Rights in Russia week-ending 9 October 2020

Freedom of expression

RFE/RL, Tuesday, 5 October 2020: A court in Moscow has refused to extend the probation period for Yegor Zhukov, a prominent Russian blogger and activist known for his open criticism of the government. Zhukov’s lawyer, Leonid Solovyov, said on October 5 that the Kuntsevo district court had rejected the Federal Penitentiary Service’s (FSIN) motion to prolong the probation period. The FSIN directorate in Moscow last week filed the motion saying that Zhukov had failed to show up at a police station to report to a parole officer for one month, which is considered to be a violation of the probation period the blogger was given along with a three-year suspended sentence in December. The charges against the 22-year-old activist were related to four videos he posted on his YouTube channel in October and December 2017 that included clips of demonstrations and commentaries by the blogger on the protest movement and Russian politics. Zhukov was arrested in August last year amid protests in Moscow demanding free and fair municipal elections. Dozens of people have been fined or given jail sentences over the rallies.

RFE/RL, Wednesday, 7 October 2020: The Moscow City Court has upheld a lower court decision to extend the pretrial arrest of the former chief of the Moscow police’s illegal drugs department, Igor Lyakhovets, one of several former police officers suspected in the illegal apprehension of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov last year. The court ruling on October 7 upholds the Basmanny district court’s September ruling to prolong Lyakhovets’ pretrial detention until December 7. Lyakhovets said at the hearing that his case was politically motivated and “there are no grounds to keep me in custody.” Lyakhovets and his four former subordinates — Akbar Sergaliyev, Roman Feofanov, Maksim Umetbayev, and Denis Konovalov — were arrested in late January. They were charged with abuse of service duties, falsification of evidence, and the illegal handling of drugs.

RAPSI, Thursday, 8 October 2020: Investigation into Vladimir Vorontsov, the creator of the Telegram channel called Police Ombudsman, has been completed, according to the press service of Russia’s Investigative Committee.  Vorontsov is charged with extortion, porno peddling, slander and insulting representatives of authority.  According to the police, the defendant has demanded the money for non-distribution of personal photos of a former police officer. From 2012 to 2017, the victim served in Moscow police. In October 2017, the suspect called him and demanded 300,000 rubles threatening to publicly share his personal photos, the statement reads. The victim refused and his photos were published in the Telegram channel.

Right of assembly

RFE/RL, Monday, 5 October 2020: Media reports in Russia’s Far Eastern Khabarovsk Krai region say the son of the region’s former governor, Sergei Furgal, who is in custody on charges of attempted murder and ordering two killings in 2004-05, has been detained. According to the October 5 reports, Anton Furgal has been charged with organizing illegal protest rallies in the regional capital, Khabarovsk. Furgal’s detainment has not been officially confirmed. His father, Sergei Furgal of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, was elected in 2018 in a runoff that he won handily against the region’s longtime incumbent from the ruling United Russia party.


Caucasian Knot, Monday, 5 October 2020: The Urus-Martan ROVD (District Interior Division) of Chechnya has circulated a record of a talk with those detained for using narcotic drugs and driving while intoxicated. The public reprimand and invitation of violators’ relatives to record prophylactic conversations caused misunderstanding among Instagram users. Chechen law enforcers are regularly publicly scolding local residents for various violations. Thus, on September 22, the Urus-Martan ROVD forced detainees to repent of using drugs and driving while drunk. “There is a law; and everyone should respond for breaching it, including the parents who are responsible for raising their children. Relatives have promised to educate their family members in order to prevent such actions in the future. The detainees themselves have sincerely repented of their deeds and gave their word to improve,” says the post on the page of the Urus-Martan ROVD on the Instagram.

Caucasian Knot, Tuesday, 6 October 2020: In Chechnya, the police are conducting raids requesting personnel of shops and catering facilities to wear protective masks, while Ramzan Kadyrov and his associates ignore the mask regime, local residents note. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that residents of Chechnya repeatedly criticized officials for double standards concerning the compliance with the regime of coronavirus prevention measures. Ramzan Kadyrov and his associates ignore the mask regime, but residents of the republic are required to comply with it. In their comments on Instagram, some users expressed their scepticism concerning the public officers’ demands. “I feel suffocated with a mask on my face, and I start sneezing,” notes user marinoch6.

The Moscow Times, Wednesday, 7 October 2020: A Russian man went on trial Wednesday over the assassination of a former Chechen commander in a Berlin park, allegedly on Moscow’s orders, a case that risks worsening acrimonious ties between Germany and Russia. Vadim K., also known as Vadim S., stands accused of gunning down a Georgian national identified by German authorities as 40-year-old Tornike K., in Kleiner Tiergarten park on Aug. 23 last year. The 55-year-old accused has so far stayed mum over the case, but German prosecutors, who do not release the full names of suspects, have said alleged that Russia ordered the killing. The brazen murder in the heart of the German capital appeared to be a tipping point for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said in May that the killing “disrupts a cooperation of trust” between Berlin and Moscow.

Caucasian Knot, Wednesday, 7 October 2020: In Berlin, a court held the first hearing in a case on the murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a native of the Pankisi Gorge. The defendant, who identified himself as construction worker Vadim Sokolov, exercised his right to remain silent. Political refugee Rubati Mitsaeva expressed hope that he would not be extradited to Russia. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that Zelimkhan Khangoshvili was killed in Berlin on August 23, 2019One of the two detainees is charged with murder. According to the German Prosecutor’s Office, he “acted on behalf of the Russian government.” The judge pronounced that Vadim Krasikov was charged with murdering Tornike Kavtarashvili (this name was written in the Georgian passport of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili). A public prosecutor explained that since 2016, Tornike Kavtarashvili had been staying in Germany as a political refugee. The prosecutor also stated that “the contract murder of Tornike Kavtarashvili looked like a revenge on a political enemy.” 

Meduza, Wednesday, 7 October 2020: To mark the fourteenth anniversary of journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s murder, the producers of Novaya Gazeta’s podcast “Chto Novogo” (What’s New) released an audio recording of her report on her first meeting with Ramzan Kadyrov. The voiceover, including quotes from both Politkovskaya and Kadyrov, was recorded by Russian actress and director Yulia Aug. At the end of the audio report, there’s a recording of Politkovskaya herself, where she explains why she has continued to work as a journalist. Anna Politkovskaya published this report about Kadyrov (titled “Tsentrovoy iz Tsentoroya” in Russian) in June 2004. At the time, he was 27 years old and held the position of first deputy prime minister of the Chechen Republic. The journalist met Kadyrov in his home village of Tsentaroy. In the report, Politkovskaya describes the setting of the guest house where they met in detail; she spent about six or seven hours there just waiting for Kadyrov to come speak with her. She makes particular note of the room’s massive, wooden furniture, which was very expensive — “for some reason they forgot to remove the price tags,” she writes.

Caucasian Knot, Monday, 5 October 2020: In response to questions from the European Court of Human Rights, Mikhail Galperin, Representative of the Russian Federation at the European Court of Human Rights, stated that Salman Tepsurkaev, a native of Chechnya, was not detained by law enforcers and was not subjected to ill-treatment. Human rights defenders and activists of the movement “1Adat” treated the Mr Galperin’s statement as unconvincing. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that on September 14, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) requested the Russian authorities to provide the information whether Salman Tepsurkaev was kidnapped and tortured and whether an investigation was being carried out into the case.

Caucasian Knot, Thursday, 8 October 2020: A video appeal voiced by a father of a kidnapped moderator of the 1Adat Telegram Channel was recorded under pressure, and the whereabouts of Salman Tepsurkaev is still unknown, note some Instagram users. Their opponents argue that it is necessary to listen to Shirvani Tepsurkaev and stop discussing the torture his son had been subjected to. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that in the new video, the father of Salman Tepsurkaev called to “close the topic” of his son’s disappearance and said that he had no claims against the authorities of Chechnya.


RAPSI, Wednesday, 6 October 2020: Russia’s Civic Chamber is ready to form a group of observers, which is to include compatriots and foreign experts, to monitor elections held abroad, the press service of this consultative and advisory body informs RAPSI on Tuesday. Acting on instructions of Russia’s President, the Civic Chamber in cooperation with political parties and NGOs has conducted an analysis of the results of monitoring of the All-Russian voting on amendments to the Constitution and developed certain proposals and recommendations aimed at the improvement of the institution of public monitoring. The Civic Chamber has performed fundamental work as to development of the public monitoring institution in Russia since 2012, raising this institution to a qualitatively new level and incorporating it in all electoral procedures, the body’s Secretary Lidia Mikheyeva said.


The Guardian [Agence France-Presse], Monday, 5 October 2020: Water pollution in Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula that caused sea creatures to wash up dead on beaches has prompted fears that rocket fuel stored in the region’s military testing grounds may have leaked. The pollution came to light late last month after surfers reported stinging eyes and said the water had changed colour and developed an odour. Officials later confirmed the surfers had sustained mild burns to their corneas. Then locals reported seeing large numbers of dead marine species including seals, octopuses and sea urchins washed up on a black-sand beach popular with tourists. The regional governor, Vladimir Solodov, said on Monday the sea off the remote Kamchatka peninsula may have been contaminated with toxic chemicals. Greenpeace, which has been assessing the area, warned of an “ecological disaster”. Officials said tests showed above-permitted levels of phenol and petroleum products. Experts were investigating whether this was linked to spills of toxic substances, Solodov said.

The Guardian, Thursday, 8 October 2020: Russian authorities evacuated thousands of people from more than 10 villages in the region of Ryazan on 7 October after a blaze broke out at an ammunition depot, sending thick smoke belching into the air.  Munitions could be heard detonating in footage circulated on social media

The Justice System

RAPSI, Wednesday, 7 October 2020: The State Duma Committee on State Building and Legislation has recommended lawmakers to pass a bill on powers and formation order of the country’s Constitutional Court in the first reading, according to a statement of the lower house of Russian parliament. The draft law is related to amendments to the Constitution adopted on March 14. The initiative envisages that the Constitutional Court is to be consisted of 11 judges including a chairperson and a deputy chair.

RAPSI, Wednesday, 7 October 2020: The Office of Russia’s High Commissioner for Human Rights received over 3,600 complaints from penitentiary facilities in nine months of this year, Tatiana Moskalkova said during a session of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) panel on Wednesday. According to the dynamics of applications, main problems of human rights protection in penal institutions are medical supplies, jail conditions, actions (inaction) of penitentiary service employees, impossibility of transfer to colonies near places of living for serving sentences, she added. During a pandemic, she also received many complaints from the convicts’ relatives and human rights advocates concerned with the spread of COVID-19 in detention centers and penal colonies.


Human Rights in Ukraine, Friday, 9 October 2020: The Crimean Human Rights Group [CHRG] has learned from different sources that the Russian occupation authorities are forcing medical staff and morgues to lie about the real number of deaths from Covid-19 in occupied Crimea.  This is of particular concern as all kinds of public events are taking place as though there were no pandemic, as well as active measures to encourage Russian tourists to visit the occupied peninsula. A person working in a Crimean morgue has told the CHRG that they see one or two people each day who died from Covid-19, but whose death certificate gives another cause of death.  A medical worker from a hospital in a different city has confirmed that the statistics are being rigged.  He explains that the number of patients dying is steadily rising, however accompanying illnesses are given as the cause of death, with Covid-19 not mentioned.

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