The Russia Report
From the editor
Russia’s most renowned human rights organisation, Memorial, has been fighting for survival in court as the Kremlin’s prosecutors demand its closure. The plan has touched a nerve with many Russians, who are shocked that the guardians of the truth about Stalin’s repressions are themselves under threat from a ruthless regime. And a hearing in the Supreme Court in Moscow yesterday emulated the absurdity of the 1930s show trials.
A crowd of supporters and journalists waits for lawyers for Memorial at the Supreme Court
Judge Alla Nazarova, who in 2019 ordered the closure of the For Human Rights organisation led by veteran campaigner Lev Ponomarev, opened proceedings by complaining that there were too many people in the courtroom and ordering journalists out to the press room. Outside on the streets, where a crowd of supporters had gathered, at least three people were detained for holding signs, including the elderly Lyubov Yeliseeva, who was taken away by police for her sign saying, “You can't kill the people's memory! We live in poverty, lawlessness and almost without hope.” Former political prisoner Konstantin Kotov, who has expressed support for Ukraine, was also detained. People also picketed in support of Memorial in other countries, including Israel and Georgia.
In the press room no video was shown on the big screen and a lawyer for Memorial had to ask the judge to turn it on, which she agreed to do. Memorial’s lawyers then pulled apart the government case, which is based on a claim that the organisation has repeatedly failed to label itself as a foreign agent since being designated as such in 2016. Memorial has already paid millions of roubles in fines for materials that prosecutors said lacked a foreign agent label, and as a consequence has been extremely careful in ensuring that everything is marked – even its representatives’ business cards. There has been no report of a violation by Memorial since 2019, the lawyers said, and the organisation cannot be shut down on the basis of previous omissions for which it has already paid penalties and which have been rectified, they argued.
The lawyers also asked the judge to consider hundreds of letters from Russians in support of Memorial (she rejected this), and to take into account the numerous Russian and international awards that Memorial has received over the years. Nazarova insisted that Memorial’s lawyers must stick to the technicalities of the case, while they say that she must understand the role and significance of the organisation when deciding whether to shut it down. Memorial documents current prosecution on the basis of political and religious beliefs as well as historical ones.
Individuals working for Memorial have also been targeted by the Kremlin: most notably Gulag historian Yuri Dmitriev, the head of the organisation’s Karelia branch, who is in prison on questionable charges relating to photographing his adopted daughter. Vladimir Putin is more interested in glorifying Stalin as the victor in World War II than having people constantly draw parallels between his predecessor’s repressions and his own. Russia has even recently banned the diary A Woman in Berlin by Marta Hillers as extremist because it describes rapes by Soviet soldiers at the end of the war.
The next hearing at the Supreme Court on International Memorial has been scheduled for Dec. 14, while other hearings are also taking place on the closure of the domestic offices of the organisation. Usually the outcome of such Kremlin-led cases is predetermined, but there is still the faint hope that enough of a national and international outcry could make a difference this time and save Russia’s past.
For more information about the case and how to support Memorial the political prosecution monitoring organisation OVD-Info has set up a website in English here.
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Mine explosion kills 51 people
A disaster thought to be a methane gas explosion yesterday has killed 51 people at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine in Kemerovo Oblast. The explosion occurred at a depth of 250 metres and the dead included 46 miners and five rescuers, after a sixth rescuer thought to be dead was found alive. Another 50 injured people were hospitalised and 13 were treated without hospitalisation. The governor of the region, Sergei Tsivilev, has announced three days of mourning until Nov. 28. Industrial watchdog Rostekhnadzor found more than 900 violations at the mine this year and halted its work nine times. Last year the mine, which is operated by SDS Ugol, was fined 450,000 roubles (just over $6,000) for violations.
More Kremlin critics leave Russia
Rapper Morgenshtern is one of the high-profile people who have left Russia this week due to Kremlin pressure. The 23-year-old artist is said to have gone to Dubai after head of the Investigations Committee Alexander Bastrykin made a video in which he accused Morgenshtern of dealing drugs via social media. The Kremlin has long pursued a crackdown on rappers on the pretext that they promote “drug propaganda”. Morgenshtern has been previously prosecuted for promoting drug use, offending religious believers and insulting the memory of World War II for asking why Russia focuses so much on celebrating victory more than 70 years ago instead of achieving things today.
Others who have left the country this week include Alexei Navalny’s former coordinator in St. Petersburg, Irina Fatyanova; Navalny aide and city councillor in Novosibirsk Sergei Boyko; and lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov, who was representing arrested former journalist Ivan Safronov in a treason case.
Crimean Tatars detained for supporting jailed lawyer
Police in Simferopol, occupied Crimea, detained women in headscarves holding balloons as they waited to greet lawyer Edem Semedlyaev as he was being released after serving a 12-day jail sentence for allegedly disobeying police when he went to support other Crimean Tatars being detained outside a court. In total 19 Crimean Tatars were given jail sentences of between 10 and 14 days for their efforts to support Semedlyaev, and another 11 people were fined. Semedlyaev said he refused a demand from police to be strip searched so they could look for “extremist tattoos” on his body.
Actor and literary critic who opposed Ukraine war die from Covid
Two prominent critics of Putin’s war in Ukraine have died from Covid: actor Valery Garkalin at the age of 67 and literary critic Marietta Chudakova at 84. Garkalin, who appeared in numerous films, signed a letter from cultural figures in 2014 opposing the war and Russia’s descent into totalitarianism. Chudakova was a longtime human rights activist who picketed in support of Crimean film director Oleg Sentsov when he was on hunger strike in a Russian prison in 2018 and also opposed the unveiling of a bust of Stalin in Penza in 2015.
Russia continues to report near-record numbers of daily Covid deaths and the Kremlin is wavering over the introduction of compulsory vaccine passport QR codes nationally in public spaces, due to increasing protests around the country that could escalate into something like those seen recently in EU countries. Hundreds of thousands of people have submitted comments about the issue to the Duma. Meanwhile Putin has said that he got a Sputnik Light booster jab and then participated in a trial of a Covid vaccine nasal spray, which caused amusement when he said that he snorted a powder. His spokesman Dmitri Peskov clarified that it was a liquid.
ECHR orders return of daughters to Chechen woman
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Luisa Tapayeva from Chechnya should be reunited with her four daughters born between 1988 and 2013 after they were kidnapped by their deceased father’s father in April 2016. Tapayeva has hardly seen her daughters since then, the court said. Tapayeva complained about local authorities’ failure to assist her in reuniting her with them. The court agreed that Tapayeva has been a victim of traditional practices that discriminate against women, and also ordered Russia to pay her compensation of 16,250 euros plus 9,196 euros in costs.