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THE RUSSIA OF TOMORROW: Human Rights Defense and Resistance Digest

A project of the American Russian-speaking Association for Civil & Human Rights (ARA)

Dear friends,

Our ARA team is welcoming you to our new project for our English-language audience: a digest of antiwar resistance and defense of human rights in Putin’s Russia. Unlike most other publications on these topics, it will aim to provide you with a short summary of basic facts supplemented with links to the original (in most cases, Russian-language) sources. It will also aim to include as many relevant events for a given period as possible – regardless of the extent of their coverage in Western media. We do not pretend to provide exhaustive information and will exercise our editorial judgment as to what we are able to include. We call this digest ‘The Russia of Tomorrow’ because it is all about the people who are sacrificing themselves to bring about a peaceful, non-imperial and less oppressive tomorrow for their country and thereby for Ukraine and the rest of the world. This project is still in experimental stage, and we will much appreciate your feedback and support for its development. We are producing it on a pro bono basis, in our spare time from paid work – for those who, like ourselves, have not much time to read lengthy analytical papers. On this note, let us start our pilot issue #0!

KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE WEEK OF AUG. 8-14, 2022

Moscow

  • Ilya Yashin, democratic politician and an elected councilman of the Krasnoselsky District of Moscow, will remain in pre-trial detention until at least Sept. 12: on August 8, a Moscow City court rejected his appeal of the decision to put him in detention. Yashin has been charged with distributing ‘false information’ about the military. Reporters were not allowed into the courtroom: the prosecutor warned that their presence “would be used by Yashin to popularize his antiwar ideas”. During the hearing, Yashin, participating by video, was showing a ‘No to war’ poster from his cage; in the image later published by the court, this poster was whitened out. Also this week, Yashin published a video arguing that an anti-Putin coup is becoming increasingly likely. After the court ruling, Interviews with Yashin were published by French Le Monde and German Deutsche Welle. For more detail, including how to correspond with him directly via Russia’s FSIN – Federal Penitentiary system, visit his Facebook) and Twitter accounts.
  • On Aug. 9,Vladimir Kara-Murza’s pre-trial detention was extended until Oct. 12. The hearing in a Moscow district court was also closed to the public under the pretext that case materials contained “state secret” and “family secret”. Kara-Murza has been charged on two counts – first, with spreading ‘false information’ about the military (in connection with his remarks to the Arizona House of Representatives in March of this year), with a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail; and, second, with having a relationship with an ‘undesirable’ foreign organization (specifically, with the US-based Free Russia Foundation), punishable with a jail term of up to 4 years. On Aug. 12, the court also rejected his appeal of his official designation as a ‘foreign agent’ acting on behalf of Ukraine. A group of U.S. Senators led by Majority Whip Dick Durbin has asked State Secretary Blinken to impose Magnitsky Law sanctions on the officials responsible for Kara-Murza’s persecution. Leon Aron’s profile of Kara-Murza, titled ‘One man’s struggle to save Russia’s honor,’ was published this week by The Hill. On his Twitter account, you can find out how to send a letter to Kara-Murza via FSIN.
  • On Aug. 11,Marina Ovsyannikova, former government TV station producer turned antiwar rebel, was placed under house arrest by Moscow district court pending criminal investigation. She is also prohibited from using her phone and Internet. Ovsyannikova was charged with spreading ‘false information’ about Russian armed forces, a ‘crime’ under Russia’s new wartime law which carries up to 10 years in jail. Forensic evidence is her solo protest in front of the Kremlin last month, where she carried a poster saying  ‘Putin is a killer, his soldiers are fascists,’ along with the photos of children killed in Ukraine. This and last week, Ovsyannikova was also fined by courts for her political statements, for a total of almost $1,500. Find out more on her Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram channels.
  • On Aug. 12, Sergey Tsukasov, elected municipal councillor of Ostankino district, was placed under house arrest for 15 days for allegedly displaying symbols of the ‘Smart Voting’ campaign associated with Alexey Navalny. Association with Navalny has been criminalized in Russia as ‘involvement with an extremist organization’. Last month, Tsukasov was probited from running in the upcoming municipal elections on the same grounds. This week, the authorities also removed three other incumbents and candidates – Pavel Yarilin, Elena Rusakova, and Denis Shenderovich – from the ballot for their actual or alleged association with ‘Smart Voting’. And a Sberbank affiliate ordered its employee Yuliya Katsenko to resign after she refused to abandon her campaign for a district council seat.
  • Also on Aug. 12, Russia’s communication agency blocked the account of OVD-Info, the leading police watchdog and human rights monitoring group, in Russia’s major social network VK (VKontakte). On the same day, a district court in the Moscow region rejected OVD-Info’s appeal of the court ruling that blocked its website in December 2021. OVD-Info’s new website (set up after its initial website was blocked) and other social media accounts remain accessible. According to Russia’s attorney general Igor Krasnov, since February 24, 2022, about 138,000 online resources have been blocked by the authorities.

Domodedovo, Moscow Region

  • On Aug. 11, local city court increased the jail term of Alexander Shestun, former head of the Serpukhov District of the Moscow Region, from 15 to 15.5 years. Shestun was initially sentenced on charges of fraudulent operations with municipal land; however, human rights NGOs widely view his prosecution as motivated by his critique of the authorities. New charges against Shestun alleged that he had threatened and insulted a judge that was presiding at his trial in another case. Earlier this year, the Moscow Helsinki Group awarded Shestun with a prize ‘For courage in the defense of human rights’.

St. Petersburg

  • On Aug. 8, Dmitry Kurmoyarov (known by his priestly name Ioann Kurmoyarov), a St.Petersburg-based former priest of a dissident branch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, was delivered the final version of his indictment for spreading ‘false information’ about the Russian military. The charges are apparently based on his sermons that he posted online. Yet their exact nature has been classified, and his attorney was required to sign a compulsory non-disclosure form.  Kurmoyarov has been in detention since June 8, and it has recently been extended to Sept. 8.
  • ‘Vesna’, a semi-underground antiwar network active in several Russian cities, has launched a petition for the release of Vsevolod Korolyov, a teacher, journalist, poet and documentary filmmaker. He has been in pre-trial detention since July 12. The charges against him stem from his social media posts about the war crimes committed by Russia’s military in Bucha and Borodyanka. This ‘crime’ carries a penalty of up to 10 years in jail. The information on how to contact Korolyov in his detention, electronically and by snail mail, is available here. Meanwhile, on Aug. 10 Russia’s communication agency blocked Vesna’s website – reportedly, two hours after serving a written warning that the organization had 24 hours to remove an unspecified ‘unlawful’ information from the site.

Ekaterinburg

Omsk

Abakan (Republic of Khakassia)

  • Mikhail Afanasyev, chief editor of Novy Fokus, an online publication in Khakassia, got his pre-trial detention extended on Aug. 8 for another two months by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Khakassia. Afanasyev has been locked up since April 13 on charges of ‘false reporting’ based on his publication about 11 Russian servicemen’ collective refusal to be dispatched to Ukraine. The court also rejected his appeal of the seizure of his equipment and files which, as stated in the appeal, was a violation of the law providing for the confidentiality of a reporter’s sources of information. You can find out how to contact Afanasyev via FSIN here.

Irkutsk

  • On Aug. 9, the mayor’s office denied the application of three local activists – Valery Teterin, a human rights advocate; Grigory Gribenko of the liberal Yabloko Party; and Pavel Kharitonenko of the ‘New Russia – A Free Country’ group – to hold a rally calling upon the authorities to decriminalize criticism of the military. As stated in their application, the organizers wanted to draw attention to the fact that the recently passed laws criminalizing ‘false information’ and critique of the Army contradicted constitutional guarantees of the freedom of speech. The denial of permit was officially based on COVID-related restrictions, even though large-scale public events have been taking place in Irkutsk all the time. The three activists have appealed this denial.

Kaliningrad

  • Vadim Khairullin, an activist in Kaliningrad and a native of Uzbekistan, was sentenced on Aug. 8 by a local judge to one year in penal colony for ‘repeat violation of the rules for conducting public actions,’ under the so-called ‘Ildar Dadin’ article of Russia’s criminal code (first used against Ildar Dadin in 2015). The charges stem from Khairullin’s alleged participation in two protests against the imprisonment of Alexey Navalny and one in support of protesters in Belarus. The sentence was harsher than requested by prosecution (which was two years of a suspended jail term). Khairullin’s attorney is planning to appeal.

EXODUS FROM PUTIN’S RUSSIA

  • On Aug. 10, Armen Aramyan, co-founder and editor of student magazine DOXA, announced on his Telegram channel that he and the entire editorial board of DOXA left Russia. In April, after about a year on trial, four DOXA editors were found guilty by Russian court on a bogus charge of involving minors into political protesting against the imprisonment of Alexey Navalny. As the authorities seized the defendants’ passports for foreign travel, they had to go to great lengths to be able to leave to the West via Armenia using their domestic Russian passports.

ELECTION FRAUD

  • On Aug. 12, Meduza, a bilingual Russian-English news site based in Riga, Latvia, published its analysis of video footage made inside Russia’s polling stations in the course of the Duma elections of 2021 that it recently obtained. The records include over 1 million hours of coverage from more than 9,000 precincts in 19 regions. Out of this material, Meduza’s independent monitors were able to analyze footage from over 3,000 polling stations, using artificial intelligence. After these elections, official reports by the Central Election Commission claimed that a total of 3.2 million people cast their votes in person at these stations; however, according to Meduza’s analysis of videorecordings, the number of actual visitors to these polling stations was 1.2 million less than officially claimed. By extrapolating these numbers, Meduza claims that the discrepancy between the official and the actual number of votes cast in person across the country in 2022 may exceed 17 million. For comparison, the total number of votes received by Putin’s United Russia party, according to the official data, was 28 million.   

Thank you for reading. You are most welcome to support our work by donating to our parent organization, Russian-speaking Community Council, Inc. – a tax-exempt nonprofit organization incorporated in New York. We will be happy to hear from you and wish you a peaceful week ahead.

The ARA team

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