Russian Federation: disappearance, detention & criminalisation of WHRD Irina Danilovich (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression to the Government of the Russian Federation on 30 August 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. The Government replied on 9 September 2022.

Since the communication was sent, Ms. Danilovich has remained in pre-trial detention. Her criminal trial started on 29 August 2022 and the court is currently examining evidence and considering the merits of the case. Reports received by the Special Rapporteur indicate that there may have been fair trial violations in her court proceedings thus far.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication Read the Govenment's response

BACKGROUND

Topic: alleged enforced disappearance of Ms. Irina Danilovich, her alleged arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, criminalisation, home search and seizure of her electronic devices and documents, as well as her designation as a “mass media foreign agent”, all of which was reportedly in connection with her legitimate human rights work and the exercise of the freedom of expression.

Ms. Irina Danilovich is a woman human rights defender, trade unionist, civic journalist, and nurse. She advocates for the rights of health workers through her project “Crimean Medicine Without a Cover”. Since 24 February 2022, she has also reportedly been critical about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

PREVIOUS ACTIONS (skip “allegations” for allegations on Irina Danilovich’s case)

The enforced disappearance of Ms. Irina Danilovich was examined by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances under its humanitarian procedure and transmitted to the Russian Government under the Working Group’s urgent procedure on 9 May 2022 (G/SO 217/ Russian Federation). The case of Ms. Danilovich was then clarified based on information provided by sources on 11 May 2022.

We previously wrote to the Government of Russia regarding the alleged disbarment, persecution, arrests and detention, searches, criminalisation, conviction, torture, and ill-treatment of other human rights defenders in Crimea[1] on 17 October 2017 (AL RUS 8/2017), 11 July 2018 (AL RUS 14/2018), 18 July 2018 (AL RUS 17/2018), 25 July 2018 (AL RUS 16/2018), 10 August 2018 (AL RUS 21/2018), 13 February 2019 (AL RUS 2/2019), 21 January 2020 (AL RUS 10/2019), 29 July 2020 (AL RUS 4/2020), 9 June 2021 (AL RUS 7/2021), 30 November 2021 (AL RUS 12/2021), and 22 April 2022 (AL RUS 5/2022). We acknowledge the replies from the Government dated 27 February 2018, 20 July 2018, 3 August 2018, 7 August 2018, 6 March 2019, 31 March 2020, 25 September 2020, 5 August 2021, 26 January 2022, and 8 June 2022.

However, in view of the allegations below, we remain concerned about the broader environment human rights defenders are working in the territory of Crimea, and the challenges they face to their legitimate activities. We also wrote to the Russian Government on 5 February 2018 (OL RUS 2/2018) regarding the adoption and subsequent amendments to Federal Law No. 327‑FZ dated 25 November 2017 (“Foreign Agent Media Law”) and welcomed the reply dated 6 April 2018. However, we remain concerned given the allegations below.

ALLEGATIONS

On 29 April 2022, Ms. Irina Danilovich was reportedly abducted in the town of Koktebel when returning home from work. Four men in civilian clothing reportedly dragged her into a car and drove her away.

On the same day, the Special Purpose Mobile Unit of the National Guard of Russia reportedly searched the house in the village of Vladyslavivka, where Ms. Danilovich lived with her parents. They reportedly did not identify themselves, and while they read out a court order authorising the search, they did not provide a copy. During the search they reportedly seized Ms. Danilovich’s laptop, her and her relatives’ phones, several books and documents. The individuals did not leave a copy of the search report or any record of the seized iteMs. Ms. Danilovich’s parents were allegedly not informed of her whereabouts. They were told by those searching the house that she had been arrested for ten days for the alleged cooperation with a foreign State.

On 29 April 2022, Ms. Danilovich was reportedly taken to the Russian Federal Security Service (“FSS”) headquarters in Simferopol. She reportedly underwent a full body search recorded on a video camera, during which nothing suspicious was found.

Between 29 April and 7 May 2022, Ms. Danilovich was reportedly held in th basement of the FSS headquarters in Simferopol, without access to a lawyer of her choice and to her family, under constant psychological pressure. During this time, she reportedly was given one meal a day and access to a toilet only twice a day. The FSS investigators reportedly put a bag over her head and threatened, should she hide information, to take her “into the woods” or to the besieged city of Mariupol, where she would be “lost”.

For three days she was reportedly interrogated using a polygraph. The questions concerned her alleged connections with foreign intelligence services, media, a local human rights group, and some other organisations. It is reported that Ms. Irina Danilovich answered negatively to all questions and the polygraph confirmed this.

The FSS also reportedly insisted that she signed a confession of having committed a crime. It is unclear which crime this related to and whether she confessed. They reportedly forced Ms. Danilovich to sign an unknown protocol, two blank sheets of paper, and to say on camera that no pressure was used against her.

On 7 May 2022, the Investigative Directorate of the FSS opened a criminal case concerning the “illegal acquisition, transfer, sale, storage, transportation or carrying of explosives or explosive devices” (article 222.1 (1) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation) and formally detained her. The explosives were allegedly found in the glasses case inside the bag, which had been taken away from her three days after her arrival to the FSS headquarters. It is unclear if she is also accused of committing any other crimes.

On 7 May 2022, the Kyiv District Court of Simferopol placed Ms. Danilovich in pre-trial detention for a month and 29 days. She was reportedly represented by a State-appointed lawyer, despite having signed an agreement with another lawyer who could not locate her and have access to her since she had been subjected to enforced disappearance.

Ms. Danilovich’s whereabouts remained unknown to her family, friends, and lawyer for 13 days since the day of her disappearance. On 11 May 2022, after a long independent search, they found her at the pre-detention centre in Simferopol. On 13 May 2022, she was charged in the presence of a lawyer of her own choosing.

On 27 May 2022, the Supreme Court of Crimea upheld Ms. Danilovich’s pre-trial detention on appeal.

On 3 June 2022, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation designated Ms. Danilovich as a “mass media foreign agent” under the Foreign Agent Media Law.

On 5 July 2022, the Kyiv District Court of Simferopol extended her pre-trial detention until 6 September 2022.

On 22 August 2022, the Feodosia Сity Court in the Republic of Crimea commenced a trial against Ms. Danilovich and held a first preliminary hearing behind closed doors. She was accused of “illegal acquisition, transfer, sale, storage, transportation, or carrying of explosives or explosive devices” as per Part 1, Article 222.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. On the same day, the court reviewed the conditions of pre-trial detention and extended Ms. Danilovich’s pre-trial in detention until 2 February 2023. The next hearing is scheduled for 29 August 2022.

CONCERNS

In the communication we expressed concern about the alleged enforced disappearance of Ms. Irina Danilovich, her alleged arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, criminalisation, home search and seizure of her electronic devices and documents, and her designation as a “foreign agent mass media”, all of which appear to be related to her legitimate human rights work and the exercise of the freedom of expression.

We also express our grave concern regarding the continuous intimidation and harassment of the human rights defenders in Crimea in connection to their human rights work, in particular, the chilling effect that this could have on human rights defenders in Crimea, discouraging them from exercising their rights. In line with the previous observations of the Human Rights Council, we remind the Government of Russia of the importance of ensuring that national security is not used to unjustifiably or arbitrarily restrict the right to freedom of opinion and expression (A/HRC/7/36). We recall that legitimate expression of opinions or thought must not be criminalised and that measures aimed to regulate the existence and work of civil society and human rights defenders must comply with the requirements of proportionality, necessity, and non-discrimination. National security legislation should not be misused against individuals peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful association, and assembly. These rights are protected under the ICCPR, and the non-violent exercise of these rights cannot be a criminal offense.

We also express our concern about the alleged irregularities in Ms. Danilovich’s arrest and the lack of judicial guarantees provided to her during her detention, which appear to be incompatible with the right to fair trial and due process. We underline that all individuals, regardless of the severity of the charges brought against them, have a right to due process and fair trial, in compliance with the rule of law. The right to a fair trial is recognized not only in human rights treaties but also within international humanitarian law, international criminal law, counterterrorism conventions and customary international law (see A/63/223). We remind the Russian Government that article 14 of the ICCPR, ratified by the Russian Federation, provides, inter alia, for the principle of equality before competent, independent, and impartial courts and tribunals, the presumption of innocence, provision of adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense, and the right of accused persons to communicate with counsel of their own choosing urthermore, noting that the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation has designated Ms. Danilovich as a “mass media foreign agent” under the Foreign Agent Media Law, we reiterate our concerns expressed in RUS 2/2018 and RUS 2/2022 about the detrimental effect of this designation on human rights defenders, in particular those expressing dissenting views, and the limitations on their rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression in the country, including in their advocacy work.


[1] References to Crimea should be read in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 68/262, in which the General Assembly affirmed its commitment “to the sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders” (A/RES/68/262, Paragraph 1).

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