Overview of political repression in Russia (April, 2019)

Explanatory note

The principles and methods of work with information about political persecution in the Russian Federation in April of 2019

During the preparations of this monitoring the same theoretical and methodical settings were used as the ones used for creating similar analyzes during the last 3 months. All in all, so far the proposed theoretical model looks quite adequate. That said, the previously mentioned proposal of the possibility of adding to the classification persecution of 5 type, (federal campaign, caused by political agenda and features of a specific region) sadly, seems very reasonable. Apart from persecution of Crimean Tatars, to which the security forces of neighboring regions (Rostov Oblast) joined, a quite interesting situation has unfolded in Ingushetia. There, those who were arrested for participation in the protests against the revision of borders with the Chechen Republic are being bussed out for trial and detention to the territory of Kabardino-Balkaria. Similar instances took place regularly during April, therefore, we can view it as an established practice. Therefore, we can suspect that currently at least two federal repression campaigns are either unfolding or, at a minimum, being planned. Those campaigns, caused by political agenda and features of a specific region, are nominally called Crimean and Ingush.

Main trends in repressive policies in the Russian Federation in 2019

Unfortunately, the political persecution that had begun earlier on a country-wide scale continued in April as well. Primarily, we’re talking about the repressive campaigns aimed at Jehovah’s Witnesses and “Open Russia”. The persecution of Crimean Tatars’ activists also continues — both in the framework of the processes connected with «Hizb ut-Tahrir» and outside of it. Besides that, two new pockets of tensions became clearly visible: Ingushetia, where authorities attempt to neutralize all public leaders and respected personalities that speak out against the revision of borders with the Chechen Republic, and Arkhangelsk Oblast, where attempts are being made to crack down on mass environment protests. Taking into account that the geography of “anti-litter” protests is already relatively high and that those protests are met with a quite widespread public support, in the near future we can expect the beginning of a new repression campaign, which this time will be aimed at environmental activists. On top of that, we must point out a new and quite notable trend in law enforcement practice. Whereas previously the legislative norms, passed for amplification of political repression, were starting being used gradually and not immediately, in April of this year we could see new laws of the corresponding nature starting being used just several days after their enactment. For instance, the laws of “fake news” and “disrespect towards authorities” were enacted on March 29. Already on April 23 a resident of Novgorod Oblast was fined for “disrespecting authorities” (spreading information on the internet that insults authorities, part 3 article 20.1 Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses), and on April 26 an administrative protocol was composed in Arkhangelsk Oblast for “fake news” (for knowingly spreading unreliable and socially significant information, part 10 article 13.15 Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses). It is important to mention that in the latter case, the “offense” was committed on March 26, before the law was enacted.

Such haste can indicate that the authorities of the Russian Federation are planning to intensify the persecution of their political enemies (or those whom they consider as such). In this connection, they need more “legal” tools, which are being put into action immediately. Here are just some facts that support this thesis. Persecution of “Open Russia”:

  • on April 2 the FSB officers, after conducting a search, detained an underage activist of “Open Russia” in Kirov;
  • that same day in Krasnodar, a court fined the deputy 5000 rubles for reposting a picture from a group of “Open Russia”;
  • on April 3 a protocol on Elsa Nisanbekova, a lawyer of “Human Rights Postcards”, was created in Kazan regarding the implementation of activities of an undesirable organization (article 20.33 Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses);
  • on April 4 a protocol on Kirill Ishutin, ex-coordinator of “Open Russia, was created in Vladimir regarding the implementation of activities of an undesirable organization (article 20.33 Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses);
  • on April 6 journalist Alexander Saveliev was fined 5000 rubles in Krasnodar Krai for reposting materials with symbolic of “Open Russia”;
  • on April 9 a court in Maykop fined “Ecowachta” 80000 rubles under the article of “undesirable organization” for blog publications on the website of “Open Russia”;
  • on April 19 an ex-activist of “Open Russia” was detained in Krasnodar (official explanation – “cultivation of marijuana”);
  • on April 21 the ex-coordinator of “Open Russia” Kirill Ishutin was fined 5000 rubles in Vladimir Oblast under the article of “undesirable organization” (article 20.33 Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses). The persecutions of Jehovah’s Witnesses are still carried out in a coordinated manner and on a country-wide scale. The most telling example – searches and detention of Jehovah’s Witnesses that were carried out simultaneously on April 19 in Novosibirsk Oblast, Primorsky Krai, and Krasnoyarsk Krai. Sadly, the repression did not end there:
  • on April 1 a court in Oryol fined Sergey Skrynnikov, a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 350 thousand rubles;
  • on April 3 in Porkhov of Pskov Oblast the apartments of Jehovah’s Witnesses were searched;
  • on April 5 in Birobidzhan a criminal case was opened into the financing of the commune of Jehovah’s Witnesses;
  • on April 10 in Abakan, the searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses were conducted;
  • on April 27 in Krasnoyarsk Krai Anton Ostapenko, who is suspected in organizing the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was arrested for 2 months; Separately we should mention that messages keep coming in regarding torture and actions that can be classified as political terror. For example, on April 26 a Ukrainian political prisoner Alexander Shumkov, who had been convicted of being a member of “Right Sector”, talked about being beaten up in March and April by the officers of Detention center and Corrective labor colony №4 in Tver Oblast. And on April 21 in Tula, an unknown person threw 4 bottles with explosive compound (Molotov cocktail) into a house of the public activist and candidate from CPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation) in the elections for City Duma Marina Tolkacheva. She was later advised by police to “live quietly”.

Finally, also in April we observed one of the most absurd instances of political persecution: on April 17 police of Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug classified a meeting between fishermen and herders in tundra as an unauthorized meeting and compiled a corresponding protocol with regards to Yamal activist Eiko Sarotetto (part 2 article 20.2 Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses). In general, we have to state that in April 2019:

  • The political and religious persecution that started earlier still continues.
  • Countrywide repressive campaigns against “Open Russia” and Jehovah’s Witnesses continue.
  • Repressive campaigns against Crimean Tatars’ activists and “undesirable” Muslim organizations continue.
  • The massive repressive campaign, that is bordering a civil conflict, was unfolded in Ingushetia.
  • Repressive pressure on environmental activists is growing; one of the “hottest” regions in that regard is Arkhangelsk Oblast.
    There’s no reason to expect a decline of the level of repression in the Russian Federation in the near future. For more details, see monitoring for April 2019.