At least 23 people in nine cities were involved in criminal cases for speaking up against the war with Ukraine. Criminal cases were opened under articles criminalising violence against policemen, hooliganism, vandalism, false information about an act of terrorism and public dissemination of knowingly false information. The details are yet unknown.
The Observatory recalls that on March 4, 2022, the Moscow offices of International Memorial and HRC “Memorial”, both of them listed as “foreign agents” and liquidated in December 2021 for alleged violation of the “Foreign Agent” Law, were raided by law enforcement officers. The offices of the Civic Assistance Committee – likewise listed as a “foreign agent under the “Foreign Agent” Law – were also raided. The search in the Memorial offices at Karetnyi Ryad street lasted 14 hours. The law enforcement officers seized several hard drives and printed materials including books, flyers, posters and business cards. Moreover, the lawyers and legal representatives of the organisations were not allowed into the buildings during the raids. Formally, the search was conducted within the framework of a criminal case against Bakhrom Khamroev, who is not an employee, but a member of HRC “Memorial”. According to rights defenders, this case was a pretext to get access to the documents of HRC "Memorial".
Also on March 4, 2022, a bill criminalising the dissemination of “fake news” about Russian military operations was approved “to prevent the discrediting of the armed forces of the Russian Federation during their operations to protect the interests of the country and its citizens”. The law applies to both national and international media and will be added as a separate article to the Criminal Code. Individuals convicted on the charge of “fake news” will face up to three years of imprisonment, up to ten years if committed in an official capacity, and up to 15 years if the distribution of “fake news” leads to “serious consequences”. Moreover, “making calls against the use of Russian troops to protect the interests of Russia”, “discrediting such use” and “calling for sanctions against Russia” will be penalised with a prison sentence of up to three years.
In this framework, independent journalists and media outlets reporting on the war have been heavily targeted by the authorities. On February 26, 2022, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media regulator, published a statement ordering media to remove reports describing the attack on Ukraine as an “assault”, “invasion” or a “war”. Should media outlets fail to comply with this order, they will face fines of up to 5 million rubles (approximately 53,200 Euros) and blockages. Roskomnadzor accused several independent media outlets of “spreading unreliable socially significant untrue information” about civilian deaths and the attacks of Russia against Ukrainian cities. The media regulator body further underlined that reliable information could be found in “official Russian information outlets”. That is, State-controlled media. Around 30 independent media sites have been blocked since then. As of March 2, 2022, at least 11 independent journalists had been arbitrarily arrested for their work reporting on the war, including while they were covering anti-war demonstrations.
The Observatory strongly condemns the increased crackdown on human rights defenders, independent media and civil society organisations in Russia and expresses its utmost concern over the blatant violations of the rights to freedom of expression, information and assembly perpetrated by the Russian authorities, including the censorship imposed on independent media operating in the country by the Russian media regulator.
The Observatory further condemns the arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment of human rights defenders and independent journalists, including Oleg Orlov and Svetlana Gannushkina.
The Observatory urges the authorities to put an immediate end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Oleg Orlov, Svetlana Gannushkina and all human rights defenders, peaceful protesters, and independent journalists and media outlets in the country.
The Observatory further urges the authorities to guarantee, in all circumstances, the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, as enshrined in international human right law, and particularly in Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Finally, the Observatory calls on the authorities to immediately repeal the above-mentioned new law and to reverse all restrictive measures implemented by Roskomnadzor.
How You Can Help
Please write to the authorities of Russia, urging them to:
i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Oleg Orlov, Svetlana Gannushkina and all human rights defenders and independent journalists in the country;
ii. Put an immediate end to all act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Oleg Orlov and Svetlana Gannushkina, as well as against all human rights defenders and independent journalists in the country;
iii. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, as enshrined in international human right law, and particularly in Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
iv. Immediately repeal the above-mentioned new law criminalising the dissemination of “fake news” about Russian military operations, and reverse all restrictive measures implemented by Roskomnadzor, including the blockages of independent media outlets.
· Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, Twitter: @KremlinRussia_E
· Mr. Mikhail Mishustin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Twitter:@GovernmentRF
· Mr. Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Igor Krasnov, General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation, Email: email@example.com
· Mr. Alexander Bortnikov, Director of Federal Security Service (FSS), Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. E-mail: email@example.com
· Embassy of the Russian Federation in Brussels, Belgium. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Permanent Representation of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe, France. Email: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of the Russian Federation in your respective countries.