Defender of Russia’s Ukrainian political prisoners jailed and fined for picket against attempt to destroy Memorial
Viktoria Ivleva, a tireless defender of Russia’s Ukrainian political prisoners, has been fined a huge 150 thousand rouble fine after being held in detention for two days. She and civic activist Yury Samodurov were among 12 people detained on 20 November while holding legal single-person pickets on Pushkin Square in support of the International Memorial Society and Memorial Human Rights Centre which the regime is seeking to dissolve. Both were held in custody for two days until the court hearing on 22 November.
The Khamovniki District Court on Monday convicted Samodurov of having supposedly infringed the rules for organizing a protest (Article 20.2 § 2 of Russia’s Code of administrative offences) and fined him 20 thousand roubles. The same ‘court’ convicted Ivleva under the article on repeated infringements of legislation on holding meetings (Article 20.2 § 8) and imposed the above-mentioned crippling fine.
The official legality of single-person pickets is largely in words alone, certainly in occupied Crimea. Here, judging by Ivleva’s account on Saturday to Novaya Gazeta, the pretext for detaining the two protesters was that for a split second, as Samodurov handed her the placard, they both had a couple of fingers on the placard at the same moment. This was enough for both of them to be led off to a police van and imprisoned for two days.
OVD-info reported that Vasily Mochalov and Andrei Babin had been detained for single-person pickets against Russia’s political repression. They, and ten others, also reportedly detained, were seemingly later that day released.
According to the BBC Russian Service, Ivleva was the first journalist to have been inside the Fourth Reactor of the fatal Chornobyl Nuclear Power Station and received the prestigious World Press Photo Golden Eye in 1991 for her report. She is probably better known, especially in Ukraine, for her unwavering support for Russia’s ever-mounting number of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners. This she expresses not only in single-person pickets, but by attending political trials, appeal hearings, etc. and by organizing vital parcels with food, warm clothing, etc. for political prisoners.
There have been numerous attacks on the International Memorial Society and the Memorial Human Rights Centre over the last eight years, with many of them citing Memorial’s consistent condemnation of Russia’s occupation of Crimea and aggression against Ukraine. The Memorial Human Rights Centre plays a particularly vital role in documenting current political and religious persecution in both Russia and occupied Crimea.
The initial report, on 11 November, focused on International Memorial and stated that the application to the Supreme Court was over the NGO’s supposed violation of Russia’s notorious law on so-called ‘foreign agents’. International Memorial has dismissed this, stating that, despite their opposition to the law, they do comply with its requirements. Some of these, however, are applied very selectively and it is hard to predict where the absurd disclaimer about the NGO having been registered as a ‘foreign agent’ needs to appear. It became evident in 2018 that exorbitant fines against both International Memorial and Memorial HRC were being imposed in an attempt to crush them both. The fines were often imposed for failing to post all of the long sentence demanded about being a ‘foreign agent’ on a social media post.
The attack on Memorial HRC is, in some ways, even more ominous as the prosecutor is accusing the NGO of ‘justifying terrorism and extremism’. The claim is based on Memorial HRC’s recognition as political prisoners of Muslims, including many in occupied Crimea, serving or facing horrific sentences on charges of involvement in the peaceful ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ transnational Muslim party or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The authorities have turned to two supposed ‘experts’ Natalia Nikolayevna Kryukova and Alexander Yevgenyevich Tarasov who lack any competence but have repeated provided ‘assessments’ backing politically motivated prosecutions.
The first hearing in the Memorial HRC application (before the Moscow City Court) is due on 23 November, with the hearing before the Supreme Court over International Memorial due on 25 November.
There has been huge protest both in Russia and abroad over the plans to destroy these vital NGOs, with appeals issued by Nobel Peace Price laureates, including the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, international structures, NGOs, cultural figures and historians.
If you have not already done so, please sign the petition ‘Hands off Memorial!’ here.