Statement from the International Memorial Association.
Political repressions in Russia since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine have grown blatantly cynical in nature. Today, any criticism of the authorities, any statement against war and arbitrariness can trigger repressions. According to OVD-Info, 19,847 people were held in administrative detention for their anti-war stance between February 24, 2022 and December 17, 2023. Memorial’s Support for Political Prisoners project reports 631 people on the political prisoners list, which is undoubtedly incomplete and growing almost daily. Vladimir Kara-Murza received a 25-year prison sentence, Ivan Safronov - a 22-year sentence, Alexei Navalny - a 19-year one.
These are the longest terms for political cases in Russia since Stalin’s times. There had been no update on Navalny’s whereabouts and health from December 5, 2023 nor any information on the seriously ill Alexei Gorinov for two weeks. It was only on December 25 that the attorneys found Navalny in a penal colony in Yamalo-Nenets autonomous district, and Gorinov - in a prison hospital. Such informational blockade around political prisoners was also characteristic of the Soviet repression practices.
The criminal trial against our colleague Oleg Orlov, accused of discrediting the use of Russia’s armed forces in Ukraine “to protect the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens, to maintain international peace and security”, is still ongoing. Orlov has stated in public that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is in direct contradiction to these interests and that it, on the contrary, sabotaged international peace and security. Prosecutor’s office asked for a 3-year imprisonment for these statements. On December 14, 2023 Moscow City Court ruled to hand the case against Orlov back to the prosecution to have the motives of his “criminal behaviour” established. An investigation is being held to find proof that Orlov spoke up against the war out of “ideological and political hatred”, which is an aggravating circumstance. A few other Memorial activists have already been put in pre-trial detention centres and penal colonies. Mikhail Kriger has been imprisoned for over a year following his arrest on November 3, 2022 for “justification of terrorism” and a 7 year-sentence. Bakhom Khamroev, arrested on February 24, 2022, was sentenced to 13 years and 9 months for “justification of terrorism” and “participation in a terrorist community”. Aleksandr Chernyshov, charged with an attempt to carry the Perm Memorial internal documentation out from Russia, has already spent six months in the detention centre. Jury Dmitriev, sentenced to 15 years on a false accusation, has been imprisoned for several years now. Anyone unbiased, having read their case papers, will clearly see the political nature and evident elements of falsification.
Russia’s ruling regime has repressed the arts as well as social and political activists. A vivid example is a criminal case initiated on December 18 against Boris Akunin (given name Grigori Chkhartishvili) for “justification of terrorism” and “dissemination of false information about the actions of Russia’s armed forces in Ukraine”. Playwright Svetlana Petriychuk and theatre director Evgenia Berkovich have been held in custody since May 4, 2023 for a play reflecting on what pushes young women into terrorist organisations. They are charged with “public appeals to conduct terrorist activities”. Actors, directors, musicians who have issued anti-war statements are deprived of jobs and opportunities to perform. Artist Aleksandra Skochilenko was sentenced to 7 years in prison after her performance against Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine. Russian culture is cancelled not by some enemies from the outside, but within Russia itself; it is being destroyed to exercise total control over the population.
The International Memorial Association is anxiously watching the violation of human rights in Russia and in the former Soviet Union. We call upon international communities, human rights activists in all the countries and the UN organs, to immediately demand the release of all political prisoners in Russia, stop prosecution for expressing anti-war opinions, and take all available legal and diplomatic measures to reach this goal.
Freedom to Russian political prisoners!