Russia: Immediately release Open Russia leader detained after being hauled off flight

Reacting to the news that Andrei Pivovarov, Executive Director of the recently disbanded Open Russia, a Russian pro-democracy and human rights movement, was taken off a flight in Saint Petersburg and arbitrarily detained, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, said:

“This is an audacious move by the Kremlin in its continued use of the law on ‘undesirable’ organizations to target and shut down critics. The sole purpose of this legislation is to crack down on independent organizations and prosecute those associated with them. In spite of its recent self-dissolution to prevent the authorities from targeting its members, the witch-hunt against Open Russia continues.

In spite of its recent self-dissolution to prevent the authorities from targeting its members, the witch-hunt against Open Russia continues
Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director

“The Russian authorities must end reprisals against their political opponents and other critical voices in the country. Andrei Pivovarov must be immediately released, all charges against him and others prosecuted under the law of ‘undesirable organizations’ must be dropped, and this discriminatory legislation must be revoked.”

Background

On the evening of 31 May, the police took Andrei Pivovarov off a flight to Warsaw while the airplane was already on the runway preparing for take-off. He was detained in connection with a criminal case under Article 284.1 (“carrying out activities of an undesirable organization”). The Russian authorities banned the UK-based organization Open Russia in April 2017, which led to widespread reprisals against the Russian group of the same name.

The “criminal deed” he is purported to have committed, according to the investigation, was sharing in August 2020 a Facebook post by the United Democrats – a group which supports independent candidates and competitive elections. One of the individuals running for the local elections mentioned in the post was Yana Antonova, who previously headed the Krasnodar branch of Open Russia and was convicted for violating the “undesirable organizations” law.

The Russian authorities must end reprisals against their political opponents and other critical voices in the country. Andrei Pivovarov must be immediately released, all charges against him and others prosecuted under the law of ‘undesirable organizations’ must be dropped
Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director

Andrei Pivovarov’s home was searched later that evening without a court warrant, under pretext of an “emergency”. He was detained overnight and transported to Krasnodar in South Russia on 1 June.

In the early hours of 1 June, investigators backed by the special police force unit conducted searches in the homes of Aleksandr Solovyov, Pivovarov’s predecessor at Open Russia, Dmitry Gudkov, former State Duma deputy, his aide Vitaly Venediktov and Gudkov’s aunt Irina. While it appears that these searches have been conducted in connection with another criminal case, their timing could suggest that the authorities led a coordinated action against other vocal members of the opposition.