Rights in Russia week-ending 29 May 2020

Right of assembly

Activists Detained As ‘Fabricated’ Terrorism Trial Resumes In Russia

Activists were reportedly detained and single-person pickets were halted in St. Petersburg before the resumption of the trial of two defendants accused of belonging to a group that prosecutors allege planned to carry out terrorist acts and sought to overthrow the government. The detentions came as the high-profile trial of Yuly Boyarshinov, 28, and Viktor Filinkov, 25 — both allegedly members of the leftist group Set (Network) — was reopened on May 25 after a month-long delay due to the coronavirus outbreak. RFE/RL, 25 May 2020

In Putin’s Russia, a journalist by day and an activist by night

For Ilya Azar, writing stories isn’t enough. He believes that when freedoms are under threat, activism and journalism aren’t mutually exclusive – they’re natural allies. One cold December evening in Moscow, a sullen, bearded man stood next to a busy subway station, a green hood pulled over his head, wearing mittens. He held a poster which read “Freedom to political prisoners.” The man was Ilya Azar, an award-winning Russian journalist with the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper, who in recent months had added another line to his resume: activism. By Maria Danilova, Open Democracy, 22 May 2020

Journalist arrested for individual picket in support of jailed ‘Police Ombudsman’

Journalist and municipal deputy Ilya Azar was arrested while holding an individual picket near the Interior Ministry building in Moscow, the human rights outlet OVD-Info reports. Azar was protesting in support of Vladimir Vorontsov, the administrator of an online community known as “Police Ombudsman,” which publishes reports of abuse within the Russian Interior Ministry. Azar came out in protest after another protester, Viktor Nemytov, was arrested for holding an individual picket in support of Vorontsov near the Interior Ministry building earlier in the day on May 26. Meduza, 26 May 2020

Russia: Journalists Held Over Peaceful Pickets

(Moscow) – Moscow police on May 28, 2020 detained seven journalists and a writer who were holding single person pickets in solidarity with another journalist detained for holding a similar protest, Human Rights Watch said today. Ilya Azar, a correspondent for the independent Russian paper Novaya Gazeta, and a district council representative in Moscow, had been sentenced to 15 days in detention earlier that day. Human Rights Watch, 29 May 2020

Journalist jailed for 15 days by Moscow court for violation of rally law

Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court on Thursday detained journalist and municipal lawmaker Ilya Azar for 15 days for repeated violation of the law concerning rallies, the court’s press service told RAPSI. The journalist was arrested on Tuesday near the building of the Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate in central Moscow. Azar was staying in a sole picket in support of creator of the Police Ombudsman Telegram channel Vladimir Vorontsov, who had been earlier arrested on suspicion of extorting 300,000 rubles ($4,000) from a former Interior Ministry employee, and the channel’s admin Igor Khudyakov. RAPSI, 28 May 2020

Leading Russian Journalists Detained for Protesting in Support of Jailed Colleague

Several prominent Russian journalists were detained in central Moscow on Thursday for staging solo pickets in support of a fellow journalist who was jailed earlier that day. Mediazona chief editor Sergei Smirnov and Ekho Moskvy journalists Tatyana Felgenhauer and Alexander Plyushchev had been protesting the arrest of popular journalist and activist Ilya Azar. Azar was jailed for protesting the jailing of Vladimir Vorontsov, a former policeman who works to expose law-enforcement abuses. The Moscow Times, 28 May 2020

Russia: Prominent journalist’s detention epitomizes authorities’ crackdown on activists amid COVID-19

In response to today’s sentencing of prominent Russian journalist and Moscow district councilor, Ilya Azar, to 15 days of administrative detention for holding a solitary protest outside the Moscow police headquarters, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Russia Director, said: “Ilya Azar has committed no crime, and didn’t even violate Russia’s draconian protest laws. His detention is a cowardly act by the authorities that epitomizes Russia’s strategy of crushing activism and impinging on human rights to silence critics. In the midst of a global pandemic, the government is enforcing muzzles instead of protective masks, and solely for its own protection. Amnesty International, 28 May 2020

Moscow Police Resume Detaining Jailed Journalist’s Supporters

Several protesters have been detained outside Moscow’s police headquarters Friday as solo pickets demanding the release of a journalist arrested for a similar picket this week continued into their second day. The latest detentions follow those of eight prominent journalists at the same location Thursday for protesting the 15-day jailing of their colleague, activist and municipal deputy Ilya Azar. Police said the journalists had been detained for violating a ban on rallies during Moscow’s citywide quarantine to slow the spread of coronavirus. The Moscow Times, 29 May 2020

Freedom of expression

In St. Petersburg, a graffiti mural celebrating Joseph Brodsky’s 80th birthday was covered over almost as fast as it went up

On the day that would have been Russian poet Joseph Brodsky’s 80th birthday, May 24, a graffiti mural of his image appeared in St. Petersburg. It was painted on the wall of a school on Pestelya Street, located across from the Muruzi House, where Brodsky lived from 1955 to 1972 (his former apartment there is now a memorial museum). The image was based on a photo of Brodsky, taken by Italian photographer Graziano Arici in Venice in 1989. “It seems like an excellent place for a selfie has appeared here,” wrote the Brodsky Museum in a post on its official Instagram page.  Meduza, 25 May 2020

Yakut Shaman Who Wanted To Drive Putin From Power Files Complaint With ECHR

YAKUTSK, Russia — Lawyers of Aleksandr Gabyshev, a shaman in the Siberian region of Yakutia who gained notoriety in 2019 after declaring that he wanted to drive Russian President Vladimir Putin from power, have filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against his forced placement in a psychiatric clinic. One of the lawyers, Olga Timofeyeva, told RFE/RL on May 26 that the complaint was filed because Gabyshev had been placed in a psychiatric clinic in the city of Yakutsk illegally, against his will, and without the consent of his legal representatives. RFE/RL, 26 May 2020

Russia’s resident fined $420 for rehabilitation of Nazism

MOSCOW, May 27 (RAPSI) – The Supreme Court of Russia’s Republic of Chuvashia has imposed a fine of 30,000 rubles ($420) on a 21-year local resident for rehabilitation of Nazism, according to information released on the official website of the Prosecutor General’s Office. According to the court ruling, in Decemer 2017, the young man published an image with a comment justifying Nazism, glorifying actions of Nazi criminals and playing down the importance of the Soviet Victory on a popular Internet resource. The published information formed a positive attitude towards Nazi actions, the Prosecutor General’s Office notes. RAPSI, 27 May 2020

“Syndicate-100” demands to find author of threats to journalist

Law enforcers should identify and hold accountable the social network user, who threatens to kill an employee of the Krasnoyarsk TV company (TVK) for her reposting an article about authorities’ claims to the work of journalists, the association of editions named “Syndicate-100” has stated today in its open appeal. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that on April 28, the “Syndicate-100” claimed that Russian authorities had begun to actively use the coronavirus pandemic to exert pressure on independent media. Caucasian Knot, 27 May 2020

Russia’s media watchdog restricts access to video pushing for riots

Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor has blocked video containing calls to participation in mass riots and attacks against authorities, the press service of the Prosecutor General’s Office reports. According to the statement, the video is popular and has lots of page views. A criminal case has been inititated over calls for mass riots. No other details have been disclosed. RAPSI, 28 May 2020

Chair of Russia’s government puts mass media on list of COVID-19 affected sectors

Chairman of Russia’s government Mikhail Mishustin has signed a resolution putting mass media outlets on the list of the sectors of the economy most badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those eligible for the measures of support envisaged by the state for representatives of affected industries are publishers of books, newspapers, magazines, periodicals, TV and radio broadcasters, online media outlets, news agencies. Besides, the resolution concerns activities related to the printing of newspapers. RAPSI, 29 May 2020

News coverage of comedy video parodying Russian president and Moscow mayor deleted following calls from officials

Several Russian media outlets simultaneously deleted news coverage of comedian Maxim Galkin’s immensely popular video parodying a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, The Bell reports. Sources from one of the outlets in question told The Bell that the news was taken down following a phone call from officials. Meduza, 29 May 2020


Russia finally passed legislation to improve living conditions in psychiatric care homes, but this breakthrough is still sorely lacking

On April 24, Russia’s Labor Ministry published amendments to the rules governing work in the country’s psychiatric care homes. These changes could seriously improve the lives of all Russian citizens with mental disabilities, including those living outside of these types of facilities. That said, the new regulations only apply to group homes that are currently under construction or undergoing renovation. The director of the Center for Curative Pedagogy, Anna Bitova, worked on developing these amendments — for Meduza, she helps break down the changes that Russia’s psychiatric care homes are set to undergo.  Meduza, 27 May 2020


Putin Signs Law Allowing Voting By Mail And Internet

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a new measure that allows elections at all levels and referendums to be conducted by mail and via the Internet, according to the Kremlin’s website. The law was rushed through all three readings in the State Duma on May 13 and approved by the Federation Council, the upper house of the legislature, one week later. Although the bill was introduced by lawmakers from the ruling United Russia party, media reports have asserted that it was drafted by the presidential administration. RFE/RL, 23 May 2020


The Indispensable Mr. Kadyrov? Questions About Chechen Leader’s Health Prompt New Questions About Region’s Future

Rumors of Ramzan Kadyrov’s coronavirus-induced demise may have been exaggerated. Questions about the Chechen leader’s political future, however, and that of the Kremlin’s two-decade approach toward the North Caucasus region, persist. RFE/RL, 27 May 2020

OSCE Members Blast Russia’s Lack Of Response To Rights Violations In Chechnya

The United States, Canada, and 14 European states say Russia has failed to respond to serious human rights violations and abuses in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya, where a “climate of impunity” continues to prevail against human rights defenders, journalists, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. The joint statement was delivered to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on May 26, 17 months after a fact-finding report presented at the OSCE said the authorities in Chechnya had committed torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and other “very serious” human rights violations and abuses. RFE/RL, 26 May 2020

Chechen mass media disseminate call to remove article on militants’ widows from “Novaya Gazeta”

On May 25, several official Chechen mass media outlets published an open letter by relatives of former militants, who demanded to remove the article on adaptation problems of families of former militants by Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya from the website of the “Novaya Gazeta” newspaper. The authors of the letter have explained that the article by Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya “Our Dad Is in Captivity” published on May 6 “had caused a storm of indignation among all the Chechens, in one way or another mentioned in this article.” Caucasian Knot, 27 May 2020

Legal system

Order of restricted access to Moscow courts prolonged until mid-June

Restrictions concerning access of non-parties of trials including journalists to Moscow courts have been extended once more over the coronavirus pandemic, until June 14, the Moscow City Court’s spokesperson Ulyana Solopova has told RAPSI. Such a regime for Moscow general jurisdiction courts is active starting April 8. Courts will continue hearing urgent cases and other cases which may be considered without the parties’ presence. RAPSI, 29 May 2020

Advocate Diana Tsipinova goes on hunger strike in Baksan IVS

Diana Tsipinova, who was suspected of attacking policemen in the town of Nartkala, refused to accept food in protest against her detention at an IVS (temporary detention facility), her advocate reports today. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that on May 28, law enforcers detained for 48 hours advocate Diana Tsipinova, who was suspected of using violence against policemen during a conflict in Nartkala. On May 20, advocates Natalia Magova, Diana Tsipinova, and Lyudmila Kochesokova arrived at a police station in Nartkala. For 40 minutes, they did not quit their attempts to get a permission to visit their client and colleague Ratmir Zhilokov, who was detained by law enforcers. The law enforcers did not like being filmed on video, and they “used force to drive the advocates out of the building.” According to Diana Tsipinova, she was brought into the building, handcuffed, and held there until 7 a.m. Caucasian Knot, 29 May 2020


Human rights defenders map the spread of respiratory diseases in the Russian prison system

A group of human rights defenders and lawyers have launched a new project called “Grey Zone” (“Seraya zona” in Russian), which maps information on cases of respiratory illnesses in Russia’s prison colonies and pre-trial detention centers. The project is based on official data on coronavirus patients from the country’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), as well as information from inmates and their relatives (confirmed by multiple sources), and media reports. The human rights defenders are sending inquiries to the prosecutor’s office and the Federal Penitentiary Service for each unconfirmed case, demanding that they carry out an inspection and ensure the safety of prisoners and staff at correctional facilities. Meduza, 25 May 2020

Europe: Millions of women and girls facing increasing insecurity and violence amidst Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased levels of insecurity and violence against women across Europe and, without focussed government attention, risks exacerbating gender inequalities and levels of discrimination, a guide by Amnesty International, Women’s Link Worldwide and the International Planned Parenthood Federation warned today. Amnesty International, 26 May 2020

HRW: Russia’s Proposed ‘Uniform Federal Database’ Would Threaten Right To Privacy

A proposed new law to create a “uniform federal database” in Russia infringes on the right to privacy and weakens protection of personal data for the country’s entire population, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says. The lower house of parliament, the State Duma, adopted the draft law on May 21. The legislation is to enter into force after it is endorsed by the upper chamber, the Federation Council, and President Vladimir Putin. RFE/RL, 26 May 2020

New Database Threatens Right to Privacy in Russia

A new law for creating a “uniform federal database” in Russia infringes on the right to privacy and weakens protection of personal data for everyone living in the country. Parliament’s lower chamber adopted the draft law on May 21 and it will enter into force once endorsed by the upper chamber and the president. The federal database, which is set to be fully functional by 2025, would contain personal data of the entire population of Russia, including birth certificates, passport details, marital status, any change of gender, education, residence permits abroad, employment, and taxpayers’ information. References to parents’ and children’s profiles would also be included. Human Rights Watch, 26 May 2020

In Leaked Recording, Russian Official Pushes for Changes to Coronavirus Data

A provincial leader outside Moscow was heard telling his subordinates to alter his region’s coronavirus data in an audio recording leaked Monday that he later confirmed to be authentic. The Lipetsk region, which has a population of 1.1 million, had reported 1,696 total cases and five deaths from Covid-19 as of Monday, less than half a percent of Russia’s overall number of infections. “Your numbers need to change, otherwise they’ll think badly about our region,” a man believed to be Lipetsk region governor Igor Artamonov is heard saying in a call published by the Znak.com news website. The Moscow Times, 26 May 2020

Moscow Mayor Extends Self-Isolation Until June 14, Some Easings Introduced

MOSCOW — The mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, signed on Wednesday an order to extend self-isolation due to the coronavirus until June 14, but has also lifted some restrictions. He said in his blog that apart from non-food stores, some other services, such as dry-cleaners, would be re-opened starting from Monday. The New York Times, 27 May 2020 [via Reuters]

First online hearing on Court Portal platform held in St. Petersburg

The first ever court hearings in their entirety have been held online in St. Petersburg; the participants have registered via a governmental website of state services, what enabled distant identification, the United press service of St. Petersburg courts informs RAPSI. Thus, a session of the Kolpinsky District Court of St. Petersburg has become a presentation of the Universal platform for courts and litigation participants Court Portal. RAPSI, 27 May 2020

Russia’s Health Ministry reports 101 coronavirus deaths among medical workers

According to official data, 101 medical workers in Russia have died from the coronavirus, reports Lyudmila Letnikova, the director of the Health Ministry’s department of public health, communications, and medical expertise. Letnikova told Interfax that the Health Ministry has started keeping a registry of deceased medical workers. “This week every region should complete the register, we asked them to confirm. Last Friday 101 people were on this list of confirmed [deaths]. We will check this data against the data from the [Social Insurance Fund], which is based on media reports and the ‘Memory List’,” Letnikova said. Meduza, 27 May 2020

Coronavirus Ravages Strategic Russian Region

The new coronavirus is sweeping through some of the mountain villages of Russia’s far-flung Dagestan region and they are struggling to treat patients properly, protect medics or even count the dead, five local officials said. President Vladimir Putin has devoted a coronavirus crisis meeting to Dagestan, the only one of Russia’s dozens of regions discussed in this way, and on Wednesday ordered medical brigades from the capital to reinforce local healthcare services. The New York Times, 29 May 2020 [Reuters]


Legal aid most sought when applying to Russian Children’s Ombudsman in 2019

Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner Office has registered almost 1,600 applications on problems related to judicial protection and professional legal assistance, the press service of Ombudsman for Children Anna Kuznetsova informs on Friday. In 2019, the number of appeals concerning judicial protection and professional legal aid grew by 37.1%, according to a report of the Children’s Rights Commissioner. RAPSI, 29 May 2020

Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner suggests funding cuts for abortion clinics

During her annual performance report, Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner, Anna Kuznetsova, proposed reducing funding for abortion clincs. According to Kuznetsova, the amount of funding allocated to abortion clinics should be in inverse proportion to the number of abortions. “A clinic should be interested in saving the child, and not in providing services for the artificial termination of pregnancy,” she said. Meduza, 29 May 2020


A hotspot in the Polar Circle Regional unification plans in northern Russia awaken a dormant protest movement

On May 13, the leaders of two neighboring regions — Arkhangelsk and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug (NAO) — signed a unification memorandum. In the latter region, the possible merger has provoked major protests, inciting everyone from school children to local elected officials. Residents have picketed against the decision, organized demonstrations, and gathered every evening in Lenin Square to sign the NAO’s anthem. Meduza examines how this sleepy northern region of Russia has transformed almost overnight into one of the country’s most contested political hotspots. Meduza, 28 May 2020


Deep Trouble: Russia Finally Moves To Raise Radioactive Debris From Arctic Waters

The nuclear-powered submarine, built four decades earlier for the Soviet Northern Fleet, was being towed to a Murmansk shipyard to be dismantled when it was hit by a summer storm. The sub sank, killing nine sailors and sending around 800 kilograms of radioactive fuel to the sea bottom. Since the August 2003 incident, K-159’s snapped hull has been resting around 250 meters underwater at the entrance to the Kola Bay. So far, the fuel on board has not leaked into the surrounding waters, scientists say. RFE/RL, 29 May 2020


Pussy Riot and Chilean group join forces against state repression

Governments around the world are using the coronavirus as an excuse to step up repression and push back civil liberties, warns a new song by Pussy Riot, released alongside a new manifesto written with the Chilean feminist collective Lastesis. The Russian activists and the Chilean group – whose song A Rapist In Your Path became a viral feminist anthem in 2019 – released the manifesto against police violence and state repression on Friday. The Guardian, 29 May 2020


‘They’ve Been Killing Him For Years’: Russian Activist Sergei Mokhnatkin Is Dead At 66

“There was a man who lived like a little sparrow stuck in the throat of a snake,” wrote Russian human rights activist Aleksei Polokhovich on Facebook on May 29. Russia’s liberal opposition and human rights community is mourning the death of Sergei Mokhnatkin, an accidental dissident who over the last decade became a respected standard-bearer for those opposed to the authoritarian government of Vladimir Putin. Mokhnatkin died in Moscow on May 28 after a long illness at the age of 66. “They have been killing him for many years,” columnist and Kremlin critic Viktor Shenderovich wrote on Facebook. “[Now] they have killed him.” RFE/RL, 29 May 2020

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