Russia: Judicial harassment against prominent rights defenders Oleg Orlov and Svetlana Gannushkina

08/03/2022
Urgent Appeal
Photo: Egor Lyfar

RUS 003 / 0322 / OBS 014
Excessive use of force /
Violations of the rights to freedom
of association and assembly /
Arbitrary arrest / Release /
Judicial harassment / Ill-treatment
Russian Federation
March 8, 2022

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

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary arrest and subsequent release of prominent human rights defenders Mr. Oleg Orlov, member of the Council of the Human Rights Center “Memorial” (HRC “Memorial”) and head of its “Hot Spots” programme, and Ms. Svetlana Gannushkina, founder and Chairperson of the Civic Assistance Committee. The arrests of both rights defenders have taken place amid the brutal crackdown on peaceful anti-war demonstrators and human rights defenders and organisations that followed President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which started on February 24, 2022.

On March 6, 2022, Svetlana Gannushkina and Oleg Orlov were arbitrarily arrested by law enforcement officers in Moscow, while attending a protest against the war in Ukraine. Oleg Orlov was arrested at Manezhnaya square for holding a sign “Peace to Ukraine, Freedom to Russia”. They were both charged with “violating the established procedure for arranging or conducting a meeting, rally, demonstration, procession or picket” (Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). Mr. Orlov and Ms. Gannushkina were released pending trial after more than 10 hours of arbitrary detention. They will have to appear before the court on March 9 and March 15, 2022, respectively.

The Observatory underlines that on the same day, more than 5,020 anti-war peaceful protesters were brutally arrested by the police in 69 cities across Russia, according to OVD-Info, an independent human rights media project which has been targeted by the authorities in reprisal for its work documenting violations of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, the right to be free from arbitrary arrest and other human rights in Russia. Since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, more than 13,000 anti-war protesters have been arbitrarily detained in 147 cities across Russia to date. According to independent media reports, some of the detainees were beaten and there are also reports of torture by the police.

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.

Actions requested:

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.

Addresses:

· 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: ministry@mid.ru
· Mr. Igor Krasnov, General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation, Email: pressa@genproc.gov.ru
· Mr. Alexander Bortnikov, Director of Federal Security Service (FSS), Email: fsb@fsb.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, March 8, 2022

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:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel. FIDH: +33 1 43 55 25 18
· Tel. OMCT: +41 22 809 49 39

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