Russia Should End Harassment of Opposition Activist

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Police detain opposition activist, Yulia Galyamina, at Zemskiy Syezd (meeting of municipal deputies), Velikiy Novgorod, Russia, on May 22, 2021.
© 2021 Nikolay Kasyan

Activist Yuliya Galyamina has been targeted by authorities who are using Covid-19 restrictions to clamp down on opposition figures.

Galyamina, a former member of Moscow’s municipal assembly, appeared in court May 26 on two separate administrative offence charges related to a meeting she co-organized between independent municipal deputies in the city of Velikiy Novgorod to discuss strengthening local self-governance.

On May 18, four days before the start of the meeting, the local governor imposed new restrictions putting a 50 person limit on events organized by authorities and 30 for private parties, with obligatory mask-wearing and social distancing rules.

On May 22, the event was raided by police. According to Galiamina’s press secretary, attendees were following the new Covid-19 restrictions and had separated into three rooms and broadcast the speakers. Nonetheless, police arrested around 25 attendees for violation of coronavirus restrictions, even though the police reportedly refused to count the attendees or measure the distance between them. An attempt to hold a similar event in March was also raided by police, the attendees were arrested and charged with participation in activities of an “undesirable organization.”

Galyamina says she believes the new restrictions were introduced specifically to target their meeting and demonstrates the political motivation behind the authorities’ actions. The organizers are suing the governor for violation of their constitutional right to free assembly.

Galyamina and three others were also charged with disobeying police orders. On May 24, the court sentenced her to 7 days in detention on the latter charges; on May 26, in two separate sessions, one court imposed a fine on her for non-compliance with coronavirus restrictions, while an appeals court upheld her detention.

In a social media post and in court, Galyamina argued that the authorities were selectively applying the restrictions, noting an event for city administration officials held at the same venue just a day apart from their meeting, but where participants did not comply with the limits on the numbers and did not observe masks or social distancing rules, faced no repercussions. 

The administrative charges against Galyamina create additional risks for her. In December 2020, a court gave her a suspended criminal sentence for repeated participation in peaceful, unauthorized protest with a two-year probation period. Potentially, an administrative offense during this period can trigger replacement of her suspended sentence with prison time.

Read more: hrw.org

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