“What Is This, the Gestapo?” University Student Yegor Zhukov Charged with Rioting in Moscow

Higher School of Economics Student Yegor Zhukov Arrested in Riot Investigation
Andrei Karev
Novaya Gazeta
August 2, 2019

Moscow’s Presna District Court has remanded in custody yet another person charged in the riot investigation launched after the July 27 protest rally in Moscow: 21-year-old Yegor Zhukov, a candidate for the Moscow City Duma, video blogger, and student at the Higher School of Economics.

content_______2Yegor Zhukov in court. Photo by Vlad Dokshin. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Judge Alexander Avdotyina granted a motion made by the case investigator and remanded Zhukov in custody until September 27.

The hearing began with a motion from Zhukov’s defense lawyer, Daniil Berman. He asked the court to call a recess and give his client a bottle of water.

“He has not had a drop of water since two in the morning and has not slept since yesterday,” Berman claimed.

The judge, however, refused to uphold the motion, explaining that giving Zhukov a bottle of water was against the rules.

“What is this, the Gestapo?” Zhukov’s outraged mother wondered aloud.

Her son has been charged with involvement in rioting, punishable under Article 212.2 of the Russian Criminal Code. Zhukov has completely denied his guilt and refused to give testimony to investigators. According to the case investigator, if Zhukov were at large, he could hinder the investigation, present a flight risk, and pressure witnesses.

He argued that Zhukov’s guilt was borne out by evidence gathered during the investigation.

“Zhukov could destroy evidence in the case and communicate information learned during the investigation to other suspects,” explained the investigator from the Russian Investigative Committee.

The prosecutor seconded the investigator’s arguments.

Zhukov asked the court to impose pretrial restrictions that did not involve imprisoning him.

content_______3Yegor Zhukov in court. Photo by Vlad Dokshin. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Berman argued there were no grounds for remanding Zhukov in custody. There had been no criminal wrongdoing on Zhukov’s part, and investigators had not presented any specific evidence. Berman motioned the court not to impose pretrial restrictions that would involve isolating his client from society, asking it instead to place Zhukov under house arrest or release him on bail or on his own recognizance.

“There have been lies at each stage of the criminal investigation. It seems as if the case file has been hastily thrown together: it is a collection of commonplaces. What are the charges? What exactly did my client do? The case investigators should at least pretend to be upholding the law. It is outrageous they asked the court to uphold this motion. Why should a student and Muscovite be remanded in custody?” Berman exclaimed.

He added that Zhukov’s parents were willing to post one million rubles [$15,320] in bail.

Earlier, it transpired Valeria Kasamara, vice-rector at the Higher School of Economics and candidate for the Moscow City Duma in Borough No. 45, had agreed to stand surety for Zhukov.

“I request Yegor Zhukov not be remanded in custody. He is my student. He has always been distinguished by his curiosity and high academic performance. I know him personally and can vouch for his good character,” reads the document, posted on Telegram by Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group.

Higher School of Economics students, alumni, and faculty have published an open letter demanding the university’s administrators officially voice their support for Zhukov. According to the letter’s authors, the HSE administration should personally make official statements supporting Zhukov, stand surety for him in court, and appeal to all public authorities to explain the grounds for the criminal charges against him.

“The charges against Yegor are charges against the entire university and each member of the university community. The university teaches us to think critically, speak freely, and ask questions. The Higher School of Economics does not have the moral right to turn its back when a member of its community faces three to eight years in prison for speaking freely and asking the right questions,” it says in the letter.

The Investigative Committee has consolidated separate charges of rioting (punishable under Article 212 of the Russian Criminal Code) and violence against police officers (punishable under Article 318 of the Russian Criminal Code) into a single criminal investigation of the “unauthorized” protest rally in Moscow on July 27. According to Chikov, 84 investigators have been assigned to the case.

Earlier on Friday, the court remanded Alexei Minyaylo, Samariddin Radzhabov, Ivan Podkopayev, and Kirill Zhukov in custody. Yevgeny Kovalenko had already been remanded in custody as part of the same investigation.

Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Russian Opposition Hit with New Wave of Searches and Arrests

Russian Opposition Hit with New Wave of Searches and Arrests
Yelena Mukhametshina
Vedomosti
July 25, 2019

On Wednesday evening, Moscow’s Simonovsky District Court jailed politician Alexei Navalny for thirty days for calling on Muscovites to go to the mayor’s office this weekend to protest irregularities in the upcoming elections to the Moscow City Duma. Law enforcement agencies simultaneously launched a dragnet against the Russian opposition. Investigators searched the homes of ex-MP Dmitry Gudkov, his colleague Alexander Solovyov, Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), and municipal council member Nikolai Balandin.

The search in Gudkov’s home lasted around two hours. Investigators confiscated the politician’s computers, smartphone, and all portable electronic storage devices. Gudkov’s press secretary Alexei Obukhov said the search warrant mentioned the confiscation of all computer discs [sic] in connection with the protest rallies and pickets outside the Moscow City Elections Commission on July 14, 15, and 18. Identified as a witness in a criminal investigation, Gudkov was given a summons to an interrogation at the Main Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee’s Moscow office on Thursday morning. Navalny’s colleague Leonid Volkov reported that, after his home was searched, Zhdanov was taken immediately to the Main Investigative Department.

gudkovPolice searching Dmitry Gudkov’s apartment. Courtesy of Dmitry Gudkov’s Telegram channel and Vedomosti

FBK lawyer Lyubov Sobol, municipal district council member Yulia Galyamina, and ex-MP Gennady Gudkov have also been summoned to interrogations on Thursday morning.

“Would that they went after criminals this way. They are just scumbags!” Gudkov, Sr., wrote in an emotional post on his Twitter page after receiving a phone call from an Investigative Committee investigator.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Main Investigative Committee reported it had launched a criminal investigation into the protest rally that was held outside the Moscow City Elections Commission on July 14 by opposition candidates to the Moscow City Duma under Article 141 of the Russian Criminal Code, which criminalizes the “obstruction of voting rights or the work of electoral commissions.” In July 2019,  the Main Investigative Office writes, members of a particular movement organized illegal and unauthorized rallies and pickets outside the Moscow City Elections Commission in order to exert pressure on members of the election commissions and obstruct their work. People who attended the rallies threatened election commissions members with violence, the Main Investigative Offices reports. It did not specify which part of Article 141, in its view, had been violated. It could choose to indict people under Article 141.2, which carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison.

The protests out the Moscow City Elections Commission were sparked when district election commissions found flaws, allegedly, in the signature sheets of people intending to run as independent candidates in the September 8 elections to the Moscow City Duma. The flawed signature sheets, allegedly, disqualified them as candidates, and the local election commissions refused to register them. Among the disqualified candidates were municipal district council members Ilya Yashin, Konstantin Yankauksas, Anastasia Bryukhanova, Galyamina, and Dmitry Gudkov; Navalny’s colleagues Sobol and Zhdanov; and Yabloko Party members Elena Rusakova, Kirill Goncharov, and Sergei Mitrokhin.

All last week, the opposition kept up its protests, which had not been vetted by the mayor’s office, on Trubnaya Square. On Saturday, an estimated 22,500 people attended an authorized protest rally on Sakharov Avenue. During the rally, Navalny told the crowd that if all the independent candidates were not registered in the coming week, people should go to the mayor’s office on July 27.

On Wednesday afternoon, opposition politicians told Vedomosti they were prepared to rally outside the mayor’s office on Saturday.

“The criminal investigation is obviously an attempt to intimidate us. We want to run in the elections, but they refuse to put us on the ballot. Now they say they have launched a criminal investigation. We will keep defending our rights,” said Yashin.

Galyamina also believes the authorities are trying to intimidate the opposition.

“On July 14, [Moscow City Elections Commission chair Valentin] Gorbunov was at his dacha, and the commission was closed for business. It is unclear whose work we could have obstructed,” she said.

Gorbunov told Vedomosti that he was not at the commission’s offices on July 14, but that during election campaigns the commission’s working groups and members work weekends as well.

“Time is short and we have to wind things up,” he said.

Gorbunov learned about the criminal investigation from the press. He had no idea who had filed the complaint.

“I believe people need to act within the law. [Central Elections Commission chair Ella] Pamfilova said that rallies were not a form of political campaigning, that people had to work within the bounds of the law. I can only say that the rally outside the Moscow City Elections Commission was not authorized, but it is up to law enforcement agencies to comment on criminal liability for what happened,” he said.

However, on July 14, Gorbunov had told Vedomosti the commission was closed on Sundays.

“They [the opposition] might as well have gone to some factory that was closed on Sunday,” he said then.

The criminal investigation is probably meant by the security forces as a way to intimidate protesters, argues a person close to the mayor’s office. This source said it was clear police would detain people who attempted to attend an unauthorized rally on July 27.

According to court statistics, people have been charged and convicted of violating Article 141 extremely rarely. In the last ten years, the most “fruitful” years were 2009 and 2011, when fifteen and eleven people, respectively, were charged and convicted of violating the article.

In 2009, six people were indicted under Article 141 due to numerous abuses in the mayoral election in Derbent. In 2011, Andrei Ruchkin, head of the Engels District in Saratov Region, was charged under Article 141.3 for meddling with the work of the local election commission. In 2018, members of the Yabloko Party in Pskov were charged under Article 141 for encouraging voters to spoil their ballots in the gubernatorial election, but the charges were dropped for lack of evidence.

Criminal Code Article 141 is peculiar it is mainly employees of the executive branch who obstruct the exercise of voting rights and the work of election commissions, but they are almost never charged with violating the law, explains Andrei Buzin, co-chair of Golos, a Russian NGO that defends voting rights and monitors elections.

“It was not considered kosher to file criminal charges, and so several years ago a similar article was inserted into the Administrative Violations Code. Several election observers were charged under this law,” he said.

Buzin argues that the situation has been turned upside down.

“The protesters were defending voting rights, so it would truer to say that it has been the election commissions that have been obstructing citizens,” he said.

“There is almost no case law for Article 141. It is hard to say who could be charged with violating the law. We have had no experience with it,” said Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group. “There was an incident in the Moscow Region. Candidates were assaulted, but we were not able to get criminal charges filed.”

Now the article was being used to punish political “crimes,” he argued.

“It is a variation of the Bolotnaya Square case of 2012, only somewhat lighter. The defendants in that case were charged with rioting,” he said.

Chikov added that we should probably expect more arrests in the wake of the searches.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Ivan Ovsyannikov: How Russia’s New Laws on Disrespecting the Authorities and Fake News Will Play Out

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Russia: How Will the Laws on Disrespecting the Authorities and Fake News Play Out?
Ivan Ovsyannikov
Eurasianet
March 26, 2019

Six months after easing punishments for speaking out on the internet, Vladimir Putin has signed laws that would restrict freedom of speech in Russia, argue civil rights activists.

People who are deemed to have disrespectfully criticized the Russian authorities and disseminated fake news face blocked websites and stiff fines.

The new laws do not explain how to distinguish ordinary criticism of the authorities from disrespectful criticism, and fake news from honest mistakes or the truth, in cases in which the authorities have decided to declare it fake. Defining disrespect and unreliable information has been left to the discretion of the authorities.

How the New Laws Are Worded
According to Russian Federal Law No. FZ-30 and Russian Federal Law No. FZ-31, which have amended the previous law “On Information, Information Technology, and Information Security” (Russian Federal Law No. FZ-149, dated July 27, 2006), people who disseminate “unreliable socially significant information in the guise of reliable news” could be fined, under the corresponding amendments to the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code, between 30,000 rubles and one million rubles, while people who voice their “flagrant disrespect” for society, the state, its authorities, and its symbols “improperly” could be fined between 30,000 rubles and 300,000 rubles.

On March 18, 2019, Putin signed the corresponding law bills, as previously passed by the State Duma and the Federation Council, into law.

Russia’s federal communications watchdog Roskomnadzor now has the power to restrict access to a website that has published “false” or “disrespectful” claims, according to law enforcement agencies, without a court’s sanction.

Both law bills were tabled in the Russian parliament by Andrei Klishas, who formally represents Krasnoyarsk Territory in the Federation Council, the parliament’s nominal upper house. Klishas had previously coauthored law bills on making the Runet autonomous, on stiffening punishments for advocating separatism, on breaking rules for holding political rallies, on desecrating the national anthem, and on declaring media outlets “foreign agents.”

klishasAndrei Klishas, a member of the Russian Federation Council for Krasnoyarsk Territory. Photo courtesy of Ilya Pitalev/RIA Novosti and RBC

The Russian Government Will Be Able to Pinpoint and Block Bad News
Despite the prohibitive bent of MP Klishas’s lawmaking, he heads United Russia’s “liberal platform,” stressing that his law bills are not attempted crackdowns. When discussing the law criminalizing disrespect for the state and society, Klishas pointed to European precedents.

“The rules existing in Europe say you can criticize the authorities as much as you like and demand their resignation. […] But when you communicate with the authorities, you should show respect, because they did not appear out of the blue. They are the outcome of people’s choices,” Klishas told Znak.com in an interview published in February 2019.*

As for the law on so-called fake news, MP Klishas stressed only people who distributed knowingly false information that engendered panic and endangered society had to fear prosecution, not reporters and bloggers who made honest mistakes, he told the website.

Klishas’s stance is not shared by the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, which described his law bills as unacceptable, anti-constitutional, and a threat to the public.

“The way in which these innumerable, insane law bills are tabled reveals a simple desire to curry favor with the regime. They generate a sense of legal uncertainty. First, swearing was criminalized. Then ‘extremism’ and ‘foreign agents’ were targeted. Now fake news and ‘disrespect for the authorities’ have been added to the list. Give the well-known practice of selectively charging and convicting people for these crimes, no one knows what might get them in trouble,” says journalist and presidential human rights council member Leonid Nikitinsky.

The law on fake news does not stipulate how real news should be differentiated from counterfeits, which makes the law a bogeyman, argues Nikitinsky. The authorities can use it to trip up undesirable journalists and silence unwanted news.

Nikitinsky notes that, while Russian state propaganda is chockablock with fake news, it is is independent media that are primarily at risk of being penalized for violating the new law.

New Prohibitions Make Up for Easing of Old Bans
Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group, argues the penalties for disrespecting the authorities and fake news are meant to compensate for the partial decriminalization, in November of last year, of “extremist” statements published on the internet.

After first-time convictions for public incitement to hatred or enmity (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1) were reclassified as administrative offenses, Russian police lost part of their workload. Under the so-called quota system, in which law enforcers are evaluated according to the number of crimes they have solved, the introduction of new offenses in the Administrative Offenses Code can generate new possibilities for fudging the statistics on cleared cases and conviction rates.

On the other hand, the amended law appears “liberal” only when compared with its earlier redaction, which stipulated a maximum of five years in prison for careless statements on the internet.

Improper Does Not Mean “Obscene”
If the law against fake news would probably be applied selectively, administrative charges of disrespect for the authorities and society could be a large-scale phenomenon within a few years, argues Alexander Verkhovsky, head of the SOVA Information and Analysis Center.

“People are punished five times more often under the ‘anti-extremism’ articles in the Administrative Offenses Code than under the corresponding articles in the Criminal Code. The partial decriminalization of Criminal Code Article 282 shifts the proportion even more heavily toward administrative punishments. The introduction of new articles in the Administrative Offenses Code means there will be fewer criminal prosecutions and many more administrative prosecutions,” Verkhovsky predicts.

Last year’s easing of anti-extremist laws was justified by the fact that the mechanical application of Article 282 had produced a proliferation of inmates who had no relation to extremist groups. The administrative prosecution of “disrespect for the authorities” could also balloon into a crackdown against rank-and-file Russians.

“It is difficult to predict the extent to which such cases will be politically motivated,” says Verkhovsky.

Prosecuting people of disrespect for the authorities is complicated by the lack of clarity over what can be said and what cannot. According to Roskomnadzor’s official clarification, which was not issued in connection with the new law, “four well-known words (kh.., p…., e…., and b….), as well as the words and expressions derived from them,” are considered obscene.**

Verkhovsky stresses, however, that improper does not mean obscene. The new law does not define what it means by “improperly.”

Nikitinsky agrees.

“You can arbitrarily call anything improper,” he says.

The Authorities Are More Sensitive to Criticism 
According to Chikov, the passage of Klishas’s law bills is the regime’s knee-jerk reaction to its dwindling popularity. After the pension reform of summer and autumn 2018, the ratings of Russia’s supreme executive and legislative authorities took a severe hit. Also, according to a poll done by VTsIOM, a year after the last presidential election, in March 2018, Putin is trusted by 33.4% of Russians, a drop of 21.9% from March 2018.

For example, in March 2018, a court in Naberezhnye Chelny sentenced activist Karim Yamadayev to twenty-eight days in jail for erecting a fake headstone for President Putin by way protesting the law bill that would create a “sovereign” Runet, if passed into law.

putin doa“Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, 1952–2019.” Image courtesy of BBC Russian Service

In summer of 2018, Petersburg activist Varya Mikhaylova was fined 160,000 rubles for publicly displaying the picture 9 Stages of the Supreme Leader’s Decomposition, which also depicts Putin, during the city’s annual May Day march. Despite the fact the march itself was legal, the picture had not been vetted by the police. As Mikhaylova admits, she was completely surprised when she was detained, since she has a poor sense of the line between what is acceptable and what is forbidden.

The Kremlin is likely to use the new laws to crack down on its most audacious critics.

varyaVarya Mikhaylova (center, with megaphone), carrying {rodina}’s 9 Stages of the Supreme Leader’s Decomposition as she marched with the Party of the Dead bloc in last year’s May Day demo in Petersburg. Photo by Elena Lukyanova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

_________________________

* Members of the Federation Council are not “chosen by people” in the sense of free and fair elections, but appointed by President Putin via highly stage-managed “elections” in the legislatures and parliaments of the Russian regions they only nominally represent. Aided and abetted by lazy journalists and political spin doctors, the thoroughly non-elected members of the Federation Council, whose only function is to rubber-stamp destructive law bills like the two described in the article, have taken to calling themselves “senators” in recent years, although Russia has no senate or senators. TRR

** I.e., khui (“dick”), pizda (“cunt”), ebat‘ (“fuck”), bliad‘ (“bitch”), all of which are indeed incredibly productive roots in colloquial Russian. TRR

Ivan Ovsyannikov is a member of the Russian Socialist Movement (RSD) and a trade union organizer. Lead photo and translation by the Russian Reader. All other photos featured in the translation were selected by me and were not included in the original article, as published on Eurasianet.

Everyone Wants to Like and Be Liked

Mail.ru Group Speaks Out against Punishments for Likes and Reposts
Company Proposes Changing the Law and Law Enforcement Practice
Olga Churakova and Yekaterina Bryzgalova
Vedomosti
August 6, 2018

Mail.ru Group не раз критиковала громкие законодательные инициативы, касающиеся интернетаMail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile law bills and laws affecting the internet. Photo by Yevgeny Yegorov. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Mail.ru Group, which owns the largest social networks in Russia, VK and Odnoklassniki [“Classmates”], has harshly condemned the practice of filing criminal charges against social media users for likes and reposts on social networks.

“Often the actions of law enforcement authorities have been clearly disproportionate to the potential danger, and their reaction to comments and memes in news feeds are inordinately severe,” reads a statement on the company’s website. “We are convinced laws and law enforcement practices must be changed. We believe it necessary to grant amnesty to people who have been wrongly convicted and decriminalize such cases in the future.”

Recently, the number of convictions for posts and reposts on social networks has reached a critical mass, explained a Mail.ru Group employee. Most of the convicitions are not only unjust but also absurd. He would not explain what specific corrections the company was going to propose.

“We believe current laws need to be adjusted, and we are going to make pertinent proposals,” VK’s press service told Vedomosti.

Mail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile laws and law bills affecting the internet. In 2013, for example, the company opposed an anti-piracy law. In 2015, it teamed up with Yandex to criticize the “right to be forgotten” law. In 2016, it opposed a law bill that proposed regulating messengers and search engines.  But punishing people for likes and reposts has become a political issue. Members of the opposition and social activists have often been the victims of Criminal Code Article 282, amended in 2014 to allow prosecution of people for incitment to hatred or enmity while using the internet.

Communist Party MP Sergei Shargunov addressed the problem during the President’s Direct Line in June of this year.

“If Article 282 were taken literally, certain zealots would have to convict Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Mayakovsky, and have their works removed,” he said.

Putin agreed it was wrong to reduce such cases to absurdity. Subsequently, he tasked the Russian People’s Front (ONF) and the Prosecutor General’s Office with analyzing how the notions of “extremist community” and “extremist crime” were employed practically in law enforcement.

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“Prosecutions for Incitement to Enmity (Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1) in Russia. Numbers of People Convicted, 2009–2017. Source: Trials Department, Russian Supreme Court.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

An Agenda for the Autumn
On June 25, Shargunov and Alexei Zhuravlyov, leader of the Rodina [“Motherland”] party, tabled draft amendments in the Duma that would decriminalize “extremist” likes and reposts. The MPs proposed transferring the violation described in Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1 to the Administrative Offenses Code, where infractions would be punishable by a fine of up to 20,000 rubles or 15 days in jail, while leaving only Part 2 of Article 282 in the Criminal Code. Part 2 stipulates a punishment of up to six years in prison for the same actions when they are committed with violence, by a public official or by an organized group. The government, the Supreme Court, and the State Duma’s legal department gave the draft amendments negative reviews, pointing out that the grounds for adopting them were insufficient. A spokesman for Pavel Krasheninnikov, chair of the Duma’s Committee on Legislation, informed us the committee would start working on the amendments when MPs returned from summer recess.

The ONF, which held a meeting of experts in July, has begun drafting a report for the president. The legal community, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry, telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Supreme Court must send their proposals to the Kremlin’s control directorate before September 15.

Leonid Levin, chair of the State Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, agreed there was a problem.

“The law is repressive, and there is no misdemeanor offense, although the Supreme Court issued an opinion that different cases should not be treated identically,” he said.

While there has been no lack of proposals, no one is in a hurry to abolish the law completely. A source in the Kremlin said dissemination of prohibited information should be punished. But a way of relaxing the law must be devised and, most important, a means of avoiding random convictions, he added.

A Demand for Liberalization
Recently, VK had been under pressure from the public due to the huge number of criminal prosecutions for posting pictures and reposts, said Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group. He argued the statement issued by Mail.ru Group was an attempt to defend the company’s reputation. According to the so-called Yarovaya package of amendments and laws, since January 1, 2018, VK has been obliged to provide law enforcement agencies with information about its users upon request, but the question of the legality of providing information having to do with people’s private lives remains open, since under Russian law a court order is required for this, Chikov noted.

Political scientist Abbas Gallyamov argued political decentralization and moderate opposition were now fashionable.

“Even the most cautious players sense the dictates of the age and have been trying to expand the space of freedom. Mail.ru Group is trying to be trendy,” he said.

Gallyamov predicted that, as the regime’s popularity ratings decline, the screws would be loosened, and the number of people advocating liberalization would grow.

Part of the political elite realizes many things have gone askew, agreed political scientist Alexander Kynev. A number of people hoped the circumstances could be exploited to push the idea of moderate liberalization. This could be a way of showing the regime was ready to talk, he argued.

“A lot will depend on what the autumn brings, on the results of regional elections. Now it would appear to be a topic that is up for discussion, but there are no guarantees. There are people in the government interested in having the topic discussed, but this doesn’t mean a decision has been taken,” Kynev said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Search and Intimidate

“Court approval of search warrant requests, 2007–first quarter of 2017. Red=number of warrant requests; gray=warrants issues. || In the past 11 years, Russian courts have approved, on average, 96.3% of search warrant requests. 67% of the requests concerned searches of private premises as part of surveillance operations, while 33% of searches were part of specific criminal investigations. ||Numbers and kinds of intimidation during so-called political searches (based on an analysis of 600 searches conducted in the homes of grassroots activists and members of persecuted organizations): violence, threats – 97; breaking down doors, forced entry through windows – 70; search performed at early hour of the day – 63; search conducted at homes of relatives – 47. Sources: International Agora and Russian Supreme Court Judicial Department.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

How Police Searches Have Become Tools of Political Intimidation
Agora International Says Privacy in Russia Has Nearly Vanished
Anastasiya Kornya
Vedomosti
March 29, 2018

Over the past ten and a half years, Russia courts have issued law enforcement agencies 1,976,201 warrants to search or investigate private premises. This number constitutes 96.32% of all such requests, according to calculations made by analysts at the Agora International Human Rights Group, which on Thursday will release a report entitled “Politically Motivated Police Searches: The Specter of Inviolability.” Often police investigators manage to obtain search warrants after the fact. During the period, the number of requests for search warrants has increased by nearly fifty percent. With respect to Russia’s 54 million households, this means that, over the last ten years, every twenty-seventh home in Russia has been searched.

The report’s authors note this is only the tip of the iceberg. Searches and inspections of non-residential premises, such as offices, warehouses, etc., do not require court warrants, and data on the number of such incursions has not been published by anyone.

The exception to this rule are law offices. Since April 2017, they have enjoyed greater formal protection than the residences of ordinary citizens. Law offices cannot be searched without a court order, and a representative of the regional bar association must be present during the search. Andrei Suchkov, vice-president of the Federal Bar Association, says they have not specially kept track of the statistics, but his sense is the number of searches in law offices has decreased during this time. There have been cases when police investigators tried to carry out searches without permission, but the courts have nevertheless mainly sided with lawyers, he notes.

Agora’s report reminds its readers that, in the early 1990s, the term “mask show,” meaning a police search carried out with backup from masked and armed special forces soldiers, came into common usage. Such searches were an effective means of coercing business partners and business rivals alike. Subsequently, the tool came to be used against the regime’s political opponents.

Recently, the practice of “serial” searches has been widespread. Thus, according to Leonid Volkov, head of Alexei Navalny’s presidential election campaign, police have raided the offices of the Anti-Corruption Foundation and Navalny’s regional campaign offices no less than 150 times. Police have raided the offices of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia around fifty times over three years. Agrora’s analysts note the most frequent targets of large-scale, systematic searches have been members of opposition organizations and Crimean Tatars.

Another goal of police searches is the confiscation of electronic devices and subsequent unauthorized access to personal data, correspondence, and social media accounts. For example, during a June 2012 search of Alexei Navalny’s home, police seized a laptop, tablet computers, and mobile phone. Two weeks later, Navalny’s email and Twitter account were hacked.

In recent years, as Agora’s report underscores, police searches have been a vital element of campaigns against not only political opponents but also government officials. State-controlled national TV channels extensively covered searches in the homes of ex-regional governors Alexander Khoroshavin and Vyacheslav Gayzer, Federal Customs Service chief Andrei Belyaninov, and members of the Dagestani government.

Pavel Chikov, head of Agora, says they took an interest in the numbers of police searches after analyzing the state of privacy of correspondence and telephone conversations. If we recall that, on average, the courts have approved 98.35% of wiretapping warrants, we must admit judicial oversight in this area is illusory, and there is no privacy in Russia, claims Chikov.

Expanding the remit of law enforcement agencies to ever broader areas of daily life has transformed searches from investigative tools to signals broadcast by the regime and received by everyone involved in politics, government, and business, concurs political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov.

“What matters nowadays is not the outcome, but the search per se. We have been seeing an increased number of searches whose point is just that,” says Vinogradov.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Getting (No) Satisfaction

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“How the European Court of Human Rights Did in 2017.” Romania, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Hungary, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, and Poland were the the leaders in terms of numbers of complaints the ECHR agreed to consider further, while Russia was number one in terms of rulings made against it. Among the most complaints from Russia were cases involving the right to liberty and security, the right to be protected from inhumane, humiliating treatment, the right to effective medical treatment, to right to a fair trial, and property rights. Source: ECHR. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Russia Leads in the Number of Human Rights Violations Confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights 
This Is Due to the Ineffectiveness of Russia’s Courts, One Expert Argues 
Anastasia Kornya
Vedomosti
January 26, 2018

Russia ranks second among Council of Europe member countries in numbers of complaints made to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and ranks first in number of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, according to a report on the court’s work in 2017, presented on Thursday by ECHR President Guido Raimondi. Last year, the ECHR rendered a total of 1,068 decisions: 305 of these decisions, or 29%, concerned complaints from Russia. In 293 of these cases, the court ruled that at least one article of the human rights convention had been violated. As of January 1, 2018, 7,747 cases from Russia were in proceedings at the ECHR. Only Romania has supplied the court with more cases: 9,920. In 2017, the 49% of complaints filed against Russia and deemed worthy of consideration amounted to nearly half of all cases accepted by the court for further review.

Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group, draws attention to the nature of the cases Russia has lost. They account for 66% of all of the ECHR’s rulings on the right to life, half of its rulings on torture, inhumane treatment or ineffective investigation of complaints of torture and inhumane treatment, and half of all rulings on the lack of “effective legal recourse” and groundless arrests. Finally, Russian plaintiffs won 38% of all cases involving the right to property. Chikov notes that not only has the number of rulings against Russia increased (by a third: from 222 to 305), but the number of complaints filed in Strasbourg has also experienced a sharp upturn. Chikov explains this both in technical terms (the ECHR has taken care of its backlog of cases and accelerated its document review process) and as due to the worsening overall human rights situation in Russia. The ineffectiveness of the country’s own tools for defending people’s rights has led to Russia’s becoming the most problematic country in Europe in this sense.

Russia consistently fulfills its international obligations, including implementing ECHR rulings, although some of them are flagrantly politicized, objects Andrei Klishas chair of the Federation Council Committee on Nation Building. Lately, there has been a tendency to endow the ECHR with the powers of a supranational body, but Russia acknowledges its powers only as an optional mechanism for protecting rights [sic]. National bodies remain the main mechanisms, including the Russian Constitutional Court, Klishas underscores.

The overall circumstances surrounding Russian cases in the ECHR is workaday: nothing overly worrisome has happened, argues Yuri Berestnev, editor in chief of the Bulletin of the European Court of Human Rights (in Russian). According to Berestnev, the growth of rulings in cases against Russia was to be expected, and the cause is purely technical. For three years, the court was completely focused on weeding out flagrantly unacceptable complaints from Russia. The Russian Justice Ministry dispatched a group of twenty Russian attorneys to help the ECHR clear up the logjam by filtering out several tens of thousands of complaints. [Sic!] The remaining complaints have good prospects. In late 2017, the court had accepted 3,000 complaints from Russia for further review, so the number of rulings went up from last year, explains Berestnev. He likewise notes that, in the autumn, the ECHR closed proceedings in 12,000 complaints from Ukraine, pointing out that the systematic problem of the non-fulfillment of decisions by national courts, due to the lack of financial means on the part of member states, should be discussed further by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. Russia has successfully managed to deal with the same problem, recalls Berestnev.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Opposition Leader Navalny Targets Kremlin in European Court
The Associated Press
January 24, 2018

STRASBOURG, France — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Wednesday appeared at a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights into whether Russian authorities violated his rights through numerous arrests.

The court ruled last year that seven of those arrests were unlawful and ordered Russia to pay 63,000 euros (about $67,000) in compensation, but the Russian government appealed.

Proving that Russian authorities had political motives in arresting him and not allowing his rallies to go ahead would set an important precedent for activists across Russia, Navalny told reporters outside the courtroom in the French city of Strasbourg Wednesday.

“This case is important not only for me but also for other people in Russia, especially in the regions because they are stripped of the freedom of assembly,” he said. “If the European Court for Human Rights sees political motives in those cases—and I think we have presented enough evidence for this today—it will make an important precedent in Russia.”

A final ruling is expected at a later date.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most serious political foe, Navalny wants to mount a boycott of the March presidential elections after he was barred from running.

Navalny has faced fraud charges viewed as political retribution for investigating corruption and leading protests. A Moscow court this week ordered the closure of a foundation that he used for his failed election campaign.

Navalny mounted a sprawling grassroots presidential campaign before he was officially barred from running in December. Navalny’s boycott campaign might cut the voter turnout, which would be an embarrassment for the Kremlin.

Russia’s Bright Future (Putin 4.0)

Member of HRC Describes Putin’s New Term: Everything under the Sun Will Be Banned
Alexei Obukhov
Moskovsky Komsomolets
October 10, 2017

Pavel Chikov argues Russia will become isolated internationally, and federalism and regional economies will be jettisoned.

Pavel Chikov, member of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, has forecast what politics in Russia will be like if Vladimir Putin is re-elected to another term. According to Chikov, the situation in the country will deteriorate rapidly, and more and more areas of public life will be off limits.

1a1bb3f8a345889fc79a754c4ae35c6dPavel Chikov. Photo courtesy of Facebook/MK

Foreign mass media will be the first to be banned. This has been borne out, says the human rights activist, by the threat to shutter Radio Svoboda, which the media outlet received from the Justice Ministry last Monday.

Following the media, “the political arena will be mopped up: the current persecution of Alexei Navalny’s employees and Open Russia’s employees is a harbinger of this.”

In Chikov’s opinion, the country will also be stripped of religious freedom, as witnessed by “the huge criminal cases against and expulsion from the country” of members of various non-traditional religious movements, from Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have been declared “extremist” banned in the Russian Federation, to supporters of non-mainstream Buddhist and Muslim groups.

These measures, writes the human rights activist on his Telegram channel, will be paralleled by Russia’s renunciation of its international commitments. It will exit the Council of Europe and end its cooperation with the European Court of Human Rights. (Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the Federation Council, said yesterday this was a probable scenario.) Russian’s relations with many European countries, from the Baltic states to Germany, will deteriorate, and their embassies will be closed. Restrictions will be placed on Russian nationals traveling outside the country, and the practice of stripping refugees and asylum seekers of their Russian citizenship and confiscating their property will be broadened.

Meanwhile, Russia will succeed in isolating its segment of the Internet and instituting a Chinese-style firewall to censor content.

Finally, Chikov writes, the country’s economy and domestic politics will deteriorate. The regions will lose the last remnants of their autonomy (Chikhov cites Vladimir Vasilyev’s  recent appointment as acting head of Dagestan, although the United Russia MP has no experience in the republic), and the assets the regions have left will be placed under the control of Putin’s inner circle.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Vasily Zharkov for the heads-up