Overview of political repression in Russia (February, 2018)

If in January two-thirds of our observations of the political persecutions was mainly about the repressions against Alexey Navalny´s supporters, in February the situation actually changed. With the upcoming presidential elections, the Russian authorities started to raise the pressure against the second most important opposition group in Russia, Open Russia Foundation.

At the end of February Smolninsky District Court of Saint Petersburg sentenced the regional coordinator of Open Russia Foundation, Andrey Pivovarov to 25 days of detention. Some days preceding his arrest Alexey Pivovarov shared that he noticed intensified surveillance on him. Also, one of the activists of Open Russia, Oleg Maksakov, was attacked by two unidentified people in Saint Petersburg. On the 21st of February upon the request of Prosecutor’s General Office, Federal Media and Telecom Supervision Services (“Roskomnadzor”) blocked the MBK Media website.

With regard to Otkrytaya Russia foundation, the Federal and Regional authorities follow the already established course of action employed on the three NGOs recognized as “undesirable organizations” the last year. Among them are  Otkrytaya Rossiya based in the UK, Institute of Modern Russia based in the USA and Open Russia, also based in the UK.

Activists of the Russian chapter of Otkrytaya Rossia are accused and prosecuted for being involved in working closely with the so-called “undesirable organizations”. For instance, at the beginning of the month, the judge of the Tsivilsky District Court levied a fine of 5 000 rubles to the coordinator of Otkrytaya Rossia in Chuvashia, Dmitry Semenov. As well at the end of the month, the judge of Luberetsky District Court of Moscow region slapped a fine of 10 000 roubles on the leader of the Russian branch of Otkrytaya Rossia, Alexander Solovyev. Political activists in different regions are subjected to a lot of pressure coming from the officials: intimidating chats at the police stations,  enforced home raids and court sentences for minor offenses also known in Russia as “administrative infringements”.

Supporters of Alexey Navalny are facing court trials after the nation-wide demonstrations called  “Voter’s Boycott’, organized on the 28th of January. In every large city, the heads of Alexey Navalny’s offices and sometimes even their chief assistants are in detention from few days to 30 days, maximum possible detention period.

One of the popular pretexts for arresting and putting criminal charges against Navalny’s allies became tweets and even retweets with information about anti-government protests “Voter’s Boycott’. According to the police services and courts, publishing the information about unsanctioned protests through social media channels such as Tweeter is a way to organize them and spread the protest sentiment.

The spokesperson of Anti-Corruption Foundation, Kira Yarmysh was put into custody for 5 days.  Nikolay Lyaskin, the leader of Moscow chapter of Party of Progress got 15 days of detention. Roman Rubanov, the director of Anti-Corruption Foundation and the head of Alexey’s Navalny’s movement, Leonid Volkov were remanded in jail for 10 and 30 days respectively.

Another thing that came to our attention that month was a new responsibility of the Federal Security Services to carry out the raids on Alexey Navalny’s offices. Before then it was police to search the opposition leader’s offices.

Gatherings in the memory of Boris Nemtsov took place on the 25thof February. An activist of the movement Vesna (“Spring”), Artem Goncharenko planned to attend this gathering. However, he was arrested shortly after leaving his place and detained for 25 days. Sergey Zaytsev, an organizer of the march in memory of Boris Nemtsov was called for interrogation to the police station in Orel. In Yekaterinburg, Vyacheslav Buchtiyarov was arrested in the course of a silent piquet in a memory of Boris Nemtsov where he was the only participant. Oktyabrsky Court District of Krasnodar levied a fine of 30 000 rubles on social activist Yana Antonova for hanging a banner with an image of Boris Nemtsov with a saying “Killed for freedom” on a bridge. Teachers of Cheboksary schools were forced to come to the march of memory organized in their city and catch their schoolchildren. In the course of Boris Nemtsov’s march in Moscow, three people were arrested. The police conducted an enforced home search in a flat of one of the organizers of the march in memory of Boris Nemtsov in Voronezh. In many cities, local authorities either refused an official permission to demonstrate or offered to change event’s format or place.

In February the news about the sweeping campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses came into the spotlight. Allegedly this organization is recognized as an extremist religious group. The commercial trial court of Amur Region seized a land from Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tynda region. A court trial started in Belgorod on “continuing the activities for the organization that was already liquidated by the court decision” against Anatoly Shalyapin and Sergey Voykov. A new court trial started in Orel, where the last year was arrested a citizen of Denmark, Dennis Kristensen for carrying out the religious activities for the “prohibited organization”.

At the same time, the crackdowns are rolling across Russia against Crimean Tatar activists, Hizb ut-Tahrir followers, truck drivers, supporters of Vyacheslav Maltsev, as well as a new target group – anarchists, accused of terrorism in January. We expect the same level of pressure on activists to continue until the end of the presidential campaign.