Russia: first-ever 'undesirable organisation' case brought against human rights activist

A protester outside the Prosecutor General's office in Moscow with a sign saying 'Hands off Open Russia' © Viktor Kotov

Open Russia’s coordinator in Rostov-on-Don could face six years in jail as crackdown on human rights defenders intensifies 

The Russian authorities have for the first time used the repressive “undesirable organisations” law to open a criminal case against a human rights defender.

This morning, Anastasia Shevchenko, a Coordinator with the Open Russia (Otkrytaya Rossiya) movement, was charged with “repeated participation in the activities of an undesirable organisation”. 

Shevchenko - who has been charged under Article 284.1 of the Criminal Code - could be jailed for six years for this offence. 

The charge came after a series of police raids on the homes of six Open Russia activists in the cites of Rostov-on-Don and Kazan. Shevchenko is Open Russia’s coordinator in Rostov-on-Don. 

Previously, violations of this law have been punished under administrative law in Russia, and Amnesty is concerned that this case could mark an intensified crackdown on human rights activists in the country. 

Natalia Zviagina, Director of Amnesty International’s Office in Russia, said: 

“It is extremely troubling - this sets a new precedent. 
 
“In recent years, the Russian authorities have pursued a policy of suffocation and criminalisation of dissent. 

“The Open Russia movement has become the latest victim of this crackdown.

“If applied broadly, this practice will have far-reaching implications for the right to freedom of expression in the country, as the authorities expand their toolkit for imprisoning human rights defenders and activists in Russia.”

Raids against Open Russia

In recent days, police have opened criminal investigations and conducted searches and arrests of Open Russia’s activists across the country. 

On 17 January, Open Russia’s coordinator in Pskov, Liya Milushkina, and her husband Artyom Milushkin were arrested and accused of selling drugs, an offence punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Artyom, who is also a political activist, previously reported that police officers threatened to plant drugs on him during a recent arrest in November. Amnesty has interviewed several associates of the Milushkins, all of whom are adamant that the criminal case against the couple is fabricated. Amnesty has previously documented a number of cases in which activists in Russia have been prosecuted on trumped-up drug charges, including human rights defender Oyub Titiev who is currently standing trial in Chechnya. 

Meanwhile, on 18 January, police filed a case against Open Russia’s coordinator in Krasnodar, Yana Antonova, for posting a video about the shortage of schools in the region. She was charged with “participation in the activities of an undesirable organisation”, this is an administrative offence when “committed” for the first time.
 

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