OVD Info Weekly Bulletin No. 126: Political refugees and repression

posted 28 Oct 2019, 03:57 by Translation Service   [ updated 28 Oct 2019, 04:06 ]
27 October 2019

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 news, which is translated here. To receive the mailing in Russian, visit here.

Greetings to our readers!

Last weekend, pickets were held to commemorate the anniversary of the Network case. As usual, provocateurs and arrests were involved. The case was first initiated in the autumn of 2017, when the defendants were charged with creating a terrorist organisation with cells in Moscow, St Petersburg, Penza and Minsk. However, many of them only became acquainted with one another after criminal proceedings were launched, and were forced into giving evidence under torture. We have just published an interview with the father of Iulia Boriashinova, who is one of the defendants.

And now for the week’s news.

Political refugees. Sergei Gavrilov, a defendant in the New Greatness case, has fled Russia. Aleksei Kobaidze, who is facing charges for breaking a window in United Russia’s offices, has also left the country.

Why do I need to know this? When there is no hope that the courts will be honest and the investigations just, political prisoners are forced to find other ways of avoiding persecution. Last week, Aidar Gubaidulin, a defendant in the Moscow Case, fled Russia. Russian human rights NGO Memorial believes the case against Aidar to be politically motivated and activists mounted a campaign in his support. However, there was no stopping the machinery of repression. The same is true of other cases. Gavrilov is charged with participation in an extremist organisation which – as the defence demonstrated – was set up by agents provocateurs. In the case of the broken window, there was also little hope for a positive outcome. One of the defendants was tortured with electric shocks during his detainment, and later left Russia. Azat Miftakhov, another defendant in the same case, told OVD-Info how he was tortured with an electric screwdriver.

Believers. In Norilsk, the special forces stormed a tourist resort where over 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses were on holiday. The holidaymakers were searched, their bibles were confiscated, they were interrogated and criminal proceedings were launched against them. In Kursk, three Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested on suspicion of creating an extremist organisation, while in Norilsk the local community elder was arrested on the same charge.

Why do I need to know this? In 2017, the Supreme Court declared the Jehovah’s Witnesses to be an extremist organisation. Any activity connected with the organisation’s doctrine was banned, and its followers began to face persecution for their beliefs. Memorial’s list of those who have faced prosecution is now 206 strong – and that’s just those who are known to the organisation. Here you can read stories from Jehovah’s Witnesses about their life under the ban.

Victims of repression. Fines have been issued both to the Perm branch of human rights NGO Memorial and to its director for a trip to the cemetery where Lithuanian and Polish victims of the Great Repression are buried. The aim of the visit was to restore the abandoned cemetery, but the courts deemed it to be an act of unauthorised deforestation. In Tiumen, the local authorities denied authorisation to a rally in memory of victims of the repression under the pretext that the application did not contain an “hour-by-hour plan” for the event. In Kirov, the authorities rejected all 43 of the locations proposed by the organiser of a similar memorial event.

Why do I need to know this? Every year on the 30th October, Russia marks the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions. On this day, memorial events are held across the country, but every year the authorities in several cities try to stop them from happening. In Moscow, Memorial has a tradition of “Restoring the Names” on the Lubyanka Square. The organisers especially stress that the remembrance day was set not by the state, but by former camp inmates themselves – by people who had fought for their freedom against a totalitarian state. In 2016, Memorial was declared a “foreign agent”. This week, the courts fined the organisation and its chair for breaching the foreign agents law. One of the pretexts for the fine was the fact that the website It’s right here – Moscow: A topography of terror did not display Memorial’s status as an “agent.”


Torture, bargains and lies. New Greatness, Networks, Bolotnaya Square, Kolchenko and Sentsov: what connects the highest-profile political trials in today’s Russia? Each of them featured defendants who have entered into deals with the investigators. Anastasia Medvedeva explains what this means, why the defendants are helping to convict their peers, and why even Putin dislikes this practice.

“Scare anyone who passed by”. Supporters of Aleksei Navalny are under suspicion of being involved in the criminal case against the Anti-Corruption Foundation. According to the investigation, the Foundation laundered money. At first, the sum in question was a billion roubles; this was then revised to 75 million. It is not clear what the grounds for suspicion are, but for three months now, searches and interrogations have been ongoing and bank accounts seized. OVD-Info’s lawyers explain their work with those involved in this huge case.

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Illustration by Alina Kugusheva for OVD-Info

Translated by Judith Fagelson