Russia: criminal charge filed against HRD Alexei Semyonov in the context of the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine (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 the Russian Federation on 17 April 2023. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. The Government replied on 2 May 2023.

At the time of publication, Alexei Semyonov is still under house arrest. His trial started on June 21 and is currently ongoing. The next hearing is scheduled for 2 August 2023.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication Read the Government's response

BACKGROUND

Topic: criminal charge filed against human rights defender Alexei Semyonov in the context of the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine.

Mr. Alexei Semyonov is an environmental human rights defender from the village of Izhma in the Komi Republic of the Russian Federation, he is also a paediatric doctor.

Mr. Semyonov has been an active defender of the right to a clean environment since 2009. In 2018, he actively participated in peaceful protests against the construction of a landfill near Izhma, and since 2021 he has been professionally engaged in the sorting of waste for recycling and disposal. Since February 2022, he has been openly critical of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

ALLEGATIONS

On 22 March 2022, Alexei Semyonov published a post on his VK social media page about children killed as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for which he was prosecuted for the administrative offence of “discrediting Russian armed forces” (article 20.3.3 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences, imposing a maximum fine of 50,000 roubles, equivalent to $ 656).

On 18 May 2022, Aleksei Semyonov was found guilty by the Izhemsky District Court of the Republic of Komi and fined 30,000 roubles ($ 394).

On 24 September 2022, Semyonov published a post on social media critical of the mobilization in Russia for the war in Ukraine.

On 28 September 2022, Semyonov was arrested at the local House of Culture when he was expressing his opposition to the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation and the mobilisation of 40 members of the Izhma Komi ethnic community. He was briefly held for questioning by police officers about the non-payment of his fine. He was confronted again on his way home by the same police officers about the non-payment of his fine; he went to the police station, after he initially resisted, and was detained upon his arrival there.

On 3 October 2022, he was sentenced to five days imprisonment for non-payment of the administrative fine, under article 20.25, part 1, of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences; and another 10 days for “disobeying police officers” at the time of his arrest, under article 19.3, part 1, of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences.

On 13 October 2022, the day Mr. Semyonov was to be released after serving the two consecutive administrative sentences, he was reportedly arrested by a Moscow-based investigator from the Interior Ministry who accused him of the criminal offence of “repeated discrediting” of the Russian armed forces (article 280.3, part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code). During his interrogation, his mobile phone was allegedly taken from his locker at the detention centre without his knowledge, and police forces entered and searched his apartment in the presence of his wife, seizing his tablet, laptop and data carriers.

On 14 October 2022, the Izhemsky district court in Komi Republic placed Mr. Semyonov under conditional house arrest. He is currently banned from having any contact with external parties, except for relatives, a lawyer, an investigator and an officer of the Federal Penitentiary Service. He is further prohibited from using his mobile phone (except to call emergency services), and from accessing Internet or email services. He has to wear an electronic ankle tag that is activated if he goes beyond a 7-meter radius of a stationary tracking device in the apartment corridor.

The investigation into the criminal charges brought against Mr. Semyonov was completed and no trial date has been set. If convicted, Mr. Semyonov could face a fine, or up to three years in prison. No further information was available.

Mr. Semyonov was reportedly offered the choice of appointing a lawyer at the start of the administrative case but he preferred not to, opting instead for a state-appointed council since he could not afford a lawyer.

Mr. Semyonov was previously detained for his legitimate activities in defence of human rights between 2009 and 2015. This was due in part to his peaceful protests in a public square in which he advocated for freedom of expression, the right to enjoy a clean environment, and citizens’ electoral rights. He also spoke out for those who had been illegally subjected to criminal prosecution. He won five court cases of illegal suppression of his protest pickets by the police, and received compensation for damages caused. He also was fined 10,000 roubles ($ 131) for picketing near the residence of the Komi republic leader against the construction of an unsanitary landfill near Izhma, and another 150 roubles ($2) for dismantling a fence surrounding the proposed landfill.

CONCERNS

In the communication, we express our deep concern regarding the apparent crackdown on human rights defenders in the context of the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine. We are concerned that the information received would imply that that those advocating against the human rights impact of the war, the Russian military, or government policies appear to be at heightened risk of criminalisation.

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