Rights in Russia week-ending 5 March 2021

Our round up of the past week’s news.

Other news of the week:

1 March 2021

RFE/RL: A journalist in Siberia whose critical articles often target local authorities says she has fled her city with her daughters amid fears for their safety. Natalya Zubkova, the chief editor of the Novosti Kiselyovska (News of Kiselyovsk) online newspaper, said in a statement on YouTube that an unknown man attacked her late on February 25 as she was walking her dog.

RFE/RL: Rights activists are questioning official reports that an inmate committed suicide after he was found dead in a prison in Russia’s Siberian region of Irkutsk. Relatives of Adygzhy Aimyr-Ool, an ethnic Tuvinian, told RFE/RL on February 28 that they had found out about the death from other inmates who had managed to get word to them. Vladimir Osechkin, the coordinator of the Gulagu.net human rights group, told RFE/RL that Aimyr-Ool was found dead on February 26 during an evening roll call.

Human Rights in Ukraine: Lyudmila Denisova, Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsperson has called on her Russian counterpart to ensure that Ukrainian political prisoner Ivan Yatskin is provided with proper medical care following treatment by prison staff that can only be described as torture. The Russian Ombudsperson, , Tatyana Moskalkova, has a highly specific attitude to human rights, but Denisova also announced on 25 February that she would be approaching the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; the head of the UN’s Committee against Torture and representatives of other international bodies. Yatskin’s lawyer, Nikolai Polozov had earlier reported that on 12 February, his client had been held in a courtyard, wearing only slippers and flimsy clothing, for around an hour despite it being minus 14 outside.  Polozov made a public appeal for response since Yatskin’s toes are now a blue-purple colour and there is clearly something wrong.  He assumes this is frostbite, which can cause permanent damage if untreated.  Yatskin is held in the Lefortovo SIZO, or remand prison in Moscow, and, given the pandemic, it can only be welcome that his cell was subjected to proper sanitary measures.  He was, however, prevented from even taking a jacket with him and changing his footwear before being left out in the freezing cold.  He told Polozov that none of the staff had reacted to his calls for help.

The Moscow Times: Russia’s state communications regulator on Monday has accused Twitter of “maliciously violating Russian law” by failing to take down thousands of tweets containing banned information. According to Roskomnadzor, Twitter has not deleted 2,862 posts out of the more than 28,000 requests for removal the agency has sent since 2017. This includes 2,336 posts relating to suicide, 352 posts containing pornographic images of minors and 174 posts with information about drug manufacture and use, the agency said.

2 March 2021

RFE/RL: A court in Moscow has extended the pretrial detention of former journalist Ivan Safronov, who is charged with high treason, an accusation he has rejected outright. The Lefortovo district court on March 2 ruled that Safronov must be held until at least May 7. The hearing was held behind closed doors, as the case is classified. The 30-year-old Safronov, who has worked since May last year as an adviser to Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Roskosmos space agency, was previously a prominent journalist who covered the military-industrial complex for the newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti. He was arrested on July 7 amid allegations that he had passed secret information to the Czech Republic in 2017 about Russian arms sales in the Middle East.

3 March 2021

RFE/RL: A Russian court has given the leader of an ethnic Circassian civic organization a three-year suspended sentence on narcotics charges, in a case human rights groups consider politically motivated. Martin Kochesoko, the leader of the Khabze nongovernmental organization in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, was also given one year of probation, the Memorial human rights center said on March 2. Kochesoko was detained in June 2019 while traveling with a friend on a fishing trip in Russia’s North Caucasus region. Police and hooded soldiers stopped their car and allegedly found 268 grams of marijuana. Kochesoko claims the drugs were planted on him and he was forced to confess under duress. At the trail, he pleaded not guilty.

RFE/RL: A Russian court has sentenced a pro-Ukrainian activist from Moscow-annexed Crimea, Oleh Prykhodko, to five years in prison on terrorism charges that he and his supporters have dismissed as politically motivated. Ukrainian Ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said on Telegram that the Southern District Military Court in the city of Rostov-on-Don on March 3 ordered Prykhodko to pay a 110,000 ruble (around $1,500) fine.

RFE/RL: Top officials at two penitentiaries in the Russian city of Irkutsk have been detained after probes were launched into the alleged torture and rape of two inmates. Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service’s (FSIN) branch in the Siberian region of Irkutsk said on March 3 that the warden of Correctional Colony No. 6 and the chief of the operations department of Detention Center No. 1 in Irkutsk had been taken into custody. According to the statement, the warden was detained over “unlawful actions by inmates against inmate Bakiev,” while the officer from the detention center was arrested over “unlawful actions by inmates against inmate Ondar.” The FSIN launched probes in February against an unspecified number of guards and 10 inmates who allegedly tortured and raped an inmate with Central Asian roots, Tahirjon Bakiev, at the Correctional Colony No 6. The Gulagu.net rights group reported in December 2020 that another inmate, an ethnic Tuvinian, Kezhik Ondar, was tortured and raped in Detention Center No 1.

The Guardian: MI5 has quietly stepped up the security protection offered to potential Kremlin targets living in the UK in the aftermath of the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in 2018. The security agency warned that the Russian state continues to take “quite an active interest” in a handful of individuals in the UK, prompting the need to take more active measures involving the police and other agencies.

4 March 2021

RFE/RL: A court in the Russian city of Samara has found civil rights activist Karim Yamadayev guilty but said he should be released after spending more than a year in detention for mocking President Vladimir Putin and two of his close associates online. The Central District Military Court on March 4 found Karim Yamadayev guilty of public calls for terrorism and insulting authorities and ordered him to pay a fine of 300,000 rubles ($4,000). The court also barred Yamadayev, who was held in the Tatarstan region before being moved to Samara, from being an administrator on social networks for 2 1/2 years. Prosecutors had asked the court to sentence Yamadayev to six years and seven months in prison, but no jail time was included in the sentence.

The Moscow Times: Russia is revoking residence permits and deporting, often informally and without written notice, foreign nationals for participating in recent political protests, the Meduza news website reported Thursday. The outlet said it spoke with four citizens of post-Soviet republics who faced deportation orders after attending demonstrations in support of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and the opposition in neighboring Belarus.

RFE/RL: Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the Internet in Russia to be bound by “moral laws” that he says will stop society from “collapsing” — suggesting that Russian children are being exploited by his political opponents at anti-Kremlin demonstrations. Putin’s televised remarks on March 4 come amid mounting efforts by Moscow to exert greater influence over U.S. social media giants and frustration from Russian authorities over what they say is the failure of U.S. social media firms to follow Russian laws.

Human Rights in Ukraine: A Russian court has sentenced 62-year-old Oleh Prykhodko to five years’ harsh regime  imprisonment, with the first year to be served in a prison, the worst of all Russian penal institutions.  The sentence was significantly lower than that demanded by the prosecutor, but then the judges can have been in no doubt that they were sentencing an innocent man to a term of imprisonment that he may not survive.  The defence had demonstrated over and over again that the charges against the 62-year-old who had never concealed his opposition to Russia’s occupation of Crimea had been brazenly fabricated.

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