Rights in Russia week-ending 5 June 2020


Putin Sets July 1 For Controversial Constitutional Vote

Russian President Vladimir Putin has set July 1 as the date for the national vote on constitutional amendments that among other things would allow him to remain in power until 2036. Putin announced the decision at a meeting with co-chairs of the working group on the preparation of the bill on June 1. RFE/RL, 1 June 2020

Freedom of assembly

Moscow court postpones appeals hearing for arrested journalist Ilya Azar

The Moscow City Court has postponed the appeals hearing for arrested journalist and activist Ilya Azar until June 5, reports the organization “Apologiya Protesta” on Telegram, citing one of its lawyers, Leonid Solovyov.  Solovyov, who delivered this message from the courtroom, did not give a reason for the hearing being delayed. Azar’s appeals hearing was supposed to take place on June 1. He will now remain in a special detention center until the rescheduled hearing. Meduza, 1 June 2020

Moscow law enforcement arrest protesters opposing police violence

Law enforcement have begun arresting protesters for participating in single-person demonstrations opposing police violence outside of the police headquarters in Moscow, OVD-Info reports. At least 16 people have been arrested, according to Novaya Gazeta,including a number of people who were picketing in support of jailed journalist Ilya Azar. Meduza, 2 June 2020

At Least 20 People Detained In Moscow While Protesting Police Violence

MOSCOW — Police in Moscow detained at least 20 demonstrators on June 2 as they rallied in front of the Moscow City Police headquarters to protest against police violence. Current Time correspondents reported from the site that Yegor Ilyushkin, press secretary of the Civil Society movement, along with activists Mila Zemtsova, Lusine Minasyan, Maria Chernykh, Ksenia Babich, and many other noted civil rights defenders were among those detained. RFE/RL, 3 June 2020

Moscow Court Trims Jailed Journalist Sentence To 10 Days

MOSCOW — The Moscow City Court has cut the jail term of prominent journalist Ilya Azar to 10 days from 15 days amid a public outcry in Moscow and St. Petersburg over his incarceration. The June 5 court decision means Azar should be released on June 7. Azar, a 35-year-old Moscow legislator and journalist for the independent Novaya gazeta newspaper, was sentenced on May 28 after being convicted of repeatedly violating Russia’s strict protest laws. RFE/RL, 5 June 2020

Law enforcers consider pickets in support of advocates from Kabardino-Balkaria as a hidden form of mass protests

Law enforcers called pickets of advocates in support of their colleagues from Kabardino-Balkaria a “hidden form of a mass event.” Protesters insist that they held solo pickets. They intend to challenge the accusations up to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). On May 31, in Moscow, seven persons, including advocates, were detained while holding pickets with the demand to stop the persecution of Ratmir Zhilokov and Diana Tsipinova, accused of beating a policeman. Caucasian Knot, 5 June 2020

Freedom of expression

Specter of Oil Giant Rosneft Looms Over Russian Independent Media

Russian oil giant Rosneft, run by a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, is wielding growing influence over Russia’s remaining independent media outlets, already squeezed by tightening press freedoms and pressure from the Kremlin. Now, reporters at the country’s top liberal business daily Vedomosti — shaken in March by an announcement from owner Demyan Kudryavtsev that he planned to sell the newspaper — have denounced censorship under its new acting editor-in-chief. The Moscow Times, 1 June 2020

Freedom of conscience

Crimean Court Jails Jehovah’s Witness For Six Years For ‘Extremist’ Activity

A court in Russian-annexed Crimea has sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness to six years in prison for being a member of an extremist group. The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, a Ukrainian organization, called the sentencing of Artyom Gerasimov on June 4 “a shocking escalation of repression in occupied Crimea.” Russia officially banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses in April 2017 and deemed it an “extremist organization,” despite widespread condemnation from Western countries and human rights groups. The Supreme Court in Crimea ruled in an appeal on June 4 that Gerasimov should serve six years in a penal colony. RFE/RL, 4 June2020

Voting / Elections

Russia Bars Campaigns Against Reforms Extending Putin’s Rule

Russian election officials say activists are not allowed to campaign against a package of constitutional amendments that would allow President Vladimir Putin to extend his 20-year rule into the next decade, the RBC news website reported Tuesday. Putin announced the vote will take place on July 1 after the coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 432,000 Russians forced him to postpone the original April 22 date. A key provision in the proposed changes would reset Putin’s presidential term count, opening the way for him to serve two more terms until 2036, when he would turn 83. The Moscow Times, 3 June 2020

‘There’s nothing the Kremlin hasn’t tried’ How Russian election officials plan to secure 55-percent turnout in the upcoming constitutional plebiscite

Having rescheduled Russia’s plebiscite on constitutional amendments for July 1, the Putin administration reportedly hopes at least 55 percent of eligible voters will participate in the special election. To increase turnout, they’ve introduced a raft of new rules, including staggering voting over a seven-day period, allowing voting from home, and introducing online voting for residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg. The pretense for all of these measures is public safety in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but these new regulations could also serve to increase official turnout figures and boost support for the amendments. Meduza, 3 June 2020


Siberian Shaman Who Sought To Drive Out Putin Sent To Psychiatric Clinic

YAKUTSK, Russia — A court in Russia has ruled that Aleksandr Gabyshev, a shaman in the Siberian region of Yakutia who gained notoriety in 2019 after declaring that he wanted to drive President Vladimir Putin from power, must be forcibly placed in a psychiatric clinic. Aleksei Pryanishnikov, a legal coordinator for the opposition group Open Russia, told RFE/RL that a court in the city of Yakutsk announced the decision on June 2. According to Pryanishnikov, the court’s decision was based on the medical conclusion of the central psychiatric clinic in Yakutsk, which said Gabyshev suffers from an “overestimation of his personality” because he expressed his intention to drive Putin out of the Kremlin. RFE/RL, 2 June 2020

Decision To Place Anti-Putin Shaman In Psychiatric Clinic Challenged

MOSCOW — A Siberian court ruling placing in a psychiatric clinic a Siberian shaman who gained notoriety for claiming to want to remove President Vladimir Putin from power has been challenged by several Russian lawmakers. Aleksandr Gabyshev was forcibly placed in a psychiatric clinic against his will after 20 officers from a special police unit of Russia’s National Guard stormed into his home in Yakutsk, the capital of the Siberian region of Yakutsk, on May 12 and detained him. Gabyshev’s lawyers said on May 26 that they filed a complaint with the European Court for Human Rights challenging their client’s being confined to a psychiatric clinic against his will and without a court ruling, which they said was illegal. He was briefly released on May 29, a day after his lawyer, Olga Timofeyeva, filed a complaint with the Yakutsk city court questioning the legality of his forced placement in the clinic. But a court in Yakutsk subsequently ruled on June 2 that Gabyshev must be confined to a psychiatric clinic. RFE/RL, 4 June 2020

Russia: Siberian shaman who marched against Putin must be immediately released from psychiatric hospital

Responding to today’s court decision according to which Aleksandr Gabyshev, a Siberian shaman who vowed last year “to purge” President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin, will remain confined to a psychiatric hospital, Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said: “Following weeks of intensive police surveillance, Aleksandr Gabyshev was forcibly taken from his home where he was self-isolating, to a psychiatric hospital by a riot squad. When he demanded to be freed, he was pronounced to be ‘a danger to himself and others’, and now the court has sanctioned his confinement in the hospital based on a ‘medical’ opinion the conclusions of which are based on his political views. Amnesty International, 2 June 2020

Shaman Critical of Putin Loses Bid to End Enforced Psychiatric Treatment

MOSCOW — A Russian court on Friday rejected a challenge by a Siberian shaman critical of President Vladimir Putin who says he has been illegally incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital, his lawyer said. Alexander Gabyshev drew media attention when he set off last year on an 8,000-km (5,000-mile) walk to Moscow, a journey he said would culminate with him banishing the Russian leader, whom he described as a demon. The New York Times, 5 June 2020 [via Reuters]


Children’s ombudsman reports decrease in juvenile crime in Russia

MOSCOW, June 1 (RAPSI, Alena Savelyeva) – The number of crimes committed by minors dropped by 10.7% in the last year,  Anna Kuznetsova, the country’s child rights commissioner, announced on Monday during the online news conference dedicated to the International Children’s Day. However, the rate of crimes against children increased. In particular, the amount of preliminary investigated sexual crimes against minors upped from 13,487 in 2017 to 14,755 in 2019, she said. RAPSI, 1 June 2020


Grozny residents criticize policemen for raids and fines

Police raids to find violators of the self-isolation regime and high fines imposed are criticized by residents of Grozny. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that in Grozny, law enforcers continue their checks amid the weakening of the quarantine, while local residents complain that they are demanded to wear medical masks even in street. Caucasian Knot, 1 June 2020

Detention Extended Of Moscow Ex-Police Suspected Of Journalist’s Illegal Arrest

The pretrial detention of four former Moscow police officers suspected of the illegal arrest of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov last year have been extended. Moscow’s Basmanny district court ruled on June 2 that Akbar Sergaliyev, Roman Feofanov, Maksim Utembayev, and Igor Lyakhovets must remain in a pretrial detention center until September 7. RFE/RL, 2 June 2020

Forced apologies contradict traditions of Dagestan

While commenting on a video, in which a resident of Dagestan apologized for his harsh remarks addressed to policemen, retired law enforcers have noted that the practice of public apologies will not take root in Dagestan. Local traditions accept only the sincere recognition of one’s mistakes, the leader of the Dagestani law enforcers’ trade union emphasizes. On May 30, the Dagestani Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) posted a video in which a man apologized for his harsh remarks about inspectors of the patrol-and-post service (known as PPS) who did not let him pass by them with a sick child. Posting such a video is humiliating, Instagram users note. The practice of public apologies by the initiative of Dagestani law enforcers was borrowed from Chechnya, retired Colonel Nabi Akhadov suggests. Caucasian Knot, 2 June 2020

Chechen law enforcer succeeds in bringing case on torture to consideration at ECtHR

Law enforcers from Chechnya who beat their colleague 10 years ago were not punished because of an ineffective investigation, claimed former field investigator Alikhan Akhmedov. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) obliged the Russian authorities to answer questions in the case on torture of Alikhan Akhmedov until November 19. The case on torture had been investigated for more than ten years, and the term for criminal prosecution expired in 2017, said Albert Kuznetsov, a member of the Committee Against Torture (CAT). Alikhan Akhmedov filed a complaint to the European Court in 2013. According to Alikhan Akhmedov, he gave investigators all the names of the law enforcers who beat him, but those people did not suffer any punishment. Caucasian Knot, 3 June 2020

LGBTI rights

Fellow villagers of gays killed in Kuban reject court’s version about domestic conflict

The court sentenced a defendant accused of killing a same-sex couple of pensioners to 12 years of imprisonment. According to the court, the crime was provoked by a domestic conflict. Fellow villagers of the killed pensioners believe that homophobia was the motive of the crime, and the “Russian LGBT Network” emphasized that Russian courts did not take into account such versions. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that in January 2019, the bodies of two pensioners were found in Kuban. “It seems to me that 12 years of imprisonment is such a too soft punishment for the person who killed two elderly harmless people,” said Tatiana Kharchenko, a neighbour of the victims. The woman believes the pensioners were killed because of their non-traditional sexual orientation. Caucasian Knot, 3 June 2020

Quarantined With Family, Russia’s LGBT Youth Face New Struggles

For Sasha, a queer, non-binary person from Moscow, the clashes at home first started around age 13 or 14. “It was basically made clear to me that I’ll never be accepted in my own family if I ‘keep having homosexual tendencies,’” Sasha, now 18, told The Moscow Times. The Moscow Times, 4 June 2020


Russia: Publish Data About Covid-19 in Institutional Care

(Moscow) – Russian authorities should publicly release detailed information about the spread of Covid-19 in state institutions for older people and people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said today. Releasing this information would allow state officials and private actors to respond effectively and prevent further deaths. News media and charitable groups have highlighted dozens of known outbreaks in institutions, where in some cases, up to half of residents and workers have been infected by the virus. Yet federal officials do not appear to publish detailed regular statistics about the numbers of infections or deaths in institutions. Human Rights Watch sent an email requesting data from the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection on April 27 but has not received a response. Human Rights Watch, 2 June 2020

Imposition of fines for breaching Moscow lockdown order found legal

MOSCOW, June 3 (RAPSI) – The Moscow City Court on Wednesday upheld imposition of fines for violation of self-isolation order and high-alert mode in the city over the coronavirus spread, the court’s press service told RAPSI. RAPSI, 3 June 2020.

St Petersburg death tally casts doubt on Russian coronavirus figures

New mortality data from Russia’s second-largest city has reignited questions about whether the country’s official tally has discounted thousands of deaths tied to the coronavirus outbreak. St Petersburg issued 1,552 more death certificates this May than in the previous year, a nearly 32% rise indicating that hundreds of deaths tied to the pandemic are not reflected in the city’s official coronavirus death toll for the month of 171. The Guardian, 4 June, 2020

‘Mama, this is a terrible disease’ In St. Petersburg, more than 3,000 medical workers have contracted COVID-19. Here’s one of their stories.

According to official data alone, more than 3,000 medical workers in St. Petersburg have fallen ill with the coronavirus — that’s about 20 percent of the total number of COVID-19 cases in the city. In addition to the increasing number of doctors contracting the disease, the general outbreak in St. Petersburg isn’t getting any better: between 350–390 new cases are registered daily, and this number isn’t going down. To illustrate how the pandemic is impacting St. Petersburg’s medical workers and their families, Meduza tells the story of Olga Novikova, who worked as nurse at St. Petersburg’s Dzhanelidze First Aid Research Institute. She died of the coronavirus on May 2nd — she was only 46 years old. Meduza, 4 June 2020

‘Please Help Those Who Are Sick and Leave Me Be’

Nigina Beroeva, a 37-year-old journalism instructor at the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Service, shook off Covid-19 but it took her another week of relentless efforts to shake off the Russian bureaucracy that came with it. On May 28, a doctor from a local outpatient clinic gave Beroeva a clean bill of health. However, because she is registered with numerous city agencies as infected with coronavirus, she could not leave her home without risking a fine and cannot get a QR code – a type of digital pass necessary to use a car or any form of public transportation. Human Rights Watch, 5 June 2020 [Tanya Lokshina reporting]

Armed Conflict / Military

On May 25-31, at least two persons perished in armed conflict in Northern Caucasus

During the week of May 25-31, 2020, at least two people perished during the armed conflict in Northern Caucasus; there was no information about the wounded ones. These are the results of the calculations run by the “Caucasian Knot” based on its our own materials and information from open sources. All the casualties are alleged members of the armed underground in Ingushetia. Caucasian Knot, 1 June 2020

Defense Ministry ordered to pay $60k to mother of soldier killed by tank fire

MOSCOW, June 4 (RAPSI) – A court in the Leningrad Region obliged Russia’s Defense Ministry to pay 4 million rubles (about $60,000) to the mother of a common soldier Andrey Vittikh, who had died from tank fire during army exercises because of the command officers’negligence, lawyer Dmitry Gerasimov told RAPSI on Thursday. In September 2019, the Leningrad Regional Court ordered the Defense Ministry to pay 6 million rubles (about $90,000) in total to three other ex-soldiers, who had suffered from tank gun. RAPSI, 4 June 2020


Massive Thermal Plant Fuel Leak Pollutes Siberian River

Local authorities in Siberia have declared a state of emergency after 20,000 liters of diesel fuel seeped into a river sparking concerns from environmentalists. The World Wildlife Fund environmental group on Tuesday praised local efforts to contain the spill with a floating dam, blocking dangerous pollutants from flowing into a lake near the Arctic city of Norilsk. The Moscow Times, 2 June 2020

Putin orders state of emergency after huge fuel spill inside Arctic Circle

Vladimir Putin has ordered a state of emergency after 20,000 tonnes of diesel fuel spilled into a river inside the Arctic Circle. The spill occurred when a fuel reservoir at a power plant near the city of Norilsk collapsed on Friday. The plant is operated by a division of Nornickel, whose factories in the area have made the city one of the most heavily polluted places on Earth. The Guardian, 3 June 2020

Russia’s 2020 Wildfires Cover Greece-Sized Area – Greenpeace

Wildfires in Russia have burned across a combined area the size of Greece so far in 2020, surpassing official estimates threefold, Greenpeace Russia said as it braces for blazes to erupt this week and peak next month. Russia’s Federal Forestry Agency has identified 12.3 million acres of wildfires raging across the country’s forests so far this year, four-fifths of which are in Siberia and the Russian Far East. Experts warn that this year’s blazes, some of which may have survived from last summer through a historically warm and dry winter, could become the most destructive in history. The Moscow Times, 3 June 2020

Massive fuel spill in the Russian Arctic caused more than $86.3 million in damage, ‘Greenpeace’ estimates

Following a massive fuel spill in the Russian Arctic, the environmental NGO Greenpeace Russia reports that the ecological damage to bodies of water in the affected region alone could exceed six billion rubles ($86.3 million). “According to estimates from the head of Rosprirodnadzor, 15,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled into rivers. If we apply the methodology of the Natural Resources Ministry to assess the ecological damage to bodies of water, the damage could amount to more than six billion rubles,” said Vladimir Chuprov, the project director for Greenpeace Russia. Meduza, 4 June 2020

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