Rights in Russia week-ending 3 July 2020


Russia’s forced referendum

Over the past month, the Kremlin’s proposed constitutional referendum has dominated the political agenda in Russia. The proposed changes, among other points, would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power past his current term. After Putin announced that the vote, previously set for April, would take place on 1 July, regional authorities began removing quarantine restrictions. It seems they’re not compatible with celebrations for the new edition of the constitution. Miraculously, the official statistics for coronavirus infections began to improve simultaneously, provoking concerns over falsification and tampering from some experts. Regardless, the coming plebiscite has won over public discussion and even taken over from the pandemic. The referendum is widely discussed online. More than 80% of Russian citizens knew about the vote two weeks in advance, polls say. OpenDemocracy, 27 June 2020

Russian Election Commission: Turnout Passes 28 Percent On Third Day Of Constitutional-Amendments Vote

Russia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) says overall turnout was nearly 28.5 percent on the third day of a weeklong vote for constitutional amendments that could pave the way for an extension of President Vladimir Putin’s rule by 12 years. Almost 31 million people have cast ballots, including remote online voting, CEC chairwoman Ella Pamfilova said on June 28. Pamfilova also said that the CEC has received 113 complaints of irregularities. Some 110.5 million people are eligible to cast ballots in the nationwide vote, which ends on July 1. RFE/RL, 28 June 2020

‘A Historic Crime’: Russian State TV Anchor Quits Over Promotion Of Draft Constitutional Amendments

A state television journalist and news moderator in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk has resigned, saying that he could no longer “participate in the madness” of promoting the proposed constitutional amendments that, among other things, could enable Russian President Vladimir Putin to remain in office until 2036. RFE/RL, 29 June 2020

Court refusals to follow Constitutional Court opinion prevent consolidation of Constitution primacy

ST. PETERSBURG, June 29 (RAPSI, Mikhail Telekhov) – Refusals on the part of general jurisdiction courts to follow opinions of Russia’s Constitutional Court or administer differently interpreted law are to be considered as noncompliance with the Court’s decisions, what prevents consolidation of Russia’s Constitution primacy and violates the right to judicial protection, according to a recent Constitutional Court’s judgment. RAPSI, 29 June 2020

Russia’s Presidential Council denies reports of voting violations

Nearly all of the reports of electoral violations collected by the voter protection movement “Golos” during the plebiscite on constitutional amendments are false, says Alexander Brod, a member of Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and co-chair of the association “Civil Control.” “Our observers, experts, and human rights defenders state that 92 percent of the reported complaints constitute fake information,” Brod said. The Golos movement’s preliminary report on the early voting period (June 25–June 30) states that as of 1:00 p.m., Moscow time, on June 30, they had received 1,587 reports, of which 682 contained evidence of voting violations. Brod insisted that “going by Golos’s logic and their style of work,” one can assume that the number of complaints about violations could reach 5,000. Meduza, 30 June 2020

Journalists uncover potential voter coercion among Moscow subway workers

The leaders of the Moscow Metro’s trade union are allegedly forcing subway workers to vote in Russia’s constitutional plebiscite, reports the BBC Russian Service.  This was revealed by BBC correspondent Pyotr Kozlov, who was accidentally added to an internal group chat for the Moscow subway’s trade union, after he was given an MTS brand SIM card at work in 2018. The corresponding phone number previously belonged to the head of the primary trade union organization for Moscow’s Sviblovo metro depot. Meduza, 30 June 2020

Apparent Ballot Stuffer Is Caught Red-Handed (And Blue-Gloved) At Russian Polling Station

An election observer declared that “all is very good” when it came to voting at polling station No. 568 in the Russian city of Saransk, with everything well-organized and no violations seen. But eagle-eyed viewers of Mordovian Public Television noticed something amiss while watching the state channel’s coverage of the nationwide vote on constitutional amendments that open the door to President Vladimir Putin remaining in office until 2036. Ten seconds into a clip of the June 29 news segment posted on the VK page Saransk Wall Of Shame, and just as a correspondent’s voice-over talks about the fairness of the process, a blue-gloved hand is seen stuffing multiple ballots into a sealed ballot box. RFE/RL, 1 July 2020

Crimean Tatar political prisoners punished for refusing to take part in Russia’s ’forever Putin referendum’

Several Crimean Tatar prisoners and their cellmates have been threatened and punished because they refused to take part in the pseudo ‘referendum’ on amendments to Russia’s Constitution.  The amendments are aimed both at enabling Vladimir Putin to be President for another 10 years and, theoretically, at preventing moves to return Crimea which Russia is illegally occupying.  Nobody is in any doubt as to ‘the result’, which can be easily rigged.  The only difficulty lies in obtaining frequency broadly commensurate with the fiddled results. Over recent days there have been the familiar reports of public sector and educational workers, and others, being forced to vote on threat of dismissal, with others also bribed or threatened “with difficulties” if they don’t take part. Human Rights in Ukraine, 1 July 2020

Freedom of expression

Dozens Detained in Russia For Protesting Prosecution of Feminist Activist

Police in Moscow detained 40 people last weekend for holding peaceful protests in solidarity with a young woman who is facing up to six years in prison for running a feminist blog. On June 9, authorities in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, in Russia’s far east, officially charged Yulia Tsvetkova with “pornography dissemination.” Tsvetkova runs a social media group that features artwork depicting vulvas, celebrating female bodies, and protesting taboos around female anatomy and menstruation. Tsvetkova was put under house arrest in November 2019 and released in March – subject to a travel ban – pending investigation. Her indictment three months later has sparked a vigorous campaign defending her, including protests, social media flash mobs that has gained significant media support. Human Rights Watch, 30 June 2020

Journalist Assaulted at Polling Station During Vote on Putin’s Rule

Russian journalist and photographer David Frenkel was injured in an attack at a St. Petersburg polling station during Russia’s vote on controversial constitutional reforms, the Mediazona news website where he works reported Tuesday. Video footage showed Frenkel screaming in pain as two police officers knocked him to the ground in a crowded hallway after a brief altercation. Mediazona said the officers attempted to kick out Frenkel, who had arrived after an election monitor complained that they were being forced out as well. The Moscow Times, 30 June 2020

Investigation Launched Into Allegations Russian Police Broke Journalist’s Arm At Polling Station

Russian investigators have launched a preliminary probe into allegations that two police officers broke a journalist’s arm at a polling station in St. Petersburg during a vote to change the constitution. David Frenkel, a reporter and photographer for the independent outlet Mediazona, underwent surgery due to his injury on June 30, Mediazona said. Video of the incident posted on social media shows two police officers tackling Frenkel to the ground. A cracking noise can be heard, followed by Frenkel screaming out in pain. RFE/RL, 1 July 2020

Right of Assembly

Four arrested during rally opposing constitutional amendments in St. Petersburg

At least four people were arrested in St. Petersburg during a “Stop the Amendments” rally against changes to the Russian constitution, reports OVD-Info. More than 100 people reportedly attended the protest. Three of the detainees — Vladimir Shipitsyn, Alexey Arkhipov, and Pavel Ivankin — were formally arrested because of another protest action, OVD-Info says.  Meduza, 1 July 2020

Freedom of conscience

Prosecutors in Russia Object to Parole for Jehovah’s Witness

Everything seemed to be in place for Dennis Christensen to leave a Russian prison in early July. On June 23, a judge paroled him, after he served half of a 6-year sentence, while also ordering him to pay a 400,00 ruble (US$5,714) fine. Mr. Christensen was indefensibly prosecuted on charges of “extremism” because of the way he practices religion as a Jehovah’s Witness. Today, Christensen’s lawyer, Anton Bogdanov, confirmed to Human Rights Watch that the prosecutor’s office has appealed the grant of parole, arguing Christensen allegedly violated prison rules. He will remain in custody until a court hearing on the appeal, which could be as late as August. Human Rights Watch, 1 July 2020

LGBT rights

‘People were being hunted’ Watch a clip from the new ‘HBO’ documentary about LGBTQ evacuations from Russia’s Chechnya

On June 30, HBO released David France’s new documentary film Welcome to Chechnya to U.S. viewers. It tells the story of Moscow activists David Isteyev and Olga Baranova, as they work to secretly evacuate LGBTQ people from Russia’s Chechnya, taking them to temporary shelters in Moscow or abroad. In order to maintain the anonymity of the film’s main subjects, the director changed their voices, used pseudonyms, and — in a first for a documentary filmmaking — hid their faces with the faces of other people (a kind of deepfake in reverse). The documentary itself was shot on a cheap Sony camera — during some of the filming in Chechnya, the director pretended to be a tourist. To get the most dangerous shots, they used a GoPro or a cellphone camera. The documentary’s world premiere took place at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Whether or not the film will be shown in Russia remains unknown. Meduza shares a clip from Welcome to Chechnya, which demonstrates how the activists organized the evacuations. Meduza, 30 June 2020

Deepfake Technology Enters the Documentary World

A film about persecuted gays and lesbians in Chechnya uses digital manipulation to guard their identities without losing their humanity. The step raises familiar questions about nonfiction movies. When the documentarian David France decided to chronicle the anti-gay and lesbian purges that had unleashed a wave of fear and violence in Chechnya, he needed more than just a camera. The New York Times, 1 July 2020

Police violence

ECtHR appoints compensation to relatives of Dagestani who died after torture by law enforcers

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has obliged Russia to pay 98,000 euros of compensation to the relatives of Marat Satybalov, a resident of Dagestan, who died after being beaten up at some power body. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that in 2010, Luiza Khaigaeva, a resident of the village of Aksai, Khasavyurt District, turned to Vladimir Lukin, the then Russian Ombudsman, asking him to punish the law enforcers who had beaten her husband to death. Caucasian Knot, 1 July 2020

Dagestan: law enforcers accused of violence left under house arrest

The Supreme Court (SC) of Dagestan has upheld the decision of the first-instance court, which sent the two law enforcers detained for extorting and forcing Yulduz Kurashova, a local resident, to self-incriminate, under house arrest. After the decision of the first-instance about the house arrest of the law enforcers, the woman had to move to another residence, her advocate has stated. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that the above law enforcers were suspected of abuse of powers after Yulduz Kurashova had complained about coercion to self-incrimination and extortion. The victim stated that after the initiation of the case against law enforcers, she began receiving threats. On June 12, the court sent both operative agents under house arrest. Caucasian Knot, 1 July 2020

Domestic Violence

Chechnya’s Leader Hinders Justice for Domestic Violence Victim

Two weeks ago, Madina Umaeva, 23, died in Russia’s Chechen Republic under suspicious circumstances. She had previously complained to family members about her husband repeatedly beating her. On the day she died, neighbors heard screams from her house and said Madina’s mother-in-law chased away a neighbor who saw Madina lying on the ground in the yard, claiming it was “nothing but theatrics.” Human Rights Watch, 26 June 2020

Human Rights Education

How can we talk about human rights with our neighbours, students and relatives?

In May 2020, Amnesty International presented the results of the Human Rights Dialogue for Russia, a joint project implemented by the Eastern Europe and Central Asia office with Amnesty International Netherlands. The project’s aim is to present human rights to the widest possible range of potential participants through a conversation about values and a respectful exchange of views. “When we discovered that people in the Netherlands were very interested in discussing certain social issues like discrimination and refugees, we wanted to do two things. Firstly, to encourage people to look at those kinds of issues from a human rights perspective. We wanted them to ‘put their human rights glasses’ on, so to speak. And secondly, we wanted to facilitate these discussions, so that people within the so-called ‘silent majority’ felt safe and secure enough to speak out.” Kirsja Oudshoorn, Senior Officer for Human Rights Education at Amnesty Netherlands. Amnesty International, 26 June 2020

Ramzan Kadyrov

Bad Neighbors: Chechnya’s Kadyrov Tied To Moscow Apartment Where Head Of Nord-Ost Attackers Lived

Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov and his family have been tied to an undeclared Moscow apartment in the same building where the head of a group of Chechen terrorists lived and planned the deadly “Nord-Ost” hostage-taking at a Moscow theater in October 2002, an opposition-backed media outlet has reported. Open Media, an online investigative resource funded by Kremlin foe and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, reported on June 29 that Moscow property records show the Kadyrov family owns a 153-square-meter apartment on Veyernaya Street, in a leafy section of Moscow, with an estimated market value of about 50 million rubles ($713,000). RFE/RL, 30 June 2020

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