Ukrainian NGOs draw attention to the persecution, abductions and executions of representatives of local self-government bodies, journalists, religious figures, volunteers and civic activists that take place on the territories temporarily occupied by Russia – in Melitopol, Kherson, Berdyansk, Kakhovka, Slavutych, Volnovakha and other cities – after the invasion of February 24. The purpose of this persecution is to force activists to cooperate with the Russian forces and/or to stop their public activities. The statement says that the policy of “enforced disappearances” was also implemented by pro-Russian armed groups back in 2014 during military operations in eastern Ukraine. As of March 26, the list of missing people of the Centre for Civil Liberties and the Euromaidan SOS Initiative included 36 people; the list is constantly updated.
Human rights activists recall that the detention of civilians during an international armed conflict is strictly prohibited by Articles 34 and 49 of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 and Article 75 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 for the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol 1) dated by June 8, 1977.
In addition, people who managed to get away from captivity report threats, physical abuse, torture and inhuman conditions of detention that violate the guarantees for the treatment of civilians and should be considered a war crime. ZMINA Information Centre for Human Rights launched the international information company #TheTaken («Викрадені») in support of the abducted citizens of Ukraine: “The Russian authorities should know that we remember everyone and will seek their release and return.”
Peaceful protests against the occupation by the Russian troops continue In the captured cities. In response, soldiers throw smoke bombs and stun grenades at protesters, use tear gas and fire into the air. Yuriy Fomichev, mayor of Slavutych, declared that three participants of a rally against the occupation of Slavutych by Russian troops died on March 26. (It is impossible to confirm or deny this information). According to Melitopol’s news channels in Telegram, 19 school directors filed their resignations on March 31 and refused to work under the control of the temporary administration. In the evening of the same day, information came up about the kidnapping of Anzhelika Kovalenko, director of school №4, and the disappearance of directors of two more schools.
According to the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, 616 people were detained for participating in anti-war protests that took place throughout Belarus on February 27-28. More than a hundred of them were subjected to administrative arrest.
On March 11, Mark Bernshtein, one of the longest-standing editors of the Russian-language section of Wikipedia and an activist of the Wiki movement, was detained in Minsk. After 15 days of administrative arrest, he was charged with “Organisation and preparation of actions crudely violating public order, or active participation in such actions” (Article 342 part 1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus), while in the statement of pro-government channels his persecution is explained by “dissemination of false information about armed forces of an ally” in the Wikipedia article “2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine” (Bernshtein is one of its authors). After this message, the Russian segment of Wikipedia has ceased access to information about the authors and editors of the articles.
Since the start of the invasion of the Russian army into Ukraine, a “rail war” has unfolded on the territory of Belarus. In order to slow down the movement of Russian military equipment to Ukraine, Belarusians disable train infrastructure. More than a dozen of such cases have been recorded in the first month. Mass searches, interrogations and detentions of those previously involved in protests are carried out in settlements near the damaged railways. Human rights activists know that at least 11 people who are considered to be involved in the “rail war” have been detained, while mass detentions of railway employees take place. On March 21, the Telegram channel “Community of Railway Workers of Belarus” was declared an extremist formation by the KGB.
Read more in the HRC Viasna article “Rail War: what we know about ‘Rail guerillas’”
Since February 24, protests against the military invasion of Ukraine have taken place in Russia. According to OVD-Info, during the first month of the war in Ukraine and as a result of the suppression of anti-war protests in Russia, 15,109 people were detained in more than a hundred Russian cities. There are at least 170 minors among them. Students detained for participating in anti-war rallies are expelled from educational institutions.
OVD-Info reports that by March 31 the police had already drawn up more than 400 administrative protocols under the new article 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences about “fakes” about the Russian armed forces. This article is used to charge people who protest with blank sheets of paper and picket signs with inscriptions such as “No to war”, “No to fascism”, “Putin is a thief”, people who “silently protest in a group” and recite poems about war from school curriculum. Repeated violation of this article may result in a criminal penalty of up to 3 years in prison under part 1 of article 280.3 of the Criminal Code.
For what you can be charged under Article 20.3.3 — cards from the Net Freedoms project. (In Russian)
According to Ovd-Info, as of March 29, 56 people were subjected to criminal prosecution in relation to anti-war protests. Criminal cases are being investigated under 14 articles of the Criminal Code by interrogators and investigators from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation and the FSB. The first person involved in the “anti-war case” has already been sentenced: Anastasia Levashova, a participant of a protest in Moscow, has been condemned to two years in prison under Article 318 of the Criminal Code.
Mass detentions and other forms of persecution of people protesting against the war take place against the backdrop of a massive government campaign to intensify censorship and propaganda. During the last month, 131 media and information resources have been blocked in Russia, 20 media outlets have stopped their work, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have been blocked.