Legal Case of the Week
On 9 January 2017 the trial began in St. Petersburg of yoga teacher Dmitry Ugai [also written 'Dmitry Ugay' in English] on charges of illegal missionary activity. RFE/RL reports that computer programmer and yoga teacher Dmitry Ugai was detained by police in St. Petersburg on 22 October 'while giving a talk at a festival about the philosophies behind yoga, a discipline for achieving physical and spiritual well-being.' RFE/RL notes, 'The 44-year-old faces a fine for allegedly conducting illegal missionary activity, an administrative offense under the new Yarovaya Law, a package of legal amendments intended to fight terrorism that is named after its author, lawmaker Irina Yarovaya. Signed by President Vladimir Putin in July, the amendments include restrictions on religious groups and missionary activity that could potentially put pressure on followers outside what the government considers "traditional" religions. The charges against Ugay are not criminal, but observers fear that a guilty verdict in the misdemeanor case against him would set a precedent for the harassment of even yoga instructors.'
The Moscow Times quoted Dmitry Ugai as telling the Meduza news website: “If I’m convicted, then it’s clear that the mere act of speaking publicly will be enough to find a person guilty, and they’ll be able to prosecute anyone just for practicing yoga."
On 31/12 the remains of 109 people, buried in two mass graves near Grozny and presumably killed during the first military campaign on the territory of Chechnya, were transported from Rostov to the Chechnya, the news website Caucasian Knot reported. Caucasian Knot notes that on 31/12 'marks the 20th anniversary of the withdrawal of the last federal troops from Chechnya' in 1996. Human rights defender Aset Malsagova told Caucasian Knot: "They were men, women, and children. Two of them are identified, and their remains were taken by their relatives. If some of your relatives disappeared during the First Chechen War, then you could find out through the DNA examination if the number of 109 victims included your disappeared relatives.' Caucasian Knot points out that, 'according to various sources, 4000-14,000 Russian soldiers and officers, 3000-10,000 Chechen fighters, and 50,000-100,000 civilians were killed' in the First Chechen War.
On 5/1 Caucasian Knot reported that lawyers with whom its correspondents had spoken had said the 'remains of victims of the Chechen war of 1994-1996 were given out to relatives after the expiry of criminal liability for persons involved in their deaths and proved the ineffectiveness of the investigation.' Nadezhda Ermolaeva, an expert on international law and a legal adviser of the programme 'The Right to Asylum' of the Human Rights Institute, was quoted as saying: 'The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found violations in more than 200 complaints about disappearances of people. The Russian Federation has found no violation in any of the above cases. The authorities argued that the kidnappings had been committed by militants and that the federal forces had not been involved in the disappearances. When it comes to effectiveness, it comes to a dead end. No search actions ever took place.'
Photo: Caucasian Knot
'Remains of 109 victims of First Chechen War brought to Chechnya,' Caucasian Knot, 31 December 2016
'Lawyers criticize investigation into deaths of victims of First Chechen War,' Caucasian Knot, 5 January 2017
On 23 December 2016 environmental activists Aleksei Knedlyakovsky and Victor Chirikov were jailed in Krasnodar for 15 days for alleged involvement in attaching a wooden crucifix to a memorial to Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the first head of the Soviet era secret police, the Cheka. According to reports, the crucifix appeared on the Dzerzhinsky monument on 20 December, the anniversary of the creation of the Cheka by Vladimir Lenin in 1917, a day officially held to honour members of the Soviet and Russian security services from the Cheka to the FSB. Movement of the 14% reported: 'On 20 December someone in Krasnodar marked the day by mounting a wooden cross on the memorial to Feliks Dzerzhinsky. Two Krasnodar environmentalists – activists from Environmental Watch Viktor Chirikov and Aleksei Knedlyakovsky – have been accused of doing this. [...] Viktor Chirikov and Aleksei Knedlyakovsky themselves state they had nothing to do with the mounting of the cross on the memorial. Despite that, on 22 December the two men were detained by the police. They were charged with ‘petty hooliganism’ under Article 20.1 of the Russian Administrative Code. The trial lasted a mere four minutes. The main evidence was a very faded photo in which Judge Stanislav Burenko said he recognized Knedlyakovsky and Chirikov. He handed down the maximum possible sentence.' Both men deny the charges.
Halya Coynash, writing in Human Rights in Ukraine, reports that while Chirikov was sentenced in a closed court, the trial of Knedlyakovsky was open, yet the judge had refused to wait until his the latter's lawyer could get to Krasnodar. She comments: 'It is possible that the FSB, the modern version of the same security service, just used the cross as a pretext for repressive measures against two "dissidents", however they also appear to have gone into overdrive in their reaction to the cross, intimidating even the local media into removing their reports about the cross. There is no real proof that Alexei Knedlyakovsky (Nekrasov) and Viktor Chirikov actually fixed the wooden crucifix to the bust of Dzerzhinksy, nor, in fact, is it entirely clear what the action was really saying.
On 28 December 2016 Caucasian Knot reported that the two men had gone on hunger strike. The Movement of the 14% announced on 28 December that the two men had reported being held in torturous conditions: 'They are held in a small cell that does not meet regulation standards. There are 11 people in the 11 square metre cell, in other words each person has one square metre of space. There is no access at all to fresh air in the cells and most of those detained are continuously smoking. The detainees have limited access to drinking water, and this at a time when the two men have been on hunger strike since the first day of their detention, and already are into their sixth day without food. Today it became known that an ambulance was called to Viktor Chirikov because of a sudden deterioration in his health. Aleksei Knedlyakovsky’s health also continues to deteriorate, and the conditions of detention remain inhuman.' The organization urged the public to call on both the Public Oversight Commission and the Public Prosecutor's Office to investigate the conditions in which the two men were being held and their treatment.
Mikhail Savva, an academic and former victim of persecution from Kuban now living in Ukraine, is quoted by Halya Coynash as seeing in the convictions nothing more than the desire of the FSB to punish two Russians who spoiled their ‘Day of the Chekist’ and make them the object of ridicule: 'The FSB set up the police, prosecutors and judges who took part or will still take part in this case. The names of all officials who dirtied themselves through their involvement in this lawlessness are known. There is no chance that we will remember these names. Ladies and Gentlemen, you will be held to answer. The regime that is protecting you is not for ever. Are you sure that you need this?'
Photo: Movement of the 14%
Sources:'Hunger strike of blogger Knedlyakovsky in Krasnodar supported by activist Chirikov,' Caucasian Knot, 28 December 2016
Halya Coynash, 'Russian activists jailed for crucifix protest at monument to notorious secret police chief,' Human Rights in Ukraine, 27 December 2016
'Movement of the 14%' on the Cases of Viktor Chirikov and Aleksei Knedlyakovsky [Facebook],' Rights in Russia, 28 December 2016
On 20 December 2016 blogger Aleksei Kungurov was convicted and imprisoned for 2.5 years by a court in Tiumen for a post criticizing the government’s military operation in Syria. As RFE/RL reported, prosecutors said Kungurov's blog was sympathetic to terrorism and the court found Kungurov guilty of 'publicly justifying terrorism.' The blog post had been published soon after the beginning o f Russia's intervention in Syria last year. RFE/RL describes Kungurov as 'an activist who has been involved with strident nationalist and anti-Western groups, argued in the October 2015 post that the extremist group Islamic State (IS), which is banned in Russia, had characteristics of an actual government. He also asserted that President Vladimir Putin's intervention was aimed primarily at propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and not, as the Kremlin has said, defeating IS militants and other "terrorists" in the country.' RFE/RL notes that the Sova Center, based in Moscow, said there was nothing illegal in Kungurov's post. The Memorial Human Rights Centre included Kungurov in its list of 'political prisoners.'
The day Kungurov was convicted, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement calling on Russian authorities to release him. Nina Ognianova, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said: "We call on Russian authorities in Tyumen to immediately release Aleksei Kungurov and drop all charges against him. Since the Kremlin's control over traditional media is nearly absolute, blogs have become an important platform in Russia for independent reporting, analysis, commentary, debate, and information-sharing. Now authorities are contracting that space as well."
On 15 December 2016, Moscow City Court reduced the fine imposed on blogger and Internet entrepreneur Anton Nosik, who had been convicted of extremism, from 500,000 roubles (approximately $8,000) to 300,000 roubles (approximately $4,800), RAPSI has reported. In October 2016 Anton Nosik had been convicted of 'extremism' under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code for views he expressed about events in Syria in the radio programme 'Osoboe mnenie' on the radio station Ekho Moskvy. Nosik said: 'I consider that if the name of Syria disappears from the map, it won't be bad for anyone, just the opposite. In fact, a country like that should be wiped of the face of the earth, just as once Nazi Germany was destroyed and is no longer on the map.' Prosecutors had asked for Anton Nosik to be sentenced to a term of two years in prison. That day, Anton Nosik published the same sentiments in a post on LiveJournal, entitled 'To wipe Syria off the face of the earth.' A judge sitting in Presnensky district court in Moscow one year later found that Nosik's post had been intended to incite enmity and hatred of a group of individuals ('the Syrians') on the ground of ethnic origin and territorial location, which contravenes Article 282. Anton Nosik had pleaded not guilty to the charges on the grounds that the post he had distributed on the Internet contained his private opinion. After sentencing, Anton Nosik pointed out that the fine of 500,000 roubles was the largest ever issued under Article 282.
Anton Nosik has since launched a campaign to abolish Article 282. As Isaac Webb writing on Global Voices points out, Nosik 'submitted his proposal to “Russian Public Initiative” (ROI), a website designed to filter proposals from the private citizens through to the federal government. Nearly two months later, he received a response from ROI saying that his proposal had been approved and that a petition would be posted on the website beginning on November 30. Russian citizens over 18 years old who register through a government portal will be able to vote for or against the petition until November 30, 2017. The proposal needs 100,000 supporting votes in order to be sent to the federal government for discussion.'
Anton Nosik, 'Стереть Сирию с лица Земли,' LiveJournal, 1 October 2015Yellow Dog, 'АНТОН НОСИК - ПРИГОВОР И ФРАГМЕНТ СКАНДАЛЬНОГО ЭФИРА НА "ЭХО МОСКВЫ",' YouTube, 3 October 2016
Gennady Zubov, '500 тысяч с Носика,' Gazeta.ru, 3 October 2016
On 9 December 2016 Human Rights in Ukraine reported that Emir-Huseyn Kuku, a human rights activist imprisoned in Crimea, annexed by Russia, has been placed in a psychiatric clinic. Emir-Huseyn Kuku, the son of a veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, is a member of the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights and has been engaged in monitoring rights abuse in the Yalta region. As Halya Coynash wrote: 'This is purportedly for a "psychiatric assessment", but the lack of any grounds and forced hospitalization make charges of punitive psychiatry in his case and that of five other prisoners arrested with him warranted. The timing was also brutally cruel since Kuku had been due in court for the latest remand hearing.' The hearings, Halya Coynash notes, 'are an opportunity for family members to see their husbands, fathers or sons. 9-year-old Bekir would not have been allowed into the courtroom, but he was at the court building hoping to see his father.' As Halya Coynash points out, 'There are extremely strong grounds for believing that all measures against Kuku over the last 18 months – and these have been many and varied - are politically motivated. He and 18 other Crimean Muslims are now charged with alleged and unproven involvement in an organization - Hizb ut-Tahrir - which is legal in Ukraine. Russia’s Supreme Court declared the organization ‘terrorist’ in 2003, with the decision kept secret until it could no longer be appealed. No sensible grounds were provided, and the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre considers all those convicted of such charges to be political prisoners.'
In an impassioned appeal on Facebook, his mother Munira Abduraimova has expressed outrage at the actions of Russian law enforcement: “My son was not involved in that organization. He merely deeply studied the essence of Islam and strictly observed all its teachings. Is this really to be deemed a crime? My son is guilty only of being a member of a human rights organization and refusing to collaborate with an investigator from the Yalta FSB who demanded that he provide help in identifying ‘terrorists’ who didn’t exist and could exist among our people in Crimea. Crimea always was and remains a peaceful region thanks to Crimean Tatars who even in the most different situations demonstrated restraint and common sense, and who managed to keep peace and calm and not turn our national Homeland into a trouble spot. Could you really find ‘terrorists’ among such a courageous people? Insane nonsense!" [Translation by Halya Coynash]
Photo: Human Rights in Ukraine
Halya Coynash, 'Crimean Tatar rights activist placed in psychiatric clinic on eve of Human Rights Day,' Human Rights in Ukraine, 12 December 2016
On 2 December 2016 President Putin turned down a request by film director Aleksandr Sokurov to release imprisoned Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, sentenced to 20 years in a maximum security prison colony on charges of preparing explosions and arson attacks in Simferopol, Crimea. As The Moscow Times reported, at a meeting of the Presidential Council on Culture and Art, film director Alexander Sokurov asked President Putin to free Sentsov: ‘Putin replied that Sentsov had not been convicted for his art or opinions, but because he had, “dedicated his life to terrorist activities.” “We live in a law-based society in which these kinds of questions must be resolved by the legal system,” Putin said.’
However, as Halya Coynash writes, President Putin’s ‘assertion that Russia is a law-based country comes just two weeks after the International Criminal Court accepted jurisdiction over Russia’s ongoing occupation of Crimea and spoke of Russia’s “non-respect of a number of due process and fair trial rights”.’ In Coynash’s view, ‘Neither Putin’s assertions about Sentsov, nor his claim that it is the court in Russia which decides have any credibility, and the demands for Sentsov’s release have come not only from world-renowned film directors, but from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the EU, OSCE and all democratic countries.’
Amnesty International called the prison sentences handed down by a Russian military court against Oleg Sentsov and Aleksandr Kolchenko in August 2015 ‘a blatant injustice’, describing the trial as ‘patently unfair’ trial marred by credible allegations of torture, and ‘marred by credible allegations of torture‘. Heather McGill, Eurasia Researcher at Amnesty International, said: “This whole trial was designed to send a message. It played into Russia’s propaganda war against Ukraine and was redolent of Stalinist-era show trials of dissidents.’ Amnesty International called for any testimony gained through torture and other ill-treatment to be thrown out, the ‘terrorism’ charges withdrawn, and Oleg Sentsov and Aleksandr Kolchenko either released or brought to face a fair trial in a civilian court.
Photo: Human Rights in Ukraine
'Putin Rejects Plea to Free Jailed Ukrainian Filmmaker,' The Moscow Times, 2 December 2016
'Путин ответил на просьбу освободить режиссера Сенцова,' RBK, 2 December 2016
Halya Coynash, ‘Putin’s cynical lies about Oleg Sentsov debunked by International Criminal Court,’ Human Rights in Ukraine, 5 December 2016
‘Russia: Crimean activists sentenced after “fatally flawed” military trial,’ Amnesty International, 25 August 2015
On 21 November 2016 Ukrainian Stanislav Klykh, recently sentenced to 20 years in prison, was given an additional sentence of one month for ‘contempt of court’, allegedly seen in his ‘insulting a prosecutor’. Halya Coynash, writing on Human Rights in Ukraine, reports: 'The sentence passed on Nov 21 adds only a month to Russia’s 20-year sentence against Ukrainian Stanislav Klykh, but its cynicism is of extraordinary brutality.' Coynash points out that 'The behaviour in question had been one of the numerous signs that Klykh was in a seriously disturbed state after the 10 months in which Russia held him totally incommunicado, subjecting him to torture and filling him with psychotropic drugs.'
Caucasian Knot reported that on 21 November Judge Akhtem Shailov from the Zavodsky District Court in Grozny convicted Klykh of ‘insulting a prosecutor’ and sentenced him to 240 hours of compulsory labour, replacing this with one month’s imprisonment on the grounds Klykh is already serving a term in prison. The prosecutor had demanded 1.5 months’ imprisonment. Coynash points out that 'There had been no "contempt of court", and the very prosecution was a cruel mockery of Klykh.'
Halya Coynash writes: 'There had never been any investigation into both men’s allegations of torture, including, in Klykh’s case, the application of psychotropic drugs, nor any independent psychiatric assessment. His lawyer Marina Dubrovina had sought a psychiatric investigation from the outset, but any checks carried out were totally perfunctory (details here). An examination was finally ordered in January after Klykh showed overtly disturbed behaviour in court. The ‘examination’ by the Russian prison service’s psychiatrists resulted in Klykh receiving an improbable clean state of health and then being forcibly administered unidentified drugs. These were probably heavy-duty tranquilizers, but his lawyer’s attempts to ascertain their nature were fruitless.'
Stanislav Klykh had been sentenced together with Mykola Karpyuk in May 2016 to 20 and 22 years' imprisonment, respectively, for allegedly killing Russian soldiers in Chechnya in 1994 – 1996. On appeal, the Supreme Court upheld the sentences on 26 October 2016. Human rights activist Zoya Svetova, a prominent rights activist, called the trial 'one of the most insane and monstrously falsified prosecutions initiated against Ukrainian nationals since the annexation of Crimea.'
Amnesty International described the trial of Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpyuk as 'grossly unfair'.
Amnesty International has stated: 'The accusation was based on the two men’s confessions extracted under torture, and the testimony of one witness, who had also been sentenced for killing Russian servicemen in Chechnya. The evidence supporting Stanislav Klykh’s and Mykola Karpyuk alibi that they could not have been in Chechnya during this conflict was not admitted by the court. At the appeal hearing the defence lawyers presented evidence that the two men’s rights to a fair trial had been violated, the judge had attempted to unduly influence the jury, and the fact that the men were held in a cage in the court room, in accordance with Russian practice, which creates an impression of guilt incompatible with the presumption of innocence. The appeal court agreed to include the vital evidence supporting the two men’s alibis, but upheld the conviction. Both men were denied access to the lawyers of their choice during several months after they were first detained, and allege that they were tortured to force them to confess. The torture and other illtreatment appears to have affected Stanislav Klykh’s mental health.'
'RUSSIAN FEDERATION: FURTHER INFORMATION: APPEAL OF TWO UKRAINIAN MEN REJECTED: STANISLAV KLYKH AND MYKOLA KARPYUK,' Amnesty International, 27 October 2016
Photo: Caucasian Knot
Halya Coynash, 'Cynical 2nd sentence passed on Ukrainian political prisoner whom Russia is driving insane,' Human Rights in Ukraine, 23 November 2016
Zoya Svetova, 'Российские присяжные признали украинцев виновными в убийстве десятков людей во время чеченской войны,' Open Russia, 19 May 20916
'Суд признал Клыха виновным в оскорблении прокурора,' Caucasian Knot, 23 November 2016
On 14 November 2016, the Investigative Commitee launched a criminal case for ‘offending the feelings of religious believers’ against two activists opposing construction of a church in a Moscow park. As The Moscow Times reports, 'the case was opened against Evgeniya Lebedeva, the leader of the protest movement, and Marina Verigina, a member of the group'. The protests concern Torfyanka Park in north-east Moscow, where since mid-2015 local residents have clashed with church activists who wish to see the construction of a church in the park. On Monday 14th November, police detained a total of 13 protesters at Torfyanka Park. The report said that Andrei Kormukhin, who is head of a church organization 'Forty Times Forty,' 'told the TASS news service that his organization had complained about the group several times.' Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, called the protesters 'cultists and pagans.' The protesters are not facing investigation for offences relating to the strict public assembly laws in Russia, which would be usual for those detained in relation to a public protest, but for 'offending the feelings of religious believers'.
The BBC quotes journalist Maria Eismont as writing on Facebook that "At 6 in the morning police called on some comrades to carry out searches. Neighbours heard the knocking on the door and threats, that unless they opened up the door would be broken down. After the search they took them away, and some were taken together with members of their families.' Maria Eismont has also published photographs of the protest on Facebook.
Map of Torfyanka park: Wikipedia
'Two Moscow Activists Charged With Offending Feelings of Religious Believers,' The Moscow Times, 14 November 2016'К заshchitnikam parka "Тоrfyanka" prishli s obyskami i zaderzhali,' BBC, 14 November 2016
On 9 November 2016, The Moscow Times reported that a leader of a Scientologist community in Astrakhan had been fined for violating recently adopted anti-terrorism legislation. Amendments to the law, known as the 'Yarovaya package' after the member of the State Duma who introduced them to the State Duma, restrict missionary work exclusively to officially registered organizations and only in authorized places.
While the sources do not name the individual who has been fined, The Moscow Times writes that the organizer "had set up a booth in a local shopping center where patrons could learn about the Church of Scientology and the works of its founder, the late L. Ron Hubbard. She was found guilty of violating the provision on missionary work and fined the minimum amount of 5,000 rubles ($79)." The Moscow Times quotes an assistant to a district prosecutor in Astrakhan as saying: 'The organizer of this action also arranged a 'Volga tour of goodwill,' during which they distributed information on the works of L. Ron Hubbard,' said Elena Lidzhi-Goryaeva".
Victoria Arnold of Forum 18 has recently published an analysis of the application of extremism legislation on religious minorities in Russia. She writes: 'Russia's "Extremism" Law and associated Criminal and Administrative Codes (with ever-harsher punishments) are used to arrest, imprison or fine individuals exercising freedom of religion and belief, punish communities for meeting, and ban publications on religion which do not encourage violations of others' human rights.'
In the conclusion to her article, Victoria Arnold notes: "Since 2014 there has been a significant rise in prosecutions of individuals (many of whom are pensioners) for alleged "production or mass distribution of extremist materials" (Administrative Code Article 20.29), and a significant increase in law enforcement attention towards Jehovah's Witness communities, several of which have been dissolved as "extremist" organisations. Criminal investigations and prosecutions (principally of Muslims who read Said Nursi's works) can be distressing for suspects and defendants, often involving armed raids on homes and places of worship, pre-trial detention, and drawn-out, expensive court proceedings." In the report by The Moscow Times cited above, the publication notes, "Previously, a Protestant pastor in Kemerovo and an Archbishop for the Russian Orthodox Reformed Church were fined under the same provision."