Rights in Russia week-ending 7 August 2020

Compiled by Simon Cosgrove

The event of the week in Russia was surely the conviction of seven young defendants in the New Greatness case of ‘organising an extremist group.’ Three of the young people were given long sentences: Ruslan Kostylenkov seven years, Vyacheslav Kryukov six and a half years and Petr Karamzin six years – all as the prosecutor had asked for. As a public appeal in support of the defendants stated before the verdicts were announced: “The truth is obvious to everyone […]: New Greatness is not an organization, it’s not extremist, the defendants were not, were never, involved in those things that are shamelessly attributed to them.” The punitive nature of the Russian justice system was also on display in Perm where a prosecutor asked for jail terms of up to three years for young people who had displayed an effigy of President Putin in the city centre. Meanwhile in Moscow the Justice Ministry sought to get the Moscow Bar Association to discipline four of the five lawyers acting on behalf of Ivan Safronov for their refusal to sign non-disclosure agreements. If these were the ‘details’ of the workings of law in Russia this week, longer term strategy can be seen in legislative initiatives. For example, President Putin signed into force a law aimed at enhancing the secrecy of the operations of the Federal Security Service (FSB) (in this connection it is worth noting that the Prosecutor General’s Office recently succeeded in blocking access by the Memorial Society to information identifying eleven Soviet prosecutors involved in killings during Stalin’s purges). Another legislative initiative criticised by Human Rights Watch this week proposal to ban same-sex marriages and in other ways restrict the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Our civil society organisation of the week is Aborigen Forum, a group representing indigenouse peoples in the Russian North, Siberia and Russian Far East who, in a bold step, called on Elon Musk to boycott Nornickel because of the damage the company is doing to the environment and indigenous communities.

Freedom of expression

On Tuesday, 4 August 2020, an investigation was launched into a 28-year resident of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), who allegedly published a photo of Adolf Hitler on the website of the Immortal Regiment movement.

On Tuesday, 4 August 2020, Moscow’s Liublinsky district court scheduled a 230,000-rouble ($3,300) claim filed by blogger Aleksei Zhirukhin against Aleksei Navalny over allegedly illegal use of a photo of the town of Khiva in Uzbekistan posted in a video on YouTube. The applicant demands 180,000 roubles for violation of his exclusive rights and 50,000 rubles for moral harm.

On Wednesday, 5 August 2020, St. Petersburg activist and Red Cross employee Daria Apakhonchich was fined 10,000 roubles ($137) for participating in a performance action in support of persecuted LGBTQ artist and activist Yulia Tsvetkova, reports lawyer Varvara Mikhaylova from the rights organization “Apologia Protesta.”

On Wednesday, 5 August 2020, charges under administrative law were brought against the journalist, Tatiana Filimonova, in Volograd. Filimonova had covered for Caucasian Knot the rally in support of Khabarovsk protesters, held on 1 August. At the venue of the rally, policemen were not interested in the journalist’s ID, Ms Filimonova has noted. Caucasian Knot has reported that since July, Volgograd activists have been holding pickets in support of Khabarovsk residents who are protesting and demanding an objective investigation of the case of Sergei Furgal, a former head of the region.

On Friday, 7 August 2020, in Perm called for prison sentences for three activists accused of involvement in putting up an effigy of Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018. The Apology Of Protest rights group said the prosecutor asked the Lenin district court to sentence Aleksandr Shabarchin to three years, Aleksandr Kotov to two years, and Danil Vasilyev to 18 months in prison. The prosecutor alleged that the three activists disrupted social order by actions motivated by political, ideological, and social hatred.

On Friday, 7 August 2020, the Investigative Committee completed its investigation into five former police officers accused of planting drugs on journalist Ivan Golunov, one of the defense lawyers Alexey Kovrizhkin told RAPSI. Golunov and his attorney are to begin reading case materials, he has added.

Access to information

On Friday, 31 July 2020, President Putin signed into force a law which seems aimed at silencing voices reporting on the activities of Russia’s FSB. The new law on the FSB specifically states (in a new Article 6) that military servicemen and civilian employees of FSB bodies, as well as those dismissed from them must “maintain confidentiality of information on the activities of the FSB containing professional secrets”.

On Thursday, 6 August 2020, Kommersant reported that Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office had succeeded in blocking access by Memorial Society historians to information identifying eleven Soviet prosecutors who, as members of the notorious NKVD ‘troikas’, took part in ordering executions during the Great Terror of 1937-38, Human Rights in Ukraine reports.  The claim that this was personal data that could only be revealed with the permission of their descendants was accepted by the Tver district court in Moscow on 24 July, although such an argument could logically result in all archival material becoming out-of-bounds.  Memorial approached the Prosecutor General’s Office in July 2019, asking for information about the eleven prosecutors, in order to include them in a historical reference book giving biographical details of all troika members.  The Prosecutor General’s Office refused, citing Articles 7 and 9 of the Law on Personal Data which states that information about a person cannot be passed to third persons without the permission of the person him/herself or their heirs. 

Right of assembly

On Tuesday, 4 August 2020, Human Rights Watch said prosecution by Russian authorities of a Moscow municipal assembly member and opposition political activist for allegedly repeatedly breaking public assembly rule violates respect for freedom of assembly. Yuliya Galyamina, is accused of organizing and participating in unauthorized demonstrations, even though they were peaceful. Human Rights Watch said the authorities should immediately drop the criminal charges against her, and Russia’s parliament should repeal the 2014 law mandating criminal sanctions for repeated involvement in unsanctioned protests.

On Wednesday, 5 August 2020, the Second Cassation Court of General Jurisdiction dismissed an appeal filed by activist Eduard Malyshevsky against his sentence for assault on a police officer at the unauthorized rally held in Moscow on 27 July 2019, RAPSI reported. In December, Malyshevsky was sentenced to 3 years in a penal colony. He was found guilty of using violence against a public official. In January, the Moscow City Court reduced the sentence to 2 years and 9 months.

Freedom of religion

On Tuesday, 4 August 2020, the Russian Supreme Court refused to reconsider the decision to evict the congregation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine from the Cathedral of St Vladimir and Olga in Simferopol which Russia has been trying to take over since its invasion and annexation in 2014. This occurred a week after Archbishop Klyment was threatened with criminal prosecution if he did not demolish a Ukrainian Orthodox chapel in Yevpatoria. 

LGBT rights

On Thursday, 6 August 2020, Human Rights Watch said a draft bill before Russia’s parliament would significantly affect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Among the proposed amendments to the family code are changes to the legal gender recognition rights for transgender people that will negatively affect their ability to marry and raise children. The bill also contains a superfluous ban on same-sex marriage. Under Russia’s current laws, transgender people can change their legal gender by taking steps that include a psychiatric evaluation and medical procedures. The proposed law provides that a person’s sex on their birth certificate cannot be changed, and that trans people who have changed their birth certificates under the current law would have to change them back to the sex they were assigned at birth. That is discriminatory in and of itself and would flagrantly violate the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which Russia is a party. The European Court of Human Rights has long ruled that a government’s refusal to alter the birth certificate of a person who has undergone gender reassignment violates their rights to privacy and personal autonomy under the Convention.

Electoral rights

On Tuesday, 4 August 2020, election officials in Russia’s far-Northern Arkhangelsk Region have rejected a number of the candidate signatures collected in support of Oleg Mandrykin’s run for governor, thereby preventing him from running for governor. Mandrykin — a businessman from the city of Severodvinsk — was nominated by the Yabloko party and had the support of the “Stop Shiyes” coalition (a local environmental movement that has led sustained protests opposing the construction of a new landfill near the Shiyes train station).

Environmental rights

On Friday, 31 July 2020, a new law that allows deforestation and construction near the shores of Siberia’s Lake Baikal was signed by President Vladimir Putin, effectively permits deforestation in specially protected natural areas through 2024 in order to build or upgrade transport infrastructure, The Moscow Times reported on Monday, 3 August.

On Thursday, 6 August 2020, representatives of indigenous peoples in Russia’s North, Siberia, and Far East asked Elon Musk to boycott Nornickel. In an open letter, the group Aborigen Forum said Tesla should refuse to buy products manufactured by the Russian mining company until it meets four conditions: 1 A full and independent assessment of the environmental damage of mining for nickel and other metals in Russia’s Taymyr Peninsula and Murmansk Oblast; 2 Compensation to indigenous communities for the damages done to their traditional way of life; the recultivation of contaminated lands in the Taymyr Peninsula and Murmansk region; and 4 revised policies for engaging with indigenous peoples, requiring these groups’ free and informed consent before beginning new projects that could affect them.

Right to a fair trial

On Monday, 3 August 2020, Moscow City Court annouced the high-profile case of two sisters accused of killing their father in Moscow in 2018 will be tried by jury, a procedure allowed under Russian law in the case of serious crimes. The selection of the jury for the trial of Krestina and Angelina Khachaturyan will start on 31 August. The court rejected a request by the defence for the case to be sent back to prosecutors. Pre-trial restrictions on the two sisters were extended by another six months.

On Tuesday, 4 August 2020, a group of activists and former political prisoners from Russia called on people to attend the announcement of the verdicts in the “Novoe Velichie” (New Greatness) extremism case at Moscow’s Lublinsky Court on 6 August, Meduza reported. The call in support of the defendants took the form of a video message published by the independent television channel TV Rain (Dozhd). The appeal reads in part: “The truth is obvious to everyone, including, it seems, the judge: ‘New Greatness’ is not an organization, it’s not extremist, the defendants were not, were never, involved in those things that are shamelessly attributed to them. However, we don’t know what sentence the court will give them. As we understand, there aren’t any acquittals in Russia anymore. But this is precisely a case where there must be an acquittal.”

On Thursday, 6 August, 2020, Judge Aleksandr Maslov at the Lyublino district court announced guilty verdicts of seven members of the so-called New Greatness movement on charges of “organizing an extremist group intending to carry out crimes of extremist character.” The seven are Petr Karamzin, Dmitry Poltetayev, Ruslan Kostylenkov, Vyacheslav Kryukov, Anna Pavlikova, Maria Dubovik, and Maksim Roshchin. Police detained three activists who had worn police uniforms while staging a protest performance in front of the court building.

Later in the day when sentences were announced, four activists received suspended terms for organizing an extremist community, three other defendants were sentenced to imprisonment, RAPSI reported from the Lyublinsky District Court of Moscow. Dmitry Poletayev, Maxim Roshchin, Maria Dubovik and Anna Pavlikova received 6, 6.5, 6 and 4 years of suspended sentence respectively. The movement’s leader Ruslan Kostylenkov was ordered to serve 7 years in penal colony, Vyacheslav Kryukov and Petr Karamzin were imprisoned for 6.5 and 6 years in jail respectively. On July 14, the prosecutor asked the court to sentence Kostylenkov to 7 1/2 years in prison; Karamzin to 6 1/2 years; and Kryukov to six years.

On Tuesday, 4 August 2020, the Ministry of Justice asked the Moscow Bar Association to initiate disciplinary proceedings against four of the lawyers defending jailed journalist Ivan Safronov, a fifth lawyer from Safronov’s defense team, the head of the human rights organization “Team 29,” Ivan Pavlov, told Interfax. The Justice Ministry is seeking disciplinary action against lawyers Dmitry Katchev, Danil Nikiforov, Sergei Malyukin, and Oleg Yeliseyev over their refusal to sign non-disclosure agreements on 13 July — the day Safronov was formally charged with treason. 

People with disabilities

On Friday, 7 August 2020, RAPSI reported that, according to Diana Gurtskaya, chair of the Public Chamber’s Commission for a barrier free environment for physically challenged people, only 15% of Russian citizens with disabilities have a job. Diana Gurtskaya was speaking at a conference on the employment of disabled persons on Friday.

Law enforcement

On Wednesday, 5 August 2020, two of the three men suspected of attacking Uvais Aliev, a National Guard officer, were detained in Ingushetia. The suspects were brought to a police station, sources reported. Caucasian Knot has reported that on 28 July Uvais Aliev, a 32-year-old Senior Lieutenant of the National Guard, was shot dead on the outskirts of the Yandare village.


On Monday, 3 August 2020, Chechen TV reported that the region’s authorities had forced about 100 residents of the region to return from Moscow on the grounds the law enforcement bodies consider them to be drug addicts and lawbreakers. The returned young people publicly repented and were sent to do community service.


On Thursday, 6 August 2020, four years after Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch exposed the practice of secret detention of civilians by both sides in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, no justice, truth or reparation has been attained for any of the victims, the two organisations said in a joint statement released today, and not a single person suspected of involvement in this practice has been prosecuted.

End note

This week continued to see the Russian justice system used as a tool of political repression. In recent weeks the cases of Svetlana Prokopyeva and Yury Dmitriev the courts handed down convictions accompanied by what might be called ‘compromise’ decisions. with relatively mild sentences. And indeed, the evidence suggests, as the appeal by supporters of New Greatness cited above asserted, “There aren’t any acquittals in Russia anymore.” Yet with the New Greatness case we see not only convictions, but a return to harsh sentences. This case, and the harsh sentences demanded in the case of the Putin effigy in Perm, may indicate the authorities are showing a special concern about potential discontent among young people, with consequent violations of their rights.

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