Rights in Russia week-ending 29 October 2021

Our round-up of the week’s news

Other news of the week:

23 October 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Saturday reported a record 1,075 Covid deaths in 24 hours as Europe’s hardest hit country with dramatically low vaccination rates braces for nationwide curbs from next week.

The Guardian: Russia reported a record 1,075 Covid deaths in 24 hours on Saturday as Europe’s hardest-hit country with dramatically low vaccination rates prepares for nationwide curbs from next week.

RFE/RL: Russia has issued an arrest warrant for a former prison inmate who has admitted to releasing graphic video evidence of hundreds of cases of inmate torture by other inmates at the direction of prison officials. The Interior Ministry on October 23 issued the warrant without specifying the crime that the Belarus-born Syarhey Savelyeu is accused of.

The Moscow Times: Moscow on Saturday put a former prison inmate seeking asylum in France on a wanted list after he leaked harrowing videos of alleged rape and torture inside a Russian prison.  According to a notice published on the Russian Interior Ministry’s website, Sergei Savelyev — a Belarus national — is wanted in connection with an unspecified criminal case.

24 October 2021

RFE/RL: Moscow has criticized the United States after Washington added Russians seeking U.S. visas to a list of “homeless nationals” who can apply for visas in third countries. The move allows Russians to apply for U.S. visas in Warsaw instead of their home country after the U.S. Embassy stopped processing most visa applications in May due to Moscow’s ban on employing embassy staff in Russia.

25 October 2021

Human Rights in Ukraine: A Russian-controlled ‘court’ in occupied Crimea has sentenced 49-year-old Igor Schmidt to six years’ imprisonment for practising his faith as a Jehovah’s Witness.  This was labelled ‘organizing the activities of an extremist organization’ under Article 282.2 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code.  The verdict on 22 October is the fourth such ‘conviction’ for reading the Bible and worshipping together in occupied Crimea, with all of them having resulted in 6 or 6.5-year real prison terms.  This is a level of repression far worse than in Russia, where convictions are predetermined, but suspended sentences common. It is especially disturbing since there are currently twelve other believers facing virtually identical charges, and this figure is increasing all the time.

RFE/RL: Noted Russian journalist Sergei Reznik, who specializes in anti-corruption investigations, has been added to the Interior Ministry’s wanted list

The Moscow Times: A Russian publishing house has removed a section on transgender people from the Russian-language edition of a health guide aimed at teenage girls to avoid running afoul of Russian law, media reported Sunday.

RFE/RL: Lawmakers in Tatarstan have voted against a bill initiated in Russia’s lower chamber of parliament — the State Duma — that would abort the title of president currently held by the head of the Russian autonomous republic.

26 October 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Tuesday confirmed 36,446 new Covid-19 infections and a new record of 1,106 deaths.

RFE/RL: A court in Russia’s southwestern city of Astrakhan has sentenced four Jehovah’s witnesses to lengthy prison terms amid an ongoing crackdown of the religious group’s followers across the country. The Investigative Committee said on October 26 that three men were sentenced to eight years in prison each, and a woman to 3 1/2 years in prison on extremism charges.

The Moscow Times: Russian courts have handed lengthy prison sentences to Jehovah’s Witnesses for organizing “extremist” activities over the past week in some of the harshest verdicts given to the religious group’s members yet. Russia outlawed the nonconformist Christian denomination in 2017, subjecting thousands of worshippers to criminal prosecution, harassment and intimidation.

RFE/RL: The father of Ivan Zhdanov, a close associate of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, has gone on trial on fraud and forgery charges that he and his supporters have rejected as politically motivated since his arrest in March. The trial of 67-year-old Yury Zhdanov opened in Russia’s Arctic city of Naryan-Mar on October 25, his lawyer, Vladimir Voronin, tweeted.

Human Rights in UkraineEdem Semedlyaev, one of the lawyers tirelessly defending political prisoners and other victims of repression in occupied Crimea, was detained on 25 October and remains in custody on frighteningly lawless charges.  These were brought against him while he was representing Crimean Tatars, including two Crimean Solidarity journalists, who had been unwarrantedly detained, and after he expressed legitimate protest at the violation of one of the detainee’s rights. 22 men, including a lawyer who had sped to their assistance, have now been detained, without any grounds, and are spending the night in police cells in different parts of occupied Crimea.

Human Rights Watch: Yesterday, Russian authorities arbitrarily arrested lawyer Edem Semedlyaev, while he was advising clients at a police station, who themselves had been arbitrarily arrested. Today court released Semedlyaev pending review of the charges. Semedlyaev is one of the few lawyers who continue to risk working on politically sensitive cases in Crimea. 

Human Rights in Ukraine: The appeal hearing has again been adjourned against monstrous sentences passed on three Crimean Tatar political prisoners, two of whom were almost certainly targeted for their active civic position.  Rustem Emiruseinov (b. 1979); Arsen Abkhairov (b. 1985) and Eskender Abdulganiev (b. 1997) were sentenced to 17, 13 and 12 years, respectively, without being accused of any recognizable crime and with the ‘evidence’ provided by a highly questionable ‘religious expert assessment’ and a ‘secret witness’ who appeared unable to distinguish one defendant from another.  The appeal hearing had been scheduled for 25 October, but was moved to 1 November because Abdulganiev had a high temperature, however one of the men’s lawyers, Edem Semedlyaev and 21 other Crimean Tatars, including two journalists carrying out their professional duties are now also in detention  (details here).

RFE/RL: There are few things held more sacred by the Russian state than the Soviet Union’s role in the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, and the conflict that killed an estimated 27 million Soviet citizens still reverberates across Russia. Few families, if any, were left untouched. So when the popular rapper Morgenshtern said that President Vladimir Putin’s government spends far too much money on annual Victory Day celebrations — the Red Square military parade and other ceremonies held on May 9, which Russia marks as the anniversary of the Nazi surrender — his remarks did not go unnoticed. And he may face prosecution.

RFE/RL: A Russian human rights activist says a Polish court has ruled against his extradition to Russia, where he faces prosecution. Yevgeny Khasoyev, a leader of the Siberia Without Torture human rights group, told RFE/RL that a court in Warsaw on October 26 denied a request by Russian authorities to extradite him back to the country.

RFE/RL: The Prague-based MEDIUM-ORIENT news agency is facing a fine in Russia for its alleged failure to follow the requirements of Russia’s controversial “foreign agent” law. Islam Tekushev, the editor in chief of the online Caucasus Times journal founded by MEDIUM-ORIENT, told RFE/RL on October 25 that Russia’s media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, had filed a protocol against the media group for violating the law on foreign agents.

The Moscow Times: Stand-up comedy is booming across Moscow and videos of sketches often get more than a million views on YouTube, with many Russians hungry for humor that is not tightly controlled, unlike the comedy that is shown on television.

The Guardian: An appeals court in the Netherlands has ruled that Ukraine has legal control over a trove of artefacts from Crimea that was on loan to a Dutch museum when Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014.

27 October 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Wednesday confirmed 36,582 new Covid-19 infections and a new record of 1,123 deaths.

The Moscow Times: Russian law enforcement authorities will inspect popular rapper Morgenshtern’s criticism toward the country’s annual commemorations of the Soviet victory in World War II for possible legal violations, they said Tuesday.

The Moscow Times: Russia said Wednesday a Dutch court decision to transfer a collection of Crimean gold to Ukraine was politically motivated and “set a dangerous precedent,” as Moscow opened a criminal probe into the case.

Human Rights in Ukraine: ‘Judges’ from a Russian-controlled court in occupied Crimea spent 26 October imposing fairly large fines for entirely fabricated ‘infringements’ by Crimean Tatar civic journalists; the coordinator of Crimean Solidarity and other activists, as well as by lawyer Edem Semedlyaev, who was detained while representing others taken into custody.  All the hearings took place at the Central District Court, with around four acquittals.  It is an indication of the judicial degradation under Russian occupation, that these were the startling part of the day, not the imprisonment of 22 men for 24 hours and fines imposed against men who had simply gathered outside a court, observing all the relevant pandemic-related requirements..

28 October 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Thursday confirmed a new pandemic record of 40,096 Covid-19 infections as well as a new record of 1,159 deaths.

The Guardian: Regions across Russia have reintroduced severe anti-coronavirus restrictions as the country faces record deaths and new infections amid a lacklustre vaccination campaign.

The Moscow Times: The number of political prisoners in Russia has risen sharply this year in a trend that recalls late Soviet-era repression, Russia’s leading rights group Memorial said on Wednesday. It listed at least 420 political prisoners in Russia, including top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny who survived a poisoning attempt with Novichok nerve agent last year.

Amnesty International: Russian human rights activist Yan Sidorov is facing the prospect of three years under harsh probation conditions, when he is released next week from the penal colony where he has spent the last two years, Amnesty International said today. Yan Sidorov is a prisoner of conscience, whose attempts to hold a peaceful protest in 2017 resulted in an imprisonment at a Dimitrovgrad penal colony after he had spent two years in pre-trial detention. He is set to be released on 3 November, but on 29 October Dimitrovgrad City Court will hear a request by the authorities to impose a severely restrictive probation period. “Russian authorities are sending a clear signal to all young activists that participation in peaceful protests can come at huge personal cost. Yan Sidorov has already served four years in prison; he may now have to spend three more under strict police surveillance, forbidden to go out after 10 pm and banned from travelling outside the Krasnodar region,” said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.

The Moscow Times: Russian authorities will probe whether a visitor who hung a portrait of himself at the famed Hermitage Museum broke the law against insulting veterans, St. Petersburg media reported Wednesday. According to the Fontanka.ru news website, Kirill Smorodin hung the portrait of himself wearing 19th-century military uniform at the museum’s Patriotic War of 1812 exhibit last week.  The Hermitage said it wanted to probe whether Smorodin violated a recently adopted law against “publicly insulting the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland.”  President Vladimir Putin signed the law last March imposing jail terms of up to 5 years for insulting World War II veterans. 

Front Line Defenders: On 25 October 2021, the Russian riot police team and representatives of the Centre to Counteract Extremism harassed and detained human rights defender and lawyer Edem Semedliaev while he visited his clients in the Central Police Precinct of Simferopol, who had been detained earlier that day.

Human Rights in Ukraine: While constantly demanding official status for the Russian language in Ukraine and claiming that Russian speakers face ‘discrimination’, Russia has not included Ukrainian in the list of languages which can be used in completing its 2021 census. The latter is illegal in any case since it is being held in occupied Crimea, but the omission is telling.

CPJ: Russia is at No. 10 in the Impunity Index with a population of 144.1 million and 6 unsolved murders of journalists.

29 October 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Friday confirmed 39,849 Covid-19 infections as well as a new record of 1,163 deaths.

The Moscow Times: An annual commemoration of victims of Stalinist repressions has resumed live in person Friday after going online due to the coronavirus pandemic last year.

The Moscow Times: A St. Petersburg blogger known for exploring abandoned urban and industrial sites has been sentenced to prison for spreading state secrets abroad. Investigators say Andrei Pyzh, 37, illegally obtained information relating to the design and technical features of classified facilities in the Moscow region from December 2018 until the time of his August 2020 detention. 

RFE/RL: A Russian court has handed lengthy prison terms to four Crimean Tatars for being members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group and “plotting to seize power by force.” Defense lawyers said on October 29 that the Southern District Military Court in the city of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Seytumer Seytumerov to 17 years in prison, Osman Seytumerov to 14 years, Rustem Seytmemetov to 13 years, and Amet Suleymanov to 12 years. The lawyers said they would appeal the sentences.

Human Rights in Ukraine: A Russian court has passed appalling sentences against two sons of a renowned Crimean Tatar historian and their uncle, as well as against a civic journalist with a life-threatening heart condition.  The four recognized political prisoners received terms of imprisonment from 12 to 17 years on charges that are eerily similar to that used during Stalin’s Terror against the two brothers’ great-grandfather.  The latter was executed in 1938 for what the NKVD called ‘counter-revolutionary terrorist propaganda’ (and posthumously ‘rehabilitated’ in 1990)  Seitumer Seitumerov; Osman Seitumerov; their uncle Rustem Seitmemetov and journalist Amet Suleimanov are charged with ‘terrorism’, although none is accused of a recognizable crime and the enforcement officers who burst into their homes on 11 March 2020 never pretended to be looking for anything except ‘prohibited literature’. 

The Moscow Times: A Moscow court has sentenced two bloggers to nearly a year in prison for staging an X-rated photoshoot across from St. Basil’s Cathedral near the Kremlin. They are the first people to receive real prison time for “insulting religious feelings.”

RFE/RL: A court in Russia-annexed Crimea has extended the detention of Crimean Tatar leader Nariman Dzhelyal until January 23, his lawyer Mykola Polozova said. Dzhelyal was arrested with four colleagues in early September on suspicion of involvement in an attack on a gas pipeline and initially ordered held for two months.

The Moscow Times: A prominent Russian human rights lawyer who fled Russia to escape criminal charges has been placed on the country’s wanted list, he said Thursday. Ivan Pavlov left Russia for the Caucasus republic of Georgia in early September after authorities charged him with disclosing details of an investigation into his former client, jailed journalist Ivan Safronov. Russian law enforcement briefly detained Pavlov in April and confiscated a number of documents during searches of his apartment.

RFE/RL: A well-known human rights lawyer who fled Russia last month after defending members of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s team said he has been added to the nation’s wanted list.

The Moscow Times: The United States and its allies on Thursday urged Russia to protect media freedom, condemning what they called a crackdown on independent outlets.

RFE/RL: An 18-member group of nations, including the United States and United Kingdom, has expressed “deep concern” over what it calls the Russian government’s “intensifying harassment of independent journalists and media outlets” in the country. The statement, issued on October 28 under the name of the Media Freedom Coalition, was also signed by Ukraine and North Macedonia, along with Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Aleksander Borodai, newly elected Russian MP from the ruling United Russia party, has stated that the fighters of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ [LDPR] were “Russian forces”.  Borodai has every reason to know as he was one of the leaders of ‘DPR’ from its creation, the so-called ‘prime minister’ of this unrecognized ‘republic’.  He has also confirmed that he and others left Donbas in early August 2014 for propaganda reasons since it looked bad that they were all from Russia.  While he does not mention MH17, the urgent change in leadership came just two weeks after a Russian BUK missile, transported to Donbas from a military base in Russia, downed the Malaysian passenger airliner over occupied Donbas on 17 July 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

CPJ: Rimma Maksimova spent the final decade of her life fighting two battles: one against the bone cancer that would eventually kill her and another for justice in her son’s murder. A few years before her death in 2014, she filed a case against Russia with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). She would not live to see its judgment released this month or know of her contribution to the global fight against impunity in the murders of journalists.

RFE/RL: The Moscow City Court has cancelled the acquittal of a son of the former prime minister of the North Caucasus region of Daghestan in the high-profile 2018 death of a Moscow student that sparked an outcry in her native Kazakhstan.

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