Free Russia Foundation Launches #NoToWar Campaign

To The North of North Korea. In Russia, a New Round of Anti-War Protests, Mass Detentions, and Stricter Legislation

Mar 08 2022

On February 24, 2022, the Russian military invaded Ukraine by order of Vladimir Putin. Since then, protests against the war have not stopped inside Russia. Russians demand an end to the military invasion of Ukraine and peace between two countries. In response, the government has brutally suppressed protests, and attempted to intimidate people with new draconian laws. 

Arrests at Protests. The human rights media outlet OVD-Info estimates that by March 7, 2022 over 13,500 people had been detained at anti-war rallies in Russia. Human rights activists say that this is more than at the rally in support of Alexei Navalny that took place in January 2021. 

Detentions at the March 6 rallies were among the largest and most brutal since the anti-war campaign began. Over 5000 people were detained in 56 Russian cities; some of the detainees were physically assaulted, dragged by the hair, doused with water and antiseptic and tasered. The “Protest Apology” project recorded more than 30 complaints about the unjustified use of force and special means by officers of the MVD and Rosgvardiya.

In many cities, plain-clothed law enforcement officers detained protesters and took them to police vans. They often used excessive force. The anonymity created conditions for abuse of power and helped avoid criminal responsibility.

In Novosibirsk, a woman detained at the rally said that she was beaten by the police (she was taken out of the Tsentralny department by paramedics and her leg was injured). At the metro stop “Ploshchad Revolutsii” in Moscow, riot police pinned a man on the floor, pressed him with knees and hit him several times in the head with fists. At Moscow’s Lubyanka Square, police officers demanded to check passersby’s cell phone contents — they threatened arrest in case of refusal.

Detainees at anti-war rallies in various cities say that in police stations they have their cell phones taken away and not allowed to contact lawyers. At Moscow’s Brateevo police station at least three detained girls were beaten by police. They were doused with water and hit on their faces and bodies. “We were beaten on the legs, on the head. They poured water over us. They ripped off the mask, ripped the phone out of hands and threw it against the wall twice. At the end, they picked up the phone, wiped off the fingerprints. They grabbed me by the hair and pulled me around. They yelled at me. There were two girls in the office and they just watched the torture,” said 26-year-old Muscovite Alexandra Kaluzhskikh. In the recording she made, one of the officers can be heard threatening to torture the girl with electric shocks. “Putin is on our side. You are the enemies of Russia, you are the enemies of the people ***** [f**k you]. You’ll ******** [be beaten] here and that’s it. We’ll get a bonus for this,” says the policeman.

Protest participants are charged with violation of the rules of participation in the action (Part 5 of Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code), repeat violation of the rules of participation in the action (Part 8 of Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code), organization or conduct of an action (Part 2 of Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code), disobedience to a legal requirement of the police (Article 19.3 of the Administrative Code), public actions, aimed at “discrediting the use of the armed forces” (Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Code).

All detainees face fines from 2 thousand to 300 thousand rubles and arrest up to 30 days.

New Draconian Laws. On March 4, 2022, the Russian State Duma convened for an emergency plenary session. Among other things, the deputies adopted in the second and third readings a bill on amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses and the Criminal Code. The initiatives introduced punishment for disseminating “knowingly false information about the activities of the Russian Armed Forces” and “for discrediting the use of the Russian forces”. In order for these changes to enter into force as quickly as possible, they were carried out under an accelerated procedure.

According to the text of the law, the crime without aggravating circumstances involves a fine of up to 1.5 million rubles and imprisonment of up to three years. If “official position” was used in spreading “fakes,” there was a “mercenary motive” or a motive of “political, ideological, racial, national or religious hatred,” the person faces a fine of up to five million rubles or five to 10 years in prison. If the distribution of “fakes” led to serious consequences, the case could lead to imprisonment for 10 to 15 years.

What does “discrediting the use of the armed forces” mean? It is “public actions aimed at discrediting the use” of the Russian army, including public calls to prevent its use. Whether this will mean, for example, participation in an anti-war rally, it is not yet clear, but it is very likely.

The Kremlin is hiding the true cost of war from its people.  Ukrainian presidential office reported more than 12,000 dead Russian soldiers, while the Russian Defense Ministry does not confirm these figures. During the first week since the start of the war, it never published data on casualties, and on March 2, it named the losses of the Russian army in Ukraine for the first time. According to the ministry, 498 soldiers were killed and 1,597 wounded during the hostilities. This data has not been updated since then. At the same time, in all publications of government agencies and pro-Kremlin media, it is forbidden to call this conflict the word “war”: only the term “special military operation” is used.

It is also still unclear which soldiers are involved in the operation. Russian authorities claim that only contract soldiers have been sent to the war. The Ukrainian side regularly reports about dozens and even hundreds of captured Russian soldiers, many of whom are not contract soldiers, but regular conscripts.

This is indirectly confirmed by evidence that in mid-February, the parents of soldiers serving in military units in various parts of Russia began to contact the Russian Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers. They all reported the same thing: their sons were either forced to urgently sign a contract or sent to military units located near the border with Ukraine. According to the law, if an enlisted man is ready to go to war under contract, he can sign it one month after the start of military service, but in practice the contracts were signed under pressure, the soldiers’ relatives claim.

The Russian Defense Ministry also does not tell mothers where and how to find their sons. Behind the impersonal figure of 498 people are the tragedies of specific families who, as if they had been instructed in advance, are told “this is a fake,” even when relatives bring in pictures and videos of their loved ones in captivity. There are cases when mothers of killed Russian soldiers receive a death notification, but the military unit keeps claiming that the soldier is in training. “We have no such information,” this phrase has become the universal answer of any officials and military the mothers. 

News about the victims can only be learned from reports by regional authorities or from posts of condolence published by their friends and relatives. It was the same during the war in Donbass in 2014-2015, and it was the same during the Syrian campaign. 

By March 7, 2022, according to data of human rights project “Network Freedoms”, 60 people had been detained under the new law in 16 Russian cities: St. Petersburg, Kostroma, Samara, Krasnoyarsk, Novorossiysk, Orel, Taganrog, Kaliningrad, Krasnodar, Voronezh, Elista, Vladivostok, Yaroslavl, Kemerovo, Anapa, Simferopol.

Some of the detainees are also facing charges for participating in an unauthorized rally (Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code) and violating the law on “fakes” (Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Code). Seven of them have already been fined between 30 and 60 thousand rubles, reports “Network Freedoms.”

NGS42 reported that on March 6, 2022,  a resident of Kemerovo was fined 60 thousand rubles for calling for an anti-war rally. On the same day, a fine of 30 thousand rubles was imposed on Irina Shumilova, a resident of Kostroma, who staged a solitary picket with a poster “This war is a special operation on your taxes, and we fundraise for the medical treatment of children by SMS-messages”. According to “Network Freedoms”, no linguistic expertise was conducted in Shumilova’s case, and the police officer making the arrest said that he detected an appeal to protest in the fact that the words “war” and “special operation” were highlighted on the poster.

Another resident of Kostroma region, priest Ioann Burdin, head of the Church of the Resurrection in the village of Karabanovo, was also detained. He was charged with anti-war preaching and publishing a link to the “No to War” petition on Change.org on the parish website. “Burdin V.V., being in a public place, in the premises of the Church of the Resurrection of Christ, during his religious service in the presence of about 10 worshipers committed public actions aimed at discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, which conduct a special operation on the basis of the decision of the President and the resolution of the Federation Council of the RF Federal Assembly”, — said the protocol according to «Mediazone» media outlet.

Vera Kotova, a resident of Krasnoyarsk, was fined 30 thousand rubles. She was tried for writing “No to War” on the snow. The police report states that she “wrote on the snow by removing the snow cover from the granite base of the monument to Lenin: “No to War.”

The Russian State Goes After Children. On March 3, 2022, the Russian Ministry of Education held an all-Russian open lesson, “Defenders of Peace,” at which schoolchildren were lectured on “why the liberation mission in Ukraine is a necessity.” Shortly before that, principals of educational institutions across Russia directed teachers to hold daily class hours dedicated to the war in Ukraine and relations between the two countries — and sent them teaching guides that referred to the war as a “special operation.”

On March 7, 2022, it was reported that in Moscow, police came to the home of sixth-grader Kirill (surname withheld at the request of his mother) after a history lesson where the war with Ukraine was discussed, and the boy was asking questions. Kirill and his mother Natalia told “Novaya Gazeta” about it.

The lesson, where the teacher decided to discuss the Russian “special operation”, took place on March 4. According to Kirill, not only he, but a few of his classmates asked questions about the war. The consequences for them are not reported.

Among other things, Kirill asked why Putin started a war in Ukraine. To which the teacher said that it was a “special operation.” When asked how to get the government to agree to a rally against the actions of the government itself, she, according to the schoolboy, “did not give a clear answer”.

After class Kirill shouted “Glory to Ukraine!” in the hallway and was supported by other kids, the boy told reporters.

According to the mother of the schoolboy, after the class, she received a call from an unknown number and was invited to the police department for a conversation about her son. Kirill’s class master invited her to school for a meeting with the juvenile affairs inspectorate. Natalya did not show up for the conversation and took her son out of school.

On March 7, when Kirill was alone in the apartment, two police officers came to the schoolboy’s home. The boy did not open the door, so the police turned off the electricity in the apartment and left, leaving a “summons for questioning” under the door.

There is also another scandalous story involving children. On March 2, 2022 in Moscow police detained two women and five of their children, aged seven to 11, who had come to lay flowers at the Ukrainian Embassy. The detainees were first held in a police truck, then brought to the Presnenskoe police station.The authorities first wanted to keep the parents and their children overnight at the police station, but later they let them go.  A trial and fines are ahead, and the parents are afraid — the police officers shouted at them, threatening to deprive them of their parental rights.

Internet and Social Media Blockade. On March 2, Roskomnadzor blocked the websites of the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and Border Guard Service and several dozen Ukrainian media outlets in Russia, including TCN channel, Segodnya, Zaxid, Ukrinform, Censor.net, Vesti.ua, Depo.ua and Delo.ua, among others.

By March 4, Roskomnadzor had blocked 16 media outlets in Russia: Meduza, BBC Russian Service, Deutsche Welle, Current Time, The New Times, The Village, DOXA, Taiga.info, Dozhd, Echo Moskvy, TV2, Radio Liberty, and six related projects: “Idel.Realii,” “Siberia.Realii,” “Sever.Realii” and “Radio Azatlyk.”

On March 6, it became known about the blocking of the media outlets Mediazone and Republic, as well as websites of Snob, Sobesednik, Agent, 7×7, Ekho Moskvy in Chelyabinsk, and Ekho Kavkaza.

Before that, Roskomnadzor issued a statement in which it demanded that the media should write about the war in Ukraine, relying only on official Russian sources, otherwise the agency threatened to block them and impose fines of up to five million rubles. The Krasnoyarsk-based media outlet Prospekt Mira, and Echo Moskvy, InoSMI, Mediazona, The New Times, Dozhd, Svobodnaya Pressa, Krym.Realii, Novaya Gazeta, Zhurnalist, and Lenizdat immediately received cautions from the agency.

After Russia passed a law on criminal liability for “fakes” about the actions of the Russian army, a number of media outlets announced that they had stopped working (in particular, Znak.com) or refused to write about the war (in particular, Novaya Gazeta and Snob).

Roskomnadzor also restricted Russians’ access to Facebook and Twitter.

Blocked media outlets, however, continue to operate and many Russians keep reading them using anti-blocking tools, such as VPN clients or plug-ins. In addition, the Tor browser in traffic obfuscation mode is used to bypass blocking. Telegram news channels are extremely popular: the number of subscribers of some of them has exceeded one million these days.

Statement of Free Russia Foundation Condemning the Massive Missile Strike on Ukrainian Territory

Oct 10 2022

On the morning of October 10, the Russian military launched missile strikes against Ukrainian cities. They targeted Kyiv, Dnipro, Kharkiv, Khmelnytskyi, Ternopil, Lviv, Zhytomyr, Kremenchuk, Kryvyi Rih, Konotop, Odessa, Rivne, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Poltava. According to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, more than 80 rockets were fired at the territory of Ukraine. A total of eleven people were killed and dozens were injured.

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that the strikes were carried out strictly against military, communications, and energy facilities in Ukraine. This is not true: museums, philharmonic halls, business centers, residential buildings, parks, and public transport stops are not military targets. One video circulated on social media shows a huge shell crater on a children’s playground. Fear, death and destruction have once again come to the capital of Ukraine. This is yet another demonstration of the Kremlin’s absolute cruelty and Vladimir Putin’s determination to continue his inhuman war against the sovereign state and its people.

We are deeply shocked by today’s large-scale missile attacks of the Russian Armed Forces on Ukrainian cities, which have caused widespread damage and resulted in the death and injury of many innocent people. We mourn the victims and express our sincere condolences to all Ukrainians who have suffered today. 

The Russian Federation’s escalation of war in Ukraine is unacceptable and must cease immediately. We call on world leaders, governments, and international human rights organizations to pressure the Kremlin to stop attacks on civilian infrastructure, withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine, and resume diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the war. We also demand that Vladimir Putin and all those involved in today’s attack be prosecuted for war crimes.

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Human Rights Activists from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. A Congratulatory Letter from Free Russia Foundation

Oct 07 2022

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties, Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, and Russia’s Memorial HRC.

The Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties is engaged in promoting human rights and democracy in the country, assistance programs for “Kremlin prisoners” — Ukrainian political detainees held in Russian jails, investigation of war crimes, tracing missing citizens, and providing assistance to thousands of Ukrainians affected by the war unleashed by the Putin regime.

Ales Bialiatski was one of the initiators of the democratic movement that emerged in Belarus in the mid-1980s. He devoted his entire life to the promotion of democracy and peace in his country. The Human Rights Center ” Viasna,” which he founded in 1996, collected information about those detained at the protests and torture in detention centers, provided help to the victims of law enforcement excesses.

Memorial, Russia’s most important human rights organization, was founded in 1987 by a group of likeminded activists who wanted to commemorate the victims of Soviet-era political repression. Members of the movement created a complex of sites dedicated to the victims of repression, and held demonstrations, exhibitions, and seminars on the subject of state terror. The first chairman of Memorial’s board was Andrei Sakharov, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

In announcing the winners, Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, stated that “the Peace Prize laureates represent civil society in their home countries. They have for many years promoted the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens. They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power.”

Natalia Arno, president of Free Russia Foundation, in congratulating her fellow human rights activists on their award, noted that the protection of civil liberties should be the space that can still unite the citizens of post-Soviet countries, dragged by the will of one man into the most grievous of conflicts.

“I welcome the decision of the Nobel Committee and salute all the laureates for the recognition of their merits. The award goes to people who embody not only the struggle for truth and justice, but also the very fundamental notion of freedom. It is also an indication of the plight of civil society in our countries, divided by the will of one man and now separated by history for decades to come. Just look at where we are today: the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, headed by Oleksandra Matviychuk, has been investigating the thousands of war crimes committed by Putin’s army on Ukrainian soil since February; Viasna, Belarus’ leading human rights organization, has been demolished, with Ales Bialiatski and many of its staff arrested; Memorial has been fined and liquidated, its assets have been seized by the authorities, and its team has been forced to flee the country. But I believe that we will not allow this regime to finally destroy our lives and the historical destinies of our peoples. Protecting basic human rights is still the space that unites us in 2022. I congratulate you, colleagues! Peace, freedom, and justice to our countries!”

Free Russia Foundation Condemns Expansion of Charges Under the Politically-Motivated Criminal Prosecution of Vladimir Kara-Murza and Demands His Immediate Release

Oct 06 2022

Today, Russian media outlets have reported that new charges of high treason (Article 275 of the Russian Criminal Code) have been filed against opposition politician, human rights activist, and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza.

Vladimir Kara-Murza’s attorney Vadim Prokhorov confirmed that the charges of state treason have been filed against the politician on three counts. They allege speeches criticizing the Russian authorities at public events in Lisbon, Portugal; Oslo, Norway; and Washington, DC. According to the lawyer, the speeches, that indeed took place, posed no threat to the security of Russia, on the contrary, they were aimed at protecting the interests of Russia and its citizens and at correcting the current catastrophic situation.

The pro-democracy leader faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Vladimir Kara-Murza has pleaded not guilty.

Natalia Arno, president of Free Russia Foundation, in her comments on the new charges expressed outrage at the illegal prosecution of Kara-Murza.  “Charges of state treason for public speeches are absurd especially with regards to Vladimir, who is globally recognized as a true patriot of Russia and revered for his work in defense of the interest of the Russian people and democratic principles.”

Arno noted that Vladimir Kara-Murza served as Foundation’s Vice President, but was relieved from that position on August 3, 2021. “This decision was made by our board in recognition of the fact that Vladimir had been spending most of his time working in Russia, that was his main focus and his plan,” she explained.

The Foundation considers the criminal case against Vladimir Kara-Murza fabricated and politically motivated, a retribution for his work in support of human rights and his courageous quest against Putin’s autocracy.

“It has been absolutely clear from the very beginning that the detention and persecution of Kara-Murza is part of the wider campaign by the Russian authorities to punish and suppress any dissent,” said Natalia Arno.

“Today, accusations of discrediting the Russian military and participating in activities of an undesirable organization have been further inflated by charged of high treason, one of the most severe criminal offenses that can send a person to prison for decades. Vladimir Kara-Murza is a Russian patriot who has fought for many years for a prosperous future for his country. For this, the Kremlin tried to kill him twice, but, having failed to achieve its aim, arrested him and is now persecuting him on false charges that could lead to years of unjust imprisonment.

This is a tragic case  that shows us the ways Vladimir Putin’s dictatorial regime is suppressing all opposition in order to sow fear among Russians and remain in power at any cost. For years, Vladimir Kara-Murza has been one of the most consistent and determined advocates of democracy and human rights in Russia. His bogus arrest only underscores the importance of the idea of justice for the people of Russia and Ukraine, who have suffered too long from the actions of the Kremlin kleptocracy.” Free Russia Foundation, which supports Russian activists, journalists, and human rights defenders, considers the charges against Vladimir Kara-Murza unjust and politically motivated, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release. We demand the Russian authorities to stop manipulating the law to achieve false, illusory goals that destroy the very foundations of democracy and international security.

Free Russia Foundation Condemns the Signing of the Treaty on the “Incorporation of New Territories into Russia,” De Facto the Annexation of the Occupied Territories of Ukraine

Sep 30 2022

On Friday, September 30, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the heads of the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” and “Donetsk People’s Republic,” as well as the occupation administrations of Zaporizhia and Kherson regions, signed treaties in the Kremlin on “joining Russia.”

Free Russia Foundation strongly condemns the decision of Vladimir Putin and his administration to continue the illegal annexation of the occupied territories in Ukraine. The forcible change of international borders at the expense of another sovereign state and the so-called “referenda” that preceded it are a serious violation of the foundations of international law and cannot be recognized under any circumstances.

Natalia Arno, president of Free Russia Foundation: “Today Vladimir Putin has de facto announced the illegal annexation of the occupied territory of a sovereign state. The signing of this treaty is a blatant violation of the fundamental norms of international law and the Charter of the United Nations, of which Russia is a member. Such actions by the Russian President, together with previously announced military mobilization and nuclear blackmail, only lead to an escalation of the conflict and new human sacrifices. In the modern world, borders cannot be redrawn at gunpoint. Russia’s actions are illegal and unacceptable to the civilized world.”

Free Russia Foundation, which provides support to Russian activists, journalists, and human rights defenders, calls on all countries and international organizations to join us in resolute and public condemnation of Russian military aggression and its illegal actions to tear away the territory of sovereign Ukraine. We urge you to call on the Kremlin to cease its hostilities and leave the territories it has seized.

Free Russia Foundation Condemns the Kremlin’s Decision to Annex the Occupied Territories of Ukraine and Preparations for Mobilization in Russia

Sep 20 2022

On September 20, 2022, the occupation authorities of the self-proclaimed republics “LNR” and “DNR” and other occupied territories of Ukraine, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, hastily announced that they would hold “referendums on joining Russia” in the near future. The authorities of the “LNR” and “DNR” added that the vote will take place as early as this week, from September 23 to 27, 2022.

On the same day, the Russian State Duma introduced the concepts of “mobilization,” “martial law” and “wartime” into the Russian Criminal Code. The deputies voted for the law in the third reading unanimously — all 389 of them. Now voluntary surrender, looting and unauthorized abandonment of a unit during combat operations will result in imprisonment.

From the first day of the war unleashed by Putin’s regime and its allies against independent Ukraine, Free Russia Foundation, which supports Russian activists, journalists, and human rights activists forced to leave the country because of direct security threats, has condemned the crimes of Putin’s regime against independent Ukraine. We respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states and consider human life and freedom to be of the highest value.

The forthcoming “referendums”, mobilization, and martial law are a collapse of the whole system of “Putin’s stability,” the illusion of which the Kremlin has been trying to maintain since the beginning of the full-scale war with Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is preparing to blatantly violate international law once again and launch an attack on democracy and freedom in Ukraine and Europe. Any statements by the Kremlin that residents of the occupied territories of Ukraine want to become part of Russia are false.

Three decades ago, the Ukrainian people proclaimed the independence of their state. Since 2014, the world has seen that Vladimir Putin has undermined Ukraine’s sovereignty and any attempts at anti-war protest in Russia through military force, repressive legislation, false statements, and massive state propaganda. Despite all the suffering inflicted on Ukraine, Putin has failed to achieve this goal: Ukrainians continue to show fortitude and determination to defend their country at any cost, and Russian anti-war resistance continues despite repression.

We consider any attempts to tear away Ukrainian territory through so-called “referendums” categorically unacceptable and call on state institutions and international human rights organizations to join the demand for an immediate end to the war and the liberation of the occupied territories. Any war brings suffering to humanity and endangers peace. We will not allow a totalitarian dictatorship to prevail and we will continue to fight for Ukraine’s independence and Russia’s democratic future.