Rights in Russia week-ending 3 April 2020

Prisoners’ rights

Campaigners Urge Russia to Release Prisoners as Coronavirus Spreads

Rights campaigners are urging the Russian government to consider releasing some pre-trial detainees and prisoners held in the country’s packed jails, warning of the “devastating consequences” of the coronavirus pandemic. More than half a million people are held in Russia’s notoriously crowded prisons in what is the European continent’s largest prison population. The Moscow Times, 31 March 2020

Russia: Authorities urged to protect half a million prison population in face of COVID-19

Russian authorities should take urgent measures to address the potentially devastating consequences should COVID-19 begin spreading among prisoners and detainees, Amnesty International said in a letter to Russian government agencies. At least 9,000 of Russia’s 519,600-strong prison population are over 60-years-old, and many more in poor health. “The present state of Russia’s penitentiary system – with overcrowding, poor ventilation and inadequate healthcare and sanitation – exposes prisoners to a higher risk of infectious diseases. If the authorities fail to implement urgent protective measures, the COVID-19 pandemic could strike Russia’s prisons with devastating consequences,” said Natalia Prilutskaya, Russia Researcher at Amnesty International. Amnesty International, 31 March 2020

Russian Historian Jailed On Disputed Pedophilia Charges Dies In Custody

MOSCOW — A Russian historian who was jailed on disputed pedophilia charges last year has died in a prison hospital after an appeal from prosecutors delayed his release on health grounds. Sergei Koltyrin, 67, passed away overnight into April 2 after a long battle with cancer that predated his arrest in October 2018 and continued throughout his confinement at a prison in Medvezhegorsk, a town in Russia’s northern Karelia region where Koltyrin had worked as the local museum director. RFE/RL, 2 April 2020

Public healthcare

 ‘There’s a shortage of absolutely everything’ Russian doctors describe the beginning of their coronavirus pandemic from the front lines

On March 25, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a televised nationwide address on the coronavirus pandemic. He explicitly recognized the contributions of Russian doctors, saying, “You are now on the front lines of defense for our country. My heartfelt thanks to all of you for your self-sacrificing work.” Meduza, 31 March 2020

Russian doctors’ union leader arrested twice and beaten by police for delivering masks to medical staff fighting COVID-19

Anastasia Vasilyeva, the head of the medical workers’ union Alyans Vrachei (Doctors’ Alliance), has been arrested twice in the Novgorod region city of Okulovka, where she was attempting to deliver personal protection equipment (PPE) to local medical personnel. First, on April 2, Vasilyeva and her team were arrested on a highway near Okulovka and taken to a police station. Despite their arrest, the group was able to deliver more than 500 respirators as well as protective suits, goggles, and gloves to two local hospitals. Meduza, 3 April 2020

St. Petersburg Medics Appeal for Protective Gear as Coronavirus Spreads

Doctors at one of St. Petersburg’s top hospitals have filmed a video appeal asking the public for protective gear as they prepare to admit coronavirus patients. The Moscow Times, 3 April 2020

Forced Into Lockdown, Muscovites Question The State’s Shifting Coronavirus Response

MOSCOW — After President Vladimir Putin announced a nine-day paid holiday on March 25, hundreds of Muscovites flew south to Sochi and other resort towns on Russia’s Black Sea coast to while away the unexpected vacation in warmer climes. RFE/RL, 30 March

‘It’s like a normal day’: Moscow grapples with virus lockdown

Despite orders to stay indoors, in parts of city life has appeared to continue as usual Moscow woke up to a mandatory lockdown on Monday, as the 12.5 million residents of the Russian capital were told to stay indoors in order to slow the spread of coronavirus. The restrictions are some of the most severe in the city’s history, a near curfew with little precedent in peacetime. Red Square is empty, shopping malls are shuttered and downtown parks have been cordoned off, as Muscovites prepare to self-isolate for a month or longer. The Guardian, 30 March 2020

Russia reportedly cuts off all international air travel, including evacuations into and out of the country

At the end of the day on April 3, Russia will stop allowing all remaining international flights, including those bringing Russian citizens into the country and those bringing foreign citizens out, anonymous sources told Interfax and RBC. Meduza, 3 April 2020

Self-isolation extended for female employees of Russian Investigative Committee

Female employees of the Russian Investigative Committee will stay home as part of the self-isolation regime until April 30, upon the order of the authority’s Chairman Alexander Bastrykin. RAPSI, 3 April 2020

Freedom of expression

Russian woman fined $400 for fake coronavirus news

MOSCOW, April 3 (RAPSI) – A court in Russia’s Chelyabinsk fined a local woman, who had published false information about the number of coronavirus positive people on her VKontakte page, 30,000 rubles ($400), the regional police directorate’s press service reported Friday. RAPSI, 3 April 2020

“Fake News” Bill Prompted by Covid-19 Threatens Freedom of Expression

On 31 March 2020, the Russian authorities passed amendments to the Criminal Code and to the Code of Administrative Offences that introduced criminal penalties for “public dissemination of knowingly false information” in the context of emergencies, and administrative penalties for media outlets that publish such information. The legislative changes also expand criminal sanctions for violating sanitary and epidemiological regulations. The two respective laws were passed by the State Duma and Council of Federation and signed by President Putin with extraordinary speed, on the same day, with nearly no public discussion. Amnesty International is concerned that these amendments will be used to further curtail the right to freedom of expression and silence criticism of the authorities. Amnesty International, 3 April 2020

Russia: Authorities detain doctor who exposed flaws in COVID-19 response

Reacting to the violent arrest and ongoing detention of Russian doctor Anastasia Vasilyeva, leader of a medical workers union who exposed weaknesses in the health system’s preparedness for fighting COVID-19, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Russia Director, said: “It is staggering that the Russian authorities appear to fear criticism more than the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. They justify the arrest and detention of Anastasia Vasilyeva on the pretext that she and her fellow medics violated travel restrictions – in fact they were attempting to deliver vital protective equipment to medics at a local hospital. By keeping her behind bars they expose their true motive – they are willing to punish health professionals who dare contradict the official Russian narrative and expose flaws in the public health system. Amnesty International, 3 April 2020

Bad bosses ‘Vedomosti’ fights for its independence as editors appeal to future owners, demanding a new editor-in-chief

The announced sale of Vedomosti and the appointment of Andrey Shmarov as acting editor-in-chief has led to a crisis at the respected Russian newspaper. Meduza, 31 March 2020

Prosecutors seek to bring Russia’s radio to liability for fake news distribution

Prosecutors have forwarded to the communications watchdog Roskomnadzor papers seeking to bring radio Echo of Moscow to administrative liability for distributing fake news about epidemic in a penal colony in Russia’s Orenburg, the press service of the Prosecutor General’s Office reports. RAPSI, 2 April 2020

For Russia’s Igor Rudnikov, coronavirus makes fight with Kaliningrad even tougher

Igor Rudnikov is the editor-in-chief of the independent Novye Kolyosa newspaper, based in the western Russian city of Kaliningrad. In 2017, agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested Rudnikov over his paper’s reporting, as CPJ documented at the time. He was released last year after an international outcry, but has continued to face harassment from local authorities, he told CPJ. CPJ, 30 March 2020

Right of association

Russia’s Human Rights Council urges Government to assist NGOs at time of pandemic

Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council has turned to the Government urging it to adopt a package of measures aimed at protecting NGOs during the coronavirus pandemic in a letter sent by the Council Chair Valery Fadeyev to Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, the body’s press-service informs. RAPSI, 1 April 2020


Moscow to Enforce Virus Quarantine With QR Codes, Smartphone App

Moscow authorities have developed a QR code system to allow residents to leave their homes as well as a smartphone app to monitor coronavirus patients’ movement in self-isolation, the city’s IT chief said Wednesday after tech experts raised privacy questions. The Moscow Times, 1 April 2020

Surrender everything 

Moscow officials are launching an app to monitor coronavirus patients’ compliance with home isolation. It requires access to geolocation, calls, and device settings. On April 2, the Moscow Mayor’s Office will launch a mobile app called “Social Monitoring” designed for coronavirus patients with mild symptoms recovering at home. Eduard Lysenko, the head of the city’s Information Technology Department, confirmed this information in an appearance today on the radio station Ekho Moskvy. Meduza, 1 April 2020

‘Cybergulag’: Russia looks to surveillance technology to enforce lockdown

Critics fear plans for enhanced monitoring could remain even after coronavirus crisis passes Russia is considering aggressive new surveillance methods as the country seeks to enforce mandatory shelter-in-place orders in cities including Moscow and St Petersburg and other regions across its 11 time zones. The Guardian, 2 April 2020

Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod Unveils Digital Passes to Enforce Virus Lockdown

Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod region has rolled out a QR code pass system to allow its 3.2 million residents to leave their homes during its coronavirus lockdown. The region, some 400 kilometers east of Moscow, introduced an indefinite quarantine similar to that of the Russian capital and the majority of other regions this week. Residents are only allowed to leave their homes for groceries or medicine, to walk their pets or to throw out the trash. The Moscow Times, 2 April 2020

Moscow’s Intrusive Proposal on COVID-19 Prevention

Reported Project Would Create Online Pass System Rachel Denber: Moscow is considering a highly intrusive, online regime for enforcing the lockdown imposed this week to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As of April 1, Russia had recorded more than 2,300 cases1,630 of them in Moscow. According to one media report all residents would need to request permission each time they want to leave the house. Human Rights Watch, 1 April 2020

The Military

COVID-19: Outbreak Delays Russian Army Conscription; Bulgarian Deputies To Be Tested

Thousands of new conscripts who were to begin their conscription into Russia’s armed forces have been told to stay home and wait because of the coronavirus outbreak. RFE/RL, 1 April 2020

Built On Bones: Russian Historians Fight To Prevent Defense Ministry From Building Over Site Of Nazi POW Camp

PSKOV, Russia — The general public in this northwestern Russian city about 750 kilometers from Moscow first found out that something was strange about a construction site in the neighborhood of Zavelichye back in 2006 — when kids went out to play and brought back human bones. During World War II, a horrific Nazi prisoner-of-war camp, or stalag, was located there. RFE/RL, 29 March 2020


Russian Election Officials Postpone All Votes Until After June 21

Russia’s election authorities have postponed all upcoming local and nationwide votes in the country until after June 21. The Central Election Commission (CEC) decided on April 3 that all votes would be held after June 21. RFE/RL, 3 April 2020


Moscow’s Air Pollution Drops As Coronavirus Lockdown Sets In

Air pollution in Moscow has significantly fallen as the coronavirus pandemic has pushed the city’s 12 million residents indoors and shuttered all nonessential business, the pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper reported Friday. The Moscow Times, 3 April 2020

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