Rights in Russia week-ending 30 October 2020

Other News of the Week

Freedom of expression

Committee for the Protection of Journalists, Monday, 26 October 2020: Russian federal authorities should investigate the circumstances of the death of journalist Irina Slavina, who died of self-immolation in early October after a campaign of legal harassment by authorities, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.   On October 2, 2020, Slavina, founder and chief editor of independent news website Koza.Press, died after setting herself on fire outside a regional branch of the interior ministry building in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, 400 kilometers (248 miles) east of Moscow, Russian and international media reported. She posted that same day on her Facebook page, “For my death, please blame the Russian Federation.” Slavina, 47, was known by her pen name; her legal last name was Murakhtayeva. 

RAPSI, Tuesday, 27 October 2020: A cassation appeal filed by a foundation established by Alexey Navalny against a ruling ordering the blogger and his associate Lyubov Sobol to pay 88 million rubles ($1.4 million) in favor a company supplying food to school has been dismissed, according to the Moscow District Commercial Court’s records.  In late 2019, the Moscow Commercial Court issued its ruling in favor of Moskovsky Shkolnik. Navalny was also ordered to retract and remove certain incorrect information from his YouTube channel. In March, appeals filed by Navalny and Sobol against the ruling were dismissed. Moskovsky Shkolnik, a company catering Moscow schools and residential care facilities, claimed it had lost a customer after the information was published.

RFE/RL, Wednesday, 28 October 2020: The teen drama Outlaw provides a racy depiction of a wild side of Soviet-era LGBT life, replete with sex, sacrilege, and coarse language. At least that is what moviegoers abroad saw in 2019, when the film was first presented to foreign audiences. But while a censored version – sans the swearing and minus an Orthodox priest in a compromising position — received clearance from the Culture Ministry and won a handful of awards at a Siberian film festival this spring, the nationwide launch is off to a rocky start after it was accused of being “pornographic.” Whereas many Russian movie rollouts can expect to involve more than 400 theaters across the country, Outlaw director Ksenia Ratushnaya told RFE/RL’s Russian Service, her film will open to local audiences in only about 10 theaters on October 29.

Meduza, Wednesday, 28 October 2020: State prosecutors are asking to close the trial of the police officers accused of staging Meduza correspondent Ivan Golunov’s false arrest to both the media and the public, a source in the judiciary told the state news agency TASS. In a comment to Meduza, Golunov’s lawyer Sergey Badamshin saidthat he and his client “always insisted on the most open court hearing” possible. On October 28, the Moscow City Court held a preliminary hearing on the Golunov case. It took place behind closed doors. The court will announce the results of the preliminary hearing tomorrow (October 29).

RFE/RL, Thursday, 29 October: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Russia remain near the top on the list of countries where the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says “impunity” in cases of murdered journalists is “entrenched.” The New York-based watchdog’s 2020 Global Impunity Index highlighted a total of 12 countries where “journalists are singled out for murder and their killers go free.”

CPJ, Thursday, 28 October 2020: CPJ’s 2020 Global Impunity Index spotlights countries where journalists are slain and their killers go free.

Global Impunity Index

Index rankCountryPopulation*Unsolved murders
4South Sudan11.15

Stalinism & Nazism

RAPSI, Friday, 30 October 2020: Definition of the mass grave site should be enshrined in Russian legislation, Chairman of the Presidential Council for Human Rights Valery Fadeyev said during the mourning action Bell of Memory on Friday. This gap in legislation puts obstacles for activists improving the mass-casualty burials of the victims of political repressions, he added. In certain regions of the Russian Federation mass graves are in a very bad state. There are problems when activist try to put the sites in order but regional authorities stand against their actions, Fadeyev stated. Therefore, he projected hope that corresponding legislative amendments will be adopted.

RFE/RL, Tuesday, 27 October 2020: A court in Russia has ruled that the mass killings of Soviet citizens in the village of Zhestyanaya Gorka in the northwestern region of Novgorod during World War II were an act of genocide. Prosecutors had earlier petitioned the Soletsk district court to rule that the execution by Nazis of at least 2,600 Soviet citizens, including civilians and prisoners of war, were war crimes and crimes against humanity. Last year, the remains of hundreds of people were discovered in Zhestyanaya Gorka and further investigations revealed that the people found at several sites were executed during the Nazi occupation in 1942-1943. Russia’s Investigative Committee in May launched a probe into the “genocide of the residents of the Novgorod and Pskov regions.”

Freedom of conscience

RFE/RL, Tuesday, 27 October 2020: A court in Russia has refused to release a Jehovah’s Witness, Danish citizen Dennis Christensen, who was sentenced to six years in prison on extremism charges that have been condemned by rights groups in Russia and abroad. The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website said that a court in Russia’s western region of Kursk on October 26 refused to replace Christensen’s unserved term with a fine despite the fact that the same court had approved such a move in June. Christensen was arrested in May 2017 and sentenced in February 2019. On June 23, the Lgov district court paroled Christensen after he served half of his sentence and ordered him to pay a fine of 400,000 rubles ($5,250) in place of serving the rest of his sentence. However, that ruling was overturned by the Kursk Regional Court and sent for retrial after local prosecutors had appealed the parole, insisting that Christensen had violated prison rules.

RFE/RL, Tuesday, 27 October 2020: A court in Russia’s Republic of Mordovia has fined the region’s Mufti Zaki Aizatullin after finding him guilty of distributing books deemed as extremist. Aizatullin’s lawyer, Marat Ashimov, told RFE/RL on October 26 that his client and the Muftiyat were fined 2,000 rubles ($26) and 100,000 rubles ($1,310), respectively. He said Aizatullin and his lawyers planned to appeal the ruling. Investigators said the case against Aizatullin was part of a larger investigation into alleged activities in Mordovia and neighboring regions of Tablighi Jamaat (Messenger’s Assembly), a Sunni movement banned in Russia. The case was launched after police found five copies of a book in Aizatullin’s mosque in July. Late Indian Islamic scholar Muhammad Yusuf Kandhlawi, who was one of the Tablighi Jamaat’s leaders, is the author of the book, titled Selected Khadises.

Right of association

Amnesty International, Monday, 26 October 2020: Yana Antonova, a paediatrician and a woman human rights defender from Krasnodar, southern Russia, was convicted on 2 October of “participating in the activities of an undesirable organization” and sentenced to 240 hours of community service. Yana Antonova has committed no crime and has faced prosecution, since March 2019, solely for her peaceful activism. She is appealing her conviction.

Women’s Rights

The Moscow Times, Tuesday, 27 October 2020: President Vladimir Putin has urged the government to improve abortion prevention strategies in an effort to reduce the number of terminated pregnancies and offset Russia’s population decline. Putin’s order was made public days after Poland’s top court deemed abortions performed in cases of fetal defects to be unconstitutional. For Poland, which already had some of Europe’s strictest abortion laws, the decision amounted to a near-total ban on the procedure, sparking mass protests in over 150 Polish cities. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and regional heads will be tasked with reassessing Russia’s abortion prevention strategies and developing mechanisms to increase funding for medical organizations that improve their abortion prevention rates, according to Putin’s order published Saturday.

LGBT Rights

Meduza, Wednesday, 28 October 2020: A court in Russia’s Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug has fined the former executive director of the “Dukh Ognya” (Spirit of Fire) film festival, 50,000 rubles ($634) for “promoting non-traditional sexual relationships among minors” — in other words, for violating the so-called “gay propaganda law.”  The former film festival director, Larisa Zhuravleva, told Znak.com about the fine herself. Apparently, the court made its ruling back in August, but she only found out about the fine after a bailiff contacted her. 


The Moscow Times, Friday, 30 October 2020: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny returned to his popular YouTube show for the first time after his poisoning with the Novichok nerve agent, accusing President Vladimir Putin of his attempted murder and vowing to return to Russia as soon as he recovers. Navalny, 44, appeared to his show’s 2 million subscribers on a video call from Germany, where he is currently recovering after spending over a month in a coma. The European Union two weeks ago sanctioned senior Kremlin and Federal Security Service (FSB) officials it held responsible for Navalny’s poisoning in Siberia, a claim the Kremlin denies.

The Courts

RAPSI, Wednesday, 28 October 2020: The State Duma passed a bill on powers and formation order of the country’s Constitutional Court in a final third reading on Wednesday, according to the official website of the lower house of Russia’s parliament. The draft law is related to amendments to the Constitution adopted on March 14. The initiative envisages that the Constitutional Court is to be consisted of 11 judges including a chairperson and a deputy chair. On a presidential request the Court will check necessary validity of draft laws on amendments to the Constitution, federal constitutional draft laws and federal and regional bills and adopted initiatives before their signing by the President, the legislative proposal reads. Under the bill, the Constitutional Court must solve issues on the possibility of execution of decisions and rulings of international bodies, foreign or international courts and arbitration. 


RAPSI, Thursday, 29 October 2020: Territorial bodies of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) must provide jailed persons with disabilities of I and II groups with assistants (hospital aides), Russia’s Ombudsman Tatiana Moskalkova believes. On Thursday, she presented a report on problems of rights protection of disabled citizens. Between January 1, 2019 and August 1, 2020, Moskalkova received 408 complaints from jailed persons with disabilities. As of January 2020, 18,900 disabled individuals are held in Russian penitentiary facilities.

RAPSI, Friday, 30 October 2020: The number of people held in Russia’s penitentiary facilities has reduced more than twofold in the past 20 years, according to Chairman of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation Vyacheslav Lebedev. As of October 1, 2020, there are 491,600 detainees and prisoners in Russia. In January 1999, their number reached 1.6 million persons, Lebedev said at the XV Conference of Supreme Courts’ Chairmen of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) member states on Friday. Lebedev also told other participants about juvenile delinquency in Russia. According to the Supreme Court’s head, the number of detained minors has decreased nearly sevenfold in the last 10 years; the minor convict rate has decreased threefold during the same period.


RFE/RL, Tuesday, 27 October 2020: A shoot-out between representatives of police units in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Chechnya has left two people dead, according to several local media reports. The reports, quoting various sources close to the volatile region’s law enforcement structures, said the shoot-out erupted between officers of the riot police (OMON) and the Russian National Guard’s special rapid-reaction unit (SOBR) in the town of Achkhoi-Matan on October 27.

RFE/RL, Friday, 30 October 2020: Swedish authorities have charged two individuals with attempted murder and accessory to attempted murder in a hammer attack on a blogger and outspoken critic of the authoritarian leader of Russia’s North Caucasus region of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. The Swedish Security Service (SAPO) said in a statement late on October 29 that the attack in February on Tumso Abdurakhmanov was suspected of being linked to “a regime in another country, the Russian republic of Chechnya.” “Activities and attacks by foreign powers against Sweden have intensified and broadened. The fact that another regime is suspected of being linked to an attempted murder in Sweden is an example of how intelligence activities have changed,” said Daniel Stenling, head of counterintelligence at SAPO. SAPO did not identify the suspects, but Sweden’s TT news agency reported the two were Russian citizens, a man and a woman.


Human Rights in Ukraine, Monday, 26 October 2020: At least 10 cells in the appallingly overcrowded SIZO [remand prison] in occupied Simferopol are ‘under quarantine’ with this almost certainly meaning that prisoners have been infected with Covid-19.  Although the Crimean Human Rights Group is aware of  cases of pneumonia, Russia is fiddling the records and placing Crimean prisoners’ lives in danger by not ensuring proper diagnoses and not testing for Covid-19.  This is true both of political prisoners held in occupied Crimea, and those in the Russian Federation, with the situation especially critical for a number of prisoners in their fifties and sixties with serious medical issues. The overcrowding, filth and unsanitary conditions in the Simferopol SIZO have been of major concern for many years.  of concern for many years.  In a stuffy cell of 30 m², in which 14 men are forced to take turns to sleep on 10 bunks, and probably use a scarcely cordoned-off ‘toilet’, the danger from coronavirus and other infectious diseases is immense.

Human Rights in Ukraine, Tuesday, 27 October 2020: Valery Bolshakov, a left-wing activist from Russian-occupied Sevastopol, has received a two and a half year suspended sentence, with a two-year trial period, for a picket and speech under the slogan ‘Down with the Putin police regime!’ in which he called for “the dictatorship of the proletariat”  This, as well as four social media posts, were accepted by the Russian-controlled Nazhimovsky District Court as public calls to ‘extremism’.  The ’court’ thus passed exactly the same sentence as that handed down by another judge from that same court in June 2019, but then overturned at appeal stage on 10 March this year by the Sevastopol City Court.

Human Rights in Ukraine, Wednesday, 28 October 2020: Aliye Mesutova died in the early hours of 27 October 2020, a year and a half after her son, Ruslan, was arrested on the monstrously fabricated charges that have become a standard weapon of Russia’s persecution of Crimean Muslims  She had scarcely seen her son since his arrest, with permission for a visit in May this year, organized with the help of Mesutov’s lawyer, arriving on the day that Mesutov was taken to Rostov-on-Don in Russia for the so-called ‘trial’.  A computer had been set up in her room, so that the elderly lady could at least follow details about her son’s persecution and the political trials of other Crimean Tatars reported by the vital Crimean Solidarity initiative.  She recently recounted to Mumine Saliyeva, human rights defender and wife of prisoner of conscience Seiran Saliyev, how she had received a call from Ukraine’s Consul in Rostov-on-Don, Taras Malyshevsky.  “He told me that I have a wonderful son and said so many good things about him. He’d visited him in the SIZO, and says that the issue of Crimea and political prisoners is raised on all international platforms.”

Human Rights in Ukraine, Thursday, 29 October 2020: A Russian court has refused to revoke a formal court complaint that could lead to renowned human rights lawyer Lilya Hemedzhi being stripped of her licence to practice.  The Military Court of Appeal in the Moscow Region rejected the defence’s application to see the extract from the court decision which supposedly proved Hemedzhi’s ‘guilt’, while the transcript of the court hearing has still not been prepared, making it effectively impossible to demonstrate what had actually happened.  The rejection of Hemedzhi’s appeal on 28 October was largely anticipated, but cannot be tolerated and Hemedzhi and her colleague, Edem Semedlyaev, plan to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights.  Such a formal complaint aimed at getting disciplinary measures brought against a lawyer is, after all, not just an attack on Hemedzhi herself, but an attempt to silence all lawyers who properly defend their clients in political trials.  The worrying pressure was recognized by the EU Office in Russia which issued a message on Twitter, expressing “concern over the pressure on defence lawyer Lilya Hemedzhi.  The separate court complaint issued against her could lead to Ms Hemedzhi being stripped of her lawyer status.  We value the efforts of those who defend Crimean Tatars and call on the authorities to stop persecuting lawyers”.

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