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