18.09.2020

Semi-annual overview of political repression in Russia (January – June, 2020)

Civic liberties are considered a menace by contemporary authoritarian regime in Russia and are being suppressed with a wide range of persecution methods. The aim of this monitoring was to identify prevalent repressive practices, frequency and geography of their application in the first half of 2020. They were found in 75 regions, with Moscow having 34.6% of the cases, Saint Petersburg — 10.3%, Republic of Dagestan —  6.8%. Republic of Tatarstan, Moscow and Leningradskaya regions accounted for 2.3%. In the first four months there was a small number of recorded cases, followed by a spike in May and June.

Overview

In the first half of 2020, there weren’t many events, that could cause civic activity and result in persecutions. The most prominent ones were COVID-19 pandemic with respective laws and restrictions, introduced by the government, as well as an announced voting on the Constitution amendments, initiated by Vladimir Putin.

As in many other authoritarian countries, the pandemic was a convenient excuse to considerably constrain citizens’ freedom of peaceful assembly. New rules left Russians with near to none opportunities for legal protest in most of the regions. Police arrested even single-standing protestors who were wearing protective equipment. Cases of this category account for 57% of the monitoring, even though only two relatively big local rallies occurred in the period.

Freedom of speech saw some new limitations too. Common social media users, political activists, journalists and media platforms were administratively fined for posting “disinformation” about the virus, 42 criminal cases on this matter were opened in 24 regions. However, journalists suffered for more conventional reasons than coronavirus too. A policemen on the polling station broke an arm of the reporter David Frenkel at the voting on the Constitution amendments, and the publisher of “Mediazona”, the newspaper founded by the members of “Pussy Riot”, Pyotr Verzilov had two home raids and was administratively detained for 15 days.

Like independent journalists, opposition groups pose a huge threat to the Putin’s regime, so Alexey Navalny’s “Anti-Corruption Foundation” is being continuously targeted. This term another of his employees was conscripted despite he’s asthmatic, which exempts him from the obligation. Office and house raids and bank account freezes of other employees happened regularly, on the basis of a seemingly fake criminal case against the foundation.

The government also continues to oppress peaceful religious groups: the Muslim “Hizb ut-Tahrir”* and the Christian “Jehovah’s Witnesses”*. This term at least 70 new cases were opened, some Muslims were incarcerated for up to 23 years. Many accuse law enforcement of torture and failure to render medical assistance. Another group that was persecuted only for their views were anti-fascists. The “Network” case against them is proven to be fabricated by security service; nine young people were accused of planning a terrorist attack and jailed for up to 18 years.

As for the completely new developments, emerging labour unions have started to get attention from the government. The head of the doctors’ union “The Alliance of Doctors” Anastasiya Vasilyeva was detained and fined for breaching the self-isolation rules while she was attempting to bring protective equipment to the doctors in Velikiy Novgorod region. Disregard to doctors’s rights, including such things as threats and unfair dismissals, was widespread this term. Police also opened four criminal cases against another labour rights activist, Vladimir Vorontsov, founder of a social media movement called “Ombudsman of the Police”.

Methods

As for the used persecution methods, we know of 42 court sentences for imprisonment in the first half of 2020. Fines are extremely widespread with at least 356 cases in 49 different regions. 153 times people were administratively detained, but this is probably not a full number, because there were at least 544 arrests, the consequences of which are not clear(either fine, detention or none at all). Often arrests or requests to come to the police station are intended to frighten people and don’t have any other repercussions, these happened at least 143 times.

There were 5 cases of punitive psychiatry this term and 22 reports of torture, mostly in Moscow and North Caucasus. Besides those, inmates in Irkutsk regional prison recorded a video showing 17 of them cut their veins in protest against guards violence.