In Russia, TrialWatch is monitoring how the authorities are using a growing arsenal of laws to shut down space for discussion or dissent. Russia has steadily expanded its ‘foreign agent’ and ‘undesirable organizations’ laws. TrialWatch is also documenting the broader crackdown on political opposition, journalists, and those who defend the rights of vulnerable.
Leading opposition figure Aleksey Navalny was convicted of slander for criticizing those who appeared in a political video, saying that they were ‘corrupt stooges’ and ‘traitors.’ Not only did this violate his right to freedom of expression, but the trial itself was marred by violations of Mr. Navalny’s fair trial rights. A report on the case is forthcoming.
“The proceedings seem to have been intentionally cruel, with the court denying Ms. Shevchenko the right to visit her dying daughter and weaponizing surveillance footage.”
– Katerina Hadzi-Miceva Evans, an expert on freedom of association and assembly and a member of the TrialWatch Experts Panel
Ms. Shevchenko was prosecuted and convicted for holding up a flag that said “#FEDUP” at a peaceful protest and speaking at a meeting about an organization that advocated for free and fair elections. She spent more than two years under arbitrary house arrest and could not visit her 17-year-old terminally ill daughter until the day before her daughter’s death. The authorities also installed a hidden camera above Ms. Shevchenko’s bed—from which they filmed her in her underwear and having personal conversations. The report, based on monitoring of the case by Human Rights Embassy as part of TrialWatch, gave the trial a grade of ‘D.’
Journalist and editor Alexander Pichugin was convicted under vague fake news laws implemented by Russia during COVID-19 for his sarcastic commentary saying churches stayed open despite otherwise strict quarantine measures. He became the first journalist convicted under what was at the time, Russia’s newest ‘fake news’ law. He was fined 300, 000 rubles. Since then, Russia has added new ‘fake news’ laws to its arsenal to stifle criticism of the Ukraine invasion. The treatment of Mr. Pichugin could be a sign of things to come.
In March 2023, 45-year-old Russian human rights lawyer Mikhail Benyash was convicted for allegedly assaulting police officers despite evidence they in fact assaulted him. Benyash was first put on trial and convicted for the alleged assault in 2019. His conviction was overturned after an appeal in which the defense presented TrialWatch’s findings. Benyash had been representing anti-war protestors and soldiers who refused to fight in Ukraine before the Russian authorities deployed a range of tactics to stop him, including this second conviction, his disbarment, and his placement on a ‘foreign agents’ list.
Svetlana Prokopyeva is a journalist convicted by a military court of “justification of terrorism” based on comments she made on a radio show and in an article that explored the potential reasons behind a terrorist attack committed by a teenager. At trial, the court denied Ms. Prokopyeva the right to examine the authors of the prosecution’s key expert report, while effectively disregarding defense experts. The report on the case gave the trial a grade of ‘D.’
Seven Crimean human rights defenders were tried and convicted of terrorism offenses after being arrested in Crimea and taken over the border into Russia and given severe sentences.
Action: After the Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ) and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP brought Mr. Mustafayev’s case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Working Group ordered Russia to release and compensate him.
The charges were based on their alleged links to a group legal in Ukraine, but banned in Russia, and their conviction was based on the vague accounts of three witnesses, two of whom testified anonymously without justification or adequate procedural safeguards, and all of whose testimony was rife with discrepancies. On this basis, CFJ and Gibson Dunn took Server Mustafayev’s case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The Working Group found Russia was arbitrarily detaining Mr. Mustafayev and ordered Russia to release and compensate him.
Mr. Pavlov, well-known for his defense of Aleksey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, has been charged with leaking information to the local press about a former journalist who he was also defending. Mr. Pavlov was detained days after the prosecutor’s office announced they wanted to outlaw groups linked to Aleksey Navalny.
Human Rights Embassy has been monitoring the proceedings against Yulia Tsvetkova, a prominent LGBTQ+ and women’s rights activist, who is facing pornography charges for posting artistic images of female genitalia in what she has said is an effort to combat the objectification of women’s bodies. More on this case will be available soon.
Journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent critic of the Russian government and Washington Post contributor, was recently arrested and convicted of disobeying police orders. CFJ intends to monitor the appeal proceedings in Mr. Kara-Murza’s case as part of its focus on Russia’s free speech crackdown at home.
Journalist and editor Alexander Pichugin was convicted under vague fake news laws implemented by Russia during COVID-19 for his sarcastic commentary saying churches stayed open despite otherwise strict quarantine measures.
Just weeks after returning to Russia from Germany—where he had been recuperating from having been poisoned—Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny was tried and convicted of slander.
The Clooney Foundation for Justice's TrialWatch initiative monitored the criminal trial of journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva in Russia. On July 6, 2020, Prokopyeva was convicted of “justifying terrorism” for a radio broadcast that commented critically on Russia’s repressive political climate.
All eight of the defendants are Crimean Tatars, practicing Muslims, and human rights activists. The prosecution charged each man “preparation for a forcible seizure of power or forcible retention of power” and “organising” or “participating” in the activities of a terrorist organization.