Russian authorities have targeted another activist under its “undesirable organization” law, the former executive director of the Open Russia Civic Movement, a pro-democracy organization. On May 31, police detained Andrey Pivovarov, forcing him to disembark from an international flight at St Petersburg airport as the plane was preparing to take off.
The egregious offence that prompted such extraordinary action? In August 2020, Pivovarov posted information about candidates in the then upcoming municipal elections.
The Krasnodar Investigative Committee, which initiated criminal proceedings against him on May 29, issued a press statement on June 1, alleging that this post constituted public dissemination of information in support of an undesirable organization and that he was detained “during an attempt to flee abroad from the investigation.” Russian authorities accuse Open Russia of being the same as an organization registered in the United Kingdom under the same name and designated “undesirable” in 2017; Open Russia activists insist they have no affiliation with the British organization. Under a highly controversial Russian law, once designated “undesirable,” a foreign or international organization must cease activities in Russia; anyone deemed to have affiliation with that organization and two prior administrative offenses on the same charges can be held criminally liable. Open Russia Coordinator Tatyana Usmanova told me that Pivovarov had administrative offenses dating back to 2019. At 2:30 a.m. on June 1, police searched his apartment in St. Petersburg. Russian law requires searches be conducted between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., allowing for night searches only under extraordinary circumstances. According to Open Russia coordinator, Anastassiya Burakova, an investigator justified the search without judicial review claiming that Pivovarov’s whereabouts were unknown at the time. Pivovarov spent a night in a cell and was transported to Krasnodar, where the alleged crime was committed. If found guilty, Pivovarov may face up to six years in prison. In several previous cases, courts have sentenced activists to community service or suspended sentences on the same charges, but recently a convicted activist spent two years under house arrest awaiting trial and another – non Open Russia activist – has spent more than five months in pre-trial detention. Russian lawmakers recently adopted in first hearing two new bills that would ban Russian nationals from involvement with “undesirables” even outside Russia’s borders and make instituting such criminal cases considerably easier, putting many activists at risk. In response to these legislative developments, on May 27, Open Russia announced it was shutting down to protect its supporters. Clearly that did not prevent the authorities from opening new criminal cases for affiliation with it.
The continued targeting of Open Russia and other peaceful activists is abusive, unjustifiable, and needs to stop.
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