Russia without Putin

1211505Vladimir Putin playing hockey Moscow’s Red Square on December 29, 2018. Photo courtesy of Valery Sharufulin/TASS and RA’s Daily News Blast

Yana Teplitskaya
Facebook
December 27, 2018

Police officers usually realize that, whatever they do, they are breaking the law or disobeying standing orders, and since they are afraid of being found out, they definitely don’t talk to the press. Here we have a different story, which I don’t know how to explain. Petersburg opposition activists are well aware of a police officer from the “Third Department” by the name of Ruslan Sentemov, while other people have not heard of him, likely as not. For some reason, Sentemov operates quite openly, going so far as to give the local news website Fontanka.ru a detailed interview about his work.

I don’t knowwhat happened to Petersburg opposition activist Shakhnaz Shitik at the Yabloko Party’s Petersburg office, but this is what happened at the police precinct, as related by Shakhnaz. It has been corroborated by one police officer, nor has it been refuted by the other officers who were present. According to the shift commander, during the incident, all or nearly all the officers at the 78th Police Precinct were in the duty room and were separated from the incident by a glass door. I also understand that Shakhnaz’s account is borne out by the videotape that civil rights activist Dinar Idrisov and Petersburg city councilman Boris Vishnevsky have seen.

Sentemov and two of his colleagues (their names are also known) used force on Shakhnaz. They pressed her head hard to her chest, causing her agonizing pain. Consequently, in the incident report, according to the social defender, in addition to the injuries she suffered at the Yabloko office, damage to her cervical vertebrae was caused at the police station.

Moreover, the officers grabbed Shakhnaz’s telephone by sticking their hands down her painties. No public witnesses or female police officers were present during this search, nor was an incident report filed. Taken from her but not officially confiscated, her telephone lay in the police department, along with her blouse and other clothing, prior to the Public Monitoring Commission’s visit. During the incident, Shakhnaz was wearing a bra. The blouse was returned to her only at the hospital.

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Concerning the sadistic tendencies of our police investigators and judges, I would argue this is an allegory, artistic embellishment. Otherwise, what kind of judicial system do we have? These were your words: judicial system. The system includes the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court. Are they sadists, too? We should choose our words more carefully. I realize you wanted to rouse us, you wanted to get our attention. You did what you set out to do. Thank you.

The courts and law enforcement agencies are staffed by our fellow Russian citizens. They live in the places we live. They [were] raised in the same families in which we were raised. They are part of our society. There are probably all kinds of different people everywhere, in all large organizations. If you have a look at the percentage of law enforcement officers convicted of crimes, it has recently increased, and increased considerably.

This suggests the work of housecleaning has not stood still. It has intensified and produced certain results. In order to minimize this, however, we do not need trepressive actions against the justice or judicial system. We need serious, multi-pronged, multi-facted work. That is what we have been trying to do on this Council.

Source: Vladimir Putin, Meeting of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, The Kremlin, Moscow, December 11, 2018. Thanks to Yevgenia Litvinova for the heads-up.

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Open Russia Activist Whom Police Assaulted in October Detained in Lipetsk
OVD Info
December 12, 2018

Alexander Kiselevich, the Open Russia activist assaulted by four police officers in October, has been detained in Lipetsk. He has reported the incident to OVD Info.

Kiselevich was stopped near his home by traffic police. After checking his papers, they asked Kiselevich to follow them to the Izmalkovo District Police Department, where he was charged with breaking Article 19.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code (disobeying a police officer’s lawful orders). The policemen told Kiselevich he would be taken to court from the police station.

In October, on the eve of an election to choose the head of the Izmalkovo District Council, Kiselevich was beaten by police officers before being taken to a psychiatric hospital for a compulsory examination. Kiselevich was thus unable to present himself to the competition committee, and his name was struck from the ballot

Kiselevich was charged with breaking Article 19.3 after the incident in October. The police claimed Kiselevich resisted them when they were forcibly delivering him to the psychiatric hospital.

Kiselevich is a well-known opposition activist in Lipetsk Region. In 2016, he was elected head of the Afanasyevo Village Council, but shortly thereafter the majority of council members voted to dismiss him. Kiselevich was charged with embezzlement (Article 160 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code).

UPDATE. Kiselevich has reported to MBKh Media that a court in Lipetsk has found him guilt of disobeying a policeman’s lawful orders and fined him 500 rubles. Kiselevich plans to appeal the sentence.

Translated by the Russian Reader

One Good Turn Deserves Another

Media Identify Prigozhin Firms as Developers of Judicial Quarter in Petersburg
According to Kommersant, Firms Affiliated with Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin and Concord Management and Consulting Are Project Subcontractors
Grigory Dubov
RBC
December 26, 2018

755458040463897Judicial district construction site in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Stanislav Zaburdayev/TASS and RBC

Firms affiliated with businessman and restaurateur Yevgeny Prigozhin will build the judicial quarter in Petersburg, a project costing 35.7 billion rubles [approx. 455 million euros] that will include residential buildings for the Russian Supreme Court and Boris Eifman’s Dance Palace, report sources quoted by Kommersant newspaper familiar with the project, which has been designed by the Russian Presidential Property Management Department and construction industry insiders.

The sources say the subcontractor was selected in the summer of 2018 without tendering. The newspaper’s sources claim firms affiliated with Prigozhin have launched the process of awarding commercial tenders and have been requesting bids from major construction companies for the construction of individual buildings without advance payment. One of the Prigozhin-affiliated companies engaged in sending out bid and tender requests is Lizena, a firm founded in 2014.

In 2016, the Russian Presidential Property Management Department pledged it would build two office buildings for the Supreme Court and Judicial Department, the Dance Palance, and four residential buildings containing a total of 600 apartments within four years in Petersburg. Construction was supposed to have begun in 2017, and the opening of the facility was scheduled for 2020. In May 2017, the Presidential Property Management Department declared the project top secret and obliged future contractors to maintain secrecy.

judicial quarterThe future judicial quarter in Petersburg is currently a giant sandbox. Photo courtesy of Alexander Koryakov/Kommersant

Construction was not begun, however. In September 2018, the Presidential Property Management Department acknowledged the deadlines it had set would be missed. As Kommersant wrote, the department failed to spend the 22.3 billion rubles allocated on the project. The funds were reallocated for 2021, when completion of construction has been planned. As transpired in December, an advance payment in the amount of more then 9.2 billion rubles was postponed from 2018 to 2021; no advances are envisaged in 2019 and 2020. As of December 1, according to the Federal Targeted Investment Program, builders in Petersburg had started to dig foundation pits for the residential complex. There was no information about the Supreme Court’s residence and the Dance Palace.

In March, the US Department of Justice imposed sanctions against Prigozhin and his companies Concord Management and Consulting, and Concord Catering. In February, Prigozhin and twelve other Russian nationals, as well as a number of legal entities, were indicted for interfering in the 2016 US elections. Included in the indictment was Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency, which was abolished [sic] in 2016. RBC’s sources identified the IRA as the “troll factory” that, according to the US Department of Justice, had tried to influence US voters since 2014. President Putin called the charges made against Prigozhin by US officials “laughable.”

prigozhinYevgeny Prigozhin. Photo courtesy of Mikhail Metzel/TASS and RBC

A number of media outlets have also identified Prigozhin as “Putin’s chef.”

At his press conference on December 20, Putin said, “All my chefs are officers of the Federal Protection Service (FSO). All of them are military men. I have no other chefs.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Judgement Day”: Russia’s Rabid Crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses

yuri zalipayevIs Russian Jehovah’s Witness Yuri Zalipayev an “extremist”? Should he be imprisoned for five years for exercising his right to freedom of conscience, as guaranteed by the Russian Constitution? Photo courtesy of jw-russia.org

Not Everyone Shall Be Guaranteed the Freedom of Conscience: How Russia Has Been Persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses
Marina Muratova
OVD Info
August 23, 2018

Believe what you will, but do not do it openly is how the freedom of religion should now be interpreted in Russia. The authorities have sent over fifty people to court for praying and reading the Bible together. Jehovah’s Witnesses have had their homes searched and been arrested like people suspected of grave offenses. The grounds for these actions is the argument that the practice of their faith is a “continuation of the activities of an extremist organization.” OVD Info investigated the charges.

Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with others any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views, and act according to them.
—Article 28, Constitution of the Russian Federation

Russia vs. the Jehovah’s Witnesses
23 criminal cases in 18 regions of Russia, 53 people charged, 13 suspects. 31 people released on their own recognizance, 9 people under house arrest, 26 people in remand prisons. Several people assaulted by police during searches of their homes, the doors of those homes kicked down in nearly all cases. Nighttime interrogations, confiscated electronic devices, papers, and money, blocked bank accounts.

On April 20, 2017,  the Russian Supreme Court shut down the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia for violating the law against “extremism.” All 395 official chapters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia were banned. The EU’s mission to Russia said the ruling could lead to arrests. That is what has happened.

The Charges
Believers gather to pray and read the Bible, meaning they continue the work of a banned organization, according to Russian police investigators. There are few exceptions: nearly all the Jehovah’s Witness who have been detained have been charged with violating Russian Criminal Code Article 282.2 (“organization of and involvement in the work of an extremist organization”).

Danish national and Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen was, among other things, charged with financing extremist activities. The prosecutor submitted to the court records,  allegedly showing that money was transferred from the account of the Jehovah’s Witnesses after the church was shut down. It transpired the transactions in question had been executed by the bank itself after the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been dissolved as a legal entity. Another Jehovah’s Witness, Yuri Zalipayev, stands accused of inciting assaults on Russian Orthodox Christians and Muslims. Zalipayev’s defense attorney is sure police investigators cooked up their evidence and then tried to conceal the frame-up.  Arkadya Akopyan, a 70-year-old tailor, has also been charged with insulting Muslims and |Russian Orthodox Christians. There is no audio or video evidence, only a witness’s testimony.

arkadya akopyanIs Russian Jehovah’s Witness Arkadya Akopyan an extremist? Photo by Diana Khachatryan. Courtesy of Takie Dela

Police Searches of Homes
Russian law enforcement authorities usually conduct searches simultaneously in the flats of several Jehovah’s Witnesses early in the morning. Jehovah’s Witness have often reported violations on the part of police during these searches. In the case of the Polyakov family in Omsk, the security services busted down the door to their flat, prevented the Polyakovs from telephoning relatives, and smashed Mr. Polyakov’s face. (Doctors recorded his injuries only two days later.) When the Polyakovs attempted to voice their disagreement with the actions of police  in the official search report, police wrested the form from their grasp.  During searches and interrogations in Penza, a police investigator forced six female Jehovah’s Witness detainees to strip naked.  In Saratov Region, the security forces mistakenly sawed off the door of the wrong flat. In another flat the same day, the police discovered banned literature in the sleeve of a child’s overcoat. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the police planted it there.

In the city of Shuya, Ivanovo Region, police interrogated a 10-year-old girl, and the list of items confiscated during the police search of her family’s flat included sheet music and a pupil’s grade book from a music school. In Kabardino-Balkaria, one group of security officers stormed a flat through the balcony, although the flat’s female occupant had opened the front door to another group of security officers. In Birobidzhan, 150 law enforcement officers took part in numerous searches carried out on the same day: the operation was codenamed “Judgement Day.” Police have seized digital gear, books, Bibles, diaries, photographs, and bank cards during the raids. The raids and subsequent interrogations have lasted several hours.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have not only been detained in their homes. Police caught up with Andrei Stupnikov of Krasnoyarsk at an airport at four in the morning as he and his wife were checking into a flight to Germany. A court later jailed Stupnikov, since he could have received political asylum, as the judge put it. Alexander Solovyov was detained when he stepped off a train after returning to Perm from holiday.

Custodial Measures
Most of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been charged with criminal offenses have been incarcerated in remand prisons.  The defense attorney representing Sergei Klimov of Tomsk told OVD Info that Klimov spent two months in a solitary confinement cell measuring 1.7 meters by 2.8 meters, allegedly, because it was impossible to find room for him in an ordinary cell. On August 8, at an appeals hearing, Klimov was left in police custody, but he was transferred out of solitary into gen pop.

After time spent in remand prisons, several Jehovah’s Witnesses have been released and placed under house arrest. Konstantin Petrov of Magadan spent 64 days in jail, while several Jehovah’s Witnesses in Orenburg spent 78 days in jail each.

Vitaly Arsenyuk, a resident of the town of Dzhankoy in northern Crimea, was charged with engaging in illegal missionary work, a violation of Article 5.25 Part 4 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code. After the first hearing in his case, in June 2017, Arsenyuk died of a heart attack.

Some Jehovah’s Witnesses have spent months in pretrial custody. Danish national Dennis Christensen has spent over a year in a remand prison. No one has yet been sentenced to hard prison time, but the courts have been indulgent to Jehovah’s Witnesses only on rare occassions. In 2017, a court acquitted Vyacheslav Stepanov and Andrei Sivak of Sergiev Posad, who had been charged with inciting hatred or enmity on the strength of a video recording of worship services. In May, an appellate court freed 55-year-old Alam Aliyev. On August 9 and 10, a court in Kamchatka overturned earlier decisions remanding Mikhail Popov in custody and placing his wife Yelena under house arrest.

Community Property
In all regions of Russia, buildings constructed or purchased by Jehovah’s Witnesses have generally been seized and turned over to the state. In Petersburg’s Resort District, the state took possession of a complex valued at around two billion rubles [approx. 25 million euros], a complex from which the authorities had received hefty tax payments for many years. Over the course of seventeen years, state inspectors never found a single violation at the complex, but now the local courts refuse to recognize the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses to the property or the official deeds to the complex.

Reactions
The EU delegation to the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, and human rights activists have spoken out against Russia’s persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Dennis Christensen’s arrest led to the initiation of legal proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. On May 15, 2015, the Kingdom of Denmark was admitted as a third party to the case of Christensen v. Russian Federation.

In response to the complaint filed with the ECHR, Russian envoys at the ECHR and UN claimed Jehovah’s Witnesses still had the right to practice their religion despite the dissolution of their congregations. It was at this same time, in the spring of this year, that the number of arrests of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia went through the roof.

The International Memorial Society has already recognized 29 Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses as political prisoners. A total of fifty Jehovah’s Witnesses have been subjected to persecution by the authorities.

  • Oryol: Dennis Christensen, Sergei Skrynnikov
  • Omsk: Sergei and Anastasia Polyakov
  • Penza: Vladimir Alushkin, Vladimir Kulyasov, Denis Timoshin, Andrei Magliv, and four more unnamed people
  • Tomsk: Sergei Klimov
  • Saratov: Konstantin Bazhenov, Felix Makhammadiyev
  • Village of Shirokoye, Saratov Region: Alexei Budenchuk
  • Magadan: Sergei Yerkin, Yevgeny Zyablov, Konstantin Petrov
  • Khabarovsk: Ivan Puyda, Vladimir Moskalenko
  • Naberezhnye Chelny: Ilkham Karimov, Konstantin Matrashov, Vladimir Myakushin, Aidar Yulmetiev
  • Orenburg: Vladimir Kochnev, Alexander Suvorov, Vyacheslav Kolbanov
  • Polyarny, Murmansk Region: Roman Markin, Viktor Trofimov
  • Shuya, Ivanovo Region, Dmitry and Yelena Mikhaylov, Svetlana Shishina, Alexei A., Svetlana P.
  • Vladivostok: Valentin Osadchuk
  • Nakhodka: Dmitry and Yelena Barmakin
  • Krasnoyarsk: Andrei Stupnikov
  • Perm: Alexander Solovyov
  • Sol-Iletsk, Orenburg Region: Boris Andreyev
  • Village of Perevolotsky, Orenburg Region: Anatoly Vichkitov
  • Kostroma: Sergei and Valeria Rayman
  • Vilyuchinsk, Kamchatka Territory: Mikhail and Yelena Popov
  • Beryozovsky, Keremovo Region: Sergei Britvin, Vadim Levchuk
  • Maysky, Kabardina-Balkaria: Arkadya Akopyan
  • Lensk, Yakutia: Igor  Ivashin
  • Pskov: Gennady Shpakovsky
  • Birobidzhan: Alam Aliyev
  • Yelizovo, Kamchatka Territory: Konstantin Bazhenov
  • Belgorod: Anatoly Shalyapin, Sergei Voykov

This list was supplied to us by the European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses and defense attorney Artur Leontiev.

Freedom of Conscience
OVD Info asked attorney Artur Leontiev, who has been handling the defense of Sergei Klimov and Andrei Stupnikov, as well as the case of the property owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg, to comment on the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“Law enforcement agencies have been criminally prosecuting believers for ordinary, peaceful professions of faith, as when they gather in small groups to read and discuss the Bible, watch videos on biblical topics, and so forth. The security forces got it into their heads that this constituted a continuation of the activities of an organization dissolved by the court. However, the believers who have been charged with these crimes had nothing to do with the legal entities that were dissolved and were not parties to the proceedings in the Russian Supreme Court.

“Believers’ phones were tapped, their letters were vetted, and they were followed. The security service thus amassed a fair amount of operational material. I think the heads of the various agencies decided to use it to improve their conviction rates, all the more so since the peaceable Jehovah’s Witnesses were easy targets. They have always tried to be law-abiding. Even now they do not regard themselves as criminals. They evince no aggression, imagining the injustice that has befallen them is a misunderstanding that will soon be cleared up. Actually, they are faced with a choice: refuse to practice their religion or be prepared to endure all the delights of criminal prosecution. However, the law enforcers doing the dirty work in the locales often understand what is really going on, but they are guided by the principle of ‘I have my orders, and I have a family to feed.’

“The complaint (Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and Kalin v. Russian Federation, Case No. 10188/17) has been filed with the ECHR and accepted for review, the parties have exchanged comments, and the case has been expedited. Complaints have also been filed with the ECHR for each particular instance of criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“It is vital, however, the Russian legal system kicked into gear and operated not on the basis of expediency, but according to the law. Whatever you feel about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they have the same right to their beliefs and the same right to a fair trial as other Russians.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

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

Valery Rashkin: The Return of the Oprichniki

1024px-0NevrevNV_Oprichniki_BISHNikolai Nevrev, Oprichniki, 1870s. Oil on canvas, 102 cm x 152 cm. Courtesy of the Kyrgyz National Museum of Fine Arts. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Pillaging the Opposition
Valery Rashkin
Echo of Moscow
June 21, 2018

The Russian Supreme Court has ruled law enforcement and secret service officers can confiscate without a court order personal property used in the commission of terrorist and “extremist” crimes. The items that can be confiscated include computers, cell phones, and office equipment. This means personal property can be seized without payment of compensation and made the property of the state.

Can you believe it? The times of Ivan the Terrible have resurfaced. Courtesy of the state, Russia’s siloviki have been transformed into oprichniki and robbers. The ruling is completely unlawful, considering what passes for “extremist” crimes. Such criminal cases are usually frame-ups. They are so absurd they make you laugh and shudder at the same time.

The state has mandated law enforcers to hark back to the old system of remuneration (kormlenie, literally, “feeding”): the more “extremism” charges you file, the more iPhones and computers you can get your hands on. It is tantamount to legalized enrichment at the opposition’s expense. Moreover, even if the person who was criminally prosecuted is pardoned, their property will not be returned.

Don’t write nasty things about the regime on the VK social network, my dears, or the regime will fleece the living daylights out of you. Given the importance and high cost of electronic communications devices in our day and age, that is what it amounts to. The top brass, apparently, has decided that if people aren’t afraid of going to jail, they will intimidate them with the threat of robbery. I wonder who hatched this humiliating plan.

The rationale of hitting people in their wallets, enacted several years ago when fines for involvement in “unauthorized” demonstrations were increased precipitously, has gone beyond legal boundaries. Nothing of the sort exists in European countries: after a criminal investigation is wrapped, the accused has their property restored to them, nor are people are tried as felons for writing posts on social networks.

Naturally, the new dispensation is useless when it comes to deterring terrorists. The risks undertaken by an individual who rigs an explosive device and plots a terrorist attack are completely incommensurable with the risks taken by someone who posts a link to a book banned by the Prosecutor General or a satirical picture. In the first case, the criminals knowingly risk their lives and could not care less what happens to their property, while in the second case people do not even realize they are breaking the law.

Considering the vagueness of the anti-“extremist” laws and the way they are liberally interpreted and employed by law enforcement, the confiscation of property belonging to so-called extremists will only exacerbate the confrontation between the security services and ordinary Russians.

The advantages of the new measure are questionable, while the harm it will cause is obvious.

Valery Rashkin is a Communist MP in the Russian State Duma. Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Policemen’s Ball

DSCN6837At €2.50, the official licensed sticker album of the 2018 World Cup is a steal. Russian officials also plan to steal the civil rights of their own citizens during the month-long tournament. Photo by the Russian Reader

Restrictions on Movement and Freedom of Assembly during the 2018 FIFA World Cup
Denis Shedov and Natalya Kovylyayeva
OVD Info
May 25, 2018

Russia welcomes the 2018 FIFA World Cup with Presidential Decree No. 202, which places restrictions on the movements of people and the staging of public rallies in cities hosting the matches. According to the decree, “enhanced safety measures” will be enforced from May 25 until July 25 (although the first match, between Russia and Saudi Arabia, will not be played until June 14). Denis Shedov and Natalya Kovylyayeva studied the decree specially for OVD Info.*

The restrictions will be introduced on May 25, 2018. They will be enforced in the cities and regions hosting 2018 World Cup matches: Moscow, Petersburg, Volgograd Region, Sverdlovsk Region, Nizhny Novgorod Region, Samara Region, Rostov Region, Kaliningrad Region, Krasnodar Territory, the Republic of Tatarstan, and the Republic of Mordovia.  Additionally, the decree also applies to certain neighboring regions where, in particular,  competing teams will be accommodated: Moscow Region, Leningrad Region, Kaluga Region, Voronezh Region, Stavropol Territory, and the Republic of Chechnya.

It is worth noting Decree No. 202 applies absolutely to everyone who is located in the regions listed during the period the decree is in force. In this light, OVD Info felt it was vital to discuss these changes.

Monitored and Restricted Areas
The decree introduces “monitored and restricted areas,” which will either be entirely off limits to people or will have restricted access. These areas include training grounds (including at other stadiums), team headquarters, hotels where teams and referees are staying, cargo inspection points, the broadcast center at Crocus Expo in Moscow, fan festival venues, press centers, and parking lots for special transport. You will be able to enter these “monitored areas” only after security guards have conducted a thorough inspection of all your belongings.

In addition, there will be special pedestrian security zones, so-called last miles, consisting of areas of one to two kilometers in radius around the stadiums where the matches will be held. Aside from World Cup transport, only residents of nearby buildings, equipped with special passes, will have access to these zones. To obtain the passes you need your internal passport and the papers for your car and your flat. Information about these zones has been posted on the official municipal websites of the cities hosting matches and published in local periodicals.

  • During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the city was off limits to cars from other cities, i.e., cars not registered in Sochi, with the exception of vehicles owned by the secret services and vehicles that had received accreditation as municipal maintenance and 2014 Winter Olympics support vehicles. Vehicles registered in Sochi were restricted from traveling in “monitored areas.” 

Mandatory Registration for Everyone
Upon arrival in a city, you must register with the local immigration authorities within three days. This rules applies to everyone except those who are registered to live permanently in the particular city. Additionally, special rules for registering domiciles and temporary stays will be introduced in the cities where World Cup matches are scheduled.

Russian nationals and foreign nationals must register with the police within 72 hours of arriving. Usually, during “normal” times, Russian nationals have the right to spend up to 90 days in another Russian region without registering, while foreign nationals have seven days to register. Decree No. 202 specifies that the party hosting the visitor, i.e., the hotel, spa, holiday home, etc., must notify the proper authorities of the arrival of foreign nationals within 24 hours, as stipulated by Russian federal law.

Immigration authorities in the regions mentioned in the decree will be open for business daily during the World Cup, including weekends and holidays. There are several ways of registering your stay in another city:

  • Submitting an application to the management of the hotel, hostel, camping ground or youth hostel where you are staying, or the management company, proprietor or landlord, if you are staying in a private flat.
  • Reporting to the local immigration authorities yourself.

Foreign nationals must personally present their papers to the regional office of the Interior Ministry (i.e., the police) or a multi-service center, or their official hosts must do it for them. It is forbidden to register via the post office or a government services website.

Arriving foreign nationals are obliged to provide notification of their arrival, a copy of their identity card (e.g., passport or either ID), a copy of their Russian visa, and a copy of their migration card. This rule applies to all foreign nationals, regardless of their nationality and status in Russia. If the host party is a legal entity, this organization must supply the authorities with a complete set of documents.

Private individuals who act as hosts need only present their Russian internal passports, proving they are permanent residents, a copy of their passports, and a copy of their ownership deed to the dwellings where they will house foreign nationals.

If these rules are violated, Russian nationals will be obliged to pay an administrative fine. In Moscow and Petersburg, the fine will range from three to five thousand rubles, while in the regions it will range from two to three thousand rubles. Foreign nationals who violate these rules can be expelled from Russia.

Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly
According to the decree, from May 25 to July 25, 2018, assemblies, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets that have nothing to do with the 2018 FIFA World Cup can be held only in places, along routes, and at times approved by the authorities. The authorities can also determine the number of attendees and the duration of the event.

Decree No. 202 was first enforced during last year’s Confederations Cup, also hosted by Russia. A large number of activists involved in group protests and solo pickets were apprehended at that time. Some of the people detained during solo pickets were subjected to “explanatory discussions” by the police, while others were written up for violating the rules for holding public events and fined as much as 20,000 rubles.

  • In May 2017, five activists from the local headquarters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny were detained for setting up a campaign booth on the main square in Kazan. Law enforcement said the action had not been authorized by the authorities. All the detainees were sentenced to ten to twelve days in jail, as well as 35 hours of community service.
  • During the Navalny-inspired anti-corruption rallies that took place in a number of cities on June 12, 2017, including Petersburg, Moscow, and Sochi, police detained protesters on the basis of Paragraph 11 of the decree, as paraphrased above. Although in Krasnodar, where the rally against corruption had been authorized, no one was apprehended, despite the special security regime.
  • During the protest rally “Farewell to the Communications Ministry,” in Moscow in June 2017, a teenager was detained when he tried to leave flowers outside the ministry due to restrictions on freedom of speech in Russia, including the possible blockage of the Telegram messenger service. The arresting officer cited the presidential decree restricting rallies during the Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup when he detained the boy. The teenager was taken into a police station for questioning before being released.
  • In mid-June 2017, fifteen people holding solo pickets against Moscow’s massive “renovation” program were detained outside the entrance to the State Duma.
  • Several activists who held solo pickets in support of mathematician Dmitry Bogatov and demanded an end to the prosecution of nationalist Dmitry Demushkin were detained on June 24, 2017, in Moscow.
  • Solidarity Party activist Mikhail Lashkevich was detained on July 4, 2017, while holding a solo picket demanding the people behind opposition leader Boris Nemtsov’s assassination be found. The police admitted he had a right to carry out a solo picket and released him from Basmanny Police Precinct in Moscow without writing him up. Subsequently, Roman Petrishchev, another Solidarity Party activist, was detained for a solo picket.
  • In early July 2017, five activists of Protest Moscow were detained in different parts of the city while they held solo pickets against censorship. All of them were charged with violating the rules for holding public events, punishable under Article 20.2 Part 5 of the Administrative Offenses Code.
  • On July 5, 2017, the well-known democracy activist Ildar Dadin was detained during a solo picket outside FSB headquarters in Moscow, since his protest had not been authorized by law enforcement. On July 7, 2017, the Meshchansky District Court found him guilty of violating the “rules of solo pickets” and fined him 20,000 rubles.

In May 2017, Alexander Pomazuyev, a lawyer with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) asked that Paragraph 11 of the decree be declared null and void in a suit he filed with the Russian Supreme Court. Pomazuyev claimed he had been denied the right to hold a solo picket. He also argued the presidential decree infringed on civil liberties guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, including the right to free speech and freedom of assembly. The court threw out Pomazuyev’s suit, thus rubber-stamping the restrictions on rallies and pickets during the Confederations Cup and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

In February 2018, organizers of the Boris Nemtsov Memorial March in Nizhny Novgorod wrote an open letter to FIFA president Gianni Infantino asking him to protect freedom of assembly in Russia in the run-up to the World Cup. The football functionary did not react to the letter, apparently.

“Although the decree restricts certain rights only from May 25 to July 25, 2018, even the smallest pickets have been turned down by the authorities on the grounds of the terrorist threat,” the march organizers wrote on their Facebook page.

Commentary by Lawyer and Human Rights Activist Alexander Peredruk
Yes, Presidential Decree No. 202, dated May 9, 2017, definitely violates people’s constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of assembly in Russia.

If you want to hold a public rally from May 25 to July 25, 2018, at a venue of your choosing, there is no guarantee you will pull it off. The authorities could turn you down on the grounds the venue you have chosen was not vetted by the Interior Ministry and the FSB. 

As last year showed, when several applications to hold rallies were filed simultaneously, the authorities would reject all the applications. However, when the applications were filed, the authorities had not yet determined what venues could be used. They drew up a list of permissible venues only after looking over the first applications. It was thus a “complete coincidence” that the venues indicated in the applications that were submitted to the local authorities were not on the list of permissible venues. 

In other words, the rejections were perfunctory and practically groundless. The authorities were not interested in conducting a proportionality test, in striking a balance between public and private interests.

In addition, questions are raised about the legitimacy of the division between public sporting events, which are permitted during this period, and public political events, which are virtually banned. Russian citizens are thus subject to discrimination.

During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a local man, David Hakim, was detained while holding a solo picket in defense of the convicted environmentalist Yevgeny Vitishko. (Hakim was jailed for four days for his “crime.”) Agora used his case to challenge the president’s Olympic decree in the Russian Constitutional Court. However, the court refused to examine whether the decree complied with the Constitution, since it had expired by the time the complaint was examined. 

* If you are worried about how Presidential Decree No. 202 will affect foreign fans traveling to Russia for the World Cup, you shouldn’t be. They are required to purchase special “fan IDs” that will exempt them from most if not all of the decree’s strictures. // TRR

Denis Shedov is a lawyer with the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow. Natalya Kovylyayeva is a journalist. Translated by the Russian Reader

Monetizing Russia’s Migration Maze?

DSCN5633.jpg“Help is like hell, only it’s help.”

Punishment Minus Expulsion
Interior Ministry Develops Individual Approach to Migrant Workers
Anna Pushkarskaya
Kommersant
April 27, 2018

The Russian Interior Ministry has published draft amendments to the Administrative Offenses Code that would permit judges not to expel people from Russia who violated immigration regulations by allow them to take into account mitigating circumstances and substitute monetary fines for expulsion. The individual approach has already been enshrined in several articles of the Administrative Offenses Code by decision of the Russian Constitutional Court, but the police are willing to make it the “general rule for the assignment of administrative penalties.” Meanwhile, the Russian Justice Ministry has reported to the Council of Europe on measures it has taken in response to the complaints of stateless persons, although the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) and the Russian Constitutional Court on these cases have not yet been implemented, experts have noted.

The draft amendments to the Administrative Offenses Code, which would give judges the ability to replace administrative punishment with less harsh penalties, depending on the specific circumstances of the case, have been posted by the Interior Ministry for public discussion until May 4. The police drafted them on the basis of a February 17, 2016, ruling by the Constitutional Court. The ruling was rendered in the case of Moldovan national Mihai Țurcan, who was expelled from Russia for failing to notify the Federal Migration Service he was registered in Moscow Region. (This requirement is stipulated by Article 18.8 Part 3 of the Administrative Offenses Code, and it also applies to stays in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Leningrad Region.)

Expulsion entails a five-year ban on entering the Russian Federation and reapplying for a residence permit. Courts did not consider the complainant’s work experience and payment of taxes as grounds for mitigating his punishment. The Constitutional Court ruled that these immigration regulations were unconstitutional and obliged legislators to individualize penalties for single violations of the controversial regulation by taking into account the length of an alien’s stay in the country, whether or not s/he has family in Russia, payment of taxes, and law-abiding behavior. Since December 2016, Article 18.8 Part 3 has allowed authorities to avoid explusion except in cases in which the documents confirming the alien’s right to stay have been lost or are lacking. In April 2017, the Constitutional Court’s approach was enshrined in the “General Rules for the Assignment of Administrative Penalties” (Article 4.1 of the Administrative Offenses Code), which deals with violations at official sporting events, for which foreign fans can get off, under mitigating circumstances, with a fine of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles and a ban on visiting stadiums for a period of one to seven years.

In October 2017, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov instructed authorities to extend the approach to all cases of compulsory explusion. If the court concludes that expulsion is an excessive stricture on the right to a private life and is disproportionate to the objectives of administrative penalties, it can be substituted by a fine of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles [approx. 530 euros to 660 euros]. Courts may already opt not to order expulsion in accordance with the clarifications issued by the Russian Supreme Court and Russian Constitutional Court, but now the factors courts should take into account are supposed to be incorporated in the wording of the law, noted lawyer Sergei Golubok. Lawyer Olga Tseitlina told Kommersant the draft amendments are quite important, because courts have, in practice, ignored marital status and other vital circumstances.

At the same time, the Russian Justice Ministry has sent a letter to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, asking it to recognize that the EHCR’s rulings on complaints filed by stateless persons have been implemented. The virtually indefinite detention of complainants in special Russian Interior Ministry facilities on the basis of rulings by Russian courts and the conditions of their detention in custody were ruled violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Justice Ministry reported that compensation had been paid to the complainants. They are now no longer subject to expulsion and deportation, and can “fix their migration status.” Moreover, the State Duma has passed, in their first reading, the admendments to the Administrative Offenses Code drafted by the Interior Ministry to settle the problem, the Justice Ministry reported four years after the ECHR issued its ruling. The Justice Ministry referred to the Constitutional Court’s ruling in the Mskhiladze case. In May 2017, the court also ordered that the Administrative Offenses Code be amended.

The ruling has not been implemented, noted Golubok and Tseitlin, who represented Mr. Mskhiladze. The ECHR’s decision in the case of another of Tseitlina’s clients, Roman Kim, has not been implemented, either, she told Kommersant.

“He has no legal status and de facto cannot apply for [Russian] citizenship or a [Russian] residence permit, since he cannot expunge his conviction due to his unemployment, but he is unemployed because legally no one can hire him,” said Tseitlina.

She stressed the general measures required by the ECHR and the Constitutional Court have not been implemented, either, since no changes have been made to Russian federal laws.

Thanks to anatrrra for the heads-up. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader