Review of the week
Compiled by Simon Cosgrove
As suggested in our quote for the week by Olga Sadovskaya, Russia’s constitutional amendments will undermine the rule of law and see Russia drifting further from the standards of international law. The impact of the amendments can also be seen in a bill passed by the Russian Parliament at the end of last week to make compulsory the teaching of ‘Russian patriotism’ in the country’s schools. This week has seen former journalist Ivan Safronov refuse to sign a plea bargain and maintain his innocence of charges of treason, against a growing background of public discontent over the current offensive by the authorities against freedom of expression and the role of journalists. We highlight the work of Ivan Pavlov, Safronov’s lead lawyer. Arbitrary repression of the right of assembly can be seen in the charges brought against Moscow City Duma deputy Yulia Galiamina, for taking part in peaceful protests, in a case highlighted by Amnesty International. Restrictions on the right of association were exemplified by the fate of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, led by Aleksei Navalny, which, as announced last week, is closing down because of pressure from the authorities. This week the Foundation was fined for violating the ‘foreign agent’ law and its director, Ivan Zhdanov, was fined for failing to delete a film accusing former prime minister Dmitry Medvedev of corruption.
Freedom of expression
On Monday, 27 July 2020, Ivan Safronov, a former journalist arrested on treason charges, was isolated in the FSB’s Lefortovo remand prison where he is being held with suspected coronavirus, prison watchdog representatives told Interfax. Safronov faces a closed trial and up to 20 years’ imprisonment if convicted. On Friday, 31 July, RAPSI reported that Human Rights Ombudsman Moskalkova said Safronov had undergone two coronavirus tests and both gave negative results. He was to be transferred back to a common cell from a quarantine unit, she added.
On Tuesday, 28 July, reports said Safronov had refused to sign a plea deal with investigators, according to his attorney Ivan Pavlov. An investigator had proposed a plea bargain to Safronov envisaging a guilty plea and disclosure of his journalist sources. Safronov refused and insists he is innocent of the charges.
On Monday, 27 July 2020, the Committee to Protect Journalists said authorities in the Russian republic of Dagestan should conduct a swift and thorough investigation into the death threat against journalist Svetlana Anokhina and ensure she has adequate protection. On 22 July a man called Anokhina and threatened to kill her, the journalist told CPJ in a phone interview. Anokhina, a Dagestani journalist, is the chief editor of Daptar.ru an independent site dedicated to women’s issues in the Caucasus.
On Monday, 27 July 2020, a court in St. Petersburg fined Mediazona news website correspondent David Frenkel 500 rubles ($7), finding him guilty of refusing to follow a police officer’s instructions at a polling station on 30 June. David Frenke’s collarbone was broken by a police officer in the polling station as he reported on the national vote on constitutional amendments.
On Tuesday, 28 July, a Moscow court ruled that the director of Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Ivan Zhdanov, had failed to comply with a ruling to delete a film that accused former prime minister Dmitry Medvedev of controlling a huge luxury property empire (in 2017 billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who is mentioned in the film, won a lawsuit to have the film deleted). Zhdanov was fined 100,000 roubles ($1,380). Earlier that day another court had fined , the Anti-Corruption Foundation for violating Russia’s controversial law on ‘foreign agents’ (see below).
Right of assembly
On Monday, 27 July, thousands of protesters continued to rally in the central square of Khabarovsk, demanding the release and return of the region’s governor, Sergei Furgal, who is held in a remand prison in Moscow on charges of attempted murder and ordering two contract killings some 15 years ago.
On Tuesday, 28 July, Khabarovsk’s Central District Court sentenced local protester Rostislav Buryak to eight days in prison. Buryak is best known as the owner of the so-called ‘Furgalmobile,’ a food truck decorated with slogans in support of the region’s ousted governor, Sergei Furgal.
On Tuesday, 28 July, Moscow’s Meshchansky district court jailed Left Front leader and opposition figure Sergei Udaltsov for 10 days for organising an unauthorized rally in Moscow.
On Wednesday, 29 July, police in Russia’s Far East detained three people who demonstrated in support of the arrested former governor of the Khabarovsk region, Sergei Furgal. A coordinator of the opposition Open Russia organization, Sergei Naumov, told RFE/RL Svetlana Dilman, her son Yevgeny, and an activist known as Dmitry were detained in the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur. “Svetlana told me by phone that five police officers severely beat her son while they detained him,” Naumov said. In Khabarovsk, supporters of Furgal rallied on 29 July for the 19th straight day.
On Friday, 31 July, investigators launched a criminal case against Moscow City Duma deputy Yulia Galyamina for “repeated violations of the rules on conducting public events” under Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code, often referred to as “Dadin’s article” after activist Ildar Dadin, the first person to be convicted under this article following its introduction in 2014. According to Meduza, the Investigative Committee noted that on 15 July Galyamina published slogans online, calling for participation in rallies that did not have official permission against recent changes to the Russian constitution, and said that she has faced multiple administrative charges for “violating the rules on conducting public events” in the past 180 days.
Amnesty International pointed out that the charges against Yulia Galiamina over her involvement in peaceful protests could result in her being jailed and banned from running for office for up to five years. Oleg Kozlovsky, Amnesty International’s Russia Researcher, said in response to the charges against Yulia Galiamina: “The charges against Yulia Galiamina are a travesty and amount to using the justice system to criminalize peaceful protests. They have charged her under a draconian law which expressly contradicts Russia’s international human rights obligations and are seeking to bar her from participating in elections. […] All charges against Yulia Galiamina must be immediately dropped. Everyone prosecuted solely for participating in public gatherings should have access to justice and effective remedies including adequate compensation. The authorities must allow everyone to freely exercise their human rights including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
Right of association
On Tuesday, 28 July, Moscow’s Simonovsky district court fined Aleksei Navalny’s foundation 600,000 roubles for violating the ‘foreign agent’ law. The court fined the organisation 300,000 roubles each for two violations. Earlier the same day, the court fined Ivan Zhdanov, Navalny’s associate and the foundation’s director, 100,000 roubles for a similar violation.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ordered Russia to report whether a complaint about torture used against Zaur Dadaev, convicted of the murder of Boris Nemtsov, had been effectively investigated. “Caucasian Knot” has reported that on April 1, 2015, Zaur Dadaev retracted his earlier confession and claimed he had given it under torture. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation refused to investigate the matter.
On Thursday, 30 July, Moscow’s Golovinsky district court sentenced American student Trevor Reed to nine years in a prison colony for using violence against police, RAPSI reported. The court also recovered 100,000 roubles (about $1,400) from the defendant in compensation for moral harm to each police officer. In 2019, Trevor being under the influence of alcohol resisted two Moscow police officers damaging the uniform of one of them and beating another.
On Thursdat, 30 July, a court in Nizhny Novgorod sentenced five ex-policemen of the Republic of Tatarstan to prison terms ranging from 5 to 12 years for initiation of illegal prosecution of four persons with the use of force against them, the press service of the Prosecutor General’s Office reports.Additionally, they have been banned from holding certain posts for 2-2.5 years and deprived of their ranks of Police Major and Police Colonel.
On Wednesday, 29 July, The Guardian reported that as many as 1,000 babies born to surrogate mothers in Russia for foreign families have been left stranded in the country by the coronavirus pandemic and closure of international borders. The babies, some born as far back as February, are being cared for mainly by hired caregivers in rented apartments in Moscow, St Petersburg, and other Russian cities.
On 22 the State Duma adopted a bill (tabled in May by the President) which will make inculcation of ‘Russian patriotism’ and ‘civic consciousness’ part of the school curriculum in both Russia and occupied Crimea. The Federation Council passed the bill two days later. Human Rights in Ukraine reports that Russia has long used various methods to force Crimean children to forget they are Ukrainian, but these formal changes to school education will inevitably increase the already worrying level of pro-Russian propaganda and militarization of childhood on occupied Ukrainian territory. The bill essentially echoes the planned inclusion of ‘patriotic education’ in the amended Constitution which now says that the state must create the conditions for developing in children “patriotism and civic consciousness, as well as respect for the memory of defenders of the Fatherland and the older generation”. The bill speaks of “activities aimed at development of the individual, creation of the conditions for self-identification and socialization of the students on the basis of socio-cultural, spiritual and moral values and rules and norms of behaviour accepted in Russian society”. It also proposes “to form in the students the sense of patriotism, civic consciousness, respect to the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland and achievements of the Heroes of the Fatherland; to the law and public order; to men who work and to the older generation” and others.
On Monday, 27 July, Human Rights in Ukraine reported, thousands of Crimeans attended the funeral of Musa Suleymanov, the three-year-old son of Crimean Tatar civic journalist and political prisoner, Ruslan Suleymanov. As feared, Russia refused to allow Ruslan to bury his son, although he has not been convicted of any crime and is imprisoned essentially for his views and for his work in reporting rights abuses under occupation.
In many respects, events this week continue to evince the impact of the constitutional amendments recently adopted. The political purpose of these amendments appears to be to entrench the current political leadership and the system it has created. Consequently, the instruments of repression may well be given a freer hand and the pressure on human rights will increase. As Olga Sadovskaya points out in our quote for the week, the provisions of the revised Constitution ‘create a huge field for indiscriminate law enforcement at the national level.’ Yet there are very great uncertainties about how the authorities will behave in the current situation. This is not least because the regime faces pressures of its own, as witnessed, for example, by the popular discontent in Khabarovsk and the environmental crisis in Siberia. As Sadovskaya notes, ‘Pandora’s box is ready. The only question is who will open it, when and for what purpose.’