Russia: Prominent journalist’s detention epitomizes authorities’ crackdown on activists amid COVID-19

In response to today’s sentencing of prominent Russian journalist and Moscow district councilor, Ilya Azar, to 15 days of administrative detention for holding a solitary protest outside the Moscow police headquarters, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Russia Director, said:

“Ilya Azar has committed no crime, and didn’t even violate Russia’s draconian protest laws. His detention is a cowardly act by the authorities that epitomizes Russia’s strategy of crushing activism and impinging on human rights to silence critics. In the midst of a global pandemic, the government is enforcing muzzles instead of protective masks, and solely for its own protection.

Ilya Azar has committed no crime, and didn’t even violate Russia’s draconian protest laws. His detention is a cowardly act by the authorities that epitomizes Russia’s strategy of crushing activism and impinging on human rights to silence critics
Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International's Russia Director

“Not only has Ilya Azar been arrested simply for exercising his right to peaceful assembly, but he has been thrown into a crowded cell where he, and others like him, are at risk of contracting COVID-19. As a prisoner of conscience, he must be immediately and unconditionally released.

“The protection of public health must not come at the expense of human rights. The authorities must stop using this global health crisis as a pretext for discrimination, repression and censorship.”

Background

On 28 May, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow sentenced Ilya Azar, a reporter for Novaya Gazeta and Khamovniki District local councilor, to 15 days of administrative detention for purportedly violating Part 8 of Article 20.2 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offenses (repeated violation of the rules for holding public events).

He was detained on 26 May near the headquarters of Moscow police for holding a solitary protest in solidarity with activist Viktor Nemytov, arrested previously that day for a similar protest. Nemytov and Azar were also protesting the prosecution of Vladimir Vorontsov, administrator of online group “Police Ombudsman”, who was charged earlier this month for alleged extortion. Nemytov was also sentenced on 27 May to 15 days in administrative detention for his own one-person picket.