Prisons = the young = Chechnya

Simon Cosgrove on the past week’s news

<< No.25 (258), 20 June 2017 >>


Last week observers of the human rights scene in Russia focused their attention on rallies and protests across the nation. On 12 June, Russia Day, the renewed enthusiasm for peaceful, public protest, seen on 26 March, once again showed itself on Russian streets.

OVD-Info issued an interim report that 1,720 protesters had been detained by police: 866 in Moscow, 658 in St. Petersburg, and 196 elsewhere. Amnesty International said that protesters were subjected to cruel and degrading treatment. The pattern of dealing with the anti-corruption protests with bans, often brutal police action and arrests was repeated in many other Russian cities.

A few days later (14 June) and on a smaller scale there were also protests against the vast housing demolition programme proposed by the Moscow city authorities. On that day, at least 16 protesters were detained outside the State Duma.

— “Russia Day” anti-corruption protests —

The events of Monday, 12 June began with the arrest of protest organizer Alexei Navalny as he left his Moscow home.

The authorities had given permission to hold the Moscow rally on Sakharov Prospect. The organizers considered the practical obstacles put in the way of holding the rally at that location amounted in effect to a ban. When they called for the protest to go ahead on Moscow’s central Tverskaya Street, Navalny was arrested. He was given 30 days in jail, the maximum sentence under the Code of Adminstrative Offences.

Later the term was reduced to 25 days in a manner typical of Russian courts. They issue a severe sentence, quite possibly in response to official pressure, but then offer an appearance of judicial independence by making cosmetic changes on appeal.

Among those arrested in Moscow was Ildar Dadin, latest laureate of the “Index on Censorship” award for Freedom of Expression. He was detained for reading aloud from the Russian Constitution on Red Square. Subsequently, he was fined 20,000 roubles. Dadin might have been sentenced to further time in jail were it not for his fame in the West.

On 14 June, in the aftermath of Monday’s rally in St Petersburg human rights activist Dinar Idrisov was detained and sentenced to 14 days in jail for ‘petty hooliganism’. He had been providing assistance and advice to detained protesters. In outspoken comments on his website about the protests, the city’s human rights ombudsperson Alexander Shishlov said the city authorities had ‘provoked’ the demonstrators: those detained in St Petersburg numbered “hundreds of people, including teenagers, journalists, observers and other people, who posed no threat to society.”

In Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan, a Caucasian Knot correspondent was assaulted and his camera damaged while filming preparations for the local protest rally.

— Young people and the “protest virus” —

The prominent role of young people in recent demonstrations, much commented on in both social and mainstream media, was exemplified in the 12 June protests by two individuals.

June 12, 2017

“Russia will be free!” (photo, Georgy Markov)

The photograph (‘cooler than Delacroix’) of a young girl being arrested instantly became a symbol of the protest when it was posted online: “This girl wasn’t doing anything illegal. I saw her standing by me: the next thing I knew, she was being detained by the police”, wrote K. Alimova on Facebook.

Mikhail Galayshkin, a 17-year-old protester, was placed under house arrest. Allegedly, he had assaulted an officer of the elite National Guard.

Official concerns that young people are becoming ‘infected’ with the protest virus may also lie behind the treatment of a high school teacher from Krasnodar Region. Alexander Korovainy was given ten days in jail for attending an ‘illegal rally’ and was subsequently dismissed by the school where he had worked. The school, citing the fact that he was a substitute teacher, said he was simply no longer under contract.

— Alexei Navalny —

Several events indicated a longer-term offensive against Alexei Navalny (b. 1976), who has begun campaigning to challenge Vladimir Putin in the 2018 presidential elections, and against his Anti-Corruption Foundation.

On 14 June two staff members at the Anti-Corruption Foundation, Vladislav Zdolnikov and Aleksandr Brusentsev fled to Ukraine after Roskomnadzor, the official  media oversight agency, launched investigations against them for ‘illegally blocking access to websites by using a vulnerability of the government’s system for blocking banned websites’ (!)

On 15 June Ella Pamfilova, a former federal human rights ombudsperson and currently chair of the federal electoral commission, said Alexei Navalny is almost certain to be barred from the 2018 presidential election because his criminal record.

The day before, a district court in Orel Region dismissed a request by Oleg Navalny, Alexei’s younger brother (b. 1983), for parole. He had failed to display ‘law-abiding behaviour’, the judge said. In December 2014, Oleg And Alexei Navalny were both found guilty of ‘large-scale theft’ from two companies. Alexei Navalny was given a 3½ year suspended sentence; Oleg was sentenced to 3½ years in а general-regime penal colony. Many observers suspected that Oleg was being held ‘hostage’ to restrain the behaviour of his older brother.


Abuses in the prison system received renewed attention last week. Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, one of five individuals convicted for the 2006 murder of Anna Politkovskaya, died in a high security prison in Vologda Region on 13 June. His relatives alleged he had died because of being beaten. In 2015 Gaitukayev’s lawyer earlier sought unsuccessfully to sue the prison for allegedly beating her client.


In a case concerning pre-trial detention, the High Court in Russian-occupied Crimea refused to allow the head of the Crimean Tatar assembly or Mejlis, Akhtem Chiygoz, to see his dying mother. Chiygoz has been detained since January 2015 on charges,  of organizing an illegal demonstration in Simferopol on 26 February 2014 outside the Crimean parliament, i.e. at a time before Russia annexed the peninsula. Together with Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhy, who remain in detention awaiting trial over the same 2014 demonstration, Chiygoz have been recognized as a political prisoner by Memorial Human Rights Centre.


Alexei Moroshkin on Lubyanka Square


On 16 June, activist Alexei Moroshkin from Chelyabinsk was finally released from a psychiatric clinic where he had been compulsorily detained for over 18 months. On 9 November 2015 Moroshkin was found guilty of ‘incitement to violate the territorial integrity of Russia via the Internet’ (Article 280.1 § 2). In a troubling throw-back to Soviet times,  he was said to be suffering from ‘paranoid schizophrenia.’ This month a court ruled that Moroskhin ‘no longer posed a danger to society.’ Memorial believes Moroskhin was jailed for his civic opposition activities and his criticism of Russian policy towards Ukraine.


Attention must remain focused on the case of Murad Amriev. On 9 June he was forcibly returned to Chechnya by law-enforcement officers after the Belarus authorities handed him over to Russia.

Amriev previously alleged that he was tortured by police in Chechnya in 2013. With  the help of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, a human rights group based in Nizhny Novgorod, he lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. He recognized one of the police officers from Chechnya who sought to arrest him in Bryansk, before he moved to Belarus: the man had been one of his torturers.

Amriev’s fate has attracted much international concern. After his return to Chechnya he was released on bail and on 15 June the Chechen authorities said they had dropped charges against him. Since the Chechen authorities often inflict collective punishment for an absent individual’s “misdemeanours” by retaliating, for instance, against their relatives, the rest of Amriev’s family had already left Chechnya.


On 14 June two young LGBT people who had fled from republic told Reuters they had been tortured and beaten because of their sexual orientation; one of them alleged he was subjected to electric shock treatment.