ProtectDefenders.eu expresses its concerns regarding the continued attacks on and harassment of human rights defenders and civil society by Russian authorities in Russia and Russian-occupied territories.
Over the past weeks, ProtectDefenders.eu has received information regarding the raids on the offices of the Crew Against Torture-Russia (CAT-Russia), as well as on the homes of staff of the organisation, including Olga Sadovskaya, its deputy chairperson, and other human rights defenders. Russian authorities use raids against human rights defenders as a method of intimidation and suppression of their human rights activities.
CAT-Russia is a prominent and one of the oldest anti-torture human rights organisations in the country and a member of the OMCT SOS-Torture network. Among other things, CAT Russia helps victims of torture through efforts to further accountability, particularly in regions like Northern Caucasus. The organisation assists victims of torture and conducts independent investigations of torture cases. Since its creation, the organisation has received at least 3178 complaints, won 78 cases in the European Court of Human Rights and contributed to verdicts for 159 perpetrators of torture.
On May 4, 2023, representatives of the General Administration for Combating Extremism (Center ‘E’) in the city of Krasnodar raided the office of Crew against Torture in Krasnodar, in southern Russia. After the raid, law enforcement brought human rights defender and lawyer, Ilya Platonov, who was present at the office during the raid, in for questioning as a witness; he was let go later the same day. This is the third raid on Crew against Torture’s regional offices since 14 April 2023.
On April 28, 2023, officers of the Centre for Combating Extremism (Centre-E) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs searched CAT-Russia’s office in the city of Nizhny Novgorod in connection with a criminal case opened against one of CAT-Russia’s beneficiaries in North Ossetia who reported torture at a police station. During the search, several USB flash drives were seized. Centre-E officers also searched the apartments of three staff of CAT-Russia in Nizhny Novgorod, including Olga Sadovskaya’s residence, where they seized her laptop, a mobile phone and 80 hunting cartridges belonging to her ex-husband.
Previously, on April 14, 2023, CAT-Russia’s North Caucasus branch’s office in the city of Pyatigorsk was also searched in connection with the same case, the details of which remained unknown. On that day, the police seized an old laptop and a USB flash drive. CAT-Russia team’s position is that law enforcement officials are using the criminal case brought against their beneficiary to put pressure on the organisation, as it continues operating in the Russian Federation.
On 20 May 2023, law enforcement officers in Perm raided the apartment of woman human rights defender and lawyer Elena Pershakova for six hours. She is head of the legal team of the Public Verdict Foundation and has been representing Perm Memorial, a human rights organisation, since 2019. The raid is related to the persecution of the chairperson of the Perm Memorial, Robert Latypov, and the chairperson of the Centre of Historic Memory, Aleksandr Chernysho During the raid, the authorities seized the woman human rights defender’s phone, laptop, hard drive and work-related documents.
This happens in the context of an increased crackdown on Russian civil society, including the systematic liquidation of human rights organisations and independent media outlets under the “Foreign Agent” Law. This is the case of the International Memorial and the Human Rights Center “Memorial (HRC Memorial), the Moscow Helsinki Group, as well as the independent human rights media project OVD-Info.
Furthermore, ProtectDefenders.eu has received information on attacks and harassment of defenders in Russian-occupied Crimea.
Abdureshit Dzhepparov, an indigenous and minority Crimean Tatar rights defender and coordinator of the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights, has been targeted by administrative harassment. On May 23, 2023, Abdureshit Dzhepparov was informed about two administrative cases opened against him under Part 1 of Article 20.3.3 and Part 9 of Article 13.15 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation (“discrediting the Russian Federation armed forces” and “abusing the freedom of the media”, respectively), one month after his home had been raided and he had been sentenced with 12 days of detention.