Person of the Week
On 14 February 2017 Moscow City Court upheld a ruling by Moscow's Lefortovsky district court to extend the pre-trial detention of Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko until 30 April 2017. As RAPSI reported, the case was heard behind closed doors. Roman Sushchenko was charged with espionage on 7 October 2016. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. RAPSI stated: 'According to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the Ukrainian citizen [Roman Sushchenko] "purposively collected classified information about the Armed Forces and National Guard of Russia." Leak of data abroad could cause damage to the national defense capability, the FSB claimed.'
Roman Sushchenko was arrested immediately he arrived in Moscow on 30 September 2016 on private business. According to Sushchenko's employer, Ukrinform, Sushchenko was on vacation at the time. Halya Coynash, writing in Human Rights in Ukraine, pointed out that Sushchenko's cousin and other relatives live in Moscow. Since 2010, Sushchenko has been Ukrinform’s correspondent in France. Ukrinform has rejected the accusations levelled at Sushchenko, describing him as 'a journalist with years of unblemished professional reputation', RAPSI reports. RFE/RL reported that Ukrinform called Sushchenko's arrest, 'yet another flagrant and unlawful [Russian] act against Ukrainian nationals.' According to RFE/RL, the 'FSB claims Sushchenko is a colonel with Ukrainian military intelligence who has been collecting classified data about Russia's Armed Forces and National Guard.' Sushchenko's lawyer, Mark Feigin, said his client had no links to any spy agency, RFE/RL reported, adding that 'Ukraine's Foreign Ministry demanded Sushchenko’s "immediate release and unhampered return home," and called on Russia to respect the Ukrainian citizen's rights.'
Evgeniya Sokolova, 'Russian court upholds detention of Ukrainian journalist charged with spying,' RAPSI, 14 February 2017
'Ukrainian Journalist In Russian Custody On Espionage Charges,' RFE/RL, 3 October 2016
Halya Coynash, 'Ukrainian journalist’s arrest a chilling warning to stay away from Russia,' Human Rights in Ukraine, 7 October 2017
On 9 February 2017 civil rights activist Mark Galperin was jailed for 10 days for 'failing to obey the lawful instructions of a police officer' (Article 19.3 of the Russian Administrative Code).
On 7 February 2017 Galperin had been detained at his Moscow apartment. Police broke down his apartment door and took him forcibly to a police station. As RFE/RL reported, Galperin described the incident in a post on Facebook. RFE/RL cites' Galperin's lawyer, Ksenia Kostromina, as saying at the time that her client was told he would be interrogated, but she did not know 'the reasons of his detention or the charges he might face.' Subsequently, Vera Vasilieva, writing on Civitas, reported that Galperin had been taken to the FSB headquarters on the Lubyanka, together with a journalist who was detained the same day, Olga Sapronova, who works on the video-project Gradus-TV.
It transpired that the FSB соnsidered that Galperin, in an interview with Sapronova, may have committed a crime under Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code ('public incitement to violate the territorial integrity of Russia'). After an hour's questioning, Galperin and Sapronova were both released, on condition they did not disclose details of the investigation and bound themselves to attend any further interrogation.
However, as Vasilieva reports, Galperin was subsequently jailed on 9 February by a district court in Moscow region for ten days for violating Article 19.3 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation ('failing to obey the lawful instructions of a police officer'). It would seem that this related to the events at the time of his first detention, when Galperin had sought to hide from the (to him) unknown persons who were breaking down his door. Galperin has said that the police officers had not told him who they were at the time, and he jumped from the balcony of his second-floor apartment. Vasilieva also reports that a criminal case has been opened against Galperin for 'violating the regulations concerning public assembly' (Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). This is the very same article under which Ildar Dadin was sent to prison for 2.5 years, a conviction that has just been reviewed by the Constitutional Court.
On 2 February 2017 journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza, who works for the Open Russia organization, was hospitalised with organ failure, two years after he almost died of suspected poisoning. As the BBC reported, Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is a prominent Russian opposition activist and journalist, fell ill at about 05:00 local time (02:00 GMT) on 2 February. He was placed in a medically-induced coma on life support in hospital. The BBC quoted Vladimir Kara-Murza's wife, Evgenia Kara-Murza, as saying: "He is already on life support and in a medicated coma. It's the same clinical picture [as last time]." Vladimir Kara-Murza nearly died when he suffered sudden kidney failure in 2015. The BBC comments: "No cause was ever established for Mr Kara-Murza's last illness, but tests confirmed that he had ingested a poisonous substance." The day before he fell ill (1 February) Vladimir Kara-Murza had posted on Facebook a short tribute to his friend Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered in Moscow on 27 February 2015. This was a picture of a bouquet of roses marking the spot on Moscow's Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge near the Kremlin where Nemtsov was gunned down with the words 'Мы здесь. Мы помним' - 'We are here. We remember.'
On 26 January 2017 human rights lawyer Emil Kurbedinov was jailed for 10 days on administrative charges linked to a video posted legally in 2013. He was detained by armed officers and his home and office premises were searched. Halya Coynash, writing on the website Human Rights in Ukraine, reports that Kurbedinov and his colleague Edem Semedlyaev were travelling to the home of Seiran Saliev, a Crimean Tatar activist where a search was underway:
"They were stopped in Bakhchysarai by traffic police, then men in masks, identifying themselves as from the police turned up and took Kurbedinov away. A search in the meantime had begun in the offices that Kurbedinov and Semedlyaev share. Semedlyaev arrived, informed the officers that this was a law firm and that the material in it was therefore covered by legislation on lawyers’ confidentiality. This was ignored and all official equipment, computers, etc. taken away. A search was then made of Kurbedinov’s home, with the building being first surrounded by armed and masked spetsznaz special force officers. For some time they refused to allow lawyer Dzhemil Temishev into the flat, and also tried to prevent Kurbedinov’s mother who arrived to take his small son (Arslan) and daughter (Kamila) away. [...] Kurbedinov himself was taken against his will to the so-called Centre for Countering Extremism, and held there until the court hearing in the Zheleznodorozny District Court in Simferopol in the afternoon, under judge Tatyana Belnichuk. The court was told by police major Renat Shambazov that the police had established on Jan 16, 2017 that on June 6, 2013 Kurbedinov had posted a video clip from a Hizb ut-Tahrir meeting on his VKontakte social network page. The protocol claims that this was “a public demonstration of the symbols and propaganda images of the terrorist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir” and falls under Article 20.3 of Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences. [...] Kurbedinov is reported to have accepted that he could have posted the recording on a social network. Back in 2013, he says, there were a lot of Hizb ut-Tahrir meetings. There was no question of this being propaganda, however, and the organization was quite legal in Crimea. He had posted it and forgotten all about it. He asked for the court to fine him, however this was clearly not the instruction from above and the court produced a 10-day jail term which will assuredly be appealed against."
On 26 January 2017 Front Line Defenders issued an Urgent Appeal on the case of Emil Kurbedinov after he was detained and sentenced to ten days' detention by a court in Simferopol for 'propagandizing for extremist organisations'. Front Line Defenders stated that it is 'extremely concerned' by the arrest and administrative conviction of Emil Kurbedinov and believes these actions 'to be directly related to his human rights work and his vocal position in denouncing human rights violations in Crimea.' Front Line Defenders urges the authorities of the Russian Federation to 'immediately release Emil Kurbedinov from administrative detention and cease all further forms of surveillance and harassment against him,' and to 'guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Crimea are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.'
Photo: Front Line Defenders
On 17 January 2017 'anti-extremism' police searched the home of poet Aleksandr Byvshev in Orel region, seizing his computer, in connection with new charges related to his poetry. On 18 January, RFE/RL reported that 'Russian authorities have launched a fresh investigation targeting a former teacher in Russia's western region of Orel who was convicted of inciting ethnic hatred and sacked from his job for writing a pro-Ukraine poem.' Aleksandr Korgin, an official in Orel region Investigative Committee, was reported as saying Byvshev may be charged with inciting ethnic hatred after linguistics experts concluded one of Byshev's poems contained 'extremist connotations.' In 2015 Byvshev was found guilty of inciting ethnic hatred for a poem entitled 'To Ukrainian Patriots' that was published on the Interent and sentenced to 300 hours of community service and deprived of the right to teach for two years.
Grani.ru reports that the poem in question is 'On Ukraine's Independence', written by Byvshev in 2015 in what the author has described as 'the style of Iosif Brodsky.' Halya Coynash, writing in Human Rights in Ukraine, notes that 'the poem certainly presents Ukraine as under attack, with Moscow, for example, enraged and threatened by Ukraine’s wish for freedom and Maidan. There are highly critical words about Russia, but the argument that these incite enmity could just as well be directed at those western commentators who criticize Russia’s imperial hankering and aggression against its neighbours.' Coynash cites Aleksandr Podrabinek as saying that the charges are again under Article 282 of the Russian criminal code, with the investigators claiming that the poem constitutes ‘incitement to hatred or enmity, and denigration of human dignity’.
Halya Coynash goes on to report: 'Byvshev was first summoned to the Investigative Committee on September 15, 2016 with the deputy head Dmitry Zubov informing him that a ‘check’ was being carried out in connection with publication of the poem. At the time, Byvshev used his right under Article 51 of the Constitution to not testify against himself. The criminal proceedings were initiated on September 30. [...] This is the third prosecution against Byvshev with all of them linked with his criticism of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, including its invasion and annexation of Crimea.'
Coynash writes that the Sova Centre, which monitors abuse of extremism legislation and law enforcement practice, 'reported that an article published in a local paper under the title “There is no place for such patriots in Russia” was totally in the style of the Stalinist fight against cosmopolitanism. The linguistic assessment of the new poem has yet to be made public, but that used for the first conviction was truly surreal. Ludmila Vlasova from the Oryol State University concluded that “the hostile nature of the statements related to Russians in the poem is expressed in expressions regarding Russian state bodies and President Putin (“not one inch of Crimea to Putin’s chekists”).” She asserted that they contain direct and covert calls to Ukrainian patriots to carry out physical and other actions in relation to the enemy – Russians: to meet the enemies like their ancestors did; to prepare and hold weapons in readiness, etc. This, she claimed, meant that the poem “To Ukrainian Patriots” contains statements which denigrate Russians. The Sova Centre disagreed and pointed out that the hostile attitude in the poem was not to Russians as an ethnic group, but to a form of activity.'
Photo of Aleksandr Byvshev: Human Rights in Ukraine
Sources:'Против поэта Бывшева возбуждено новое дело об экстремизме,' Grani.ru, 17 January 2017
On 9 January 2017 the Caucasian Knot said it would take legal action after Chechen Parliament Speaker Magomed Daudov threatened the news outlet's editor-in-chief Grigory Shvedov [sometimes 'Gregory Shvedov' in English publications] on Instagram. As The Moscow Times reported: 'The speaker of Chechnya's parliament, Magomed Daudov, who also goes by the nickname “Lord,” published a picture on his Instagram account on Jan. 4 of a dog with its tongue tied into a knot. The pictured was accompanied by the text: “How to untie the Caucasian Knot?” In a comment alongside the photo, Daudov described the dog as “a mongrel nicknamed 'Swede,'” in an apparent reference to Grigory Shvedov who is the chief editor of the Caucasian Knot news agency. In Russian, “Shvedov” closely resembles the word for “Swedish.” “He puts out his long tongue, ties it into a dangerous 'Caucasian knot' and starts yapping,” the parliamentarian wrote. “It's time to call the vet with the large pliers,” he continued. “To pull a couple of 'wisdom' teeth from the Swede and shorten his tongue to a normal size”. Shvedov told the Kommersant business daily on Monday that the agency's lawyers were preparing to lodge a complaint with the Investigative Committee on charges of obstructing journalism.'
On 9 January 2017, Amnesty International issued an 'Urgent Action' notification, calling on its supporters to write to the relevant Russian officials: ' Urging the authorities to conduct a prompt, effective and impartial investigation into the threats made to Grigory Shvedov, which is a crime under Article 144 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“obstruction of lawful professional activities of journalists”); Urging them to condemn in the strongest manner the threats posted by Magomed Daudov and ensure that Grigory Shvedov is protected from any possible physical attacks; Reminding the authorities that as a party to the European Convention on Human Rights the Russian authorities have an obligation to guarantee freedom of expression and protect journalists from threats and attacks.'
On 9 January 2017, Front Line Defenders Front Line Defenders issued a statement expressing deep concern about the threats against human rights journalist Grigory Shvedov, which it believed to be 'related to his legitimate and peaceful human rights work.' Front Line Defenders urges the authorities of the Russian Federation to: '1. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the threats against Gregory Shvedov, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards; 2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Gregory Shvedov; 3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Russia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.'
On 10 January 2017 a 'Statement of Solidarity with Grigory Shvedov in Defence of Freedom of Expression in the Chechen Republic' was published by human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists which expressed solidarity with Grigory Shvedov and, among other things, called on the law enforcement agencies to conduct an effective investigation into the threats and hold Magomed Daudov to account.
On 12 January 2017, Human Rights Watch issued a statement on the serious threats made by Magomed Daudov against Grigory Shvedov, placing him at great risk. Human Rights Watch noted that Caucasian Knot's coverage of developments in the Caucasus includes extensive reporting on abuses by Chechen authorities, and that Daudov is widely known as the right-hand man of Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic. Human Rights Watch urged the Russian authorities to publicly condemn these threats, ensure no harm comes to Shvedov, and put an end to threats against and attacks on independent media in Chechnya.
Photo: Human Rights Watch via RFE/RL [© 2016 RFE/RL]
'"Shorten His Tongue, Pull Out His Teeth," Says Chechen Official In Apparent Threat to Journalist,' The Moscow Times, 9 January 2017
'RUSSIAN FEDERATION: JOURNALIST THREATENED BY CHECHEN OFFICIAL: GRIGORY SHVEDOV,' Amnesty International, 9 January 2017'Statement of Solidarity with Grigory Shvedov in Defence of Freedom of Expression in the Chechen Republic,' HRO.org in English, 10 January 2017
'THREATS AGAINST EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF THE CAUCASIAN KNOT, GREGORY SHVEDOV.' Front Line Defenders, 9 January 2017
'Chechnya: Leading Politician Threatens Editor. Authorities Target Independent Media Outlet,' Human Rights Watch, 12 January 2017
On 2/1 Lev Ponomarev, director of the NGO For Human Rights, and Aleksei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy radio station, sent a letter to the Federal Penitentiary Service demanding the authorities reveal Ildar Dadin’s location. As The Moscow Times reported, 'opposition activist, Ildar Dadin, has been incommunicado for over a month while being transferred to another prison, and activists say his relatives “fear for his life and health”.' In addition to Ponomarev and Venediktov, St. Petersburg legislator Boris Vishnevsky also demanded information from the Federal Penitentiary Service. 'In his letter, Ponomarev emphasized that Dadin’s relatives fear for his safety because he had revealed torture in prison,' The Moscow Times wrote, 'Officials might try to punish him for speaking out, they worry.' The hashtag #ГдеИльдарДадин (#WhereIsIldarDadin) has featured widely on social media in Russia. On 4/1 RFE/RL reported on the latest in a series of protests over the treatment of Ildar Dadin. When a group of six people attempted to protest outside the offices of the Public Prosecutor in Moscow, calling for the disclosure of Dadin's whereabouts, they were detained by police and held in custody for four hours. 'Prominent opposition politician Aleksei Navalny tweeted two photos of a woman whom he described as a lone protester,' RFE/RL reported, 'One photo depicts the woman holding a placard reading "Where is Ildar Dadin?" and another condemning "torture in Russian concentration camps." The second photo shows the woman being escorted away by two policemen.' Last month, Russian human rights campaigners draped a banner calling for Dadin's release from a St. Petersburg bridge.
Ildar Dadin is the first person to be convicted under the draconian Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code that criminalizes repeat violations of the law regulating public assembly. In December 2015 Ildar Dadin was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.
'Russian Police Briefly Detain Six Supporters Of Jailed Activist,' RFE/RL, 4 January 2017
Sources:'Russian Rights Activists Demand Information on Imprisoned Dissident's Whereabouts,' The Moscow Times, 3 January 2017
On 28 December 2016 the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic upheld the conviction of Caucasian Knot journalist Zhalaudi Geriev. As Caucasian Knot reported, on 5 September at a trial at Shali district court in Chechnya, Geriev was sentenced to three years in a prison colony on charges of possessing marijuana. At the trial, Geriev had rejected the prosecution's charges and stated that he had testified under pressure. Responding to the verdict, Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, stated 'We have no doubt that Geriev is being punished for his work as a journalist and hope that justice will prevail on appeal.' On 26 December 2016, the Investigative Committee had announced that the information about the kidnapping and use of violence against Zhalaudi Geriev had not been 'confirmed'.
On 6 September 2016 Human Rights Watch stated in a report on the case: 'Chechen police detained Geriev, 23, on the morning of April 16. The journalist told the court that three armed men dragged him out of a shuttle bus en route from the town of Kurchaloi to Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, from which he intended to travel on to Moscow for work-related purposes. The assailants entered the shuttle bus, hit him on his head, and dragged him into their car, a black Priora sedan, he said. They took away his two phones and his backpack with his identification documents, a laptop, and other personal belongings, tied his hands with wire, and drove him to a forest 35 kilometers from Grozny, in the Kurchaloi district of Chechnya. Geriev’s kidnappers questioned him in the forest for another 30 to 40 minutes, asking him about his work, threatening him, and insinuating he was “on the run” to join ISIS. Then, another man arrived in a Priora vehicle, pulled a plastic bag tightly over Geriev’s head, took it off when Geriev was about to suffocate, and finally drove off, taking Geriev’s backpack with him. Then, Geriev’s kidnappers took him to a cemetery on the outskirts of the town of Kurchaloi. They had him officially “detained” there and taken into police custody supposedly with a large package of marijuana in his backpack, forcing him to sign a confession stating the drugs in his backpack belonged to him. Geriev withdrew his confession during his trial in the Shali District Court of Chechnya, alleging that it was false and made under duress. The court failed to consider his allegations. Following a trial in which little if any evidence beyond his retracted confession was introduced, the court found Geriev guilty of “possession of banned substances in large quantities”.'
Photo: Zhalaudi Geriev, Moscow 2014. © 2014 Magomed Tuaev for Caucasian Knot, via Human Rights Watch
Sources:'Court examines investigators' refusal to open case on Geriev's kidnapping,' Caucasian Knot, 26 December 2016
'Chechnya's Supreme Court upholds verdict on Geriev,' Caucasian Knot, 28 December 2016
'Legal Case of the Week: Zhalaudi Geriev,' Rights in Russia, 12 September 2016
Source: 'Russia: Journalist Punished for Chechnya Reporting. Sweeping Pre-Election Crackdown,' Human Rights Watch, 6 September, 2016
On 23 December 2016, Andrei Bubeev [also transliterated as Bubeyev], a blogger serving a 2.5 year sentence for social network reposts, was to be moved to a prison with harsher conditions. As Halya Coynash, writing in Human Rights in Ukraine, has reported, 'Andrei Bubeev, who was convicted for posting social network reposts of an article entitled "Crimea is Ukraine" and a picture of a toothpaste tube with the caption "Squeeze Russia out of yourself" is being moved to a prison with harsher conditions. The reasons appear to include "bad influence on other prisoners", with this based on him encouraging them to read. He is currently in a punishment cell and cannot receive or send any letters. His wife Anastasia does not even know for certain where they will be taking him after the court ruling from 12 December comes into force on 23 December.'
Halya Coynash comments: 'Andrei and his wife have two children. 11-year-old Polina and Ognear, who is just 4 years old, have not seen their father since his arrest on May 24, 2015. Both children find it desperately difficult not having their father there. Little Ognear understands only that Papa is a superhero who is being held prisoner for telling the truth. He’s right. Bubeev, a mechanical engineer from Tver, was charged over two pieces of material written or drawn by others which he had merely reposted on his VKontakte social network page.'
Source:Halnya Coynash, 'Further reprisals against Russian blogger jailed for reposting that Crimea is Ukraine,' Human Rights in Ukraine, 23 December 2016
On 14 December 2016 the European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE) reported that Lilia Shibanova was being prevented from leaving Russia. Lilia Shibanova is a founder of the independent Russian election monitoring network, Golos. Since 2013 she has been a resident of Lithuania, where she works as an election expert. As RFE/RL has reported, Lilia Shibanova, then chair of the Moscow-based independent election monitor Golos, left Russia in September 2013 after the Justice Ministry suspended, in June 2013, the group's activities as a result of its refusal to register as a 'foreign agent' NGO. In April 2013 courts had imposed large fines on both Golos and Lilia Shibanova under the 'foreign agent' law. RFE/RL reported that Lilia Shibanova said at that time that Golos was being targeted 'for uncovering widespread violations in elections.' Since 2015 Lilia Shibanova has been a board member of the EPDE.
According to EPDE, when entering Russia in November 2016 she was a subject of a strict border control and her passport was invalidated. Lilia Shibanova has said her attempts to obtain a new international passport have failed so far. The EPDE has expressed 'serious concern' about the impediment on the right of Ms Shibanova to free travel and has also strongly condemned what it calls 'ungrounded accusations of alleged document falsification by Ms Shibanova' that have appeared in some Russian media.'Golos Leader Leaves Russia After Suspension Of Operations,' RFE/RL, 5 September 2013
In a statement the EPDE says: 'The EPDE calls upon the Russian authorities to clarify the situation around the travel documents of Ms Shibanova and to assist her in obtaining valid travel documents. We also call on the government in Russia to refute the slanderous media allegations of document falsification by Ms Shibanova.'
'EPDE BOARD MEMBER LILIA SHIBANOVA PREVENTED FROM LEAVING THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION,' EPDE, 14 December 2016