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Russia
11.02.21
Urgent Interventions

Russia: Intimidation and judicial harassment of six activists

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

RUS 002 / 0221 / OBS 019
Intimidation /
Judicial harassment /
Violation of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly
Russian Federation
February 11, 2021


The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in the Russian Federation.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the acts of intimidation and judicial harassment against Darya Apakhonchich and Lolja Nordic, women’s and LGBT+ rights activists, Evgeniya Litvinova, member of the Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg and Sofia Ulyasheva, Bogdan Litvin and Alexei Bezrukov, three activists of "Vesna" movement[1], in St. Petersburg in connection with mass protests held on January 23 and 31, 2021 in support of Alexei Navalny[2].

On January 23, 2021, the Main Investigative Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in St. Petersburg initiated criminal proceedings against dozens of activists. They are accused of blocking traffic during the January 23, 2021 protest march in St. Petersburg under Article 267 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“rendering means of transport or means of communication unusable”).

According to preliminary information, Darya Apakhonchich, Lolja Nordic, Evgeniya Litvinova, Sofia Ulyasheva, Bogdan Litvin and Alexei Bezrukov figure as witnesses or accused in this criminal case. Orders to search the apartments of the six activists were issued by an investigator and not by a court as required under Article 165 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Russian Federation. The searches were designated as urgent to circumvent this rule.

In the morning of January 31, 2021, on the eve of a second wave of protests in Russia, the St. Petersburg police searched the apartment of Lolja Nordic while she was not home. The police officers informed her parents that she was under criminal investigation. According to preliminary information, she is accused in the criminal case opened under Article 267 of the Criminal Code.

On the same day, police raided the apartment of Darya Apakhonchich. The police searched her apartment and confiscated all information storage devices, including laptops and mobile phones. After the search, she was interrogated in connection with the criminal case opened under Article 267 of the Criminal Code, in which she figures as a witness. Earlier in December 2020, she was one of the first three individuals included in the register of ‘foreign agents’ for her human rights and educational activities.

In addition, on the same day, the police searched the apartments of Alexei Bezrukov, Sofia Ulyasheva, Bogdan Litvin and Yevgenia Litvinova. Some activists, in particular Alexei Bezrukov, coordinator of the "Vesna" movement in St. Petersburg, had their equipment seized - a laptop and a smartphone. According to preliminary information, the activists figure as witnesses in this criminal case.

The Observatory recalls that on December 23, 2020, the Russian State Duma amended Article 267 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation by introducing responsibility for "deliberate blocking of transport communications, transport infrastructure facilities or hindering the movement of vehicles and pedestrians on the communication routes, street and road network, if these acts have created a threat to life, health and safety of citizens, or a threat of destruction or damage to property of individuals and (or) legal entities". Back then, human rights activists noted that if adopted, the new version of the article could be used against peaceful protesters to stifle the freedom of assembly in Russia even further. This article criminalises obstruction of traffic even when it does not lead to negative consequences, but only creates some abstract “threat”.

The Observatory further recalls that according to the UN Human Rights Committee General comment No. 37 (2020) on the right of peaceful assembly (Article 21): "the scale or nature [of peaceful assemblies] can cause disruption, for example of vehicular or pedestrian movement or economic activity. These consequences, whether intended or unintended, do not call into question the protection such assemblies enjoy”. Thus, the criminal charges brought against the activists violate their right of peaceful assembly.

The Observatory condemns these acts of harassment against activists and human rights defenders which seem to be only aimed at preventing them from participating in protests, disseminating information about these protests and otherwise exercising their right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. The Observatory calls on the Russian authorities to put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against all human rights defenders in the country.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Russia asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Darya Apakhonchich, Lolja Nordic, Evgeniya Litvinova, Sofia Ulyasheva, Bogdan Litvin and Alexei Bezrukov as well as all human rights defenders in Russia;

ii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Darya Apakhonchich, Lolja Nordic, Evgeniya Litvinova, Sofia Ulyasheva, Bogdan Litvin and Alexei Bezrukov and all other human rights defenders in Russia;

iii. Ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Russia are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

Addresses:

  • Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, Twitter: @KremlinRussia_E
  • Mr. Mikhail Mishustin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Twitter:@GovernmentRF
  • Mr. Sergueï Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, E-mail: ministry@mid.ru
  • Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. E-mail: mission.russian@vtxnet.ch
  • Embassy of the Russian Federation in Brussels, Belgium. E-mail: mission.russian@vtxnet.ch
  • Permanent Representation of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe, France. Email: russia.coe@orange.fr

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of the Russian Federation in your respective countries.

***

Paris-Geneva, February 11, 2021

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:


[1] "Vesna" is a youth democratic movement, with regional branches in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities, working towards democratic change and the respect of human rights in Russia.

[2] The demonstrations in several cities of the Russian Federation started after the arrest of the prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny. He was charged for breaking the conditions of the parole for a conviction which was a highly politicized ruling as Mr. Navalny was not in Russia, but in Germany undergoing treatment after being poisoned by nerve agent back in August 2020. The protesters demand is to drop charges against Mr. Navalny and set him free. The demonstrations took place on January 23 and 31, 2021. More than 5000 protesters were arrested in all the cities by the police, who made use of excessive force.

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