threat. The incident caused a global outcry, with EU-based carriers cutting air links with Belarus and European leaders warning of fresh sanctions.

RFE/RL: The Moscow City Court has ruled that an extension to July 7 of the pretrial detention of former journalist Ivan Safronov, who is accused of treason, is legal. Safronov’s lawyers had challenged the extension in court, but judges on May 25 rejected the defense’s complaint. The 30-year-old Safronov, who has worked since May last year as an adviser to the head of Russia’s space agency Roskosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, is a prominent journalist who covered the military-industrial complex for the newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti.

The Moscow Times: The Russian government wants to exempt state media from financial scrutiny to avoid being labeled  “foreign agents” because they are not prone to foreign influence. The proposal comes after Russia labeled the independent news sites Meduza and VTimes “foreign agents,” jeopardizing their futures by discouraging advertisers and levying steep fines for auditing violations. Russia’s Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media submitted a draft bill for discussion Monday requiring only commercial, and not state media, to be subjected to financial audits.

RFE/RL: Russian prosecutors have called a ban on two Instagram advertisements for the Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana that show same-sex couples kissing. The press service for the St. Petersburg courts announced that the Oktyabrsky district court had received a claim from the prosecutor’s office asking for the move against one of the Dolce & Gabbana Instagram ads because two women are shown kissing in it. According to the plaintiff, the video “contains information that rejects family values and propagandizes nontraditional sexual relationships.”

RFE/RL: A Russian court has issued fines against Facebook and Google over their failure to delete content deemed by Moscow as illegal. U.S.-based social-network giant Facebook was fined 26 million rubles ($353,000) by Moscow’s Tagansky District Court on May 25. That case involved eight reports about material posted on Facebook that Russian authorities wanted Facebook to remove. The same court on May 25 also levied three separate fines totaling about $82,000 against the U.S. technology giant Google. The court said Google was found guilty of “administrative offenses” and was ordered to pay 2 million rubles — or about $27,000 — for each offense.

RFE/RL: Russian oil companies are illegally disposing of millions of tons of contaminated drilling waste, a practice that is wreaking environmental havoc by polluting northern rivers that drain into the Arctic Ocean, a new RFE/RL investigation has found. The investigation by RFE/RL’s Russian Service found that regulations overseeing the disposal of drilling waste are routinely flouted, with bribes being paid to inspectors, data being omitted from required paperwork, and major oil companies pressuring regulators to effectively look the other way. “This story repeats itself every year,” said one source in the oil industry in Khanty-Mansi, a western Siberian region that is home to some of Russia’s biggest oil fields. The source spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fears of retribution from officials for discussing the matter.

26 May 2021

The Moscow Times: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Wednesday that he had acted “legally” in diverting a Ryanair flight with a dissident on board and slammed the West for “crossing red lines.” The Athens-to-Vilnius flight carrying a wanted opposition activist Roman Protasevich was forced to make a landing in Minsk on Sunday over a supposed bomb scare, prompting several EU carriers to stop flights over Belarus. “Don’t blame me. I was acting legally to protect my people. That’s how it will continue to be,” Lukashenko said in an address to parliament, according to the state-run Belta news agency. The Kremlin said it saw no reason not to trust his statements, in which he claimed the flight was ordered to be grounded following a bomb threat that was sent from Switzerland. “If this is not the case, then, probably, someone will refute it. There are no refutations yet,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters after Lukashenko’s speech.

The Moscow Times: Russia has confirmed 5,026,168 cases of coronavirus and 119,600 deaths, according to the national coronavirus information center. Russia’s total excess fatality count since the start of the coronavirus pandemic is above 460,000.

27 May 2021

RFE/RL: A Moscow court has fined Twitter 19 million rubles ($259,000) for failing to delete content Russia deems illegal, in the latest chapter of a long-running dispute between authorities and the social network giant. Russia has already imposed a punitive slowdown on Twitter for refusing to delete content banned by the Russian government since March, part of a broader stand-off between Moscow and big tech companies to beef up what it calls Internet sovereignty. State communications regulator Roskomnadzor earlier this month partially halted the slowdown after Twitter deleted more than 90 percent of illegal content. […] TikTok and Google, which had both been fined earlier for similar offenses, received smaller fines on May 27.

The Moscow Times: Facebook said Russia and Iran are the internet’s leading spreaders of disinformation aimed at manipulating public opinion in a report published Thursday.  Facebook researchers linked most of Russian operations to the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based troll factory that was also blamed by the U.S. intelligence community for 2016 election interference.  “Facebook’s broader security strategy against influence operations was developed in response to foreign interference by Russian actors in 2016,” the 2017-2020 Threat Report said.  Researchers also found disinformation links to Russian military intelligence.

RFE/RL: Russia’s Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit by U.S. biotech company Gilead Sciences that challenged the right of a Russian government decree to allow a domestic pharmaceutical company to produce a generic version of Gilead’s antiviral drug remdesivir without consent. The Supreme Court said on May 27 that the government decision to grant Russian drugmaker Pharmasyntez permission to produce and sell the anti-COVID-19 treatment without the consent of the patent holder was valid due to the emergency conditions created during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Guardian: Russia has retaliated against a ban on carriers entering Belarus’s airspace by refusing to grant permission to European planes flying to Moscow. In an apparent escalation by the Kremlin, Russian aviation authorities forced Austrian Airlines to cancel its flight from Vienna to the Russian capital. Air France also cancelled its Paris-Moscow flight for the second day in a row, after it was denied permission on Wednesday to land in Russia.

The Moscow Times: Austria on Thursday slammed Russia after it refused to allow an Austrian Airlines flight to be rerouted to avoid Belarusian airspace, resulting in the Vienna-Moscow service being cancelled. Austria’s Foreign Ministry said Russia’s refusal to allow the route change was “absolutely incomprehensible,” urging it “not to artificially impede free air traffic between Russia and Europe.” “It is in the interests of both Austria and Russia that all flights to and via Russia can continue to be carried out without any problems,” it said in a statement to AFP. 

28 May 2021

RFE/RL: A Russian court has sentenced five former police officers to several years in prison for the 2019 arrest of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov on trumped-up drug charges. The Moscow City Court on May 28 handed down prison terms ranging between five years and 12 years after finding the men guilty of the charges following a closed-door trial. They were also ordered to pay Golunov 1 million rubles ($13,600) each in compensation. The 38-year-old Golunov, who works for the Latvia-based information outlet Meduza, was arrested in June 2019 in Moscow for allegedly attempting to sell illegal drugs.

Amnesty International: Amnesty International is gravely concerned about the criminal prosecution and conviction of Nikolay Platoshkin, an academic, popular videoblogger and a leader of “For the New Socialism” political movement. Having studied available information, Amnesty International has concluded that the case against Nikolay Platoshkin has been fabricated and that he is being prosecuted on politically motivated charges to punish him solely for exercising his rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and prevent him from participating in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The organization is further concerned that Nikolay Platoshkin’s right to a fair trial has been violated.

Human Rights in UkraineZekirya Muratov was arrested two months after he refused to collaborate with an FSB officer, by providing false testimony against fellow Crimean Tatars.  The FSB man, former Ukrainian turncoat Aleksander Kompaneitsev left, telling Muratov that he would get him imprisoned “whatever”. It was a threat to be taken seriously, not least because Kompaneitsev has already played a similar role in the arrests and imprisonment of six Amnesty International prisoners of conscience, including human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku.  63-year-old Muratov, who has already been imprisoned for almost a year, is in very bad health, and would be unlikely to survive the long sentence he is facing for his integrity.

Human Rights in Ukraine: The European Court of Human Rights has halted Russia’s planned deportation of Sokhiba Burkhanova, who has been in Russian custody since the FSB killed her refugee husband, Nabi Rakhimov in occupied Crimea on 11 May.  This is the only good news, since Russia is refusing to return Rakhimov’s body to the family, essentially confirming the suspicion that the FSB tortured him to death and then staged a ‘shootout’.  

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