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Attack on major human rights watchdog augurs new weapon of repression in Russian-occupied Crimea

28.12.2021
Halya Coynash

Wall of armed officers blocking lawyers wanting to represent over 20 Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists arrested on 29.03.2019 Photo Crimean Solidarity, OVD-Info logo

Russia’s effective state censor Roskomnadzor has blocked OVD-Info, the largest independent human rights website monitoring and reporting on political persecution in Russia and occupied Crimea.  The site has reportedly been added to Russia’s list of banned websites with the extraordinary claim being that its work is “aimed at justifying the activities of extremist and terrorist organizations”.  Russia is using the same assertion in its attempt to get the vital Memorial Human Rights Centre forcibly dissolved

This is a terrifyingly dangerous development, aimed at preventing the reporting of political repression by claiming that those who speak out are ‘justifying terrorism and extremism’.  That the move comes from high up need not be doubted.  Earlier in December, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that he had asked for more information about the attempt to dissolve the Memorial Human Rights Centre, but added that according to his ‘information’, Memorial HRC supposedly “defends terrorist organizations”.  He specifically mentioned Hizb ut-Tahrir , a peaceful transnational Muslim organization which only Russia and, since 2016, Uzbekistan have claimed to be terrorist.  Memorial HRC is not justifying Hizb ut-Tahrir , it is stating clearly, with full argumentation, why the organization cannot be called terrorist, and why those imprisoned on such charges, including over 80 Crimean Tatars and other Crimean Muslims, should be considered political prisoners.  The same applies to OVD.info. report on political and religious persecution. 

OVD.Info explained in its statement on 25 December that they had discovered that the site was blocked that very morning.  It transpired that the formal order for the blocking had been issued by the Lukhovitsky District Court in the Moscow region, with social media later ordered by Roskomnadzor to block the website’s accounts.  

We are not aware of the reasons for the blocking. We did not receive any official notification about a prosecutor’s check or demands to delete any specific unlawful content.  We had also not received any information about the court hearing or the blocking of the site.

We consider this secretive blocking to be an act of state censorship, the aim of which is to stop our work. We do not recognize censorship and will continue our work.

We will definitely appeal against this ruling and will do all that we can to ensure that you always have access to our news, services, legal instructions and other material. And you can help us in this as follows:

1. Subscribe to our social network  https://ovdinfo.taplink.ws

2.  Make a regular donation at https://donate.ovdinfo.org/ (for most Internet users, the page should open without VPN).

3.  Circulate this information, tell friends about the blocking of the website and ask them to also subscribe to our social media. “

See, for example, the Telegram page  https://t.me/ovdinfo or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ovdinfo

This is not the first attack on OVD.Info, which was forcibly added to Russia’s notorious list of so-called ‘foreign agents’ back in September.  It is, however, a major offensive, one directed against the organization, and not simply demanding that this or that publication be deleted.  

The work OVD.Info and the Memorial Human Rights Centre do in monitoring and reporting on human rights violations is of particularly critical importance in occupied Crimea given Russia’s crushing of any independent media, imprisonment of civic journalists and blocking of international monitors.  The ‘arguments’ used are terrifyingly cynical, and could, before long, lead to still further political repression.  Russia is presently trying to crush websites or organizations that condemn the persecution of people for alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir  or for being Jehovah’s Witnesses, but claiming them to be ‘justifying terrorist or extremist activities’.  The next step would almost certainly be criminal charges for such supposed ‘justification’ against those who refuse to be silenced.

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