Rights in Russia week-ending 3 December 2021

Our round-up of the week’s news

27 November 2021

RFE/RL: A court in Russia on November 27 ordered five people to remain in pretrial detention for two months pending a probe into an explosion at a coal mine in Siberia that left dozens dead. Russian authorities reported 51 deaths after a suspect methane explosion rocked the Listvyazhnaya mine in the Kemerovo region in southwestern Siberia on November 25, killing 46 miners and five rescuers.

28 November 2021

RFE/RL: The bodies of five coal miners who were killed when an explosion ripped through a mine in the Siberian region of Kemerovo on November 25 have been recovered and brought to the surface, local officials reported. The regional government’s office posted on November 28 that one team of rescue workers was still in the mine, pumping out water and stabilizing carbon monoxide levels.

RFE/RL: Nadezhda Sat’s story is a familiar one to residents of the south Siberian region of Tyva. Ten years ago, she took out a loan to buy a car. “There are expenses in Tyva that you simply must get a loan for,” she told RFE/RL’s Russian Service. “Such as a car. Public transportation is very bad — we don’t have commuter trains or trams or trolley buses. Even the normal buses run sporadically. And to simply save up money and buy a car is not realistic, particularly since cars keep getting more expensive.”

29 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Monday confirmed 33,860 Covid-19 infections and 1,209 deaths.

RFE/RL: A Russian man who disguised himself as a medical worker so he could treat his COVID-19-stricken grandmother and reveal the bleak picture of how coronavirus patients were being treated in a hospital in the Siberian city of Tomsk has fled the country fearing for his safety. Sergei Samborsky told The Insider investigative group on November 28 that he is currently in Georgia after leaving Russia.

RFE/RL: Prosecutors have asked a Moscow court to sentence an ultraconservative, coronavirus-denying Russian priest who was stripped of his religious rank to four years in prison on charges of vigilantism, violating the right to religious freedom, and encouraging suicide. Prosecutors leveled the charges at the trial of Father Sergiy (Nikolai Romanov) during a hearing on November 29 at the Izmailovo district court.

FIDH: The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary detention and release of Mr. Edem Semedlyaev, a Crimean Tatar human rights lawyer who has been engaged in the defence of Crimean Tatar activists and other activists and journalists in Crimea prosecuted in politically motivated cases.

Human Rights in UkraineDilyaver Memetov, one of the coordinators of the important civic initiative Crimean Solidarity, was jailed for 12 days on 27 November, after a Russian-controlled ‘court’ made essentially no pretence of considering the charges against him.  It seems clear that the young man’s imprisonment was intended from the moment on 26 November that a Russian-controlled police officer ran up and seized him outside a court involved in the political trial of seven Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Rustem Useinov, a 66-year-old veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, did not see his home and garden razed to the ground by Russian occupiers on 24 November, but only because he had become dangerously unwell and been taken to hospital.  Neither the fact that the 66-year-old was suffering from pneumonia (and had, reportedly, only been discharged from hospital the previous day), nor the approaching winter prevented the occupiers from wantonly destroying the home he had built and lived in for over two decades.   Russia has demonstrated over and over again that those who oppose its invasion and annexation of Crimea can expect harassment and persecution, and the demolition of Useinov’s home was almost certainly in reprisal for his refusal to look away when other Crimean Tatars are imprisoned on fabricated charges.

30 November 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Tuesday confirmed 32,648 Covid-19 infections, the lowest number since Oct. 15, as well as 1,229 deaths.

The Moscow Times: Russia has deported an American professor at a prestigious St. Petersburg university who was associated with a U.S. college that was blacklisted by the authorities earlier this year, media reported Monday. Michael Freese, a professor in St. Petersburg State University’s Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty, was banned from returning to Russia until 2026, according to the St. Petersburg-based Fontanka.ru news website. 

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russia’s attempt to ban the Memorial Human Rights Centre is based on an ‘opinion’ by two individuals without any expert knowledge and with either no academic publications at all, or just three, and none in the relevant field.  Despite lack of qualification, clear evidence of plagiarism and much more, judge Mikhail Yurievich Kazakov from the Moscow City Court has refused to summon Natalia Kryukova and Alexander Tarasov to answer questions from Memorial’s lawyers. The second preliminary hearing was heard on 29 November, with Kazakov deciding that there should be at least one more preliminary hearing, on 16 December, before substantive examination of the application lodged in early November 2021 by the Moscow prosecutor to have the Memorial Human Rights Centre dissolved.

RFE/RL: Amnesty International has turned to the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples regarding the situation faced by a Yakut shaman who is being held in a psychiatric clinic in Siberia against his will because of his attempts to march to Moscow with the stated goal to “drive Russian President Vladimir Putin out of the Kremlin.” The rights watchdog said in a November 29 statement that Aleksandr Gabyshev has been held “illegally” in a specialized psychiatric clinic under intense supervision in the city of Novosibirsk, some 5,000 kilometers away from his native city of Yakutsk, the capital of the Republic of Sakha-Yakutia.

RFE/RL: A court in Moscow has sentenced an ultraconservative, coronavirus-denying Russian priest who was stripped of his religious rank to 3 1/2 years in prison on charges of vigilantism, violating the right to religious freedom, and encouraging suicide. The Izmailovo district court pronounced the verdict and sentence of Father Sergiy (Nikolai Romanov) on November 30.

The Moscow Times: Russia is developing special AI-powered software that will be able to detect and prevent mass unrest as soon as next year, the Kommersant business daily reported Tuesday, citing the Emergency Situations Ministry. The futuristic technology uses machine learning to carry out a “multi-factor, comprehensive analysis of the likelihood of riots and unauthorized public events,” according to a draft methodology cited by Kommersant. 

The Moscow Times: Russia’s leading media conglomerate has launched a domestic rival to the hugely popular video-sharing app TikTok as Russia’s campaign to reduce the influence of foreign websites and technology advances. Gazprom Media, a subsidiary of state-owned gas giant Gazprom, launched the service, named “Yappy,” on Monday. It is currently available to download from both the Apple App Store and Google Play. Yappy was developed with the support of the Innopraktika foundation, an organization run by Katerina Tikhonova, one of President Vladimir Putin’s alleged daughters, the Kommersant business paper reported last year.

The Moscow Times: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that his recently attained constitutional right to get re-elected in 2024 gives the country automatic “stability.” Putin reiterated that he is still undecided about running for his fifth overall presidential term during Tuesday’s appearance at an investment forum by video link. Constitutional amendments passed last year granted him the ability to stay in power until 2036 by resetting his number of terms served.

Human Rights in Ukraine: 63-year-old Oleh Prykhodko is suffering from painful swelling of the legs due to the appalling treatment the recognized political prisoner is receiving in a Russian prison ‘for particularly dangerous criminals’.  The Ukrainian, who never concealed his vehement opposition to Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, is being kept in a total information vacuum, and is not being passed the important medication that his family sends.

1 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Wednesday confirmed 32,837 Covid-19 infections and 1,226 deaths.

RFE/RL: Russia’s Investigative Committee says a military court has sentenced a man to 25 years in prison for being a member of a group led by late Chechen separatist field commander Shamil Basayev that attacked another North Caucasus region, Daghestan. The Investigative Committee said on December 1 that Russia’s Southern Military Court in the city of Rostov-on-Don had sentenced Shamil Umakhanov after finding him guilty of being a member of an illegal armed group, armed mutiny, and attempted murder of law enforcement officers.

RFE/RL: Shortly before he hurriedly left Russia for Georgia, Sergei Samborsky visited the office of presidential human rights commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova. A resident of Tomsk, Samborsky made headlines last month after he released shocking video of appalling conditions inside the “red zone” of the Siberian city’s largest COVID-19 hospital. In a telephone interview from self-imposed exile, he told RFE/RL that “reliable” sources in Moskalkova’s office advised him to leave the country immediately. “People there who are in the know told me not to stay in Russia,” Samborsky said, adding that he was told it would be “very dangerous” to remain.

The Guardian: The US says it has evidence Russia has made plans for a “large scale” attack on Ukraine and that Nato allies are “prepared to impose severe costs” on Moscow if it attempts an invasion. Speaking at a Nato ministers meeting in Latvia, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said it was unclear whether Vladimir Putin had made a decision to invade but added: “He’s putting in place the capacity to do so in short order, should he so decide.

The Guardian: “He consciously positioned himself as an anti-totalitarian writer (in that he was both anti-fascist and anti-Bolshevik), championing love, artistic freedom and individual identity, and seeking to give them heightened expression at a time of mounting political pressures that would rather deny them, at a time when writers were desperately seeking out new ways in which art could provide adequate response to political tyranny. Without exaggeration, I believe we’re living in a time when these ideas have renewed political, cultural and artistic significance.” [Translator Bryan Karetnyk on Yuri Felsen]

2 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Thursday confirmed 33,389 Covid-19 infections and 1,221 deaths.

RFE/RL: A court in Moscow has switched the one-year suspended sentence handed to opposition politician Lyubov Sobol, a close associate of jailed anti-corruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny, to actual prison time. […] Media reports have said that Sobol is currently in neighboring Estonia.

RFE/RL: Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) says it has apprehended three Ukrainian nationals suspected of working for Ukraine’s intelligence agencies, a claim Kyiv immediately rejected.

The Moscow Times: A Moscow court has fined opposition activists for staging a photo op with Russian and U.S. flags near the Kremlin in solidarity with a U.S. congressional proposal not to recognize Vladimir Putin’s presidency past 2024, independent media reported Wednesday. The Parnas opposition party said police had detained three of its activists on Nov. 21 for the Red Square photo op. 

Amnesty International: Eight political activists are on trial or awaiting trial in Ingushetia (Southern Russia) for leading a peaceful protest campaign in 2018 and 2019. They are facing serious charges, including participation in an “extremist association”, that could lead to prison terms of up to nine years. Having examined the charges and the available evidence, Amnesty International is concerned that the accusations against them are politically motivated and stem solely from their legitimate political and social activities. 

Amnesty International: Amnesty International is deeply concerned about the unprecedented pressure placed by the Russian authorities on defence lawyers Ivan Pavlov and Evgeny Smirnov representing Russian journalist, Ivan Safronov, who has been charged with high treason. The organization is also concerned about the continuing unlawful pressure exerted by the investigative authorities on Ivan Safronov and the conditions of his pre-trial detention. The actions of the Russian authorities violate the rights to fair trial, freedom of expression and freedom of association, as well as are entirely inconsistent with the obligations to protect human rights defenders.

RFE/RL: In September 2020, Sergei Boiko, then the head of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s local office, unexpectedly won a seat on the Novosibirsk city council. At the time, he told RFE/RL that his association with Navalny had been nothing but a plus for him. […] Now, the 38-year-old Novosibirsk lawmaker is in self-imposed exile in Greece, unwilling to return to Russia for fear that a criminal case is brewing against him. Looking back over the past year, he says he could not have predicted how events in Russia would have played out in such a short time.

The Guardian: Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin are due to hold talks “in the near future” after their top diplomats made no apparent progress in Stockholm towards defusing a standoff over Ukraine, amid fears of a Russian invasion. The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov opted not to make a joint appearance after trading threats during a 40-minute meeting whose short duration indicated there was little chance of a breakthrough.

RFE/RL: Russian journalist Aleksei Malinovsky and his family have been granted political asylum in France, where they fled in September fearing for their safety after police raided their house and assaulted him. Malinovsky worked for the Novyye Kolyosa (New Wheels) newspaper in Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, which is sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland.

RFE/RL: China and Russia have pushed disinformation and propaganda about the origins of COVID-19, unproven cures for the disease, and the efficacy of vaccines aimed at winning over foreign audiences and sowing distrust toward Western governments since the emergence of the deadly virus in the Chinese city of Wuhan two years ago, a new study shows. The strategies used by Chinese and Russian politicians and how their state media outlets carry out these campaigns is the focus of a new study from the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) released on December 2.

RFE/RL: In the 11 years spanning two of Russia’s deadliest mining disasters — at least 51 at Listvyazhnaya, 91 at Raspadskaya — coal mining has grown significantly in the country. And it’s poised to grow even further. The Russian government has called for increased annual production to reach a minimum of 485 million tons by 2035. That’s up from 441 million tons in 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic put a brake on the global economy.

3 December 2021

The Moscow Times: Russia on Friday confirmed 32,930 Covid-19 infections and 1,217 deaths.

RFE/RL: Imprisoned Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny has paid a fine of 850,000 rubles ($11,500) in a libel case involving a World War II veteran, the press service of the Moscow court that heard the case said on December 2.

RSF: While stepping up their harassment of journalists via the “foreign agents” law, the Russian authorities are now also targeting their lawyers. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an end to the harassment and prosecution of media lawyers and condemns the steps being taken to deprive reporters of legal assistance. […] Russia is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

Meduza: The state prosecution in the trial of Yuri Dmitriev has asked to prolong the historian’s sentence, his lawyer Roman Masalev told TASS. This took place during a hearing at the Petrozavodsk City Court in Russia’s Karelia on Friday, December 3. “[The state prosecutor] asked to add two years to the current 13-year term and to appoint [a final sentence] of 15 years in prison,” said Masalev. The lawyer clarified that the prosecutor also asked that Dmitriev serve his sentence in a maximum-security prison colony. 

Meduza: Tomsk oppositionist and RusNews journalist Igor Kuznetsov, who is in jail pending trial for allegedly attempting to instigate “mass riots” using Telegram, is facing new charges. According to lawyer Sergey Badamshin, the FSB’s Moscow branch has charged Kuznetsov with creating an extremist group (under Russian Criminal Code Article 282.1).

The Moscow Times: Russia’s Gazprom has gained control of the country’s largest social media network, VKontakte, following a string of deals to buy out Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov from the platform’s holding company.

Meduza: Leadership of Vkontakte, Russia’s most popular social network, will likely fall to the son of the Kremlin’s domestic policy czar, two sources told The Bell on Friday, claiming “95-percent certainty” that Vladimir Kiriyenko will take over as CEO. A day earlier, another source claimed that Kiriyenko Jr. might find work in the insurance behemoth Sogaz, which acquired control over VK on Thursday in a monster deal with Alisher Usmanov’s USM holding company. Another two sources confirmed to the news website RBC that Vladimir Kiriyenko will be VK’s next head.

RFE/RL: Maksim Martsinkevich, a notorious Russian ultranationalist who died in custody last year, is to be tried posthumously on murder charges, a lawyer representing his family said on December 3. Lawyer Aleksei Mikhalchik told the TASS news agency that the charges filed posthumously against Martsinkevich by the Investigative Committee were based on alleged confessions he had made in a Siberian prison before his death. The 36-year-old’s death in a detention center in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk in September 2020 sparked allegations of foul play.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russia’s Security Service [FSB] reported on 2 December that it had ‘broken up intelligence and sabotage activities by Ukraine’s Security Service ‘ in three Russian regions.  Three Ukrainians have been arrested, with the only proof of such alleged activities coming from ‘videoed confessions’ made by men totally under the control of the FSB.  

Human Rights in Ukraine: Russia needs to send war and destruction to Ukraine to maintain ‘stability’ in Russia and prop up the current regime, under President Vladimir Putin.  That is according to Vladislav Surkov who was, at least until early 2020, Putin’s aide and who is believed to have been in charge of the self-styled ‘republics’ in occupied Donbas. Surkov’s article, published on 20 November 2021, is the latest of a series of incriminating revelations from prominent Russian players which obligingly give the lie to the Kremlin’s attempts to pass off the conflict in Ukraine as a ‘civil war’.

The Moscow Times: Russia has dismantled a notorious facility dubbed the “whale jail” that kept dozens of the mammals in cramped conditions, causing an international outcry. Almost 100 whales were kept in the secretive facility in Srednyaya Bay near the far eastern town of Nakhodka in 2018, before being released after an intense campaign by animal rights and environmentalist groups in 2019.

RFE/RL: The United States is tracking enough indicators surrounding Russian military activity near Ukraine to trigger “a lot of concern,” the top U.S. military officer said on December 2, while Ukraine’s defense minister warned of a possible large-scale military offensive by Moscow next month.

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