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OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 21: A Metal Pipe for your Trouble

posted 22 Sep 2017, 04:51 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 Sep 2017, 05:30 ]

22 September 2017

OVD-Info is a Moscow-based NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday it sends out a mailing with the latest information on freedom of assembly, which is translated here. To receive the mailing in Russian, visit here. These English translations of OVD-Info's weekly bulletins are published by openDemocracy and are republished here by kind permission with due acknowledgement.


The Russian authorities’ campaign against Alexey Navalny is getting violent. 

The Russian authorities continue to refuse permission to Alexey Navalny’s election campaign to hold public rallies, and campaign activists are, on occasion, being detained. But sometimes the anti-Navalny campaign gets even more serious: Nikolay Lyaskin, the coordinator of Navalny’s Moscow headquarters, was attacked this week with a metal pipe. Police are investigating, but rather strangely.

As a result of a blow to the head, Lyaskin is suffering from concussion. The police quite quickly opened a criminal investigation into what they classified as “hooliganism”, and several days later announced they had found a suspect. True, he was not shown to Lyaskin immediately. However, a video appeared in which the suspect alleges Lyaskin himself had promised the man money if he attacked him. Lyaskin claims this is a set-up. The day of the face-to-face confrontation with the suspect Lyaskin was kept waiting the whole day in the police station, and before he left they tried to take away his telephone.

On a positive note, in Kostroma a criminal investigation has been opened into an assault by a police officer on a volunteer from Navalny’s election campaign, while in Makhachkala an investigation into an attack on a journalist, who works for the news website Caucasian Knot, during a protest on 12 June, has begun.

The European Court of Human Rights has accepted an application by five prominent Moscow activists, four of whom (including Ildar Dadin) were earlier prosecuted for alleged violations at street protests. The grounds for the applications to the ECHR are the detentions and administrative prosecutions of the activists which formed the basis for their criminal prosecutions in Russia. We set out in detail why the individuals were detained at these protests, and what happened to them after they had been detained. The Russian courts have not treated Ildar Dadin so well: his suit on the conditions of his transfer to the prison colony in Karelia and his detention there was dismissed.

An activist of the Artpodgotovka group, Alexey Politikov, has pleaded guilty to charges of using force against a police officer during the dispersal of the Moscow demonstration on 26 March. Politikov has agreed to a plea bargain, which means the court will not examine the evidence against him, but will likely offer a reduced sentence. Earlier, three others charged in the same case (Yury KulyAleksandr Shpakov and Andrey Kosykh) also agreed to plea bargains, but this did not help them avoid terms in prison. Meanwhile, this coming Monday, an appeal by Stanislav Zimovets, the first to be prosecuted in the 26 March protest case, is to be heard against his sentence. Zimovets, who maintained his innocence of the charges, was sentenced to 18 months in a prison colony.

In a number of regions the authorities have taken tough measures against local protests. In Chelyabinsk region they are cracking down on members of the environmental movement Stop GOK, which campaigns against construction of the Tomino copper processing plant. One of the members of Stop GOK, Gamil Asatullin, is facing criminal charges for attempted arson. Others have been detained and questioned as witnesses. In addition, the authorities banned a rally in Chelyabinsk against construction of the plant, and one of the rally organisers, Boris Zolotarevsky, was detained and fined 25,000 roubles.

In Rostov region, meanwhile, participants in a movement supporting miners from the town of Gukovo, who have not received their pay for many months, are being prosecuted. After a rally, police detained two protesters, who had taken part in single-person pickets, and the coordinator of the protest, Tatyana Avacheva. All three were fined. Subsequently, the activist Vasily Dyakonov, who had not even been at the protest, was detained and charged with organising the single-person pickets and fined. Dyakonov is currently under investigation for allegedly threatening to kill someone, and a court has banned him from taking part in public events and placed restrictions on his movements.

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Memorial recognizes Moscow imam Makhmud Velitov as a political prisoner

posted 20 Sep 2017, 02:34 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Sep 2017, 02:35 ]

15 September 2017 


Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre 

Makhmud Velitov, the imam of Moscow’s Yardyam mosque, has been sentenced to three years in a general-regime prison colony for a sermon given in 2013. The FSB and the court considered that Velitov committed the offence of public justification of terrorism (Article 205.2, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code) on the grounds that he advocated in public the “doctrine of political Islam” characteristic of the Hizb ut-Tahrir organization, which is banned in Russia, spoke about the need to create a caliphate, and also expressed approval for the activities of Abdulla Gappaev, a Muslim killed in Dagestan, whom the FSB believes was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir (Abdulla Gappaev, a representative of the organization “Union of the Just” in Dagestan, was killed by automatic gunfire on 15 September 2013 in Kizlyar; the killers fled the scene of the crime). 

In point of fact, Velitov did not mention Hizb ut-Tahrir once in his speech. He spoke of the caliphate in the context of Islamic prophesies: the idea of the future caliphate is an inseparable part of the Islamic doctrine as a whole, and no particular Islamic organizations have a monopoly on the idea. Although Velitov in his speech talked of the desirability of introducing Sharia law, “at the state level, and not at the level of some local community,” he made no calls to violence.

Accusing a person of “justifying terrorism” on account of a few good words and a prayer addressed to a murdered man, who, it should be said, had not been found guilty of any crime, is utterly beyond belief.

The link between Velitov’s sermon and the “terrorist organization” was invented and artificial. Moreover, in the view of Memorial, the very designation of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organization is unjustified. There is no evidence that this community, which is registered as a legal political party in the Middle East, is complicit in even a single act of terrorism anywhere in the world. In the countries of Western Europe (with the exception of Germany) and North America, the party is not banned. We consider there are no grounds to prosecute the members of Hizb ut-Tahrir as terrorists, and we have regularly recognized people convicted for taking part in this organization as political prisoners.

For more than 15 years Memorial has observed various forms of pressure against Muslims in Russia, including the fabrication of criminal cases for non-existent crimes of extremism and/or terrorism. Government propaganda manipulates and exacerbates grassroots Islamophobia, as well as apprehensions about the threat of terrorism, and substitutes the simulation of a fight against terrorism for the real thing. Recognition of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organization has proved a “goldmine” for the FSB. It has meant that “high results” (in terms of tens of convictions) in the struggle against terrorism can be achieved with minimal effort. We see a continuous intensification of repressive measures against pseudo-terrorists, and the cases against Hizb ut-Tahrir have been part of this process. 

Makhmud Velitov has disabilities (classified under “group 2” in Russian law), and has previously suffered a heart attack and a stroke. Imprisonment, considering the condition of healthcare in the Russian penitentiary system, constitutes a threat to his life.

We demand the immediate release of Velitov and an end to the simulated fight against terrorism.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not imply that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves the individual’s views, statements or actions. 

For more information about our opinion on this case, see our website

Aleksei Politikov, the sixth defendant in the "26 March case," is a political prisoner, Memorial says

posted 20 Sep 2017, 02:32 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Sep 2017, 02:33 ]

30 August 2017 


Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre 

Aleksei Politikov, a shipping agent and activist with the Artpodgotovka movement from the town of Ussuriysk in Primorsky region, has been charged with committing an offence under Article 318, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (“Use of force against a public official”). Politikov has been held in pre-trial detention since 10 June 2017. 

According to the prosecution, Aleksei Politikov allegedly seized hold of police captain A. S. Shvetsov, of the second Moscow police regiment, at the demonstration on 26 March 2017 on Tverskaya Street, and also struck him in the stomach. Politikov was one of a number of persons seeking to prevent the clearly unlawful detention of opposition activist Vyacheslav Maltsev on 26 March 2017. The harm, allegedly caused by Politikov to Moscow police captain Shvetsov, was that the police officer said he felt physical pain. We point out that Shvetsov did not seek medical treatment and during the demonstration he was wearing body armour. 

The fact that the prosecution of Politikov is politically motivated is confirmed by his detention just before the opposition demonstration of 12 June (a practice noted in a number of politically-motivated prosecutions, including those in the Bolotnaya Square and Manezh Square cases). In the decision to remand Politikov in custody the judge stated that Politikov allegedly “is a participant in an informal association that advocates the violent overthrow of the current government.” We would point out that Artpodgotovka, even if it is considered a movement, acts within the law and has not been designated by the courts as an extremist or terrorist organization. 

Previously other participants in the demonstration of 26 March 2017 were convicted under the same article of the Criminal Code: Yury Kuly was sentenced to 8 months in a low-security prison colony, while Aleksandr Shpakov, Stanislav Zimovets and Andrei Kosykh were sentenced to 18 months, 30 months and four years, respectively, in general-regime prison colonies. On 8 August the trial began of Dmitry Krepkin, yet another defendant in the “case of 26 March.” Dmitry Borisov is currently under investigation. Memorial has recognized the majority of the above mentioned individuals as political prisoners. 

In our view, the events of 26 March must also be assessed with regard to the issue of the legality or otherwise of citizens' resistance to unlawful actions by the police. The courts have neither investigated the unlawful actions of police officers, nor examined the question of the extent to which resistance to these unlawful actions was legal. Many instances of unjustified use of force by police during the peaceful anti-corruption demonstrations, both in Moscow and in other cities in Russia, have been recorded. In Moscow alone more than 1,000 people were detained for exercising their constitutional right to peaceful demonstration. However, law enforcement agencies did not investigate these incidents, and in no instance did they recognize a participants in the public events as victims. 

We consider that Politikov, along with other defendants in the case, has been the victim of a selective deprivation of liberty, in comparison with representatives of authority, and his pre-trial detention does not correspond to the anticipated degree of public danger of his actions. Indeed, it is very likely that he committed no offence at all. 

Memorial considers Aleksei Politikov to be a political prisoner. We demand his immediate release. We also demand that officials guilty of violating the rights and freedoms of participants in the protests of 26 March be brought to justice. 

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not imply that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves the individual’s views, statements or actions. 

For more information on this case, see here

Memorial says Tatar activist Danis Safargali is a political prisoner

posted 20 Sep 2017, 02:30 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Sep 2017, 02:31 ]

29 August 2017 


Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre 

Danis Safargali, a ship’s captain and chief engineer, head of the Tatar Patriotic Front “Altyn Urda,” has been charged under Article 115, Section 2, of the Russian Criminal Code (“Intentionally causing minor injury motivated by hooliganism”), Article 116, Section 2 (“Inflicting physical injuries motivated by hooliganism”), Article 213, Section 2 (“Hooliganism by a group of persons with prior agreement”), and Article 282, Section 1 (“Incitement of hatred and hostility using the Internet”). Safargali has been held on remand since 21 October 2016. 

Danis Safargali is a victim of a campaign against opposition-minded activists from the Tatar National Movement, who are opposed to the current authorities. Since 2014 a series of criminal prosecutions have been brought against them. One of those convicted, Rafis Kashapov, has been recognized by Memorial as a political prisoner. 

Not one of the 15 materials posted by Danis Safargali, with regard to which he has been charged under Article 282, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code, calls for violence or presents any significant danger to the public. The materials in question are not even specifically Tatar nationalist in nature, because in the main their contents criticize the foreign policy of the Russian Federation and its authorities. 

The prosecution has not specified the charges, has not indicated which materials allegedly incited interethnic conflict, nor what provoked hatred to this or that social group. The final charges not only did not show which materials posted by Safargali allegedly incited hatred, but did not even indicate how the crime was committed. The investigation did not establish the nature of the device the defendant used to access the internet and post the materials with which he has been charged, nor whether he actually posted the materials in question. 

The independent expertise that identified evidence of an offence in the materials posted by Safargali under Article 282, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code, was, as the defence has shown, conducted with crude violations of the law. 

Memorial Human Rights Centre considers the accusation against Safargali that the “materials posted contain negative descriptions and evaluations of groups of persons based on their being members of specific social groups – President of Russia, governmental bodies of Russia, media, and the state structure of the Russian Federation as a whole” is absurd and its formulation inept. Representatives of the government do not constitute a separate social group. Still less can unidentified representatives of “the state structure of the Russian Federation as a whole” be considered as members of a particular social group. In the same way, the President of the Russian Federation cannot be categorized as a member of a particular social group. 

The charges brought against Safargali under Articles 115, 116 and 213 of the Russian Criminal Code are not politically motivated. Nonetheless, the criminal investigation into these charges was also conducted with violations of the right of the accused to a fair trial. 

We demand that the charges against Danis Safargali under Article 282, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code be dropped, that there be an objective consideration by the court of the fight in which Safargali was allegedly involved, and that he be immediately released from custody. 

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not imply that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves the individual’s views, statements or actions. 

For more information about the case of Danis Safargali, see here 

77-year-old scientist sentenced to 7 years in a strict regime prison colony for passing software to China

posted 20 Sep 2017, 02:25 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Sep 2017, 02:26 ]

28 August 2017 


Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre 

Vladimir Lapygin, a scientist who devoted half a century to his country’s rocket construction industry, was detained by the FSB on 13 May 2015. According to the prosecution, Lapygin, who was deputy head of the Centre for Heat Exchange and Aerodynamics at the Central Engineering Research Institute of the Federal Space Agency Roskosmos, sent a Chinese scientist a file containing classified software for evaluating supersonic aerodynamics. On 6 September 2016 Lapygin was sentenced by Moscow City Court under Article 275 of the Russian Criminal Code (“treason”) to seven years in a strict-regime prison colony. 

The trial took place in camera. Vladimir Lapygin pleaded not guilty. He argued there was nothing criminal in passing on the test version of the software, and he did not hide his intention to sign a mutually beneficial contract on behalf of the Central Engineering Research Institute with the Chinese. He discussed this idea with his colleagues, as part of his official duties. 

The court was presented with weighty evidence that the file given to the Chinese scientist did not contain state secrets. The independent experts who provided expertise during the investigation and the trial, according to the defence, were incompetent and had worked under pressure from the FSB. The defence had been denied a role in the selection of experts. 

At the trial, prominent scientists and professors of physics and mathematics, and members of the Russian Academy of Sciences, testified that there are many software programmes similar to the test version which Lapygin sent to China, and that these have been published and are publicly accessible. The author of the software A. B. Gorshkov, himself a scientist at the Central Engineering Research Institute, spoke as a witness for the defence. He listed the sources that he used in his work, research and grants in the framework of which the software had been created, used and developed – none of which are classified and all of which have been published in open sources. 

The scientists testified that the methods used to write software of this kind are well known and cannot constitute state secrets. 

In February 2017, 23 scientists, including laureates of State Prizes, members of the Russian Academy of Sciences and colleagues of the convicted scientist, appealed to President Putin in an open letter to pardon Lapygin: “For a 76-year-old person who suffers from the consequences of two very serious road accidents, any term in a strict-regime prison colony is equivalent to a death sentence.” 

In March 2017 Vladimir Lapygin himself submitted a request for a pardon to the President of the Russian Federation. 

The criminal prosecution of Vladimir Lapygin took place at virtually the same time as a number of other so-called “spy” and “treason” cases. We believe that law enforcement agencies specifically make use of these “spy” cases to strengthen their authority. In this manner, the FSB creates the appearance of working on matters of highest importance for the state, while individual officers are able to advance their careers and material well-being. 

According to the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, in 2016 14 people were convicted of treason under Article 275 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. A sharp rise in the number of such cases occurred in 2014. At that time, the number of people convicted of treason increased by a factor of four, in comparison with the preceding year, and since then has remained at approximately the same level. This is a consequence of conscious government policy and propaganda, creating a wartime atmosphere in society as the search for a “fifth column” and “enemies of the state” is ramped up. To maintain this atmosphere, new criminal cases are needed against “spies” and “traitors.” As a result, law enforcement agencies bring prosecutions on trumped-up charges, and citizens’ wholly legal activities are artificially criminalized. 

Memorial Huan Rights Centre considers Vladimir Ivanovich Lapygin a political prisoner. We demand his immediate release. We also demand that the officials responsible for his prosecution be brought to justice. 

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not imply that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves the individual’s views, statements or actions. 

For more information about this case, see here

Memorial says one more defendant in the “Case of 26 March,” Dmitry Borisov, is a political prisoner

posted 20 Sep 2017, 02:22 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Sep 2017, 02:22 ]

21 August 2017 


Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre 

Dmitry Borisov, a participant in the anti-corruption protest “Don’t Call Him Dimon,” has been held on remand since 9 June 2017. He has been charged under Article 318, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (“Use of non-dangerous force against a representative of authority”). According to the investigators, Borisov was arrested but refused to go to the police bus; when he was carried there by five police officers, he twice freed his left leg and kicked one of them, Ilya Erokhin, on the helmet. 

Erokhin stated that he felt physical pain. However, he had no physical injuries and did not seek medical assistance. According to the case materials, he first remembered he had experienced physical pain in the middle of May, approximately two months after the events. 

We have not yet been able to view a video of the incident in question. In the screenshots provided in the case materials only Borisov’s raised leg is visible. The available information puts into doubt the veracity of the investigator’s description of events. It is all the harder to imagine that, in such an awkward situation, held as he was by the waist, both arms and a leg, Borisov was able to deliver targeted blows with his one free leg. If Borisov’s leg did touch Erokhin, then it was most likely as a result of unintentional reflex movements. 

Other participants in the demonstration have already been convicted and sentenced under the same Article of the Criminal Code. Yury Kuly was sentenced to 8 months in a low-security prison colony; Aleksandr Shpakov, Stanislav Zimovets and Andrei Kosykh were given 18 months, 30 months and 4 years, respectively, in general-regime prison camps. The trial of one other defendant in the “case of 26 March,” Dmitry Krepkin, began on 8 August. Aleksei Politikov is currently under investigation. Memorial has recognized most of those here listed as political prisoners. 

In our view, an assessment of the events of 26 March should take into consideration the fact that citizens may legally resist unlawful actions by police officers. The unlawful actions by police officers were not, in fact, investigated by the court, nor was the question considered as to whether resistance to these unlawful actions was legal. Many instances of unjustified use of force by the police were recorded during the peaceful anti-corruption demonstrations in Moscow and other Russian cities. In Moscow alone, more than 1,000 people were arrested for exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly. However, the law enforcement agencies did not investigate instances of unjustified force, and have not recognized any participants in the demonstrations as victims. 

We believe that Borisov, like other defendants in the case, has been deprived of liberty selectively, in comparison with the treatment of representatives of the authorities. The decision to remand Borisov in custody does not correspond to the supposed degree of danger to the public he represents. Indeed, it is highly likely that he has in fact committed no crime. 

Memorial Human Rights Centre considers Dmitry Borisov a political prisoner. We demand his immediate release. We also demand that those law enforcement officials guilty of violating the rights and freedoms of participants in the protests of 26 March be brought to justice.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not imply that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves the individual’s views, statements or actions. 

For more information about this case, see here

Stanislav Zimovets, convicted in the "Case of 26 March", is a political prisoner, Memorial says

posted 20 Sep 2017, 02:16 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Sep 2017, 02:19 ]

14 August 2017 


Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre 

Stanislav Zimovets, a participant in the Moscow anti-corruption demonstration, "We Don't Call Him Dimon", held on 26 March 2017, has been convicted under Article 318, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code ("use of force, not dangerous to life or health, against a public official"). 

Zimovets was found guilty of having thrown a fragment of brick at the deputy head of the 2nd OMON [Riot Police] Regiment, Vladimir Kotenev, striking him in the back. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in a general-regime prison camp.

Other participants in the demonstration had earlier been convicted under the same article of the criminal code: Yury Kuly was sentenced to eight months in a low-security prison camp and Аleksandr Shpakov was given 18 months in a general-security prison camp. On 8 August the trial began of one other defendant in the “Case of 26 March”, Dmitry Krepkin. Memorial has recognized all these individuals as political prisoners.

We believe that an evaluation of the events of 26 March should consider whether citizens may legally resist the unlawful actions of police officers. The trial did not, in principle, investigate whether law enforcement officers had committed unlawful actions. Nor did the trial hearings consider to what extent resistance to these unlawful actions was illegal. Many instances of unjustified use of violence by the police were recorded during the peaceful demonstration against corruption held on 26 March 2017, both in Moscow and in other Russian cities. In Moscow alone, more than one thousand people were arrested for exercising their constitutional rights to peaceful demonstration. However, law enforcement agencies did not investigate these facts, and did not recognize any participants in the protests as victims. 

Of the defendants in the prosecutions, at least Shpakov and Krepkin suffered serious assaults. Zimovets, while still at liberty, wrote on social media that “the MAMON riot police had given [him] a good kicking.” As became known at his trial, Zimovets threw a brick in reaction to an unjustified and rough arrest of a young man using a chokehold.

The injury incurred by Kotenev, unconfirmed by anything except his statement that he experienced physical pain, could not be to any degree significant. The blow fell on his body armour, no injuries were recorded, and Kotenev did not seek medical assistance. Moreover, during the investigation, together with the investigator, Kotenev had evidently made an attempt to falsify evidence by pretending a bruise, received in training, had been caused by the fragment of brick. 

We consider that Zimovets and other defendants in the case have been victims of the selective application of justice in comparison with representatives of authority, and imprisonment is disproportionate to the real seriousness of the alleged offences. Moreover, during the investigation the right of Zimovets to legal defence was violated: a government-appointed lawyer, who had been initially provided, had sought to persuade Zimovets to plead guilty. According to Zimovets, he had at first agreed to a plea bargain because he was suffering from the numerous journeys to interrogations, from hunger and aggravation of gastritis. He was not given access to the case materials.

Memorial Human Rights Centre considers the criminal prosecution of participants in the peaceful demonstrations of 26 March is politically motivated and is intended to intimidate critics of the authorities.

Memorial considers Stanislav Zimovets a political prisoner and demands his immediate release. We also demand that law enforcement officials guilty of violating the rights and freedoms of participants in the 26 March protest be held to account. 

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not imply that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves the individual’s views, statements or actions. 

For more information about this case, see here.

Memorial recognizes Dennis Christensen, a Jehovah’s Witness from Denmark, as a political prisoner

posted 20 Sep 2017, 02:12 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Sep 2017, 02:14 ]

21 July 2017 


Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre 

A citizen of the Kingdom of Denmark, Dennis Ole Christensen, a Jehovah’s Witness who lives in Orel, has been charged with committing an offence under Article 282.2, Section 1 (organizing the activity of a religious organization banned on grounds of extremist activity) of the Russian Criminal Code. According to the investigators working on the case, Christensen heads the religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Orel. 

FSB officers detained Christensen on 25 May 2017 in a building on Railway Street where Jehovah’s Witnesses from Orel had gathered to read the Bible together. On 26 May Judge Svetlana Naumova, sitting in Soviet district court in Orel, ordered Christensen be remanded in custody. 

The case against Christensen is one of the first in a campaign of persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia that sharply intensified after the Supreme Court, on 20 April 2017, ruled that the Administrative Centre of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia was an extremist organization. Moreover, Christensen has become the first Jehovah’s Witness in the modern history of Russia to be deprived of liberty on grounds of religious affiliation. 

The court ruling to remand Christensen in custody stated that he allegedly “committed acts of an organizational nature intended to enable the continuation of the illegal activities of the Orel Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization, including the holding of meetings of the Orel Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious organization…, the organization of evangelistic work, and the distribution of the financial resources of the religious organization.” 

In our opinion, the charges brought against Christensen, based solely on the fact that he is a Jehovah’s Witness, are discriminatory and in violation of international law, in particular the right to freedom of conscience. The ruling by Orel Region Court, designating the Orel Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization extremist and ordering its closure, as well as the decision of the Supreme Court, designating the national Jehovah’s Witnesses’ organization extremist and banning its activities in the country, have no basis in law and contradict Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation which guarantees freedom of conscience and religious belief. 

We demand an immediate end to the prosecution of Dennis Christensen and other Jehovah’s Witnesses, persecuted for their religious affiliation. 

Recognition of a person as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not imply that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves the individual’s views, statements or actions. 

For more information about this case, see here

OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 20: Russia’s elections marred by political pressure

posted 15 Sep 2017, 04:45 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Sep 2017, 05:46 ]

15 September 2017

OVD-Info is a Moscow-based NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday it sends out a mailing with the latest information on freedom of assembly, which is translated here. To receive the mailing in Russian, visit here. These English translations of OVD-Info's weekly bulletins are published by openDemocracy and are republished here by kind permission with due acknowledgement.


Seventeen Russian regions went to the polls this week. Activists and politicians have, however, been met with significant pressure and restrictions at polling stations.

This week’s municipal and gubernatorial elections have been the most important event of recent days, and they didn’t pass without more political harassment from the Russian authorities.

In this text we have collected all the “routine” examples of harassment that occurred last Sunday, during Russia’s gubernatorial elections. These include denying access to the media, refusing to allow observers into polling stations, restricting movement and filming, and people being forced to vote. The source for most of this information has been the hotline for complaints, which has a handy Russian-language map here.

But there were also more serious incidents. For example, in Moscow, someone slashed the tyres of a car belonging to a group of lawyer-activists. In Kaliningrad, a member of the election commission was threatened with having their trousers removed and being beaten up, while in Chita one of the candidates for the city legislative assembly was detained in the polling station itself.

In the past week, one of the highest profile political prosecutions in Crimea, the 26 February Case, concluded with the sentencing of the deputy chair of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, Akhtem Chiygoz, to eight years in prison on charges of organising a riot. The prosecution against Chiygoz is based on clashes between supporters and opponents of the Euromaidan on 26 February 2014. All the defendants in the case are Crimean Tatars, that is to say representatives of one of the sides of the conflict — the side loyal to the new Ukrainian authorities. The trials of five other people, also charged with taking part in riot, continue.

Tatiana Kotlyar, a human rights defender from Kaluga, has been found guilty of registering refugees at her apartment on false grounds. The court sentenced Kotlyar to a fine of 150,000 roubles (£1.900), though she will not have to pay it due to the statute of limitation expiring.

In Chelyabinsk, local police have opened a criminal case against Gamil Asatullin, an activist of the Stop GOK movement which seeks to halt the development of the Tominsk copper processing plant. Asatullin is accused of attempting to set fire to the plant. His supporters believe he has been framed. During one of the interrogation sessions, officers of the Anti-Extremism Centre used threats to force Asatullin to refuse legal counsel and to testify against one of the leaders of the Stop GOK movement, Vasily Moskovets. Asatullin testified that Moskovets allegedly initiated the arson attempt.

In Crimea, Renat Paralamov, a resident of the village of Nizhnegorsky, was detained and for several days thereafter his family and friends did not know where he was. When he was released and contacted relatives, it turned out that he had been brutally beaten and he was taken to hospital. It remains unknown why Paralamov was detained. In the village where he lives, he organises festivals and religious events. When his home was searched, the authorities seized a book and a laptop. At the time relatives and lawyers were searching for him, the police stated that Paralamov was “voluntarily with the FSB”.

The persecution of Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov for his political views has not ended on his release from prison. He has been summoned to the Investigative Committee and interrogated about the events that took place on Bolotnaya Square on 6 May 2012. The investigators wanted to obtain testimony from him about the organisers of the protest, but Udaltsov refused to answer their questions. A few days later, the politician was detained near the State Duma building where he was holding a single-person picket demanding a wide amnesty for prisoners. Along with Udaltsov, the police at the time detained three other people protesting variously against the cruel treatment of animals and the detention of journalist Ali Feruz, who is threatened with deportation from Russia. Soon all four protesters were released from the police station without charges being laid.

In Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Oleg Pankov, the former coordinator of Alexey Navalny’s election campaign and a deputy in the city’s legislative assembly, was jailed for 25 days. The grounds for jailing Pankov were that, when distributing leaflets during a picket, in the view of officials from the city administration he moved too far from the specified location of the protest.

Meanwhile in Moscow, Aleksandra Sokolova was detained as she walked to a meeting with Alexey Navalny holding a balloon in her hands. She was arrested on the grounds that the balloon, on which were printed the words “Navalny 2018,” constituted electoral campaigning. She was thrown into a police van, and the officers twisted her arms as they took away her telephone. In the police station the police merely checked her documents and released her without charge.

In St Petersburg, 130 participants in a protest in support of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar were detained. A number of those detained were charged with petty hooliganism, others were charged with violating the rules regulating the presence of foreigners in Russia. One person was charged with having avoided a penalty imposed under administrative law. In Crimea, the authorities refused to permit a rally in support of Muslims in Myanmar.

Yulia Latynina, a prominent journalist, has left Russia. Not long before Yulia Latynina left Russia, her car had been set on fire, and two months earlier her cottage had been sprayed with an acrid chemical.

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For more information on OVD-Info, read this article from the organisation's founder on how OVD is breaking the civil society mould here.

OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 19: Protester jailed for 2.5 years

posted 8 Sep 2017, 05:14 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 8 Sep 2017, 13:25 ]

8 September 2017

OVD-Info is a Moscow-based NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday OVD-Info sends out a mailing with the latest information on freedom of assembly, which is translated here. To receive the mailing in Russian, visit here.


This past week a great deal has been happening: the trials of demonstrators from the protests of 26 March and 12 June, punitive psychiatry, elections and emigration.

A defendant in the “Case of 12 June” has been sentenced to 2.5 years in prison. The period of house arrest of another defendant prosecuted in the same case, a minor, has been extended.

There are only two defendants in a case concerning the use of force against two police officers on 12 June in Moscow. One of them, Rasim Iskakov, pleaded guilty and agreed to a plea bargain, according to which the evidence against him would not be heard in court. Moscow’s Tver district court sentenced him to 2.5 years in prison (the same term as that given to Stanislav Zimovets in the “Case of 26 March”, who had pleaded not guilty). So far as the second defendant is concerned, 17-year-old Mikhail Galyashkin, the investigation has been completed but the trial has not yet begun.

The “Case of 26 March” continues

The pre-trial detention of Dmitry Borisov, charged with using force against a police officer during the dispersal of the demonstration on 26 March in Moscow, has yet again been extended. After the hearing, the court bailiffs detained Dmitry Borisov’s sister, Kseniya, for attempting to hug her brother.

Ivan Nepomnyashchikh, convicted in the “Bolotnaya Square” case has left Russia. A lawyer was not allowed into a psychiatric hospital to see another “Bolotnaya Square” defendant.

Nepomnyashchikh at the present time is in Prague, from where he intends to go to the USA to study. In the prison colony he was brutally beaten on several occasions and confined in a punishment cell - in particular for telling the outside world about the beatings he had received. At the end of July, a court ruled that Nepomnyashchikh should be on probation for three years following his release.

Another defendant in the “Bolotnaya Square” case, Maksim Panfilov, who was ruled unfit to stand trial and sent to a psychiatric hospital, was not allowed to see a lawyer who came to visit him.

In St. Petersburg an opposition activist was beaten and sent to a psychiatric hospital for graffiti against Putin.

Peter Yablonsky, a participant in the demonstrations of 26 March and 12 June and a supporter of the Artpodgotovka group, painted a number of slogans on a road and on the walls of apartment buildings, including “Putin Must Retire”. He was detained and beaten. The police demanded he give testimony against his colleagues and threatened him with a criminal prosecution for vandalism. After this he was sent to a neuropsychiatric out-patient clinic where a doctor gave him a referral to a psychiatric in-patient hospital (in 2016 Yablonsky had already spent time in a psychiatric hospital). The activist was taken back to the police station where the police called for emergency psychiatric assistance. However, the doctors who came saw evidence of beatings on Yablonsky’s body and took him to the Aleksandrov hospital, where they recorded the injuries, before finally placing him in the hospital’s somatic-psychiatric department. He was released only two days later.

On 3 September in Moscow, a large rally of Muslims, that did not have official permission, took place outside the embassy of Myanmar. After the demonstration, police carried out raids on markets, and on the second day of the protest the police detained at least 20 people. Later, Moscow City Hall refused to permit a similar protest rally to take place.  

Muslims joined the protest after a video was circulated on social networks showing brutal treatment of the Rohingya people, a majority of whom are Muslims. Participants in the protest demanded an end to the persecution of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. The day following the unsanctioned rally outside the embassy, police conducted inspections of Moscow markets where, according to eyewitnesses, they sought to identify individuals who had been at the protest and recorded the passport details of market employees. Later the authorities refused to permit a 200-person protest on the same issue.

An extraordinary event has taken place in Volgograd region, where a local journalist is to be prosecuted for stealing sausages. The journalist is currently in a pre-trial detention facility with smashed heels.

The journalist Aleksandr Batmanov, a programme-maker for the YouTube channel NGO-TV, who had gathered information about the funding of construction of the city stadium in preparation for the FIFA World Cup, has been charged with stealing sausages from a supermarket. He was summoned to a police station, and after conversations with a prosecutor, was detained there for two days. When he tried to escape, Batmanov fell from a window, smashing both his heels. He is now held in a hospital at the pre-trial detention centre. At the hospital he is held in a corridor, not a ward, and is handcuffed to a bed. A judge has postponed hearing Batmanov’s case until he is in better health. At present he cannot walk.

Not one week goes by without the persecution of supporters of Aleksei Navalny. They are detained, fined, and threatened in all kinds of ways.

In Kazan, for a second time the head of Navalny’s local election campaign headquarters, Elvira Dmitrieva, has been jailed for 10 days. The first time she was jailed was on 23 March, but the Supreme Court of Tatarstan quashed the decision. This time the ruling to jail her has entered into force. Meanwhile, in Voronezh laptops seized earlier from the Navalny campaign headquarters in the city have been returned, but a threat was made that other measures would be taken against them.

Next Sunday, on 10 September, elections will be held in many Russian regions. Preparations for the elections are taking place with the usual kinds of violations, especially in Moscow.

In the Pechatniki district of Moscow, candidates in the municipal elections have been detained while setting up a street stand for their campaign. A volunteer working for the election campaign of Dmitry Gudkov has been detained for distributing leaflets. In a number of Moscow districts, campaign stands that were put up have been removed. Meanwhile, in Murmansk, all the volunteers working for Aleksei Navalny’s local election headquarters have been taken off the official list of election monitors following a telephone call from the deputy governor.

Thank you!

Our thanks to everyone who continues to support our work. Find out how you can help us here.

For more information on OVD-Info, read this article from the organisation's founder on how OVD is breaking the civil society mould here.


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