The dynamics of the repressive policy of the Russian Federation in the first half of 2019 as a whole does not give any grounds for optimism — political persecution not only does not soften, but on the contrary, becomes more and more widespread and systematic. Below you can find a detailed analytical summary of methods of political repression for the period from January 1, 2019 till June 30, 2019 with examples.
Basic principles of working with information on political persecution
In recent years, opposition and human rights organizations have created a number of Internet resources that effectively monitor cases of political persecution. Social networks and messengers and, of course, personal contacts in the opposition also play an important role in the dissemination of relevant information. In addition, there are still a number of media, both electronic and print, which cover this topic. However, the scope of political repression in the modern Russian Federation is so great that all these media capacities are not enough to monitor all cases of offenses with a political component.
Moreover, to determine the presence of this component in each individual case, ideally, it is necessary to conduct at least the most general verification of reliability and the simplest legal examination. That is technically impossible.
Because of this, when monitoring political repression in the period from January till June 2019, we faced two main problems:
(1) it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to trace all cases of political persecution.
2) We regularly have difficulties with the assessment of the reliability of those or other messages.
In addition, it is often itself the source of the information is beyond doubt, but the message, which comes from it may not contain any, or almost no, specific information, so it cannot be included in the list of political persecution. For instance, reports of the persecution and murder of gay men in Chechnya, while quite realistic, were not always included in this review because of the lack of information on where and when these crimes were committed, even the names of the victims are often unknown.
In addition, cases where the act, although it may be interpreted as containing a political component, is an offence at least in some countries of the European Union, are also not reflected. An example of this kind is the burning of the Russian state flag on the night of January 14 by two residents of Mordovia. Although this action can be considered as political or protest, it should be noted that in a number of EU countries (for example, in the Republic of Latvia) for similar actions criminal punishment is provided.
As a result, the January – June monitoring may not contain individual cases of political persecution, or some of the episodes mentioned in them may be questioned. However, in general, the collected amount of information allows us to identify the main trends, types and methods of political repression in the Russian Federation for the period from January to July 2019.
Types of political repression
Based on the monitoring materials for the previous time, as well as based on the trends that have emerged in the first half of 2019, we propose the following classification of political repression in modern Russia (note that in essence it repeats the Soviet scheme “indication from the center – study on the ground – the initiative from below»):
1) Federal campaign. Political repression is initiated by the Federal administration against a particular political, social or religious group, in order to stop its development or destroy it. In this case, the regional authorities act as strictly and coordinated as possible. An example of such campaigns was the repression of supporters of Alexei Navalny and Jehovah’s Witnesses. In January, such a campaign was also launched against “Open Russia”.
2) Federal campaign, due to the political agenda and the characteristics of a particular region. Protest activity, which manifests itself in a particular region, is either too powerful, and the local government can not cope with it, or is estimated by the “Federal center” as particularly dangerous, after which the repressions are coordinated at the all-Russian level and go beyond the regional framework. Examples of this kind in 2019 were Ingushetia and Crimea. In the first case, the mass protests against the revision of the Chechen-Ingush border, apparently, caused particular concern in the Kremlin. And security forces of the neighboring subjects of the Federation joined the persecution, and Ingush activists began to be persecuted throughout Russia. In the case of Crimea, the repression of Crimean tatars and alleged supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir involved security forces from neighboring regions (Rostov region). We can assume that this is due to the special attention of the authorities to everything that is happening in the Crimea, and their desire to “clean up” such a significant, in the sense of political image, region from any, even potential, resistance.
In general, the information available today allows us to assert that the persecution of Crimean tatar and Ingush activists is carried out on an all-Russian scale.
3) Political repressions in the regions carried out within the framework of the Federal political agenda. After the legal framework and the relevant state bodies responsible for the fight against the political enemy have been created, their work continues “in the normal mode”. However, when the Federal administration does not require quick results in the fight against a specific “enemy”, much begins to depend on the position of local authorities. The same activities in different regions may be severely prosecuted or, conversely, not punished at all. An example of this kind of repression may be the liquidation of the Baptist Church in Sevastopol on January 9, 2019 and the suspension of the work of the Baptist Seminary in Moscow for 60 days. These actions generally fit into the general trend of the struggle against “disloyal” or “undesirable” denominations, but there is no evidence that a systematic struggle was launched against the Baptists on the all-Russian scale.
4) Political repressions in the regions caused by the regional political agenda. The most striking examples of this are the persecution of gays in Chechnya, carried out under the banner of planting “Islamic values”. The case of Olga Ziyatdinova, who has been in jail since April 2018, the investigation of which was completed on January 14 this year can be mentioned. The probable cause of the persecution is her speech against the “coercion” of her son to study the tatar language. Ziyatdinova, in fact, supported the course of the Federal authorities in this matter. As for the local elite, it, being unable to resist the “center”, needs at least a symbolic victory over the “russifiers”, which can be the massacre of a 49-year-old woman, clearly more vulnerable than the Russian government or the presidential administration.
5) Political repressions initiated for the benefit of specific groups and influential persons in state structures (or closely related to them). This may include many cases of persecution of environmental activists, and the classic version is the case of blogger Victor Toroptsev, who was detained on January 12 in Amursk for publishing a video of the funeral of a local criminal authority, and later sentenced to 10 days of arrest.
Methods of political repression
1) Prosecution under the political articles of the criminal and administrative codes (in fact, through “broad” interpretation and law enforcement).
In this case, the following articles of the criminal code of the Russian Federation are usually used: 212.1 (“repeated violations of the procedure for holding public events”), 280 (“public calls to carry out extremist activities”), 282 (“actions aimed at inciting hatred or hostility, as well as at humiliating the dignity of a person or group of persons on the grounds of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion, as belonging to any social group, committed publicly or using the media or information and telecommunication networks, including the Internet”), 284.1 (“carrying out activities on the territory of the Russian Federation of a foreign or international non-governmental organization in respect of which a decision has been made to recognize its activities as undesirable in the territory of the Russian Federation”). Or the relevant administrative articles: articles 20.33 of the code of administrative offences (implementation of the activities of the organization recognized as undesirable), part 3 and 5 of article 20.1 of the administrative code (“contempt for public authorities”), 5 and 8 of article 20.2 of the administrative code (“violation and repeated violation of the rules of the action”).
As examples, we can point to the arrest of Anastasia Shevchenko in January of this year on suspicion of carrying out the activities of the organization recognized as undesirable in Russia (article 284.1 of the criminal code), the case of Alexei Bakhtin, the case of Alexander Potkin-Belov, accused under part 2 of article 280 of the criminal code (“public calls to carry out extremist activities committed using the Internet”), etc.
2) Fabrication of criminal and administrative cases. There are a lot of options, from “unexpectedly” found drugs to “complaints of citizens” on single pickets. (The case of Artem Milushkin from Pskov, arrested on January 18 this year, in the case of large-scale drug sales (part 4 of article 228.1 of the criminal code), or regular detention of participants in the “indefinite protest” in St. Petersburg, etc.)
3) Occasional or regular violation of the rights and freedoms of political activists, putting pressure on them in order to create difficulties for them in the professional sphere, private life or at home. Examples – the visit of police officers to work in the printing house to the activist of the movement “Vesna” Mikhail Borisov on January 28, in order to find “extremist posters”, after which M. Borisov was fired. Or dismissal “at own will” on may 20 Alina Ivanova from Barmin Scientific Research Institute of starting complexes, to whom she was forced after administrative detention by the authorities (whom, before “talked” representatives of the FSB). This also includes numerous disruptions of conferences, meetings and gatherings, orchestrated by the police and the FSB (sudden imaginary “smoke”, unmotivated refusals to rent after “conversations” with landlords, etc.).
4) Terror. Beatings, torture, murder, blackmail, carried out with the threat to the health and life of close relatives, who are actually taken hostage. Examples are the “disappearance” of gays in the Chechen Republic, the refusal to release arrested activist of “Open Russia” Anastasia Shevchenko to her seriously ill daughter in Rostov-on-the Don, the attack on the municipal deputy Kirill Chirkin in Moscow, etc.
The main trends in the repressive policy of the Russian authorities in the first half of 2019
In general, the situation in the sphere of relations between the political regime of the Russian Federation and civil society is based on the following formula: the state seeks to suppress not only opposition, but also any “unauthorized” civil activity, and civil society, protest movements and dissident activists are constantly looking for those areas and forms within which the manifestation of this activity remains relatively safe. As a result, speeches directed directly against the political leadership of the Russian Federation (or individual regions) took the form of a few or single shares.
At the same time, environmental and town-protection protests, as well as protests against certain actions of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate are becoming more and more widespread.
This state of affairs is largely similar to what was observed in the last years of the Soviet Union, when also became a mainstream environmental activism and the struggle for the preservation of historical and cultural monuments. It can be assumed that now, as well as at the end of the Soviet Union, the protection of the environment or the struggle against point development, etc. are often a kind of mimicry of political protest. The main difference is that in our days such speeches are often directed also against the ROC MP, which is now perceived by society as one of the state institutions.
For their part, the authorities in the Russian Federation seek primarily to destroy those organizations and movements that are considered as unambiguous enemies of the regime or particularly “harmful”. At the same time, activity in the above-mentioned formally non-political spheres (environmental, town-protective and conditionally anti-clerical protests) is also suppressed, although somewhat less brutally. This can be explained in part by the desire to leave some space for pitting the growing discontent in society, in part — is not yet very large scale of this kind of speech.
Objectively, both protest moods in the Russian society and political repressions on the part of the state are growing now.
In the first half of 2019 in the repressive policy of the Russian Federation can be identified the following specific goals and priorities:
- Continuation of the repressive campaigns launched earlier against the participants of the “indefinite protest”, persons suspected in connection with the movement of Vyacheslav Maltsev (the case of “Artillery training” (Artpodgotovka), “New Greatness” (Novoye Velichiye), etc.), other opposition activists.
- At least two all -Russian repressive campaigns were launched, against Jehovah’s Witnesses and “Open Russia”.
- Among the political persecution at the regional level, repression in Crimea (against the Crimean tatar activists, often such cases intersect with cases related to Hizb ut-Tahrir), Ingushetia and Arkhangelsk region (suppression of environmental protests) should be highlighted.
- In the all-Russian scale suppression of any oppositional and “undesirable” public actions (meetings, pickets, gatherings, including in specially rented rooms) continues.
- In 2019, some representatives of the so-called systemic opposition (the Communist party of the Russian Federation, etc.) were also persecuted. As a rule, this happens when “systemic” activists support the most mass and politically relevant protests — for example, actions of eco-activists.
- Persecution of “undesirable” and “non — traditional” religious groups — the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) in Crimea, Baptists, neo-Pentecostals, Scientologists, as well as Orthodox jurisdictions that do not recognize the ROC of the MP-the Russian Orthodox Church abroad (Metropolitan Agafangel (Pashkovsky)) and the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC) – continues and increases.
- The formation of a legislative framework for political repression continues (laws have been passed punishing “disrespect for the authorities” and the dissemination of so-called “fake news”).
Some examples of repressive policy in Russia
The following list of repressive actions is by no means complete. However, it gives an idea of the methods of political persecution in the Russian Federation (for details, see the monthly monitoring from January to June):
Regarding to the supporters of «Open Russia»:
- On January 17, in Pskov, criminal investigators detained the coordinator of the «Open Russia» movement, Leah Milushkina, and her husband Artem in a particularly large-scale drug case (part 4 of article 228.1 of the Criminal Code), on January 18, A. Milushkin was arrested until March 15 (subsequently arrest extended).
- On January 23, the Leninsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don sent Anastasia Shevchenko, a member of the Federal Council of «Open Russia», under house arrest until March 20, on suspicion of “carrying out the activities of an organization recognized as undesirable in Russia” (Article 284.1 of the Criminal Code). She had a daughter, who needed special care, but the court did not consider this the basis for changing the preventive measure; On January 30, the daughter died in intensive care.
- On February 13, a pre-investigation check was launched under the article on the public justification of terrorism (Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code) in regard to the Viktor Kotov, municipal deputy of the Basmanny district in Moscow and the coordinator of the «Open Russia» movement.
- On March 14, was opened a criminal case against the former coordinator of Open Russia in Yekaterinburg, Maxim Vernikov, about an undesirable organization. The criminal case against Vernikov is the second one instituted in Russia under an article on the activities of an organization recognized as undesirable in Russia (Article 284.1 of the Criminal Code). In January 2019, Anastasia Shevchenko became the first person involved in the criminal case under this article.
- On March 22, in the Krasnodar Krai, the poet Maxim Drozdov and activist Yevgeny Vitishko were presented with summons to draw up protocols on the article on cooperation with an undesirable organization (20.33 Administrative Code). The reason was the poetic readings “Open Cabbage”, organized by the local branch of “Open Russia”.
- On March 31, in Saransk, the police thwarted the screening of a film about the arrested activist of the «Open Russia» movement Anastasia Shevchenko. Six policemen came to the conference room of the «Saransk» hotel and demanded to stop the show on the basis of information received about the illegal meeting of the «Open Russia» Party.
- On April 6, in the Krasnodar Krai, journalist Alexander Savelyev was fined for five thousand rubles for reposting materials with the symbols of “Open Russia”.
- On April 9, in Maykop, the court fined «Ekovakhta» for eighty thousand rubles under the article on “undesirable organization” for publishing on a blog on the «Open Russia» website.
- On May 7, Margarita Tsenina, justice of the peace in polling station No. 52 of the Prikubansky District of Krasnodar, fined civil activist Yevgeny Grekov for five thousand rubles. He was found guilty of carrying out the activities of an organization recognized as undesirable (Article 20.33 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). The reason is the video repost of “Open Russia” about the lack of schools and kindergartens in the region on Facebook.
- On May 14, Pskov city court extended the arrest of the husband of the former coordinator of «Open Russia» Leah Milushkina, Artem Milushkin, who is accused of selling drugs on a large scale for two months. On the same day, his wife was renewed under house arrest. Artem Milushkin is sick with asthma, but does not receive the necessary treatment in a pre-trial detention center.
- On June 6, Anton Mikhalchuk was searched in the parents’ apartment of the former coordinator of the Tyumen branch of «Open Russia». During the search, security forces seized electronic media. Mikhalchuk is a defendant in a criminal case under article 284.1 of the Criminal Code (carrying out activities of an undesirable organization on the territory of Russia). Now he is abroad, where he is studying. Russian authorities put the activist on the federal wanted list.
- On June 27, a court in Saransk fined Idris Yusupov, one of the organizers of the screening of the film about «Open Russia» member Anastasia Shevchenko, for six thousand rubles under an article on cooperation with an undesirable organization (Article 20.33 of the Code of Administrative Offenses).
Regarding to the Jehovah’s Witnesses:
- On January 31, Jehovah’s Witness from Ivanovo, Yevgeny Spirin, was arrested for two months.
- On February 5, Syktyvkar City Court confiscated real estate from Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- On February 6, a Danish citizen Christensen was sentenced to six years in prison for being a Jehovah’s Witness.
- On February 15, new searches and detentions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in various settlements of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug.
- On February 18, a court in Surgut arrested three alleged Jehovah’s Witnesses for three months: Eugene Fedin, Sergey Loginov, and Arthur Severinchik.
- On March 19, in the Primorsky Territory, a court placed two Jehovah’s Witnesses, Yuri Belosludtsev and Sergey Sergeyev from the village of Luchegorsk, in jail. On March 17, they were detained after searches and taken to Dalnerechensk.
- On March 20, a criminal case has been opened in the Arkhangelsk Region against three Jehovah’s Witnesses. On the same day, a search was conducted in Yalta with Jehovah’s Witness, a criminal case was instituted against him under an article on the organization of activities of an extremist organization (part 1 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code).
- On March 21, searches were conducted with Jehovah’s Witnesses in Magadan, law enforcement agencies reported the initiation of nine criminal cases under article 282.2 of the Criminal Code (organizing or participating in an extremist organization).
- On March 22, searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Amur Region, a criminal case was instituted under the article on the organization of activities of an extremist organization (Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code).
- On March 25, a court seized property of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ulan-Ude and Gusinoozersk.
- On April 27, Anton Ostapenko was arrested for two months in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, who is suspected of organizing meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- On May 1, a court in Smolensk sent 30-year-old Yevgeny Deshko, who is suspected of practicing the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, to a pre-trial detention center for 2 months.
- On May 18, the Lenin District Court of Smolensk sent two Jehovah’s Witnesses, Tatyana Galkevich and 63-year-old Valentina Vladimirova, to two months in jail. They are suspected of participating in extremist activities (part 2 of article 282.2 of the Criminal Code).
- On June 3, the Sovetsky District Court of Makhachkala sent four Jehovah’s Witnesses to the pre-trial detention center for four months: Arsen Abdullaev, Maria Karpova, Anton Dergalev and Marat Abdulgalimov. All four were detained after mass searches that took place on June 1 in Makhachkala, Kaspiysk, Kizlyar and Derbent.
- On June 11, Sergei Melnikov was arrested for two months in the Primorsky Territory on suspicion of belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- On June 14, a criminal case was opened in Arkhangelsk against 78-year-old Kaleria Fedorovna Mamykina. The pensioner is accused of “continuing the illegal activities of the banned local religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Arkhangelsk.” “Continuation of activity” was manifested in reading the Bible and talking about faith.
In relation to the independent candidates for municipal deputies and their supporters and volunteers:
- On June 7, in Moscow, Usievich Street was detained by a signature collector for a candidate for deputy of the Moscow City Duma, Ivan Zhdanov, Alexandra Stelmakhova. According to her, the police were called by a resident of the house in which she went around the apartment, campaigning for people to sign for Zhdanov. This is the second time a resident has called the police.
- On June 22, Sergey Rumyantsev and Evgenia Fedulova, activists of the Kaliningrad headquarters of Alexei Navalny, were detained in Moscow. Activists were detained while collecting signatures for Vladimir Milov, a candidate for deputy of the Moscow City Duma.
- On June 25, The Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the city of Irkutsk refused to institute criminal proceedings against men who beated volunteers which were handing out newspapers to an opposition candidate to the city Duma.
- On June 26, in St. Petersburg, police officers, on an anonymous complaint, detained Roman Maksimov, a candidate for deputy of the «Sampsonievskoye» municipality.
- On June 29, Polina Kostyleva was detained in St. Petersburg when she tried to apply for registration as a candidate for municipal deputies of the Yekaterinofsky District. The detention was based on a statement under article 141 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (obstruction of the exercise of electoral rights), which was written on her by people standing in line.
Examples of cases which are classified as terror:
- The case of Anastasia Shevchenko (described above).
- In February, there were reports of torture of an anarchist Azat Miftakhov arrested in Moscow, Jehovah’s Witnesses arrested in Surgut, and Peter Miloserdov (who was beaten) in custody in Moscow and Alexander Shestun, the former head of the Serpukhov district.
- On March 6, in St. Petersburg, unknown assailants attacked Dinara Idrisova, the head of the «Russia Sitting» branch in St. Petersburg.
- On March 13, an unknown person shot Gulagu.net project coordinator Boris Ushakov in Vladimir. The attack occurred on March 13 at 21:10. Boris Ushakov is alive. Earlier, he repeatedly reported to the police about the threats of murder and testified, but then a criminal case was not instituted.
- On April 26, Ukrainian political prisoner Oleksandr Shumkov, convicted in the case of participation in the «Right Sector», said that in March and April he was beaten by employees of the pre-trial detention center and correctional colony No. 4 in the Tver Region.
- On April 21, in Tula, an unknown man threw four Molotov cocktails into the house of a public activist, a candidate from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, at the elections to the city Duma, Marina Tolkacheva. Moreover, the police then advised her to “live quietly.”
- On May 7, during a detention, one of the alleged members of the “neo-Nazi group” Daniel Bondar was brutally beaten. According to his mother, the son was beaten during detention and taken for questioning “turned blue and swollen from the blows.” She called in the building of the Investigative Committee for doctors who concluded that Bondar had an detached retina and needed to be hospitalized. Bondar’s mother claims that her son has a third group of disabilities, several years ago, doctors diagnosed him with Klinefelter syndrome. Bondar’s defense claimed his disability, but the court found that the lawyer did not submit documents about a serious illness.
- On May 15, in the Kiev district court of Simferopol, Crimean Tatar Raim Aivazov, accused of belonging to the Islamic organization «Hizb ut-Tahrir», said that FSB officers imitated the execution during his detention. Aivazov’s story was conveyed by his lawyer Maria Eismont: “He said that after being detained at the border he was taken out to the field, knelt down and shot near the head into the ground, after which he was taken to the FSB headquarters in Crimea, where he was detained.”
- Also in May, there were several reports of eco-activists being beaten by police at Shies station (Arkhangelsk region).
- On June 3, in Krasnodar, two unidentified men attacked Vadim Kharchenko, the author of the YouTube channel «Personal Opinion». He received three bullet and two knife wounds, as well as a wound on his head. In the video, the blogger posted photos of all the injuries received. Vadim Kharchenko connects the attack with his activities.
The dynamics of the repressive policy of the Russian Federation in the first half of 2019 as a whole does not give any reason for optimism – political persecution is not only not mitigated, but, on the contrary, is becoming increasingly widespread and systematic. Today, the Russian population is de facto deprived of the right to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest, the right to create independent socio-political organizations, and even the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of speech – despite the fact that they are all enshrined in the Constitution of the Russian Federation, as well as in international conventions and agreements in which the Russian Federation continues to participate. Likewise, electoral mechanisms of all levels, as well as the judicial system, have long been paralyzed.
Based on the available facts, it can be argued that the authorities in the Russian Federation seek to destroy not only the opposition, but also any independent political, social and even religious activity. To this end, a consistent attack is being conducted, firstly, against opposition organizations, secondly, against any form of independent civic activism, and thirdly, against independent or “undesirable” religious associations. The methods by which this attack is carried out are the same in all cases, including the entire spectrum described above, from prosecution under the “extremist” articles of the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Offenses to direct terror.
All this gives us reason to argue that the political regime of the Russian Federation is a dictatorship with individual signs of a totalitarian system.
At the same time, protest moods are growing in society, stimulated, not least by the difficult economic situation. As in the days of the late USSR, they focus in the formal non-political sphere: urban defense, environmental activism and (unlike the USSR) in actions directed against strengthening the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) Moscow Patriarchate (MP). However, the development of the protest movement is obviously hindered by the lack of organizational centers, although there are still certain “assembly points” – these are Navalny’s headquarters, the organizational network left over from “Open Russia” (officially dissolved), the “unlimited protest” movement, etc.
A significant event was the protests, which gained international scope, against the detention of journalist Ivan Golunov. At the same time, formally, they also did not have a clear political connotation (they were directed against corruption and in support of a particular journalist, and not against the political regime as such). However, these events are unique in that Ivan Golunov was released, the case was closed, and the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs promised to punish the guilty functionaries. However, the ensuing tough crackdown on the protest rallies was an unambiguous signal to civil society: the authorities are not going to allow a dialogue “from a position of strength,” that is, in principle, take into account any requirements, even absolutely legitimate ones.
So far, the authorities seem to be betting on the suppression of opposition by force, and only partly on reorienting the protest to those areas that today seem to be of little importance (for example, speaking out against the ROC MP, which the regime is clearly ready to substitute in some cases under the blow of public discontent). So, in the future, the next six months – a year, we should expect increasing of repressions.
Moreover, the position of the international community will be of great importance, and in the first place – the countries of the European Union, Great Britain and the USA. In particular, the following issues are extremely important:
- Maintaining sanctions pressure on the ruling stratum of the Russian Federation.
- High-quality and regular informing of the political establishment and civil society in the EU and the USA about political persecution in Russia (which makes it difficult to lobby the interests of the Russian Federation in Europe and America).
- Public support, including provided by law, of civil society and the opposition in Russia, and primarily political prisoners.