Rights in Russia week-ending 6 November 2020

Other news this week:

Freedom of expression

Caucasian Knot, Thursday, 5 November 2020: Following the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, and the MMA fighter, Khabib Nurmagomedov, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has condemned the “provocateurs” who offend believers under the guise of the freedom of speech. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that on October 30, the well-known TV presenter, Ksenia Sobchak, reproached the Dagestani MMA fighter, Khabib Nurmagomedov, for his aggressive statements about the French President. At the conference with representatives of religious confessions, Vladimir Putin has condemned the position of French authorities, same as Kadyrov and Nurmagomedov had done, and linked the publication of caricatures on Prophet Muhammad with the subsequent terror acts.

RFE/RL, Tuesday, 3 November 2020: A Russian citizen charged in Sweden with the attempted murder of a blogger and outspoken critic of the authoritarian leader of Russia’s North Caucasus region of Chechnya says he acted on orders he received from Chechen officials. As the trial started at the Attunda district court in Sweden on November 2, the defendant, Ruslan Mamayev, testified that from the very beginning he secretly planned to fail when carrying out the assault against Tumso Abdurakhmanov to keep the Chechen officials who ordered the attack from turning on him. He added that he has since asked for political asylum in Sweden. Abdurakhmanov’s lawyer, Jens Sjolund, said at the hearing that Chechen authorities had promised a reward for the assassination of his client. The second defendant in the case, a woman, rejected all charges against her.

RAPSI, Friday, 6 November 2020: A court in Russia’s Krasnoyarsk Krai has detained an alleged hirer of a contract killer for editor-in-chief of one of the local newspapers Dmitry Popkov murdered in 2017, the Interior Ministry’s spokesperson Irina Volk has told RAPSI. The alleged assassin’s paymaster is a resident of the region’s Minusinsk district. On November 2, he was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on arrival from Novosibirsk. According to the investigation, journalist Popkov was killed in the town of Minusinsk in Krasnoyarsk Krai in May 2017. A murder case was opened. Investigators revealed that two men, already jailed for other crimes, could be involved in the killing.

Freedom of conscience

RFE/RL, Thursday, 5 November 2020: A top UN expert has urged countries to repeal laws infringing on minorities’ rights to worship and hold beliefs, singling out Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Russia, and Moldova, among countries of concern. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special investigator on religious freedom, warned in a report seen by the Associated Press on November 4 that “the failure to eliminate discrimination, combined with political marginalization and nationalist attacks on identities, can propel trajectories of violence and even atrocity crimes.” He urged governments to “repeal all laws that undermine the exercise of the human rights to freedom of religion or belief” and to adopt wide-ranging antidiscrimination legislation.

Right of assembly

Meduza, Wednesday, 4 November 2O20: On Wednesday, November 4, law enforcement officers in central Moscow made mass arrests among participants of the “Russian March” — a nationalist demonstration taking place on Tsvetnoy Boulevard. According to OVD-Info, police officers arrested at least 30 people, who were loaded into two police vans.  Interfax reports that two other people were arrested in the city’s Lyublino District earlier this morning in connection with the march — Dmitry Mikhailov, the applicant behind the rally, and journalist Olga Sapronova.

The Moscow Times, Thursday, 5 November 2020: Police in Moscow detained at least 60 nationalists who attempted to stage street rallies known as the “Russian March,” the police-monitoring website OVD Info reported. Unlike previous years, the Moscow authorities did not grant permission for the nationalists to hold their traditional march in the southeast of the city because of the coronavirus pandemic.  According to OVD Info, police detained at least 50 people, including 13 minors, outside the Tsvetnoi Bulvar metro station. Videos showed uniformed officers strong-arming young men, some of whom claimed to be bystanders, into police vans. Authorities also reportedly apprehended people who brought food to the detainees and a young woman who hung a portrait of a Russian neo-nazi, who was found dead in his jail cell in September, on the police headquarters.  A total of five people were kept at police stations overnight, OVD Info reported.

RAPSI, Monday, 2 November 2020: Activist Danila Beglets, who had been convicted of using violence against a police officer at an unauthorized rally in Moscow on July 27, 2019, was released from a penal colony in the town of Mtsensk in the Oryol Region on Monday, according to lawyer of the International Advocacy Group Agora Leonid Solovyev. He was convicted and sentenced to 2 years in jail in the fall of 2019. According to the prosecution, the man used violence against a policeman namely grabbed him by the wrist in order to obstruct his legal activity. The defendant pleaded guilty and announced willingness to pay 10,000 rubles ($130) in compensation to a victim. In March, the Second Cassation Court of General Jurisdiction changed a place of serving sentence given to Beglets from penal colony to penal colony settlement. The 2-year term meanwhile was upheld. In late October, a court in Mtsensk granted parole to the convict.

Human Rights in Ukraine, Monday, 2 November 2020: Zurye Emiruseinova was taken to hospital on 31 October with dangerously high blood pressure after Russian-controlled police harassed and then tried to detain her for a legal solitary picket in defence of her political prisoner son, Rustem Emiruseinov.  As if it were not enough that the Crimean Tatar civic activist is facing an 18-year sentence for his faith and support for other victims of persecution, the Russian-controlled enforcement officers went for his mother. At around 11 a.m. on 31 October, Zurye Emiruseinova came out onto the side of a main road near the village of Oktyabrske with a placard reading ‘My son is not a terrorist’.  Her daughter-in-law was at a perfectly safe distance, from where she was streaming the picket onto Facebook.  The elderly lady had only been standing there for around three minutes, when the officers appeared.  One said he was the deputy head of police on ‘protecting public order’ and demanded to see Zurye Emiruseinova’s documents.


Human Rights in Ukraine, 6 November 2020: Russia’s ‘trial’ of Oleksandr Marchenko took an unexpected turn in October, after the Ukrainian political prisoner stood up in court and described the torture he had been subjected to by Russian-controlled Donbas militants before being abducted to Russia.  It seems unlikely that the court was genuinely unaware of this, but since the charges against Marchenko are based solely on the ‘confession’ he says was forced out of him,  the court ordered a ‘check’ to be made with the trial adjourned until 26 November. Marchenko’s wife,  Kateryna, explained to the Memorial Human Rights Centre that the court questioning of Marchenko took place on 8 October, with the verdict / sentence scheduled for the following day.  Marchenko explained that he had been seized in the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [DPR] and tortured, before being taken by FSB officers and DPR militants to Krasnodar in Russia.  This had been without any explanation or formal accusations, and, clearly, against his will.  According to his wife, Marchenko described being taken to an illegal interrogation on 23 February 2019, while under arrest on fabricated administrative charges.  It was the protocol from that interrogation, which was carried out without a lawyer being present, that have been used for criminal charges against Marchenko.  He explained to the court that the FSB had threatened to take him, as well as members of his family, back to ‘DPR’, where he had been savagely tortured.


RFE/RL, Thursday, 5 November 2020: Officers of Russia’s Federal Bailiffs Service (FSSP) have searched the premises of outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow. A FSSP statement said that the FBK headquarters were searched due to a probe launched against Zhdanov over his failure to “follow a court order.” It gave no further explanation. Zhdanov wrote later on Twitter that he was informed that the searches were connected to a court ruling obliging him to pay 29 million rubles ($369,000) for an unspecified misdeed.

RFE/RL, Friday, 6 November 2020: Contradicting statements by Russian officials have suggested either that Western nations could be behind the poisoning in August of opposition politician and outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, or that he was not poisoned at all, and just suffered from “acute pancreatitis.” News agency RIA Novosti on November 6 published an interview with the chief of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergei Naryshkin, who said that Western intelligence agencies had taken into account assassinating a Russian opposition leader “to revive the withered protest movement in Russia.” Navalny fell violently ill while on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk shortly after the plane took off on August 20, and the airliner made an emergency landing in Omsk, where Navalny was hospitalized before Russian authorities permitted him to be airlifted to Berlin for treatment.

Meduza, Friday, 6 November 2020: Russia’s Attorney General’s Office has reported receiving a “response from the relevant authorities” in Germany to four requests for legal assistance sent in connection with opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s “hospitalization” in Berlin. Navalny was medevaced to Germany for treatment in August after he was poisoned with a Novichok-type nerve agent in Russia. According to a statement from the Attorney General’s Office, the response contained “requests for additional clarification and information regarding the investigation of the circumstances of A. A. Navalny’s hospitalization,” but did not include a “substantive explanation” for any of the questions from Russian prosecutors.

Meduza, Wednesday, 4 November 2020: Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Rita Flores were arrested while exiting a shop on Moscow Nakhimovsky Avenue around noon local time on Wednesday, November 4. Alyokhina, who informed Mediazona about the arrests herself, said that she and Flores were arrested along with two other people. Law enforcement officers did not give a reason for the arrests and “shoved [us] roughly into an unmarked white an,” Alyokhina said. The detainees were taken to a police station in Moscow’s Akademichesky District. According to OVD-Info, police officers there added surveillance camera footage from the shop to a case file, claiming that Alyokhina and Flores had violated the “self-isolation regime” because they weren’t wearing gloves.

RFE/RL, Monday, 2 November 2020: Last week, on October 26, a higher court upheld a January decision by the Arkhangelsk regional Appeals Court that declared the construction activity by the firm Tekhnopark at the Shiyes site to be illegal and ordered the company to return the land to its original state. The decision seems to have brought an end to a legal fight that began in December 2019, when the municipal administration of Urdom, the nearest settlement to the Shiyes train platform, filed the suit against Tekhnopark, demanding that various garages, roads, worker accommodations, a helipad, and other modifications be removed from the site. Two weeks before the new court decision, Tekhnopark issued a statement that its work was completed in Shiyes and the company would be leaving.

Meduza, Monday, 2 November 2020: Russian officials investigating the murder of former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov have identified but virtually ignored several important witnesses and possible accomplices to the crime, according to a new joint investigation by the news outlet “Mediazona” and the anti-corruption website the “Scanner Project.” According to investigative journalists, several of these individuals are linked to influential Chechen politicians, including senator Suleiman Geremeyev and State Duma Deputy Adam Delimkhanov. 

The Guardian, Monday, 2 November 2020: The US whistleblower Edward Snowden and his wife are applying for Russian citizenship in order not to be separated from their future son in an era of pandemics and closed borders, he said on Monday. Snowden’s wife, Lindsay, is expecting a child in late December, the Interfax news agency cited Anatoly Kucherena, his Russian lawyer, as saying. Snowden, 37, fled the US and was given asylum in Russia after leaking secret files in 2013 that revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the US National Security Agency where he was a contractor. US authorities have for years wanted Snowden returned to the US to face a criminal trial on espionage charges brought in 2013.

Civil Rights Defenders, Tuesday, 3 November 2020: Recently, 12 leading human rights groups in Russia submitted a consolidated report on the situation for civil and political rights in the country to the UN Human Rights Committee. The report shows that there has been little to no improvement over the past five years in most of the areas where human rights are violated, despite the multiple recommendations given to the Russian authorities. The groups highlighted major concerns, including human rights defenders’ vulnerable position in the country and in the North Caucasus as well as the situation for women and violations of the rights of LGBTI+ persons. In addition, the authors of the report documented how anti-extremism policy is used to prosecute dissidents for their opinions and how peaceful demonstrators have been detained. The report also addresses human rights violations during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as violations of free expression due to the new criminal and administrative articles regarding fake news distribution. These new laws have led to fines levied against independent information outlets and the prosecution of private individuals for sharing data about the current pandemic that does not correspond with the official data from the State. As of May 2020, there were 10 criminal prosecutions initiated. Another concerning development for human rights is the Constitutional reform that has not only allowed Putin to stay in power but has threatened the independence of the judiciary. For the full report, in English and in Russian.

The Moscow Times, Friday, 6 November 2020: A Russian activist has been detained for staging a half-naked crucifixion stunt outside the Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters in central Moscow, witnesses reported late Thursday. Pavel Krisevich replicated the crucifixion of Jesus Christ while other activists in raincoats labeled “FSB” doused the surrounding area with a harmless burning liquid and scattered folders signifying criminal cases, according to the Znak.com news website. Organizers said they wanted to draw attention to the FSB’s activities, the Associated Press reported. Law enforcement officers detained Krisevich and took him to a police station, where he was charged with multiple violations of rules for holding public events, the police monitoring website OVD-Info reported. He faces up to 30 days in jail if found guilty.


Human Rights Watch, Monday, 2 November 2020: As Russia reports record numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths, authorities seem paradoxically concerned with preventing health workers from talking about the crisis, hospital overcrowding, and shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). On October 12, a court in Novgorod region fined a surgeon, Yuri Korovin, 50,000 rubles (about US$630) ostensibly for being photographed without a surgical mask. The photo showed him receiving a donation of PPE and other equipment from Alliance of Doctors, an independent trade union. His prosecution and fine raise concern because its hard to unlink it from the fact the alliance has been in the authorities’ crosshairs for months for repeatedly speaking out about the lack of PPE and other problems health workers face in the pandemic.


RFE/RL, Tuesday, 3 November 2020:  Russian authorities say they have detained six people over what officials described as an attempted terrorist attack against a police station in the Republic of Tatarstan last week. The Kukmorsky district court has ordered Marat Zamaliyev, the stepfather of a teenager who was shot dead by police during the incident, remanded in custody for two months, official said on November 2. A spokesperson for the court said custody for five other suspects was extended by three days. Reports said the 50-year-old Zamaliyev, a native of the North Caucasus region of Chechnya, has been convicted on terrorism charges in the past and spent many years in prison. According to the Investigative Committee, a 16-year-old “tried to set fire” to a building of the police department in the town of Kukmor in the early hours of October 30, “using an incendiary mixture.”

The Moscow Times, Tuesday, 3 November 2020: Authorities in Austria have detained suspects from southwestern Russia’s North Caucasus region as part of an investigation into the deadly shooting rampage in Vienna, Russia’s ambassador in Vienna said Tuesday. The only known gunman in Monday evening’s shooting spree across Vienna that killed four people and wounded 22 was an Islamic State group supporter, Austria’s interior ministry has said. A total of 14 suspects have been detained so far, the ministry said.


RAPSI, Monday, 2 November 2020: The Tverskoy District Court of Moscow on Monday ordered the native of Dagestan Aslan Baisungurov accused of assault on two city police officers to be detained for two months, until December 31, the court’s press service told RAPSI. The man stands charged with the use of force against a representative of authority. According to the investigation, on October 31, the defendant commtted an attack against two policemen and beat them in central Moscow.

RAPSI, Tuesday, 3 November 2020: Russia’s Government has submitted a bill extending DNA sample collection to all persons suspected and and accused of crimes to the lower house of parliament, according to the State Duma database. The bill extends the list of people subject to the obligatory genome registration. Under the draft law, all inmates, suspects and defendants and those placed in administrative detention would undergo the procedure, Chairman of the Association of Russian Lawyers Vladimir Gruzdev told RAPSI earlier. The Law on the State Genome Registration in the Russian Federation adopted in 2008 sets two types of DNA collection, obligatory and voluntary. The obligatory DNA registration applies to convicts and prisoners serving sentence for grave and especially grave crimes, and sexual crimes. Voluntary registration is conducted on a paid basis upon a written application, Gruzdev reminded.

Freedom of movement

Human Rights in Ukraine, Tuesday, 3 November 2020: Around 200 Crimean Tatars were stopped by Russian traffic police on Monday evening, and were effectively held against their will through the night near the illegal bridge between Kerch in occupied Crimea and Russia.  The bridge itself has been closed without explanation, reportedly on instructions from Russia’s FSB.    Several mini-vans were carrying Crimean Tatars, a number of them quite elderly, to Rostov-on-Don where the verdicts (read: sentences) are due to be announced on 3 November in the latest trial of three Crimean Tatar political prisoners.  Russian traffic police began stopping them around 9 p.m.  This was clearly an operation against all Crimean Tatars heading to Rostov, however the traffic police came up with sundry pretexts to draw up protocols against some of the drivers, and also – entirely illegally – took all passport details of the passengers.  Lawyer Emil Kurbedinov assumes that the extraordinary traffic police behaviour “was not without FSB involvement.  It is done to stifle any wish to show support and not let people get to the courts.  So that they can do their “dark deeds” quietly, as they’ve done before, so that the ‘conveyor belt’ Southern District Military Court can stamp the insane sentences against Crimean Tatar Muslims.  So that nobody knows about them and information doesn’t get out – that is their purpose”.


The Guardian, Thursday, 5 November 2020: Russian lawmakers have introduced a bill into parliament that would give Vladimir Putin lifetime immunity from prosecution if and when he decides to leave office. The draft bill would give a former president immunity from criminal prosecution for any offences committed during his lifetime. A supermajority of lawmakers would be required to revoke the protections. Currently, ex-presidents are protected for actions taken only while they were in office. It is the second bill this week that provides special provisions for former presidents, sparking talk of whether Putin, 68, could be preparing for retirement.


European Court of Human Rights: The European Convention on Human Rights, signed in Rome on 4 November 1950, was the first instrument to crystallise and give binding effect to the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It lays down absolute rights which can never be breached by the States, such as the right to life or the prohibition of torture, and it protects certain rights and freedoms which can only be restricted by law when necessary in a democratic society, for example the right to liberty and security or the right to respect for private and family life.

A number of rights have been added to the initial text with the adoption of additional protocols, concerning in particular the abolition of the death penalty, the protection of property, the right to free elections or freedom of movement.

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