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THE RUSSIA OF TOMORROW: Human Rights Defense and Resistance Digest

ISSUE # 3, AUG. 29 – SEPT. 4, 2022

Welcome to the newest issue of our digest. It is intended as a brief summary of key developments in the past week, with links to the original (in most cases, Russian language) sources for further exploration. The digest does not aim to be exhaustive but seeks to provide more granular detail on Russians’ antiwar and human rights advocacy than other publications. Our title – with tongue-in-cheek toward ‘Russia Today’, the powerhouse of the Kremlin’s global propaganda – reflects our belief in the long-term power of those Russians, of many ethnicities and faiths, who are currently sacrificing themselves to bring about a peaceful and less oppressive tomorrow for their country and thereby more safety for the rest of the world.

I.        Mikhail Gorbachev’s legacy in the areas of human rights and peace

On Sept. 3 in Moscow, no less than 2,000 people, according to Vedomosti, showed up to pay their final respects to Mikhail Gorbachev during about 4 hours of the official ceremony (https://bit.ly/3q9Fn6T); it had to be extended beyond the initial two hours due to the number of visitors (https://bit.ly/3BdOlX7). While all international media have reminisced about Gorbachev’s role in lifting the Iron Curtain and ending the Cold War, we would like to briefly draw your attention to some of the momentous decisions that he made on ending Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan and nearly ending all political reprisals against dissenters in the Soviet Union:

Afghanistan: Gorbachev started pulling Soviet troops from this country in the first months after his coming to power in 1985 and completed it in February 1989. In December 1989, the USSR’s Congress of People’s Deputies, under his chairmanship, adopted a resolution that condemned the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan ‘on moral and political grounds’.

End to political reprisals: In 1986, Gorbachev started to release some of the political prisoners, initially one by one and as part of deals with the US on individual cases (Natan Sharansky, Yury Orlov). In December 1986, he called Andrey Sakharov who was in internal exile and allowed him and his wife Yelena Bonner to come back to Moscow. In the course of 1987, about 300 political prisoners were released from jails, penal colonies, and internal exile; at the same time, all pending politically motivated criminal cases were closed. By the end of Gorbachev’s rule, there were about 10 individuals in the country recognized by human rights advocates as political prisoners (in today’s Russia, their number exceeds 420).

Media freedom: In September 1986, a few months after declaring glasnost, Gorbachev passed through the CPSU Central Committee the resolution to stop jamming Voice of America and BBC. In 1988, all jamming of foreign radio stations ended. In 1989, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was published for the first time in official Soviet press. In 1990, Gorbachev signed the new Soviet law on media freedom which proclaimed that censorship of mass media was not allowed.

Freedom of association and political pluralism: In January 1990, Gorbachev chaired the Politburo session that voted to remove the statement about the Communist Party’ leading role from the constitution (Article 6). In March 1990, the Congress of People’s Deputies chaired by Gorbachev implemented this decision and included a reference to other political parties in Article 6.

Freedom of religion: In 1990, Gorbachev signed the law on the freedom of conscience and religious organizations. The law provided them with the status of legal entities. No religion was deemed ‘extremist’ let alone banned under Gorbachev.

Freedom of emigration: In 1986, restrictions on temporary stay abroad were significantly relaxed. In 1991, Gorbachev signed the new law that abolished the requirement of exit visa. (However, those moving abroad for permanent residency were still being forcibly stripped of their Soviet citizenship until the end of Gorbachev’s rule.)

To what extent these Gorbachev’s actions reflected his actual beliefs and intentions, as opposed to resulting from international and domestic pressures, is secondary and cannot be addressed here. There can hardly ever be a definitive answer to these questions. Gorbachev’s half-hearted attempts to suppress the independence movements in the Baltics in January 1991 led to tragic loss of lives but were abandoned within several days and never attempted again. In September 1991, the State Council of the USSR under Gorbachev’s chairmanship recognized the independence of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

Mikhail Gorbachev and the period of his rule remain a reminder to Russians and others around the world of the tremendous opportunities he provided for a thorough, long-term transformation of Russia and the international system – the opportunities that were either missed or misused.

II. Russians against the invasion

According to attorney Pavel Chikov of Agora International Human Rights Group, as of Sept. 1, the number of defendants in criminal cases on ‘spreading false information’ about the military has reached 100 people. In the final week of August, seven new such cases were reported in the media. Of these 100 people, 57 are being charged with aggravated felony carrying 5 to 10 years in jail; in 24 cases, there are lesser charges used, with maximum penalty being a 3-year term in penal colony. Yet 32 out of these 100 have, fortunately for them, left Russia, so all the reprisals against them are in absentia, but the confiscation of their property is for real. Of the remaining 68, nine have already been sentenced. The harshest verdict – 7 years in penal colony – was issued in the case of Alexey Gorinov, a neighborhood councillor in Moscow. Eduard Shcherbakov in Tyumen was sentenced to six months in penal colony. Two individuals have received suspended jail sentences; two others have been sentenced to compulsory public works; a two more have been imposed fines (1 mln. and 3 mln. roubles). Of the 59 that are still awaiting trial, 28 are currently in detention; 3 people are under house arrest; and 6 had certain activities (typically, participation in public events and communicating with anyone outside their family and lawyers) prohibited by the court. Agora has been providing legal representation to 34 of the defendants facing these charges (https://t.me/pchikov/5018).

   A) New reprisals

In two of the new criminal cases mentioned by Pavel Chikov (see above), the defendants are military servicemen: Ilya Karpenko in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Valery Kotovich in Rostov-on-Don. Kotovich is in detention. These are the first criminal cases against soldiers on charges of ‘spreading false information about Russia’s armed forces. Proceedings against both are held by military courts located in army units.

In Moscow on Sept. 3, at least four people were briefly detained for antiwar protesting while standing in the line to the Hall of Pillars to pay tribute to Mikhail Gorbachev. One of them was Polina Barinova who carried the ‘No war’ pin of the Yabloko Party. The names of other detainees have not been reported. Barinova and two other women were slapped with misdemeanor charges of ‘disparaging the army’ (https://bit.ly/3Ri7U6m).

In Petrozavodsk (Republic of Karelia), on Aug. 30, Ruben Pogosyan was searched, briefly detained, and charged with ‘spreading false information’ about the army. Based on the charges against him, he may face up to 3 years in jail. The charges stem from his sharing of posts about Russian military actions in Bucha, Mariupol, and Kramatorsk. Pogosyan pleaded not guilty, declaring that the information he had shared was true. The court ordered to restrict his use of communication tools and some of his interactions with others; he is also prohibited from attending public events and from leaving Petrozavodsk (https://bit.ly/3CXs8xO). Pogosyan previously went public about the abuses that he and others experienced in penal colony during his prior incarceration; officers at the colony unsuccessfully tried to sue him and other witnesses for libel but eventually ended up as defendants in a case involving the beating of inmates in their colony (https://bit.ly/3BdXJdp).   

On Sept. 3, it became known that Grigory Vinter, a human rights activist in Cherepovets (Vologda region) is in pre-trial detention on charges of ‘spreading false information about Russia’s armed forces. In the past, Vinter was an environmental activist and led the regional branch of Lev Ponomaryov’s For Human Rights Movement which was recently disbanded by the authorities. In 2021, he was sentenced to 6 months of public works for his online reporting of violations of anti-COVID precautions during a transfer of inmates into a local pre-trial facility. (https://t.me/sotaproject/45535). In 2019, Vinter was forcibly put by the authorities into a psychiatric clinic for a compulsory assessment. He was also unsuccessfully sued for ‘offending government officials in social media’ (https://bit.ly/3q98JT0).

On Sept. 1, it was reported that Andrey Balin, former co-chair of the Samara branch of the PARNAS party (co-founded by the late Boris Nemtsov), had been charged with ‘spreading false information’ about the army, aggravated by ‘motivations of political hatred’ (which carries a jail term of up to 10 years). The charges stem from his six posts on social media. Since July, Balin has been prohibited by a court in the city of Togliatti from leaving the city. He was previously sentenced to fines on charges equivalent to a misdemeanor, including 35,000 Roubles for ‘disparaging the army’ and 30,000 Roubles for his posts in support of sanctions against Russia’s officials (https://bit.ly/3RjI5Tl).

    B) Ongoing cases

In St. Petersburg, on Aug. 29 a district court extended the pre-trial detention of former priest Ioann Kurmoyarov to Oct. 1. He pleaded guilty of spreading ‘false information’ about the army and asked for a release (https://bit.ly/3QgNVna). 53-year-old Kurmoyarov is a native of Ukraine and allegedly had to move in Russia in 2018 because of sharing online a picture with Russia’s military symbol, the band of St.George. Yet already in 2020, the pro-Kremlin leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate banned him from conducting religious services and teaching theology. The reason for this ban was his criticism of the recently opened church for the military: at the time, he wrote on Facebook that this was “yet another example of Christian Orthodoxy transformation into paganism” (https://bit.ly/3qdQOKQ).

On the next day, also in St. Petesburg, the pre-trial detention of Aleksandra Skochilenko was likewise extended to Oct. 1 (https://bit.ly/3AN1kh1). Skochilenko is a young artists charged for attaching stickers with information about the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine and war crimes committed by Russian military to price tags at a local supermarket. Skochilenko has been in detention since April; the maximum penalty for the crime that she allegedly committed is 10 years in jail. Skochilenko has special health-related dietary needs – she can only eat gluten-free food – and has repeatedly complained that they are not being met in her detention.

Yet another antiwar prisoner in St. Petersburg is Vsevolod Korolyov, a 35-year-old documentary filmmaker. He has been in pre-trial since July on an aggravated version of the charges of ‘spreading false information’ about the military and will remain there at least until Sept. 11. The charges stem from his work as a filmmaker shooting videos about the people charged with the same ‘crime’ of which he is accused now. One of the materials for which he is being charged was his video coverage of a performance in support of Skochilenko. On Sept. 1, city judge denied his appeal of the lower-level decision to place him in detention pending trial (https://bit.ly/3CYHv9s).

Viktoria Petrova is another St. Petersburger in pre-trial detention on similar charges. Her detention was recently extended until Sept. 23. On Aug. 31, her appeal of this extension was likewise denied (https://bit.ly/3BfKOHK). In total, in St. Petersburg there are already 9 defendants charged with ‘spreading false information’ about Russia’s armed forces.

In Kazan, Tatarstan’s supreme court denied the appeal filed by Andrey Boyarshinov against the decision to extend his pre-trial detention to Nov. 17. Boyarshinov was detained in March and charged with ‘encouraging terrorism’ and ‘justification of terrorism’. The charges are based on unspecified online posts that he allegedly made in antiwar channels under a penname and that are still undergoing forensic analysis (https://bit.ly/3QpCM3K).

Meanwhile in Kopeysk (Chelyabinsk region), Pyotr Borovinskikh, who has already been charged with ‘spreading false information’ about the army, is now facing additional charges – of ‘spreading online information about memorial dates that is demonstrably disrespectful to society’. Specifically, prosecutors argue that in his posts Borovinskikh disparaged the annual Victory Day parade of May 9th on the Red Square. While this new case was initiated in July, Borovinskikh was informed about it only on Aug. 30. The relevant article of Russia’s criminal code pre-dates the current invasion; the maximum penalty for these actions is a five-year imprisonment (https://bit.ly/3Bff4CX).

In Tyumen, 22-year-old Kirill Martyushev, who has been in pre-trial facility since March, got his detention extended to Nov. 12 (https://bit.ly/3cQlFKE). On the first day of the invasion, Martyushev was briefly detained for protesting it; upon release with charges equivalent to a misdemeanor, he allegedly filmed and posted a video that, according to forensic experts commissioned by the prosecution, ‘contained linguistic and psychological indicators of encouragement of violence against the police’. These charges carry a penalty of up to 5 years in jail. In July, Russia’s government agency placed Martyushev on the roster of terrorists and extremists that includes Alexey Navalny among others (https://bit.ly/3qb7pix).

On a brighter note, in at least two cases this week, courts ruled in favor of antiwar defendants. One is the case against Konstantin Jankauskas, an elected neighborhood councillor in Moscow, who was charged with ‘disparaging the army’ for posting online in March a quote from Pope Francis’ prayer for peace in Ukraine. In a separate case, Jankauskas was prohibited from running for reelection because of his involvement with Navalny’s organization that is labeled ‘extremist’ by the authorities. On Sept. 1, at the end of the hearing, the judge dismissed the case due to the absence of criminal activity, concluding that literal interpretation of Pope Francis quote did not lead to any conclusion that would disparage Russia’s armed forces (https://bit.ly/3Rg8PE9).

And in Arkhangelsk, a court dismissed the case against Aleksandr Peskov, a journalist also charged with disparaging Russia’s military. The charge is based, predictably, on his online post stating that “in our country, de facto censorship has been instituted since the start of the military aggression against Ukraine”. Peskov is also involved as a witness (so far) in another criminal case, related to Navalny’s “extremist organizations”; in March, police conducted a search in his apartment. Luckily for him, Peskov is no longer in Russia (https://bit.ly/3cN86LK).

The same is true of Ilya Ponomaryov, former member of the Duma from a pro-Kremlin ‘Just Russia’ Party and, before that, from the Communist Party, former employee of YUKos and a grandson of Soviet ambassador to Poland. In 2014, Ponomaryov was the only Duma member to vote against the annexation of Crimea. In 2015, he was charged with embezzlement, stripped of his Duma mandate, and issued an arrest order – in absentia, since by that time he was no longer living in Russia. By now, he is permanently based in Kyiv where he runs his own media channel. Nevertheless, on Aug. 30, another Moscow court decided to issue another order for his arrest – this time on aggravated charges of ‘spreading false information’ about the Russian army with a ‘hateful’ motivation, a felony carries up to 10 years in jail (https://bit.ly/3RCsCxv).

III. Political reprisals directly unrelated to Ukraine

On Aug. 28 in Moscow police detained Andrey Zayakin, a physicist, investigative reporter of Novaya gazeta, and co-founder of Dissernet, a project that investigated and exposed the shoddy and at times fraudulent content of dissertations defended by members of Russia’s ruling elites. Zayakin is charged with financing ‘extremist organizations’ on the basis of his transfer of 1,000 Roubles to Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. On Aug. 29, court placed Zayakin on a curfew regime and prohibited him from using any means of communication (https://bit.ly/3qebRx8). In Khabarovsk, on Sept. 4, another supporter of Navalny and a former coordinator of his local branch, Alexey Vorsin, was placed on the national ‘wanted’ list, on charges of ‘creating an extremist community’ (https://bit.ly/3TGjZDT).

On Aug. 30, in Moscow, at the hearings on the case against Ivan Safronov, former reporter of Kommersant paper charged with disclosing state secrets to Czech intelligence agencies, prosecution requested the court to sentence him to 24 years in jail with subsequent two years of restriction of movement, as well as a fine of 500,000 Roubles. Safronov used to cover the arms industry and worked in the press office of RosKosmos, Russia’s space agency. The charges are based on his memos to a Czech journalist and a Czech political scientist, in which, according to reports, Safronov essentially restated open-source information on Russia’s military cooperation with several countries. It has also been reported that the prosecution offered Safronov a deal whereby it would only ask for a 12-year jail term in exchange for his guilty plea (https://bit.ly/3KOKfrz).

On the same day, Hotline, a human rights project of assistance to inmates that has investigated reports of torture in collaboration with the UN Committee Against Torture, has been liquidated by Moscow city court after 24 years in operation (https://bit.ly/3BerYAZ). Hotline is one of the organizations created by Lev Ponomaryov, a member of Russia’s legislature and political leadership around the time of Soviet collapse. In recent years, Ponomaryov and his organizations have been placed on the list of ‘foreign agents’. On the eve of the current invasion, Ponomaryov launched an antiwar appeal which gathered over a million signatures. After extensive harassment by the authorities and their agents, Ponomaryov left Russia and is reportedly in France.

On the same day and also in Moscow, Leonid Gozman, a rightwing public figure and former manager of Anatoly Chubais’ political projects, was found guilty of equating Soviet Union with Nazi Germany and sentenced to 15 days under arrest – the maximum penalty under this article of Russia’s criminal code (https://t.me/activatica/24096). The charges stem from Gozman’s two-year-old Facebook post. Earlier this year, Gozman was already detained for another reason, i.e., for failing to inform the authorities of his second (Israeli) citizenship as required by law and is currently under criminal investigation on these charges.

IV. Religious reprisals

On Aug. 31, a district court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced four people to jail terms of between 2.5 and 7.5 years for alleged participation in Islamist organization ‘Taqfir wal-Hijra’. Of these four, Igor Galperin was declared to be the organizer of the cell, charged with ‘public incitement of extremist activity’, and sentenced to 7.5 years in a high-security colony. The other three include Natalia Galperina (apparently his wife), Egishe Makaryan, and Amit Shirzad (https://bit.ly/3cHh8u1). Prosecutors claimed that defendants were spreading ‘radical ideas based on the ideology of Takfirism’ in their meetings with local Muslims and via social media. ‘Taqfir wal-Hijra’ (meaning in Arabic ‘Excommunication and exile’) is the name given by its detractors to Jama’at al-Muslimin (Muslim Community), a group that was created in Egypt in the 1960s and was mostly active there and in a few of the neighboring countries. In 2010, as a number of other Islamic organizations, it was declared ‘extremist’ and banned by Russia’s supreme court. As noted by OVD-Info, some experts have doubts about the organization’s existence, as no documentary evidence from multiple court cases against its alleged activists in Russia was ever made public. The fact that the last names of two of the defendants are recognizably Jewish and the third name is Armenian provides additional reason for skepticism about the official reports about this case.

V.   Occupied territories

On Aug. 29, city court in Feodosia, Crimea, held hearings in the case against Irina Danilovich, a nurse, and a local activist on behalf of health care workers. Danilovich is charged with alleged possession of an explosive which, prosecution claims, she kept inside her eyeglass case; she says that the evidence was planted on her by the police. In April, she was placed in detention unlawfully, a week before official court order to detain her was issued; during this week, she was kept in the basement of an FSB facility for eight days, without access to a lawyer. Finally, the alleged explosive was found in her possession, giving pretext to the court to order her pre-trial detention. In July, she went public about the physical violence and threats that she experienced at the hands of FSB agents (https://bit.ly/3ecBMCm).

On Aug. 31, Crimea’s supreme court denied the appeal of Ilya Gantsevsky, an antiwar protester who sought to overturn his house arrest order. He is charged with ‘spreading false information’ about the army via his antiwar Instagram post in connection with Russia’s shelling of the Kramatorsk train station. Gantsevsky was reportedly already sentenced in April for the same to 14 days in jail yet in August he was detained again. He is allegedly a former participant of several pro-Kremlin political projects who became an ardent antiwar blogger since the start of the current invasion (https://bit.ly/3TFjzh8).

On Sept. 1, Human Rights Watch issued its 71-page report, “‘We Had No Choice’: ‘Filtration’ and the Crime of Forcibly Transferring Ukrainian Civilians to Russia”. The report is based on interviews with 54 Ukrainians, some of whom were forcibly transferred to Russia and went through ‘filtration’ screening, and some had relatives or friends in this situation or trying to escape from Russia. As noted in the report, such transfers “constitute war crimes and potential crimes against humanity”. According to HRW, it submitted a summary of its findings to Russia’s authorities, but they did not respond (https://bit.ly/3wWOXOs).

VI.   International human rights advocacy

On Aug. 29, over two dozen of human rights organizations in Russia published an appeal to EU member states. Russian NGOs urge them” to lead a core group of states at the 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council to establish a mandate of a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Russian Federation”. The authors of the appeal note the gruesome statistics: over 16,000 people detained since February for actual or alleged antiwar protesting; and over 450 individuals and organizations designated as ‘foreign agents’ (https://bit.ly/3RwYjIu).

Thank you for reading.  We always appreciate your feedback. Wishing you a happy Labor Day!

Project Director Dr. Dmitri Daniel Glinski and the project team

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