The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Anastasia Shevchenko
Anastasia Shevchenko is an activist with the Open Russia movement and one of the Kremlin’s newest political prisoners (designated as such on February 8, 2019). She was the first person to be charged under Criminal Code Article 284.1.
Founded by outspoken Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Open Russia seeks to promote democratic values and the rule of law in Russia. A British NGO with the same name was banned as an “undesirable” organization by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office in 2017, and prosecutors in Russia have improperly used this to bring administrative charges against anyone involved with the Russian organization. However, under Criminal Code Article 284.1, repeated involvement with an undesirable organization is a criminal offense punishable by two to six years’ imprisonment. Shevchenko had previously been administratively sanctioned for her involvement with Open Russia on January 19 and July 6, 2018, so for the third alleged offense, officials charged her under Article 284.1. She is currently under house arrest. In a particularly cruel move, the authorities initially denied Shevchenko’s requests to visit her hospitalized daughter, and she was finally allowed to visit mere hours before her daughter died.
Shevchenko’s arrest came amidst an intensifying crackdown on Open Russia. On January 17, 2019, Liya Milushkina, an Open Russia Coordinator, and her husband were arrested on fabricated drug charges. On January 18, Yana Antonova, another Open Russia coordinator, was charged with an administrative offense for “participation in the activities of an undesirable organization” – she had posted a video about the shortage of schools in the region. On January 21, police raided the homes of six Open Russia activists (including Shevchenko). As of February 2019, Open Russia activists across the country had been charged with administrative offenses for “participation in the activities of an undesirable organization.”
The European Union condemned Shevchenko’s arrest, noting its “strong concern over the use of this legislation to criminalise the actions of civil society and human rights defenders in Russia.” It reiterated: “We expect that the charges will be dropped immediately and Ms Shevchenko’s house arrest will be brought to an end.” The US called for her immediate release, noting that “[t]he charges against Ms. Shevchenko demonstrate that the Russian Federation is now willing to use the law’s most repressive provisions in its efforts to exert pressure on independent civil society and punish those citizens who seek to maintain connections with organizations in other participating States.” Amnesty International has designated her as a prisoner of conscience.