Person of the Week

Person of the Week: Head of Memorial's office in Chechnya, Oyub Titiev, remains in custody

posted 22 Jan 2018, 06:03 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 Jan 2018, 06:40 ]

This week Oyub Titiev, head of the Chechnya office of Memorial Human Rights Centre has remained in custody on drugs' possession charges widely believed be fabricated. On 15 January 2018, Memorial Human Rights Centre said investigators had refused to permit a doctor to visit Titiev, who was arrested on 9 January and has since been remanded in custody for two months. 
Caucasian Knot has reported that investigators did not allow a doctor to attend Oyub Titiev, who is unable to eat solid food without his dentures. Titiev had intended to visit his dentist to renew his dentures the day of his arrest. 

In a letter to President Putin and the heads of the Investigative Committee and the FSB, written on 12 January, Oyub Titiev accused police of planting the drugs he is accused of possessing in his car and voiced concern that he could be tortured in order to obtain a confession. As RFE/RL reports, in his letter Titiev wrote: "The criminal case against me is fabricated.... I have not and will not admit guilt. [...] I want to inform you that if I in any way acknowledge that I am guilty of what I am accused of, it will mean that I have been forced to admit guilt by means of physical coercion or blackmail."

Memorial's office in Grozny, Chechnya, was raided three times this week, on 16, 18 and 19 January. As reported by RFE/RL, Oleg Orlov of Memorial said that "police claimed they had found two cigarettes and an ashtray made from an empty tin can during the search on 19 January. Orlov said no such items were in the office, adding police may use them to fabricate evidence against Titiev, who was detained on what his supporters say were trumped up drug charges."

On 17 January, the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov attacked human rights groups and denied that Titiev had been falsely charged. According to RFE/RL, "Kadyrov rejected all criticism about the case in his comments, calling Titiev a 'drug addict' and branding all human rights defenders 'people without kinship, ethnicity, and religion.' Kadyrov is reported as saying: 'Isn't it amazing that the UN and the U.S. State Department raised their voices [when] one person from [Chechnya's] Kurchaloi district was detained with marijuana? Why did they keep silent when we arrested other drug addicts? [...] Why do they think that [Titiev] cannot use drugs? We catch people who are 60, 70 years old because they use drugs. Can't we detain him? Of course, we can.[...]  I am surprised when people who call themselves Chechens work with [rights groups]. I am also surprised that their relatives do not stop them. They have to know that [rights activists] will never get away with their activities in our republic'."

Tanya Lokshina of Russia Programme Director at Human Rights Watch, has said of the case: "Titiev's arrest is clearly aimed at punishing him for his human rights work and forcing Memorial to stop exposing abuses by Chechen authorities." 

In other developments in the case last week, some of Titiev's relatives have left Chechnya after coming under pressure from the police. The Presidential Council on Human Rights has urged the Investigative Committee to examine the Titiev case on the grounds that the marijuana could have been planted in Titiev's car.

'Jailed Activist Tells Putin: "If I Confess, It Means Torture Or Blackmail",' RFE/RL, 16 January 2018
'Titiev's defence reports non-admission of doctor to Oyub,' Caucasian Knot, 15 January 2018
Tanya Lokshina, 'Arson Attack on Office of Russian Rights Group,' Human Rights Watch, 17 January 2018
Grozny Police Search Memorial Office For Third Tim
e This Week, RFE/RL, 19 January 2018
'Kadyrov Insults Rights Groups, Calls Jailed Activist A 'Drug Addict,' RFE/RL, 18 January 2018

Person of the Week: Oyub Titiev, head of Memorial's office in Chechnya, arrested

posted 15 Jan 2018, 04:50 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Jan 2018, 13:54 ]

On the morning of 9 January 2018 Oyub Titiev, head of the Chechnya office of the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Centre, was detained by police near Kurchaloi, a town about 30 miles from the Chechen capital, Grozny. He was reportedly not allowed to see his lawyer for several hours. As Tanya Lokshina noted
following his arrest, Titiev "took over for Memorial in Chechnya after the kidnapping and murder of his colleague, Natalia Estemirova in 2009. In recent years, he received many threats aimed at making him quit human rights work. Now, his life and safety are in jeopardy. Seven hours after his arrest, Chechnya’s interior ministry confirmed they took him into custody, allegedly on suspicion of a drug-related crime.

On 11 January Titiev was remanded in custody for two months on charges of possessing drugs. That same day, police demanded that Titiev’s relatives ensured his son and brother appear at the police station. On 10 January federal human rights Ombudsperson Tatiana Moskalkova said she would look into Titiev’s case. On 11 January Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council, urged the Investigative Committee to review the human rights defender's arrest.

On 11 January 2018, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and International Partnership for Human Rights issued a joint statement calling for the release of Oyub Titiev and the dropping of all charges against him.

The statement reads:

Police in Chechnya have arbitrarily arrested Oyub Titiev, head of the local office of Memorial, Russia’s leading human rights organization, on bogus drug possession charges, said today.

Authorities should immediately free Titiev, drop the charges against him, and stop hindering the work of human rights advocates in Chechnya, the international human rights groups said. “Titiev’s arrest is a clear signal that authorities in Chechnya are trying to force Memorial out of Chechnya, which is an affront to everyone there who needs protection from human rights abuses,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Titiev should not be in custody, where we fear his health and safety are at risk.”
Police arrested Titiev, 60, at approximately 10:30 a.m. on January 9, 2018, near Kurchaloi, a town 30 miles from Grozny, the Chechen capital. One of Titiev’s friends told Memorial that he saw Titiev standing by his car on a local road near the Khumyk river bridge, surrounded by five or six police officers. The same witness said that when he later went to the Kurchaloi police department to look for Titiev, he saw his friend’s car parked outside.

A lawyer sent by Memorial went to the police station in the early afternoon, but police officials did not acknowledge Titiev was in custody and did not let him in. In the early evening, Chechnya’s deputy interior minister informed Russia’s federal ombudsperson, in response to her inquiry, that Kurchaloi police had detained Titiev. The lawyer was then admitted to the station.

Russian law provides that authorities can hold a person for up to three hours before formally placing them in custody, but the detainee is entitled to access to a lawyer as soon as they are detained. Titiev had access to his lawyer only after almost seven hours, and when the authorities issued the official report registering his detention, they listed the time of detention as 8.10 p.m., approximately 10 hours after he was first in their custody.

“The detaining authorities refused to provide any information about his whereabouts and fate for close to seven hours, in violation of international due process standards, raising a real concern that they may have been trying to forcibly disappear him,” said Andrew Anderson, director at Front Line Defenders.

“Russia has an obligation under international human rights law to immediately register and acknowledge all detentions, and allow detainees access to their lawyers, a fundamental safeguard against ill treatment and enforced disappearances,” said Denis Krivosheev, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office at Amnesty International.

The police told the lawyer they had allegedly found 180 grams of a marijuana-like substance in a bag in Titiev’s car and that Titiev was under investigation for possession of an illegal drug. Titiev denied the allegations and insisted the bag had been planted by police. If convicted, Titiev faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence. The human rights advisor to Russia’s president, Mikhail Fedotov told the press, that Titiev’s case may constitute a fabrication and the investigation authorities should look into the issue.

The rights groups called on Moscow to ensure that Titiev is immediately released, that there are no further threats to his security, and that human rights groups can carry out their work in Chechnya safely. Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a statement expressing concern about Titiev’s arrest, questioning the “dubious charges that lack credibility” and calling on Russian authorities to immediately ensure his release.

Russia’s international partners should follow Muižnieks’ example and publicly express their objection to this attempt to silence Memorial and urge the Kremlin to secure Titiev’s immediate release and continued safety.

“Bogus drug-related charges and planted evidence are a regular tactic that Chechen authorities have used to punish and discredit their critics,” said FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

In the summer of 2014, a court in Chechnya sentenced local activist Ruslan Kutaev to four years in prison on fabricated, politically motivated drug charges after he criticized and disobeyed an order by Chechnya’s leader, President Ramzan Kadyrov. Kutaev was paroled in December 2017. In 2016, another Chechen court sentenced journalist Zhalaudi Geriev to three years in prison on similarly fabricated drug charges. Geriev reported for Caucasian Knot, an online outlet that reports extensively on Chechnya and that has criticized Chechnya’s leadership.

Memorial has monitored abuses in Chechnya for more than 25 years, reporting extensively first on abuses by federal forces during the two Chechen wars, and then on violations carried out by local authorities with the Kremlin’s tacit blessing.During the past 10 years of Kadyrov’s rule in Chechnya, Memorial has published hard-hitting exposés on collective punishment practices, enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, punitive house burnings, and extrajudicial killing by local security officials. They have consistently described contemporary Chechnya as a totalitarian enclave within Russia, noting Kadyrov’s interference in virtually all aspects of social life, including politics, religion, academic discourse, and family matters.

Titiev has led Memorial’s work in Chechnya since 2009, after the kidnapping and murder of his colleague Natalia Estemirova. His arrest follows years of threats and smear campaigns by Chechnya’s authorities against Memorial and other human rights groups. Kadyrov and other Chechen public officials routinely vilify human rights defenders as “puppets of the West” and “enemies of Russia” bent on destabilizing Chechnya. Some activists also suffered attacks and harassment by local security officials or pro-government thugs.

The most recent smear came in December 2017 from Magomed Daudov, speaker of Chechnya’s parliament and Kadyrov’s right hand man, after Kadyrov was included as a target for US sanctions under the US Magnitsky Act and his Instagram account was blocked.

Daudov accused human rights defenders of “running to their boss across the ocean and pouring rivers of lies” and said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if they were involved in other subversion aimed at weakening our state….I think it’s time to send our enemies, those who don’t like a strong Russia, [out of the country] to their foreign bosses or to isolate them from polite society. …If only Russia hadn’t had a moratorium [on the death penalty], we could’ve just bid these enemies of the people ‘salaam alekum’ and be done with them.”

“The fact that Chechen authorities have so blatantly invented drug accusations against Titiev is not surprising, in light of the vicious way they persistently target people brave enough to try to speak up about human rights abuses,” said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “The question is, what will Russia’s federal authorities do about it and whether Russia’s international partners will do their utmost to ensure Moscow does the right thing?”

'Chief Of Rights Group Memorial's Chechnya Office Detained On Drug Charge,' RFE/RL, 9 January 2018
'Chechen Activist Jailed On "Bogus" Drug Charge,' RFE/RL, 11 January 2018
'HRC "Memorial" reports threats to relatives of Chechen rights defender Oyub Titiev,'
Caucasian Knot, 11 January 2018
'Moskalkova to examine case of Memorial Chechnya Office’s head,' RAPSI, 10 January 2018
'Human Rights Council applies to investigators over Memorial Chechnya Office head’s arrest,' RAPSI, 11 January 2018
Tanya Lokshina, 'Human Rights Defender Arrested in Chechnya,' Human Rights Watch, 9 January 2018
'Oyub Titiev Detained And Facing Criminal Investigation, Front Line Defenders, 9 January 2018
'Russia: Rights Defender Arbitrarily Arrested in Chechnya,' Amnesty International, 11 January 2018

Person of the Week: Ilya Novikov

posted 3 Jul 2017, 06:01 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 3 Jul 2017, 06:11 ]

Photo: RFE/RL

On 29 June 2017 Ilya Novikov, a deputy head of the Open Russia civic movement and head of the organization's office in Tatarstan, announced that he had “temporarily” left Russia to avoid what he called “persecutions.” As 
RFE/RL reported, Novikov described the threat he considers he faces in Russia as “large-scale persecutions against those engaged in any political action” that included “constant attempts by police to conduct searches” at his workplace. RFE/RL reported that Novikov said the authorities were trying to punish him for his political activities and prevent him from criticizing the government. 

On 26 April 2017, the Prosecutor-General's Office declared that three NGOs founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of Yukos who now lives in the UK, had been designated as “undesirable foreign organizations.” Amnesty International described the development as "the latest [steps] in a longstanding crackdown on civil society." The three organizations were: Open Russia Civic Movement, Open Russia (UK), OR (Otkrytaya Rossia) (UK) and Institute of Modern Russia (USA). The next day, an estimated 25 riot police raided the Moscow offices of Open Russia. The same day (28 April 2017) Ilya Novikov was sentenced to five days in jail for calling on people to take part in a demonstration on 29 April which did not have official permission, under the slogan 'We've had enough.' 

Sergei Nikitin, Director of Amnesty International Russia, commented on the banning of the Open Russia organizations: "These aren’t the first organizations banned in Russia as ‘undesirable’, but it’s the first time the authorities ban a civil society group that was founded by Russians and operates only in Russia. Since its creation, Open Russia has done a lot to support victims of human rights violations in Russia and denounce Russia’s deplorable human rights record, and now itself has fallen victim to the system.” 
'Open Russia Deputy Head Leaves Country, Citing Police Pressure,' RFE/RL, 30 June 2017
'Russian authorities ban Khodorkovsky’s organization Open Russia as "undesirable",' Amnesty International, 26 April 2017
'Police Raid Open Russia Moscow Headquarters,' Khodorkovsky, 27 April 2017
'Head of Open Russia office arrested in Kazan,' Crime Russia, 28 April 2017

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Person of the Week: Denis Bakholdin

posted 26 Jun 2017, 10:11 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Jun 2017, 11:00 ]

On 21 June 2017, the website Human Rights in Ukraine published an article by Halya Coynash highlighting the plight of the Moscow activist Denis Bakholdin.  As Halya Coynash reports, Denis Bakholdin had been living in Kiyv since the end of 2014. In Moscow he had been a participant in a number of protests against war in Ukraine and in support of political prisoners. He was detained on a number of occasions. He was jailed for 10 days after taking part in an anti-war protest on 4 March, 2014, shortly after Russia invaded Crimea. In October 2014 he was detained in central Moscow wearing a mask similar to President Putin, wearing striped prison clothes and carrying a placard that read 'war criminal’ [for which he was not charged]. 

According to Denis Bakholdin's mother, Nadezhda Bakholdina, she was officially told on 17 March 2017 that her son had been arrested in Russia 'while trying to illegally cross the Russian-Ukrainian border.' He is now being held in a pre-trial detention centre in Bryansk. According to Human Rights in Ukraine, the lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina has said that Denis Bakholdin has been charged with 'involvement in an extremist society (under Article 282.1 § 2 of the Russian criminal code).'  Nadezhda Bakholdina has said that Denis was subjected to torture after he was detained: 'She has only recently, on June 5, been allowed to see her son , who told her that he had been chained with handcuffs to a radiator, beaten and kicked to get him to "confess" to being a member of Right Sector.' Halya Coynash also reports that Nadezhda Bakholdina says her home was searched by FSB agents at the end of May 'and the hard drive from her computer taken away.'
Photo of Denis Bakholdin: Human Rights in Ukraine

Halya Coynash, 'Putin critic living in Ukraine seized, tortured and jailed in Russia,' Human Rights in Ukraine, 21 June 2017

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Person of the Week: Aleksei Navalny

posted 19 Jun 2017, 08:52 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Jun 2017, 09:02 ]

On 12 June 2017 anti-corruption protests took place in cities across Russia that were initiated by opposition activist and politician Aleksei Navalny. That very day, Aleksei Navalny was arrested outside his home in Moscow before the demonstration started. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail for staging rallies that did not have official permission (a term of 'administrative detention' later reduced to 25 days by a court on the grounds Navalny had two children and needed medical treatment for his eye). OVD-Info reported that at least 1720 people were detained at the protests, including at least 866 in Moscow and 658 people in St. Petersburg. The USA, the EU and international human rights organizations condemned the arrests. Amnesty International said protesters were subjected to cruel and degrading treatment. 

Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, said: “The Russian authorities have used mass detentions as a tactic to crush peaceful protests. But the reprisals haven’t stopped there. Hundreds of peaceful protesters in Moscow and St Petersburg were locked up in police stations overnight, in plainly degrading conditions, crowded cells with little or no food, bedding or easy access to sanitation. We have received numerous reports of people piled on top of one another in police stations, where police dealing with extreme backlogs in processing cases forced them to stay overnight on the floor or even on the street while in police custody. It is an outrage for anybody to be detained and subjected to these inhumane conditions, let alone detained simply for peacefully expressing their views. It appears the authorities in Russia wanted to send a further message by making these detentions slow, humiliating and painful. The Russian authorities must stop detaining peaceful protesters, whose only ‘crime’ was to irk those in power. If there are any case where protesters are arrested for an internationally recognizable offence, they must be treated in a humane manner,”

Meanwhile, on 15 June, Vladislav Zdolnikov and Aleksandr Brusentsev, two staff members from the Anticorruption Foundation headed by Navalny, fled to Ukraine after Roskomnadzor, the government media regulator, launched investigations against them. In further developments that may well be related given the lack of independence of the courts in Russia, on 14 June a court in Orel region court turned down a request by Oleg Navalny, the brother of Aleksei Navalny, to mitigate his sentence, on the grounds that Oleg Navalny had not shown 'law-abiding behaviour.' In an additional blow to Navalny, who seeks to be a candidate in the 2018 presidential elections, on 15 June Ella Pamfilova, head of the federal Electoral Commission, said Aleksei Navalny was almost certain to be barred from the election on the grounds of his criminal conviction - a conviction Navalny contends was politically motivated.

Photo: Wikipedia

'Russia: Police humiliate and mistreat hundreds of detained peaceful protesters,' Amnesty International, 14 June 2017
'1,700 people detained at Russia’s anti-corruption protests [OVD-Info],' Rights in Russia, 16 June 2017
'Russia Criticized For Detaining More Than 1,500 Anticorruption Protesters,' RFE/RL, 13 June 2017
'Russia protests: Opposition leader Alexei Navalny sentenced,' BBC, 12 June 2017
'Moscow Court Cuts Navalny's 30-Day Jail Term To 25,' RFE/RL, 16 June 2017
Two Russian Opposition Activists Flee To Ukraine, RFE/RL, 16 June 2017
'Russian Court Turns Down Request Of Navalny's Jailed Brother To Mitigate Sentence,' RFE/RL, 14 June 2017
Russian Elections Chief Says 'Practically No Chance' Navalny Can Get On Presidential Ballot,' RFE/RL, 15 June 2017

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Person of the Week: Murad Amriev

posted 12 Jun 2017, 09:56 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Jun 2017, 09:57 ]

On 8 June 2017 Belarusian authorities sent Murad Amriev [Amriyev], wanted in Chechnya with regard to a false documents allegation, to Russia despite concerns he could be tortured or killed. As RFE/RL reported, Amriev's family pleaded desperately for him not to be returned, while human rights activists stated that he could be tortured or killed by Chechen law-enforcement authorities. Amnesty International issued a statement that said: "The Russian authorities must immediately release Chechen torture survivor Murad Amriev, and under no circumstances place his life at further risk by handing him over to the Chechen authorities." Heather McGill, Russia researcher at Amnesty International, said: “The story of Murad Amriev reads like a thriller, but it is real and his life is at stake. He was ‘handed over’ to the Russian authorities early this morning in what amounts to an unlawful rendition after he attempted to seek asylum in Belarus. Under no circumstances should the federal authorities of Russia deliver him into the hands of Chechen law enforcement officers, which could put him at risk of torture or death.” 

On 8 June the European Court of Human Rights asked Russia about measures it planned to take to prevent violence against Murad Amriev. On 8 June the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, a human rights group based in Nizhny Novgorod that has done a great deal of work in Chechnya, told Caucasian Knot that it had received a second letter from the European Court of Human Rights in which the Court "further requests Russia to answer questions about whether the Russian authorities made a formal request for the extradition of Murad Amriev from Belarus, and if so, on what grounds, and whether the athlete will be detained in Russia, and if so, where he will be kept and on what grounds." In addition, "taking into account the Murad Amriev's complaints about torture and kidnapping, the ECtHR has also requested Russia answer what measures the authorities plan to take in order to prevent a repetition of the risk of torture and kidnapping. The Russian government is to respond to the ECtHR by 5 July." On 9 June, Caucasian Knot reported that family members of Murad Amriev had left Chechnya for security reasons.

However, the Belarus authorities did release Amriev to the Russian authorities. On 9 June the Chechnya branch of the Russian Interior Ministry said Murad Amriev was "being escorted to the region by security forces for questioning in connection with a false-documents allegation," RFE/RL reported. Amnesty International subsequently stated that Murad Amriev had been "handed over to Russian law enforcement officers at 3am on 9 June after having been returned from Belarus where he unsuccessfully attempted to claim asylum. He has been released on bail on condition that he does not leave Chechnya."

Amnesty International describe the background to the case of Murad Amriev as follows: "Murad Amriev, a World Mixed Martial Arts Champion, fled Chechnya for Ukraine in 2013 after being tortured and lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights with the assistance of the Russian NGO Committee for the Prevention of Torture. On 4 June he was travelling to Russia to apply for a Shengen visa when he was taken off a train by transport police in Bryansk region, south west of Moscow. He was detained for 48 hours before being released on 6 June. A group of Chechen police officers had arrived to escort him, but according to a lawyer for the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Murad Amriev was not handed over to them because of missing documentation. Murad Amriev told his lawyer that he recognized one of the police officers who had tortured him among the officers who intended to escort him to Chechnya. On the 6 June after being released, Murad Amriev went to the Prosecutor’s Office in Bryansk to complete some formalities and the Chechen officers followed him and waited outside the building insisting on escorting him. Murad Amriev’s friends arrived in a car and he was able to evade the Chechen police officers and drive off. On 7 June he was detained while crossing the Russian Belarusian border and held in Dobrush police station in Belarus until the morning of 9 June when he was handed back to Russian law enforcement officers. Amnesty International will be monitoring the situation and will take action in future if required." 

'Belarus Sends Chechen Man Back To Russia Despite Fears For His Life,' RFE/RL, 9 June 2017
'Russia: Handover of Chechen torture survivor would put him at further risk of torture or death,' Amnesty International, 9 June 2017
'ECtHR asks Russia to clarify its position in Murad Amriev's case,' Caucasian Knot, 9 June 2017
'Murad Amriev's family members leave Chechnya for security reasons,' Caucasian Knot, 9 June 2017

Person of the Week: Aleksei Moroshkin

posted 5 Jun 2017, 06:48 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 5 Jun 2017, 06:49 ]

On 1 June 2017 a district court in Chelyabinsk ruled that Aleksei Moroshkin must be released from a psychiatric hospital, where he has been held since 2015 for inciting ‘separatism’ online,
RFE/RL has reported. Aleksei Moroshkin was forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital after a court in Chelyabinsk found him guilty of violations of the territorial integrity of Russia on the Internet on 19 November 2015 (Article 280.1, Section 2, of the Russian Criminal Code). The judge ruled that Moroshkin should be subject to compulsory detention in a psychiatric hospital, despite the factx that Moroshkin’s family and defence said he was in absolutely good health. 

The court found that Moroshkin, creator of an online group in VKontakte titled ‘For a battling Ukraine! For a free Urals!’, had made calls to establish a 'Urals People'e Republic' that were in break of Article 280.1, Section 2, of the Russian Criminal Code. RFE/RL notes that the statements Moroshkin published online resembled in many ways the calls by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine who supported the creation of the so-called 'people's republics' of Donetsk and Lugansk. However, under the above law, calls for what may be termed 'separatism' are illegal in Russia. RFE/RL quotes Moroshkin's lawyer, Andrei Lepekhin, as saying that on 1 June 2017 a district court in the city of Chelyabinsk ruled that Moroshkin should  be released on the grounds that he did not pose a threat to society. According to Lepekhin, Moroshkin should be released 10 days after the ruling has  been made public.  

Memorial Human Rights Centre declared Aleksei Moroshkin to be a political prisoner. In a statement, Memorial Human Rights Centre said: 'In our view, Article 280.1 (public incitement to actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of Russia) of the Russian Criminal Code contradicts the Russian Constitution and international human rights treaties. We consider it impermissible to criminalize manifestations of separatism not related to violence or its propaganda, but that only lead to theoretical discussions about whether regions should be allowed to separate from the country. The statements by Aleksei Moroshkin on the creation of a Urals Republic did not contain any calls for the forcible violation of the territorial integrity of Russia. Like similar posts on the Internet in other regions (about the Kuban People’s Republic, Ingria and others), they were to a significant degree a kind of journalistic reaction to the creation of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (DNR) and the ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’ (LNR) in the east of Ukraine. It should be noted that Rafis Kashapov in Tatarstan and Darya Poliudova in Krasnodar region have already been sentenced under the same article to terms in prison, and recognized by Memorial Human Rights Centre as political prisoners. Neither in the materials of the criminal case, nor in the court’s judgment, is there in our view any evidence that Aleksei Moroshkin represents a public danger of the kind that would necessitate him being isolated from society in a clinic of a closed kind. We consider his detention to be unlawful.' 

Memorial went on to say that it believed Aleksei Moroshkin had been prosecuted for his civil society opposition activity and for speaking out against the hybrid war of Russia against Ukraine: 'For example, in the court’s judgment, as evidence of his guilt reference is made to the testimony of the witness V. Smirnov who was "upset" that Moroshkin "urges people to protest against the lawful authorities and is trying to put the blame for events in the east of Ukraine on the current leadership of our country."’ 

Memorial also made the point that 'The fact that opposition views have been found by psychiatrists to be "schizophrenic reformist nonsense" and served as the basis for the decision to subject the civil society activist to forcible treatment, directly returns us to the Soviet regime’s methods of fighting against dissidents.' 

It should be noted that Aleksei Moroshkin has also been charged with painting (in 2015) a bust of Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union, in the colours of the Ukrainian flag (vandalism – Article 214, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code). On this point, Memorial stated: 'Independently of whatever decision the court takes, we consider a criminal prosecution for painting a memorial to be disproportionate. Such a violation of the law contains no element of violence, and therefore, in our view, should be considered an administrative offence.' 

Photo Of Aleksei Moroshkin: RFE/RL

'Court Orders Release Of Russian Activist From Psychiatric Clinic,' RFE/RL, 1 June 2017
'Memorial recognizes "Urals separatist" Aleksei Moroshkin as a political prisoner,' Memorial Human Rights Centre, 11 July 2016 [see Rights in Russia for an English version]

Person of the Week: Emil Kurbedinov

posted 29 May 2017, 01:17 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 29 May 2017, 01:23 ]

On 26 May 2017 human rights lawyer Emil Kurbedinov, who works in Crimea, won Front Line Defenders' 2017 award for human rights defenders at risk. In the announcement, Front Line Defenders, an Irish NGO which works for the security and protection of human rights defenders around the world, stated: "Since the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, Emil has defended the persecuted Crimean Tatar minority, civil society activists and journalists. He also provides emergency response and documentation of rights violations during raids and searches of activists’ homes. In January 2017, Emil was on his way to the house of an activist that had been raided, when masked representatives from Crimea's Centre for Counteracting Extremism detained him and took him to a local directorate of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) for interrogation. A district court found him guilty of 'propagandising for extremist organisations' and sentenced him to ten days in detention." 

As Front Line Defenders reports, in his acceptance speech, Emil Kurbedinov said: "When we defend political prisoners and persecuted activists, we are going against a system in which there’s no hope of a fair trial. Winning an acquittal for my clients is almost impossible – but what I can do is show them that despite the risks, I will not abandon them."

Halya Coynash, writing on the website Human Rights in Ukraine, commenting on the award, wrote: "The honour is truly well-deserved, although Emil himself considers it recognition of the work done by all lawyers and human rights defenders in Crimea. [...] It would be hard to over-state the vital role Emil Kurbedinov has played since Russia’s invasion of Crimea. He is acting for defendants in virtually all of the ever-increasing number of politically motivated prosecutions in Crimea [...]. On January 26 this year, Kurbedinov was detained while he and fellow rights lawyer Edem Semedlyaev were driving to the home of a Crimean Tatar activist, Seiran Saliev, where a search was underway. The actions that followed were of breath-taking lawlessness. Armed and masked spetsnaz officers turned up at Kurbedinov’s home. They refused at first to allow a lawyer in and also tried to prevent Kurbedinov’s mother from taking his small son and daughter away. A search was also carried out of the offices that Kurbedinov and Semedlyaev share, and computers containing confidential documents about their clients were removed. Kurbedinov was first taken to the so-called Centre for Countering Extremism, and then to a ‘court hearing’ where judge Tatyana Belnichuk sentenced him to 10 days’ imprisonment for a video clip (of a peaceful meeting of an organization which is legal in Ukraine) posted on a social network page on June 6, 2013, almost a year before Russia’s invasion. The wife of one political prisoner wrote that it was Emil they all turn to in the first instance, and by imprisoning him, the occupation regime were depriving many of defence. [...] Writing from Dublin on Friday, Emil once against stressed“This is an award for those who have come out in defence of persecuted Crimean Tatars, Crimean Muslims, civic activists and the political prisoners themselves. How much work there is ahead of us, yet how happy I am that I am not alone…Thank you.”

Photo: Front Line Defenders

Halya Coynash, 'Crimean Tatar rights lawyer Emil Kurbedinov wins major human rights award,'
 Human Rights in Ukraine, 26 May 2017
'Crimean Tatar Activist Wins 2017 Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk,' Front Line Defenders, 26 May 2017
'Emil Kurbedinov, HRD and Lawyer,' Front Line Defenders, 26 January 2017
'Person of the Week: Emil Kurbedinov,' Rights in Russia, 30 January 2017

Person of the Week: Yevhen Hrytsyak

posted 22 May 2017, 08:03 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 May 2017, 08:04 ]

On 14 May 2017 Yevhen Hrytsyak, a leader of the 1953 Norilsk Gulag uprising, died in the region of Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine aged 90. As RFE/RL reported, Yevhen Hrytsyak was one of the leaders of the major protests by thousands of inmates of the Soviet Gulag prison-camp system that took place at labour camps near the city of Norilsk, 400 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, in 1953. The uprising began on 26 May 1953 and lasted until 4 August 1953. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called Hrytsyak "one of fearless leaders of political prisoners, who stood against Gulag system."

Photo: Human Rights in Ukraine

Halya Coynash, in a contribution to the website Human Rights in Ukraine, writes: 

"Yevhen Hrytsyak was born in the Ivano-Frankivsk oblast in 1926. During the period of Nazi occupation, as a student at a trade college, he joined a youth section of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists [OUN] which was training young men to fight the Nazis. He was mobilized into the Soviet Army in 1944, and served in the Fourth Ukrainian Front, for which he received several military awards.

"He was, nonetheless, arrested in 1949 because of his brief involvement at the age of 16 and 17 in OUN, and sentenced to 25 years’ labour camp. He was held in various political labour camps, including Norilsk, where some 70% of the prisoners were from Ukraine.

"It was at the Norilsk Labour Camp in May 1953 that one of the main uprisings in the GULAG began. Hrytsyak led the revolt in one of the blocks against the brutality and appalling conditions. The prisoners demanded an end to summary executions; a shortening of the working day to 8 hours; the right to correspond with their families; the transfer of disabled prisoners; and numerous other similar demands. Hrytsyak was one of the people who presented the demands to a commission which arrived from Moscow after the prisoners held firm and refused to give in. Only a very small number of demands were met, while the prison authorities also resorted to provocation, and the uprising continued. It was finally brutally crushed, but only in August 1953, after the prisoners had held out for 69 days.

"Hrytsyak himself was sent first to the Norilsk and then Vladimir prison, where conditions were even worse.

"He was released in 1956, following a decision of the Supreme Soviet Presidium, but was then arrested again in January 1958, with the same Supreme Soviet having decided that he should not have been released “due to the seriousness of the crime”.

"Hrytsyak demanded to know what this supposed crime had consisted of, but was simply told that he had been arrested on good grounds. In 1961, he wrote a letter of protest to the Communist Central Committee over the repressive measures he was being subjected to because of his role as one of the leaders of the Norilsk Uprising. He explained the conditions and treatment prisoners had received.

"He was finally released in 1964 and returned to his home village. He married and had one daughter."

'Leader Of 1953 Soviet Gulag Uprising Dies In Ukraine At 90,' RFE/RL, 15 May 2017
Halya Coynash, 'In Memoriam: Yevhen Hrytsyak, Leader of the Norilsk Uprising,' Human Rights in Ukraine, 15 May 2017

Person of the Week: Ildar Dadin

posted 15 May 2017, 07:15 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 May 2017, 07:19 ]

On 12 May 2017 at least 11 activists, including Ildar Dadin, were detained on Moscow's Red Square as they read aloud from the Russian constitution. As RFE/RL reported, citing the website of OVD-Info, the activists were taken to a nearby police station. As of the time of the report, it was unclear whether those detained would face charges. Ildar Dadin, whom RFE/RL notes is the 'only person in Russia to have served prison time for contravening a tough law clamping down on protests in the country,' was reported by TASS as saying: "A police officer approached us and warned us that if we don't leave, they will detain us. Ten minutes later police detained us." The incident highlights not only the repressive nature of Russian law and law enforcement in relation to the right of public assembly, but also the outstanding courage of those, such as Ildar Dadin and his colleagues, who time and again are prepared to contest these restrictions by peaceful means. 

Ildar Dadin was convicted and sentenced to prison in December 2015 under a controversial law that criminalizes repeat violations of Russia's draconian laws on public assembly. He was released on 26 February 2017. While in prison, Ildar Dadin alleged that he had been subjected to torture at the prison colony in Karelia where he was held.

'At Least 11 Russian Activists Said Detained On Moscow's Red Square,' RFE/RL, 12 May 2017

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