The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to the Government of the Russian Federation on 7 September 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, during which time the Government was expected to respond. The Government replied on 31 October 2022, which was recently translated and made publicly available.
This is a shorter version of the original communication.
Topic: alleged criminalisation of Ms. Izabella Evloeva and harassment of her parents in connection with her legitimate human rights work and the exercise of the freedom of expression.
Ms. Izabella Evloeva is a woman human rights defender and journalist from the Republic of Ingushetia currently residing abroad. She is the chief editor of Fortanga, an independent media outlet that covers human rights violations in Russia and particularly the Republic of Ingushetia. She also writes for her telegram-based blog “Not a Woman, but a Journalist” and uses this platform to cover human rights violations by the Russian authorities, including those committed in Ukraine.
I previously wrote to the Russian Government regarding article 207.3 of the Criminal Code on 1 July 2022 (AL RUS 9/2022) and thank your them for the reply dated 23 August 2022. However, I remain concerned, given the allegations below. Similar concerns regarding the impact of article 207.3 were voiced in the press release issued on 13 July 2022.
A. Criminal cases against Ms. Izabella Evloeva
The Investigative Committee of Russia for the Republic of Ingushetia allegedly opened three criminal cases against Ms. Izabella Evloeva under paragraph 1 of article 207.3 of the Criminal Code, referring to “public dissemination, under the guise of reliable reports, of knowingly false information containing data on the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation”.
The first criminal case was reportedly opened on 4 April 2022 for the following publications made between 5 to 8 March 2022 in the Telegram channel “Not a Woman, but a Journalist”:
– Publication dated 5 March 2022 announcing that, as Russian authorities restricted freedom of expression about the events in Ukraine, Ms. Evloeva would be publishing relevant information in the channel, including information about the Ingush members of the military, the captured and the dead;
– Publication dated 5 March 2022 about an allegedly captured Ingush soldier and other captured soldiers, as well as an update about the allegedly killed and wounded members of the Russian army;
– Publication dated 8 March 2022 calling Ingush people and other people whose relatives serve in the Russian army to consider not participating in the war;
– Publication dated 8 March 2022 (subsequently deleted) allegedly containing the list of killed and wounded residents of the Republic of Ingushetia.
The second criminal case was reportedly opened on 26 April 2022 for a 3 April 2022 publication on the same Telegram channel. The publication contained photos from Bucha, Ukraine and a comment that the Russian army allegedly raped women and girls, killed civilians, looted and pillaged villages in Ukraine, and that the events in Ukraine reminded Ms. Evloeva of the Second Chechen
On 10 May 2022, the Sunzhensky District Investigation Department reportedly charged Ms. Izabella Evloeva in relation to the publications listed above. The notice to her defence lawyer, who had a right to be present, was allegedly sent almost a month later.
The third criminal case was reportedly initiated on 27 July 2022 for publications on the Telegram channel Fortanga made on 27 June 2022. Detailed information about the third case is unavailable. The publications concerned were allegedly about the losses of the Russian army in Ukraine and the alleged rocket attack on a shopping mall in Kremenchuk, Ukraine.
All three cases have reportedly been combined into one proceeding investigated by the Sunzhensky District Investigation Department. The Russian authorities reportedly issued a country-wide search warrant for Ms. Izabella Evloeva and there have been reports about the law enforcement’s plans to place her on the international wanted list.
B. Harassment of Ms. Izabella Evloeva’s family
In parallel with the prosecution of Ms. Izabella Evloeva, her family members living in the Republic of Ingushetia have reportedly been harassed. On 7 June 2022, authorities reportedly searched her parents’ house in Sunzha, where she reportedly had not lived since 1998. According to reports, the search lasted for four hours and was conducted without a protocol. Moreover, her parents’ phones were reportedly seized, and she was reportedly unable to get in touch with them for the entire day.
Shortly afterwards, the law enforcement officers allegedly informed Ms. Evloeva through a relative that they would be ‘forced’ to persecute her parents if she did not stop publicly expressing her views in the media and on social media.
The message from the law enforcement agencies was reportedly conveyed in confidence and she was not supposed to disclose it. However, Ms. Evloeva publicised it. As a result, law enforcement officials reportedly contacted her father and pressured him to demand his daughter to remove the material.
On 17 June 2022, Ms. Izabella Evloeva’s mother was reportedly summoned for questioning by the investigator. The mother reportedly refused to testify, exercising her constitutional right not to testify against herself or her close relatives. In response, the investigator reportedly warned her of a criminal liability shall she refuse to testify.
In the communication I expressed concern as to the alleged criminalisation of Ms. Izabella Evloeva and harassment of her parents, which appear to be related to her legitimate human rights work and the exercise of the freedom of expression.
I also express my grave concern regarding the continuous use of article 207.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation to restrict the freedom of expression regarding the war in Ukraine. I remain concerned at the chilling effect it may have on human rights defenders and the freedom of expression.