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Archive for the ‘Injustice of Russia’ Category

Russian opposition figure re-arrested upon release

August 28, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — A prominent Russian opposition figure has been detained by police for the fifth consecutive time after he served four sentences in jail connected to protests in Moscow. Ilya Yashin was initially jailed for 10 days in July for taking part in an unsanctioned rally but was detained upon his release three times after that and sentenced to 10 days each time for calling for more protests. The Moscow municipal deputy was detained again as he was walking out of the detention facility on Wednesday afternoon. He hasn’t had a court hearing yet.

The 36-year-old Yashin is one of the nearly two dozen independent politicians who were denied a place on the Sept. 8 ballot for Moscow’s city council legislature. Their exclusion has sparked a series of protests in Moscow.

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Putin opponent sent back to jail after suspected poisoning

July 29, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was moved back to jail from a hospital Monday even though his physician raised suspicions of a possible poisoning after he suffered facial swelling and a rash while in custody.

Details about Navalny’s condition were scarce after he was rushed to a hospital Sunday with what authorities said was a suspected allergy attack inside a detention facility where he was serving a 30-day sentence for calling an unsanctioned protest. The 43-year-old political foe of President Vladimir Putin was arrested several days before a major opposition rally Saturday that ended with nearly 1,400 people detained.

Tensions are running high in Moscow as dozens of protesters remain in custody and the opposition called for a new rally Aug. 3. In a blog post written in detention, Navalny said he may have been exposed to an unknown chemical agent while in custody. Navalny recalled how his face started to become swollen on Saturday and it worsened the next day: “I got up in the morning, and when my cellmate saw me, he said: ‘You need to see a doctor now.'”

Dr. Anastasiya Vasilyeva, who has been Navalny’s physician for several years, visited him Monday shortly before he was discharged from the hospital and sent back to the detention facility even before the necessary tests were run on him.

Doctors at the hospital initially said Navalny had a severe allergy attack, but Vasilyeva said that the swelling and the rash on his face could be consistent with chemical poisoning. She said the incarceration would jeopardize his health.

“He has not fully recovered. He should have been left under medical supervision,” she told reporters outside the hospital, adding that the doctors didn’t even try to determine what caused the swelling and rash. “Who is going to watch over him at the detention facility? They are not qualified to provide him with professional help.”

Vasilyeva expressed concern that the chemical agent that caused the outbreak could still be in his prison cell. Navalny’s attorney, Olga Mikhailova, told reporters earlier the outbreak was caused by “poisoning, by some kind of chemical substance” but that its source wasn’t established. She said he has been given anti-inflammatory steroids and that the swelling subsided.

Navalny said Monday he felt and looked better now — “like someone who’s been drinking for a week.” His face is visibly swollen in the picture he attached to the blog post, with red circles around the eyes.

He said he would like to see CCTV footage to check if anyone entered the cell while he was away on a walk, saying that he had his own linen and toiletries and could not think of a possible cause unless someone left something near his bunk.

Although there has been no confirmation that Navalny was poisoned, suggestions by his doctor that he was exposed to some kind of toxic chemical in jail raised suspicions among his supporters of possible foul play. Some Kremlin political opponents have been poisoned or killed in recent years, although Russian officials denied any involvement.

“Are they such idiots to poison me in the place where they could be the only suspects?” Navalny wrote in the post, referring to the Russian government. “There’s only one thing I can say with certainty: Power in Russia is in the hands of the guys who really are stupid.”

Navalny, a lawyer and anti-corruption activist, has been the Kremlin’s most formidable foe since 2011, when he led a massive wave of protests of Putin and his party. He has since been convicted on two sets of criminal charges, largely regarded as politically motivated, and spent numerous stints in jail for disturbing public order and leading unsanctioned protests.

He has been attacked several times. In 2017, an assailant doused him with a green antiseptic, and Navalny sustained a chemical burn in one of his eyes, which left to a partial loss of vision. Navalny was able to travel abroad for treatment.

On Saturday, baton-wielding police wrestled with protesters in what might have been the largest unsanctioned protest in Russia in a decade. Putin, who was out of town to lead a naval parade in St. Petersburg on Sunday, has not commented on the massive protests.

Opposition activists as well as ordinary Muscovites vented their anger over officials’ decision to exclude a dozen independent candidates from the ballot for a Sept. 8 election of the Moscow city legislature, which is dominated by the ruling, pro-Kremlin party.

The candidates’ supporters had earlier picketed the headquarters of the Moscow Election Commission and rallied on a central square for several days straight. After authorities claimed that some of the 5,500 signatures each candidate collected were forgeries, the candidates went to the local election commission to protest, some bringing the same people whose signatures were ruled invalid.

Among those taken into custody Saturday were several would-be candidates. One of them, Ilya Yashin, was sentenced Monday to 10 days in jail for calling the protest. Another, Dmitry Gudkov, is due to appear in court on Tuesday.

Andrei Pertsev of the Moscow Carnegie Center said in an opinion piece last week that the Kremlin was not going to allow opposition candidates on the ballot from the start, fearing their presence in the local council, however low-key, could give them a platform for campaigning for the next parliamentary election.

“It was a matter of principle for the Kremlin not to allow the opposition candidates on the ballot,” he said, adding that a Moscow city lawmaker would be an “odds-on favorite” to win a seat at the 2021 parliamentary election.

Over the weekend, the European Union condemned what it called “the disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters.” The EU said the weekend actions already came in the wake of “the worrying series of arrests and police raids against opposition politicians” in recent days.

Associated Press writer Raf Casert in Brussels contributed.

Russia outraged by case of sisters who killed abusive father

July 05, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — One evening last summer, Mikhail Khachaturyan decided that his living room wasn’t tidy enough, so he summoned his three teenage daughters one by one and doused each with pepper spray. Such violence and abuse was not unusual in the Khachaturyan household, according to court records. But Maria, Angelina and Krestina Khachaturyan decided they couldn’t take it anymore. They waited until their father fell asleep in his rocking chair and attacked him with a kitchen knife and a hammer. He put up a fight but died within minutes.

The sisters, now aged 18, 19 and 20, were charged last month with premeditated murder in a case that has drawn outrage and illustrated how the Russian justice system handles domestic violence and sexual abuse cases.

More than 200,000 people have signed an online petition urging prosecutors to drop the murder charges, which could land the sisters in prison for up to 20 years. Their supporters have protested outside Russian embassies in more than 20 locations abroad, and a theater has staged a show in solidarity. They had planned a major rally in central Moscow on Saturday, but said they had to cancel it, citing a refusal by city hall to provide security for the gathering.

“The Khachaturyan case is quite indicative of the general situation with domestic violence and how the Russian state responds to this problem,” says Yulia Gorbunova, who wrote an extensive report on domestic violence for Human Rights Watch last year.

Pressured by conservative family groups, President Vladimir Putin in 2017 signed a law decriminalizing some forms of domestic violence, which has no fixed definition in Russian legislation. Police routinely turn a blind eye to cases of domestic abuse, while preventive measures, such as restraining orders, are either lacking or not in wide use.

Court filings showed that the Khachaturyan sisters were repeatedly beaten and sexually abused by their father, a war veteran. He had kept a stockpile of knives, guns and rifles at home despite having been diagnosed with a neurological disorder. He repeatedly threatened neighbors and family with violence.

Lawyers for the Khachaturyan sisters say their clients were driven to the edge. “The first day we met,” Krestina’s lawyer Alexei Liptser said, “she said she’s better off here, in jail, than living at home the way she had been.”

Going to the police was not an option because the sisters feared that things would only get worse. They had shared some of the horrors they had experienced with their friends but pleaded with them not to go to the police. In the year before the attack, the girls attended fewer than two months of classes in total, but the school administration did not interfere.

Prosecutors acknowledge the extraordinarily violent circumstances that pushed the teenagers to kill their father but insisted they should be tried for murder. The sisters’ lawyers argue that they were acting in self-defense in circumstances of lasting abuse and life-threatening violence.

The sisters have been released on bail and are barred from seeing each other, meeting with witnesses in the case and talking to the media. They are reportedly in good spirits. “At least, no one is beating them up,” Liptser says.

The case inspired 29-year-old Zarema Zaudinova to direct a show at the underground Theater Doc last week, combining the sisters’ experiences with performers’ own personal stories. Some members of the audience walked out after one of the more graphic accounts of abuse.

For Zaudinova, the Khachaturyan case was the last straw. “We have no protection,” she says. “We will either get raped or we will get thrown into prison if we defend ourselves.” Research on Russian criminal court cases compiled by the outlet Media Zona shows that of 2,500 women convicted of manslaughter or murder in 2016 to 2018, nearly 2,000 killed a family member in a domestic violence setting.

Human Rights Watch has documented cases where “a very clear case of self-defense” was not recognized as such by prosecutors and led to the victim’s imprisonment, according to Gorbunova. “The choice is not whether you go to the police and get help,” she says. “The choice for these women was either to die or they had to protect themselves to the best of their ability.”

Almost 2,000 people have recently posted first-person accounts of abuse and victim-blaming to social media, after a young woman facing criminal charges for injuring her alleged rapist launched the hashtag #It’snotmyfault.

The bill to replace jail terms with fines in certain cases of domestic violence breezed through the Russian parliament in 2017 and was promptly signed by Putin. Despite its detrimental effect on domestic violence victims, the measure sparked a rare public debate on the issue in a country where a proverb goes: “If he beats you that means he loves you.”

Gorbunova says that public perception of domestic violence has been changing, triggered by the highly publicized court cases like that of the Khachaturyans or the case of Margarita Gracheva, whose husband, previously reported to police for threatening violence, took her to a forest and chopped off her hands. Gracheva endured online bullying and accusations of “provoking” her spouse before he was sentenced to 14 years in prison last year, a rare victory for a domestic violence victim in Russia.

The women of Theater Doc say the outcome of the Khachaturyan case would send a strong message to Russian society. “We need to fight for it, and talk loud and clear about it,” says Zaudinova, who herself told a story onstage of being molested by a male relative at the age of 12. “If the girls get sent to prison and the court doesn’t acknowledge that that was self-defense, they will be putting more people in prison and you won’t be able to do anything to the person who decided to rape you.”

Hundreds detained in Moscow protest over journalist’s case

June 12, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Hundreds of people were detained Wednesday as they marched in the Russian capital to protest what they called police fabrications in the wake of the arrest of an investigative journalist on drug charges that later were dropped when the government admitted there was no evidence he committed a crime.

The mass arrests at the unauthorized rally provided a harsh coda to the elation of journalists and other supporters of Ivan Golunov a day after Russia’s interior minister announced the unprecedented move to drop the charges and seek punishment for the police officers involved.

“We should not stand down, even if Ivan is free. There are a number of other people in his situation in this country,” said Maxim Reznik, a member of the St. Petersburg City Council who attended a smaller demonstration in that city.

Police said more than 200 were detained in the Moscow demonstration, but the OVD-Info organization that monitors political arrests put the figure at more than 400. The Interior Ministry said about 1,200 people took part in the Moscow demonstration, and those arrested faced charges that could bring up to 20 days in jail, state news agency Tass reported. Among them was Alexei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent foe.

Golunov, a reporter for the website Meduza, was arrested June 6 for allegedly dealing synthetic stimulants. Many believed he was set up as retaliation for his reporting on Moscow City Hall and the city’s crime-ridden funeral industry.

Information quickly surfaced indicating Moscow police acted based on falsified evidence and sham allegations. In announcing Golunov’s arrest, police posted photos of drugs allegedly taken in the journalist’s apartment, but then admitted the images came from another case. Defense lawyers said his fingerprints weren’t on any of the drug packets allegedly found in his apartment.

An outcry over his arrest intensified quickly, apparently catching authorities by surprise. Objections to Golunov’s treatment were reported in unusual detail by Russian state media that generally hew closely to official versions.

Three of Russia’s most respected newspapers published near-identical front pages Monday reading “I/we am/are Ivan Golunov.” Even the powerful speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament expressed concern about the case.

Russian human rights activists have often complained to little effect of fabricated criminal cases against opposition figures and those who raise inconvenient questions about sometimes-shady businesses.

While the unusual prominence of Golunov’s case could be seen as a watershed in drawing attention to the issue, observers also said it was only the beginning of a long struggle to hold authorities accountable.

“The case against Golunov is actually over. But the case against the system in which such lawlessness became possible is just beginning,” Maria Zheleznova, opinion editor of the newspaper Vedomosti, wrote in a piece published Wednesday.

However, the police action at the Moscow demonstration showed that authorities intend to keep tight control over public protest. Opposition groups are routinely denied permission to hold rallies or sometimes given permission for gatherings at undesirable times or low-visibility locations.

Authorities had said the pro-Golunov demonstrators could hold a rally on Sunday, but protesters believed a delay could have sapped a sense of momentum.

Associated Press writer Irina Titova in St. Petersburg contributed.

Prominent investigative journalist detained in Russia

June 07, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — A prominent Russian investigative journalist has been charged with drug dealing after four grams of the synthetic stimulant mephedrone were found in his backpack, Moscow police said Friday.

Ivan Golunov, who works for the independent website Meduza, was stopped by police in central Moscow on Thursday afternoon. Police also said that more drugs were found at his home. Meduza’s director general, Galina Timchenko, told The Associated Press that Golunov, one of the most prominent investigative journalists in Russia, was beaten while in detention and denied medical tests that would show he has not handled drugs. Timchenko said she has photos that show the impact on the left side of his face.

Moscow police denied the accusations of beating. Golunov is due to appear in court on Saturday. His lawyer said that his client was not allowed to contact his family or lawyer for 12 hours after he was detained.

Golunov’s colleagues and other journalists went to the headquarters of the Moscow police Friday afternoon to protest what many saw as blatant retribution for a journalist’s work. An organization that tracks politically connected arrests, OVD-Info, said 11 journalists were detained at the protest, but later released without charges.

In the evening, a queue of demonstrators assembled outside the headquarters, each in turn holding a sign in support of Golunov. Single protest pickets are permitted without prior authorization under Russian law.

Golunov, 36, has recently received threats linked to a story he was pursuing, Timchenko said. “We are convinced that Ivan Golunov is innocent,” Timchenko’s Meduza said in a statement. “What’s more, we have reasons to believe that Golunov is being persecuted for his journalism. We know that Vanya (Golunov) has been receiving threats in recent months, and we know which particular unfinished story they relate to.”

Meduza was founded in 2014 by a group of journalists who left a popular Russian news website after their editor was fired. The website is based in Riga, Latvia, as the journalists fear that an increasing wave of media censorship and restrictive internet laws in Russia make any editorial office there vulnerable to government pressure. While most of Meduza’s staff is based in Riga, special correspondents like Golunov are working in Russia.

Moscow police attached nine photos to its statement about Golunov’s detention, some of which showed bags with white substance and big empty bottles suggestive of a makeshift drugs lab at his home. A friend of the journalist, Alexander Urzhanov, told the AP that he had been to Golunov’s home and that the pictures could not have been taken at the tiny apartment.

“What has been published doesn’t look like an apartment: there’s a cement floor, wood on the walls,” he said. “Vanya’s apartment had white walls. I can’t imagine all of the stuff in those pictures can be fitted in the apartment that I have been to so that no one would notice.”

Moscow police later amended its statement and deleted the pictures. Police said that those pictures were related to a drugs raid in the Moscow region, and that they were looking into possible links between the drug dealers’ group there and Golunov.

Golunov rose to prominence in recent years with his corruption investigations into Moscow’s city government and the crime-ridden funeral market. Peers described Golunov as one of Russia’s most dogged investigative reporters and expressed dismay at the circumstances of the case.

“This is totally incredible and is not in his character that he would give up what he’s been doing and start making money in this way,” Alexander Baunov of the Moscow Carnegie Center told the AP. Baunov has known Golunov since 2004 when they worked at the same publishing house.

The allegations of a thriving drugs business run by an investigative reporter stunned Russia’s journalism community, long accustomed to arbitrary detentions and violence, and raised concerns about police actions.

“Golunov’s detention is not so much about the crackdown on journalists,” prominent TV journalist Alexei Pivovarov tweeted. “It’s about the fact that they can come after anyone. Because it’s dead easy to find a drugs lab at your place.”

Amnesty International also raised concerns about Golunov’s detention. “Everything indicates that the authorities are planting drugs on their targets to shut them up with a jail sentence,” Nataliya Zviagina, the director of Amnesty’s Russia office, said in a statement.

“Ivan Golunov is a prominent critic and his investigations into government corruption clearly did not go down well with the authorities. It seems he is now paying the price.”

Russia moves to expand state control of internet

April 11, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian lawmakers approved Thursday a bill that would expand government control over the internet and whose opponents fear heralds a new era of widespread censorship. The bill would install equipment to route Russian internet traffic through servers in the country. That would increase the powers of state agencies and make it harder for users to circumvent government restrictions.

The proposed move sparked protests of several thousand people in Moscow last month. Opponents argue it would allow the state to control the flow of information and enforce blocks on messaging applications which refuse to hand over data.

The bill’s backers have sought to play down the expanded powers for controlling traffic. Instead, they say it’s a defense measure in case Russia is cut off from the internet by the United States or other hostile powers.

Nikolai Zemtsov, a lawmaker who backed the bill, told The Associated Press a future Russia could cooperate with ex-Soviet countries on a “Runet” where news from critical Western media was restricted. “It could be that in our limited, sovereign internet we will only be stronger,” he said.

The bill passed by 322-15 in a second reading in the lower house of parliament. The second reading is when amendments are finalized, and is usually the most important. The bill must pass a third reading and the upper house before being signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

Since last year, Russian authorities have been trying to block the messaging app Telegram, which has refused to hand over users’ encrypted messages in defiance of a court order. Telegram’s traffic used millions of different internet protocol addresses, meaning attempts to block it resembled a game of whack-a-mole. Many unrelated apps, online stores and even Volvo car repair services were temporarily knocked offline last year before Russian officials eased their pressure. The new law could make a block easier.

Russia already requires certain personal information about Russian citizens to be stored on servers in the country. That measure led to the social network LinkedIn being blocked in 2016. By moving to exert more control of the internet, which is not overseen by a central authority, the Russian government is taking a page from China’s playbook.

China subjects its 700 million internet users to extensive monitoring and tight controls. Beijing has a system of automated filters — known as the “Great Firewall” — to block political content as well as sites related to gambling and pornography. Chinese users are prevented blocked from using Western internet sites such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, leaving the market open for homegrown giants like Tencent.

Chinese regulators have ratcheted up control on local microblogs such as Weibo, ordering them to set up a mechanism to remove false information. They’ve also been cracking down on virtual private networks — software that can be used to get around internet filters by creating encrypted links between computers and blocked sites.

Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.

Bill to route internet through Russian servers spurs protest

March 10, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Several thousand people have rallied in Moscow to protest legislation they fear could lead to widespread internet censorship for Russian users. The sanctioned rally on Sunday was organized in response to a bill in parliament that would route all internet traffic through servers in Russia, making virtual private networks (VPNs) ineffective.

The proposed measure also would create a division in Russia’s agency that regulates communications to oversee traffic control and routing. The bill has passed the first of three readings in the Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Advocates say the bill is intended to address concerns that Russia could be cut off if the United States applies a new cybersecurity doctrine in an offensive maneuver. Critics say the bill would create an internet firewall similar to China’s.

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