Russia: arbitrary arrest and indictment of five HRDs associated with youth democratic movement Vesna (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Russia on 8 January 2024. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Regrettably, the Government did not reply within this timeframe. If a reply is received it will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.

According to information received by the Special Rapporteur, on 4 March 2024 the detention of Yan Ksenzhepolsky was extended until 6 June 2024.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication

BACKGROUND

Topic: the alleged arbitrary arrest and indictment of five human rights defenders associated with the non-profit organization Vesna, ostensibly in relation to their human rights activities in the context of the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine.

Vesna is a youth democratic movement established in St. Petersburg in 2013. The group advocates for human rights in Russia, organizes peaceful protests, conducts election monitoring and campaigns against corruption and unfair welfare reforms. In response to the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Vesna and its members have participated in peaceful demonstrations protesting the war and shared information about the details of planned protests on its Telegram channel, as well as disseminating open letters criticizing the invasion.

Mr. Timofey Vaskin is 22 years-old, is a human rights defender, and a member of Vesna, and has previously been involved with the human rights organization OVD-Info and the Movement for Defence of Voters’ Rights (Golos).

Mr. Ivan Drobotov is 28 years-old, a human rights defender and previously worked for the Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF), whilst also being involved in election observation, political activism and Golos.

Ms. Angelina Roshchupko is 25 years-old and is a journalist, her reporting focused primarily on human rights and media issues.

Mr. Roman Maksimov is 28 years-old and is a member of Vesna and a political activist.

Mr. Yan Ksenzhepolsky is 23 years-old and is a human rights defender and a political activist. Prior to February 2022, he was affiliated with Vesna and also with Golos.

We previously raised concerns with the Russian Government regarding the restriction of fundamental freedoms in the context of peaceful protests against the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, which began on 24 February 2022, in the communications RUS 3/2023 and RUS 3/2022.

ALLEGATIONS

Concerning designation of Vesna as a foreign agent and an extremist organization

In the days following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Vesna called for participation in and shared information through its channels about anti-war demonstrations taking place. The group also planned to take part in the annual Immortal Regiment commemoration – held annually on 9 May as part of Victory Day celebrations to pay tribute to those who fought in World War II – joining the procession under the banner “they did not fight for this”.

In response to Vesna’s criticism of and mobilization against the invasion of Ukraine, a number of actions have been taken by the authorities against the group and its members, including the blocking of Vesna’s page on the social network VK by the governmental internet monitoring agency Roskomnadzor, searches of the homes of its members, and arrests of members in St. Petersburg, Novgorod and Moscow.

In early May 2022, a criminal case was opened against Vesna and its members, including Mr. Timofey Vaskin, Mr. Ivan Drobotov, Ms. Angelina Roshchupko and Mr. Roman Maksimov, among other members, under article 239 of the Criminal Code for “the creation or leading of a non-profit organization (NPO) whose activities are associated with persuading citizens to refuse to perform civic duties or to commit other illegal acts”. According to the investigation, the human rights defenders had induced citizens to participate in unauthorized protests from 25–27 February 2022, thereby involving them in illegal activities.

On 21 September 2022, the “partial mobilization” of military reservists was announced by the Government, in response to which Vesna and other human rights organizations called for demonstrations that same day.

On 23 September 2022, it was announced that an additional charge was filed against Vesna in the same case, under article 212 (1.1) of the Criminal Code for purportedly inciting mass riots. In the same month, the St. Petersburg Public Prosecution Office filed a case for Vesna to be designated as an extremist group.

On 14 October 2022, the Ministry of Justice included Vesna on the register of alleged “foreign agents”, citing “foreign nationals” as sources of funding for the group.

On 6 December 2022, the City Court of St. Petersburg recognized Vesna as an extremist organization. During the judicial proceedings, which were reportedly held in secret and members of Vesna were disallowed from participating in, the judge cited the speeches by Vesna members against the invasion of Ukraine, the demonstrations against the invasion, as well as its social media posts which it alleged were aimed at “disseminating information of a discrediting nature about the activities of the Russian Armed Forces”, contain “disrespect for the Day of Military Glory” and express “hostile attitudes towards social groups”, specifically the United Russia party.

In June 2023, another case was filed against six members of Vesna, including Mr. Yan Ksenzhepolsky, reportedly based on Vesna’s social media posts from 2022. The Vesna members were indicted on four charges: the dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (article 207.3(2), points (b) and (d) of the Criminal Code); public calls for actions infringing on state security, committed by an organized group (article 280.4(3) of the Criminal Code); the organization of an extremist community with the aim of developing plans and/or conditions for the commission of extremist crimes (article 282.1 of the Criminal Code); public dissemination of information expressing obvious disrespect to society about the days of military glory and important events in Russia’s history related to the defense of the Motherland (article 354.1(4) of the Criminal Code).

It is reported that at the time of writing, the investigation against Mr. Timofey Vaskin, Mr. Ivan Drobotov, Ms. Angelina Roshchupko and Mr. Roman Maksimov under article 239 of the Criminal Code is ongoing, and all four human rights defenders remain on a wanted list.

Concerning Mr. Timofey Vaskin

On 8 May 2022 at approximately 8pm, officers from the Main Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee conducted a search of Mr. Vaskin’s apartment, lasting until approximately 3am the following morning. During the search, the officers reportedly seized documents related to his work with OVD-Info and Golos, as well as personal IDs, his laptop, tablet, phone and his wife’s phone, among others, only some of which have since been returned.

On the morning of 9 May 2022 following the search, Mr. Vaskin was arrested on the charge of “the creation or leading of a non-profit organization (NPO) whose activities are associated with persuading citizens to refuse to perform civic duties or to commit other illegal acts” (article 239 of the Criminal Code). He was reportedly taken to the Main Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, before being taken to a temporary detention centre.

On 10 May 2022, the Court of Basmanny district of Moscow imposed a restraint measure against Mr. Vaskin until 11 March 2023. According to the conditions of the restraint measures, Mr. Vaskin was prohibited from: leaving the house between 8.00 p.m. and 8.00 a.m. each day without the written authorization of the investigator; to communicate with witnesses, accused, or suspects in the present case without the written permission of the investigator; to send or receive letters, except for correspondence from investigative and judicial authorities; to use means of communication except in certain emergency cases. On appeal, the decision of the Court of Basmanny to impose the restraint measures was upheld. As part of the restraint measures imposed on him, Mr. Vaskin was required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, however he was reportedly never visited by a police officer.

Mr. Vaskin reportedly fled the Russian Federation after about seven months of the imposed restraint measures.

Concerning Mr. Ivan Drobotov

On 9 May 2022, an arrest warrant was issued for Mr. Drobotov on the charge of the “creation of a non-profit organisation infringing on the person and rights of citizens” (article 239 of the Criminal Code). However, Mr. Drobotov was at the time administratively detained on the charge of repeated violation of the Law on Public Events (article 20.2(8) of the Code of Administrative Offences) in the special detention centre for administrative detainees in Sakharovo.

On 10 May 2022, the Court of Basmanny district of Moscow imposed a restraint measure against Mr. Drobotov until 6 June 2022. According to the conditions of the restraint measures, Mr. Drobotov was prohibited from: leaving the house between 8.00 p.m. and 8.00 a.m. each day without the written authorization of the investigator; to communicate with witnesses, accused, or suspects in the present case without the written permission of the investigator; to send or receive letters, except for correspondence from investigative and judicial authorities; to use means of communication except in certain emergency cases. On appeal, the decision of the Court of Basmanny to impose the restraint measures was upheld.

On 26 May 2022, he was released from the Sakharovo detention centre and taken to his home, where the monitoring bracelet for his restraint measure was installed. Mr. Drobotov was reportedly summoned once to the Federal Penitentiary Service to check-in.

On 5 June 2022, Mr. Drobotov fled the Russian Federation.

Concerning Ms. Angelina Roshchupko

On 9 May 2022, Ms. Roshchupko was arrested in Moscow by officers from the Main Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee on the charge of “the creation or leading of a non-profit organization (NPO) whose activities are associated with persuading citizens to refuse to perform civic duties or to commit other illegal acts” (article 239 of the Criminal Code). She was reportedly taken to the Main Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, before being taken to a temporary detention centre.

On 10 May 2022, the Court of Basmanny district of Moscow imposed a restraint measure against Ms. Roshchupko until 11 March 2023. According to the conditions of the restraint measures, Ms. Roshchupko was prohibited from: leaving the house between 8.00 p.m. and 8.00 a.m. each day without the written authorisation of the investigator; to communicate with witnesses, accused, or suspects in the present case without the written permission of the investigator; to send or receive letters, except for correspondence from investigative and judicial authorities; to use means of communication except in certain emergency cases.

As part of the restraint measures, Ms. Roshchupko wore an electronic monitoring bracelet and met with a police officer once a week. Every two days or so, the police officer reportedly called Ms. Roshchupko’s husband to say there was an issue with the electronic bracelet.

The restraint measures imposed on Ms. Roshchupko were extended by the Court of Basmanny district of Moscow on three separated occasions: for the first time on 4 July 2022, the second time on 5 October 2022 and on 9 December 2022 until 11 March 2023. On appeal, each of the three extensions were upheld by the Court.

On 9 January 2023, Ms. Roshchupko was declared wanted, following her fleeing the Russian Federation.

Concerning Mr. Roman Maksimov

On 8 May 2022, Mr. Maksimov was arrested in Veliky Novgorod by officers from the Main Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee on the charge of “the creation or leading of a non-profit organization (NPO) whose activities are associated with persuading citizens to refuse to perform civic duties or to commit other illegal acts” (article 239 of the Criminal Code). Mr. Maksimov was taken to the Main Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation and then to a temporary detention centre in Moscow. Mr. Maksimov was reportedly detained for 89 hours, as the investigator gathered character references of the defendants in the case.

On 11 May 2022, the Court of Basmanny district of Moscow imposed a restraint measure against Mr. Maksimov until 6 October 2022. According to the conditions of the restraint measures, Mr. Maksimov was prohibited from: leaving the house between 8.00 p.m. and 8.00 a.m. each day without the written authorisation of the investigator; to communicate with witnesses, accused, or suspects in the present case without the written permission of the investigator; to send or receive letters, except for correspondence from investigative and judicial authorities; to use means of communication except in certain emergency cases. Mr. Maksimov wore an electronic monitoring bracelet as part of the restraint measures, and was visited by a police officer infrequently, on approximately 10 occasions.

On 5 July 2022, the restraint measure imposed on Mr. Maksimov was extended until 6 October 2022. On appeal, this extension was upheld by the Court.

On the expiration of the restraint measures on 6 October 2022, they were not extended as Mr. Maksimov had reportedly fled the country, and so was declared wanted.

Concerning Mr. Yan Ksenzhepolsky

On 8 June 2023, Mr. Ksenzhepolsky was arrested in Tver by officers from the Main Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee on charges of the dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (article 207.3(2), points (b) and (d) of the Criminal Code); public calls for actions infringing on state security, committed by an organised group (article 280.4(3) of the Criminal Code); the organization of an extremist community with the aim of developing plans and/or conditions for the commission of extremist crimes (article 282.1 of the Criminal Code); public dissemination of information expressing obvious disrespect to society about the days of military glory and important events in Russia’s history related to the defense of the Motherland (article 354.1(4) of the Criminal Code).

Mr. Ksenzhepolsky was detained in Pre-Trial Detention Center No.7 in Moscow, despite the fact he lives in Tver, purportedly due to the severity of the allegations and fear that he would abscond. On appeal, the pre-trial detention of Mr. Ksenzhepolsky was upheld by the Court of Basmanny district of Moscow and has been extended a number of times since his initial arrest.

On 4 December 2023, the pre-trial detention of Mr. Ksenzhepolsky was extended until 6 March 2024. Two additional charges were also brought against Mr. Ksenzhepolsky under article 239 of the Criminal Code for “the creation or leading of a non-profit organization (NPO) whose activities are associated with persuading citizens to refuse to perform civic duties or to commit other illegal acts”, and article 212(1.1) of the Criminal Code for the alleged inducement, recruitment or other involvement of a person in the commission of mass disorder.

Mr. Ksenzhepolsky is currently detained in pre-trial detention centre No. 7 in Kapotnya.

CONCERNS

In the communication, we express our concern in response to the allegedly arbitrary arrest, detention and charges against human rights defenders Mr. Timofey Vaskin, Mr. Ivan Drobotov, Ms. Angelina Roshchupko, Mr. Roman Maksimov and the prolonged pre-trial detention of Mr. Yan Ksenzhepolsky, in relation to their association with the human rights organization Vesna. It would appear that the charges against them are related to their legitimate human rights activities in the context of the invasion of Ukraine, and their exercising of their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly to peacefully oppose the invasion.

We are further concerned about the inclusion of Vesna as a “foreign agent” in the relevant registry, as well as its designation as an extremist organization. We are concerned that such categorizations, which a number of Special Procedures mandate holders have communicated to the Russian Government on numerous occasions, form part of a broader pattern of systematic labelling of NPOs, NGOs and other organizations expressing dissent or views contrary to those of the Russian Government relating to the invasion of Ukraine. We are concerned that such designations and forced dissolutions of civil society organizations results in the stifling of civic space and impedes the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms not only for the organizations in question and their members, but society more broadly, in particular through the chilling effect on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

We recall that “the term ‘extremism’ has no purchase in binding international legal standards and, when operative as a criminal legal category, is irreconcilable with the principle of legal certainty; it is therefore per se incompatible with the exercise of certain fundamental human rights” (A/HRC/43/46, para. 14). We recall that the principle of legal certainty under article 15(1) of the ICCPR, ratified by Russia on 16 October 1973, requires that criminal laws are sufficiently precise so it is clear in advance what types of behaviour and conduct constitute a criminal offence and what would be the consequence of committing such an offence. This principle recognizes that ill-defined and/or overly broad laws are inherently susceptible to arbitrary application and abuse, including discrimination; and cannot serve as a lawful basis for necessary or proportionate restrictions on rights or freedoms (A/HRC/43/46, para. 15).

In 2022, in its Concluding Observations on the eighth periodic report of the Russian Federation on the observance of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Human Rights Committee raised its concerns about “the vague, open-ended and regularly modified definition of ‘extremist activity’ in the federal law on combating extremist activity, which does not comply with the principles of legality, legal certainty and proportionality required for such legislation under article 19 of the Covenant. The Committee is concerned about the frequent use of the law to target political opponents, human rights defenders, journalists, religious communities, artists and lawyers in order to limit civic space, including freedom of expression, for example through extrajudicial blocking of Internet sites or censorship of books, songs and other artistic expression” (at para. 30).

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