Today, a Russian court sentenced Anastasiya Shevchenko to a 4-year suspended sentence for affiliation with an “undesirable organization.” While it is a relief that Shevchenko will not have to serve prison time, this totally unjust ruling exemplifies the persecution civic activists continue to face in Russia.
Shevchenko spent two years under house arrest and will now have a criminal record – all for merely taking part in a public discussion and a peaceful protest, which the authorities are equating with a threat to constitutional order and national security.
The court ruled her activities were linked to a banned foreign organization, Open Russia Civic Movement (ORCM). Under a highly controversial Russian law, once designated “undesirable,” a foreign or international organization must cease all activities in Russia and anyone deemed to have affiliation can be held criminally liable.
Russian authorities accuse pro-democracy movement ORCM of being tied to an organization registered in the United Kingdom under the same name and designated “undesirable” in 2017; ORCM activists insisted they have no affiliation with this organization. In 2019, ORCM announced it would cease activities, but that did not prevent the authorities from opening new criminal cases against its supporters.
In a statement during her trial, Shevchenko said she never denied her participation in the Open Russia movement and was proud of it, because she always lived openly, wants open dialogue between society and the authorities, supports free and fair elections, and wants her children to live in a country where human rights are protected.
The sentence comes with a 4-year probation period, during which if Shevchenko is found guilty of any administrative offence, no matter how petty, her suspended sentence will be replaced with a prison time.
Sadly, the verdict against Shevchenko is part of a much broader crackdown, in which the authorities are attacking what little space remains for civil society and dissenting voices in Russia through a barrage of new laws, harassment and intimidation, and prosecutions against civic activists. Today’s verdict is the third such sentence against entirely peaceful Open Russia activists. Another person indicted on the same charges is in pretrial detention, while others await or are at risk of prosecution on these disgraceful charges.
The authorities should immediately and unconditionally vacate Shevchenko’s politically motivated verdict and repeal the repressive “undesirables” law.
This post was originally published on Human Rights Watch News.