Russian Lawyers Ask Court to Ease Crackdown on Dissent

Russia’s leading lawyers’ group on Tuesday asked Russia’s Supreme Court to declare a law banning criticism of the military unconstitutional.

The complaint was filed by three lawyers and has the support of ten more lawyers, most of whom are still in Russia.

Violetta Fitzner, an attorney at Russian rights group OVD-Info and one of the authors of the complaint, said the law was passed with one purpose: to suppress anti-war activity. rice field. “Such restrictions do not exist in a democratic society.”

Censorship laws effectively ban anything that does not correspond to the depiction of war, which the Kremlin continues to call “special military operations.” They have effectively silenced discussions in Russia.

Since the invasion, thousands of activists, journalists and other professionals have left the country. Many others, including lawyers, were arrested, but some stayed and continued their work despite the risks.

Other measures broaden the definition of treason, giving leeway for authorities to use such charges more or less arbitrarily.

Russian parliamentarians have also criminalized the loosely defined crime of “secret cooperation” with representatives of foreign states or organizations that undermine national security.

More than 6,500 Russians have been punished for “discrediting” the Russian military since the law was passed by the Russian parliament eight days after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022. lawyer said. A person found to have broken the law will be fined for the first offense, but if convicted of another offense within a year, she will be sentenced to up to five years in prison. There is a possibility.

The petition to the High Court came as UN officials in Geneva urged combatants in the Ukrainian conflict to treat prisoners of war humanely. statement The message was issued after an audio clip appeared on social media purporting to encourage soldiers to be summarily executed.

The UN has not confirmed the veracity of the statements, but the posts could still “provoke or facilitate summary executions of prisoners of war or out of combat,” said Rabina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Director. .

Such an order, she said, would amount to a war crime if issued or carried out, similar to declaring that the military would not accept prisoners of war.

When it comes to Russian censorship laws, authorities draw a fine line between what is acceptable and what can lead to administrative or criminal liability.

For example, according to OVD Info, which tracks such arrests, more than 19,500 Russians have been detained at anti-war rallies since the invasion began.

But others have been fined or faced criminal charges for more private actions, such as asking questions in private conversations over the phone on official civil war accounts, or discussing them with friends in messaging apps or cafes. human rights groups said.

Moscow court on Monday Former police officer sentencedSemiel Vedel, seven years in a penal colony for questioning the official version of the war in a private phone call with his colleague, According to Zona Media, a Russian news website. Authorities said they tapped his phone for information about another criminal case.

Earlier this month, another Moscow court convicted Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent critic of President Vladimir V. Putin, of treason over his criticism of the aggression. sentenced to 25 years in exile.

In December, opposition politician Ilya Yashin served eight and a half years after being found guilty of “spreading false information” about atrocities committed by Russian forces in the Ukrainian city of Bucha in February and March. was sentenced to imprisonment.

And last month, authorities detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gerszkovic on suspicion of espionage. specified that it did.

The complaint filed Tuesday was made on behalf of more than 20 Russians who have been fined for criticizing the aggression. One of them, Maksim Filippov, was fined $650 for putting up a poster in central Moscow that said, “Peace has a chance.”

Lawyers have already exhausted all other legal avenues to nullify the legislation and hope that the filing will at least draw attention to the issue. It also violates the constitutional right to freedom of assembly and assembly, and critics of the war also claim it discriminates against them.

The court must respond to the petition. Such rulings typically take several months.

Lawyers say they plan to file similar complaints for other measures imposed by the Kremlin after the invasion. This includes criminalizing the dissemination of what the law deems “false information” about disputes.

“I want people accused of anti-war stances in Russia to know that they are not alone. Despite all the repression and intimidation from the state, we are ready to fight for their rights.” ,” said OVD’s Ms. Fitzner.・Information Lawyer.

Russian lawyer Grigory Baipan, who also worked on the complaint to the Constitutional Court, said the laws passed by the Russian government since the invasion “make dissent itself a crime.”

“This was the worst reincarnation of Soviet law that we learned in history books or law school,” Vaipan said. “I couldn’t have imagined that in just 10 years they would be real again.”

The report was contributed by Farnaz Fasihi, Grushin Harman and Nick Cumming-Bruce.

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