Head of Chechen human rights NGO detained and staff threatened

Association

On 9th January 2018, police detained Oyub Titiev, the head of the local office of the human rights organisation "Memorial” in Grozny, Chechnya. The Interior Ministry of Chechnya claims that Titiev was apprehended with a package containing 180 grams of a substance smelling of a drug, possibly marijuana. Titiev has denied the accusations. Tatyana Lokshina with Human Rights Watch believes this is another attempt to frame a critic, stating that:

"The idea of [Titiev] peddling weed is preposterous and would be raucously funny except that it’s dead serious. Chechen authorities are well-known for successfully fabricating drug cases against critics".

On 19th January, police searched Memorial's Grozny office, allegedly within the bounds of the investigation into the accusations against Titiev. 

The harassment against Memorial and threats to its staff have only continued. On 23rd January, one of the organisation's cars was burned and threatening voicemail messages were left on the organisation's phone, stating that:

“You’re walking on the edge of the abyss. Shut down! Next time we’ll burn your office, with you inside. The car is just a warning”.
Jehovah's Witnesses' case submitted to the ECHR

As previously reported, the Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia and 395 of their local congregations were liquidated in 2017. In 2016, the authorities had warned that the religious organisation could be accused of extremism - a charge that was levied in April 2017. The organisation appealed the decision but was overruled by the Russian Supreme Court. The case has now gone to the European Court of Human Rights which plans to hold hearings before 23rd March 2018.

Russian labour union disbanded

On 11th January 2018, the Moscow Times reported that a St. Petersburg court had disbanded one of Russia’s largest labour unions due to accusations that it was receiving funding from abroad. The Interregional Labour Union of Automobile Workers was one of Russia's last remaining unions with 3,000 members across 40 regions. It is well-known for a 25-day strike at a Ford car assembly plant outside St. Petersburg in 2007. Russian prosecutors are claiming that the union received over 32 million rubles (560,000 USD) for training its members from a Swiss-based international union federation.

Expression

Since the law allowing media outlets to be placed on Russia's foreign agent list came into effect in November 2017, there have been nine outlets included on the list: Голос Америки (Voice of America), Радио Свободa (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty), Радио Свобода «Настоящее время», Татаро-башкирская служба «Радио Свобода», Сибирь.Реалии, Idel.Реалии, Фактограф, Кавказ.Реалии and Крым.Реалии. These outlets must report to the Minister of Justice and include the label of "foreign agent" on their websites and publications. 

In addition, the State Duma proposed a law to deem individuals as foreign agents, which was approved on 12th January. The bill must still pass through several layers of the legislature, but human rights groups fear the potential consequences of the law coming into effect. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that according to Russian lawmaker Leonid Levin, people could potentially be added to the foreign agents list if they "perform the function of a media outlet" and are in receipt of funding from "state sources in countries where there are restrictions on the work of Russian media". Concern continues to rise over how the proposed law could increase self-censorship among journalists and limit media outlets sources of funding.