The October monitoring contains 187 reports of events recorded in 65 points of 53 Russian regions and in the occupied Crimea. The top 7 repression ratings for regions that together account for almost 50% of the total number of messages include Moscow (31%), Krasnodar and Arkhangelsk regions (4% each), St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg (3% each), Yaroslavl and Rostov region (2% each).
Preamble. Highlights and trends of repressive practice
According to the results of October, it can be said that our forecast of repressive tendencies was confirmed only to the extent that they are determined by the dynamics and nature of the general civil protest against political repressions. Unfortunately, the authorities managed to stop the protest by various methods, and most initiatives in line with civil consolidation against legal arbitrariness did not find development, which automatically shifted the balance of this key confrontation towards unwinding the repressive flywheel.
In October, the electoral topic almost completely left the agenda, which a month earlier had dominated as an informational and political occasion for civic activism and retaliatory response. The most notable indicator of a general decrease in the concentration of protest activity in key areas was the leadership of “general repressions” in our ranking: in October, such reports were 18% against 8% in September. We are talking about a variety of pressure forms on Russian dissidents, including threats, various forms of “prevention”, bans on study and work, assaults, repeated detentions, pressure on relatives and neighbors, absurd lawsuits, accounts blocking and much more.
Systemic, severe and diverse in forms and methods limitation of freedom of peaceful assembly remains one of the key factors of repressive practice in Russia. In the October monitoring, the share of this factor slightly decreased (from 20% to 17%), primarily due to a noticeable decrease in the number of mass actions in most of the regions. The role of the Kremlin’s controlling influence (more precisely, the Department for Domestic Policy of the Presidential Administration) is also noticeable in this, according to which the authorities of most cities, under various pretexts, refuse to coordinate public events of a political nature. Particularly cynical against this background are the prohibitions on holding traditional events in memory of the victims of political repression in the USSR, as well as actions of solidarity with modern political prisoners.
The third place with a noticeable increase in the share (from 13% to 16%) in October monitoring is occupied by reports of acts of gross restriction of freedom of speech, information and self-expression. It is worth mentioning here the fall exhibition of contemporary art by the Moscow authorities “Autumn Pahana” which was ruined, as well as the case against the editor of the Nizhny Novgorod media for a sarcastic remark on the social network, and the punishment for the video on unfulfilled promises of “United Russia”, and the dismissal of a Samara journalist for a censorship stand-up, and a fine to the Krasnodar eco-activist for an interview with “MBH-Media”, and the removal of the review publication about ketamine on the Baza website, and the problems of the Moscow journal “Diletant” due to the historical caricature of Stalin and Hitler on the cover, and the interrogation of the kurganian video blogger for a parody video about the governor, and the pursuit of Arkhangelsk journalists because of a music video, and attempts to close the Irkutsk site which is objectionable for the authority …
The “Moscow case” which was opened in August according to the “desorders” which took place on July 27, developed rapidly and with an overtly repressive side in early September, giving rise to assumptions about the government’s intention to repeat or even exceed the scale of the resonant “Bolotnoe case”. Then, under the influence of a sharp increase in consolidated civil protest, the authorities eased the pressure and adjusted the scenario, but in October they demonstrated again their commitment to a tough stance. The courts began to satisfy, one after the other, multimillion-dollar claims against the organizers of the civil protest over obviously far-fetched damage arguments. The Moscow City Court approved the sentences sentenced in September to persons involved in the “Moscow case” Danil Beglets and Kirill Zhukov, and district courts extended the detention of Nikita Chirtsov until January, and Eduard Malashevsky – until April 2020. On October 14, security forces raided, interrogated, and detained another group of suspects in the context of this high-profile criminal case, and on October 16, Vladimir Emelyanov, Egor Lesnykh, Maxim Martinsov, Alexander Mylnikov, and Andrei Barshai were authorized to be arrested. On October 29, another person involved in the “Moscow case”, Pavel Novikov, was detained in Moscow and arrested the next day. The “Moscow case” thus remains one of the most resonant and revealing cases of political persecution in Russia.
The “FBK case” which was opened in September, during which searches and interrogations took place simultaneously in more than 40 cities of Russia, also developed in October. The second wave of mass searches took place on October 15, this time events were held in 30 cities of Russia. At the same time, not only the leaders and employees of the network of headquarters of Alexei Navalny were subjected to prosecution, but also volunteers, civic activists, journalists, as well as their relatives and even neighbors. A week earlier, FBK was included in the register of “foreign agents” in connection with an allegedly discovered foreign transfer, which during the audit turned out to be clearly fake and provocative.
In addition to FBK, the main targets of repressive pressure were influential human rights organizations. Large and numerous fines for the lack of the “foreign agent” labeling in publications were received by “The Memorial”, “The Public Verdict” and the “Movement for Human Rights”, as well as their leaders. The authorities decided to liquidate the last one: on October 15, the Ministry of Justice filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court about the liquidation of the “Movement for Human Rights”, as a legal entity. The deputy chairman of the “Civil Rights Committee” was arrested. The tendency of increasing pressure on independent human rights was supported by the renewal of the personnel of the Presidential Human Rights Council (HRC), from which authoritative independent human rights defenders were expelled, Mikhail Fedotov was dismissed from his post as chairman, and the odious Valery Fadeev took his place, known for his pro-Putin, guarding position.
Of the other high-profile events of October, we note the following:
- harsh sentences to the “Rostov case” defendants Yan Sidorov, Vladislav Mordasov and Vyacheslav Shashmin – young supporters of Vyacheslav Maltsev, who were sentenced to long sentences for allegedly “attempted organization and participation in mass riots” only on the basis of texts in Internet chat rooms of dubious origin;
- the intensification of the campaign to prosecute adherents of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” banned in Russia: raids, searches, detentions, interrogations and arrests took place in Moscow, Yoshkar-Ola, Sochi, Kursk, Norilsk and Blagoveshchensk;
- the authorities demonstrated their readiness for a violent solution to an environmental protest against the landfill in the Arkhangelsk region: throughout the month, many active participants were subjected to various forms of pressure, including provocations, fines, searches and detentions, and on October 29, security forces forcibly evacuated the wagon and destroyed the infrastructure of the eco-activist camp at the post “Passage” near the station of Shies.
In October, the intensity of persecution of citizens for “disrespect for power” increased (seven new episodes against the four September ones) and the number of episodes of prosecution for LGBT activity increased.
Along with the intensification of repressions, the authorities take the actions necessary to maintain the appearance of a semblance of independence of the courts, allowing them sometimes, in not very resonant cases, to make decisions that restore or imitate the justice. So, in October, in Makhachkala, the court refused the police to remove the news from the website of the draft publication; in Omsk, they refused to institute proceedings against the local human rights activist which insulted a judge; in St. Petersburg, an activist of an “unlimited protest” was acquitted in a case of police disobedience and dismissed due to a rally against pension reform in 2018, as well as a case against a candidate for deputy for an allegedly broken door in an election commission; The Moscow City Court abolished the penalty to the participant of the rally on August 3 and approved the refusal to deprive the parental rights of married couple which visited the rally on August 3 with children; in Moscow, the prosecutor canceled the refusal to initiate a case of Pyotr Verzilov poisoning, and a criminal case was closed against the Prokazov family, who allegedly left their child in danger at a mass rally; in the Oryol region, the criminal prosecution of Alexander Byvshev, who was accused of extremism for his poems, was stopped.
- against the background of a decrease in activity and consolidation of civil protest, an increase in the repressive policy of the authorities was noticed;
- the main focus of power is still on the restriction of basic civil rights and freedoms – freedom of speech, peaceful assembly and public associations;
- of particular danger is the shift in the emphasis of political repression towards independent human rights, including the largest human rights organizations;
- the main method of political repression is the large-scale and systematic use of law enforcement and law enforcement agencies in the context of arbitrary or obviously unlawful application of formal norms of the current legislation;
- most of the previously launched all-Russian repressive campaigns and high-profile criminal cases are ongoing and expanding, including the cases of “Network” and “New Greatness”, “Hizb-ut-Tahrir” and “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, the “Moscow Case” and the “FBK Case”.
- Monitoring does not pretend to be complete: the drafters try to take into account only the main events, which together make it possible to form a fairly accurate idea of the current situation and trends of political persecution in Russia, and will be grateful for pointing out errors and omissions.
- Events taking place on the territory of the Crimea occupied by Russia are included in monitoring since they are one of the important cases characterizing the repressive policy of the Russian authorities.
Translator: Olga Desbureaux