Undesirable Organisation cases:
Anastasia, Yana, Maksim and Anton

In May 2015 Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into force the Act on Undesirable Organisations. The legislation served to bolster existing laws introduced to restrict the activity of non-governmental organisations and to criminalise the actions of these organisations’ employees and volunteers.

One particular article within the Undesirable Organisation Act has enabled Kremlin prosecutors to open criminal cases against people who “carry out the activity of an organisation deemed undesirable” in Russia. Deliberately vague in its wording, Article 284.1 provides wide scope for interpretation, thus allowing prosecutors to enforce the law only when required. Those convicted under the Article could spend up to six years in prison.

Before 2019 there had only been administrative convictions under the Undesirable Organisation Act, where dozens of people received fines. However, this all changed in January 2019 when Anastasia Shevchenko — a single mother of two from Rostov-on-Don — was arrested and criminally charged under Article 284.1. Anastasia has been under house arrest since her first court hearing on 23 January. You can read the full details on Anastasia’s case here.

Yet the case against Anastasia was not an isolated incident. Since January three additional criminal cases have been opened.

Yana Antonova is a paediatrician from Krasnoyarsk in southern Russia and mother to 11-year-old Eduard. On 9 April 2019, men in masks raided Yana’s home early in the morning while she was getting Eduard ready for school. Police confiscated Yana’s phone and did not allow her to seek consultation with her lawyer, before carting her off to the police station and leaving Eduard by himself at home. Thanks to Eduard the media were alerted to Yana’s arrest.

Yana, like Anastasia, has been officially been charged under Article 284.1. Prosecutors justified this through a series of actions undertaken by Yana when she was a regional coordinator for the now defunct Open Russia Movement. On two occasions she staged solo pickets to raise awareness about local issues in Krasnodar. In another instance she made a post on Facebook containing the local of the now defunct Open Russia Movement. Yana also organised a discussion seminar. Voicing criticism of local authorities and being a member of the Open Russia Movement turned Yana into a “threat to national “security” in the Kremlin’s eyes

On 14 March 2019, Maksim Vernikov was woken up by police trying to enter his home. Armed with a search warrant, officers searched Maksim’s home, who at that time was working as an editor at the Ural branch of MBK Media, an independent media initiative started by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Maksim was also an active member of the Open Russia Movement.. Previously Maksim had been fined for taking part in a Skype-conference with Mikhail Khodorkovsky and for a post he made on social media. In February 2020 Maxim became the first person in Russia convicted for involvement  in an “undesirable” organization. A court in Ekaterinburg sentenced him to 300 hours of mandatory labor.

The final person against whom a case was initiated under undesirable organisation legislation was Anton Mikhalchuk. Formerly a Russian history teacher, Anton became more active in local politicians in his home town of Tyumen in Siberia. In May Anton fled Russia out of fear for his liberty. It is tragic that the Kremlin is driving away its own citizens, who had been passionate and proactive citizens in their communities.

The common denominator between all these cases is that each concerned a member of the disbanded Open Russia Movement, which promoted democratic values and civil society in Russia. It is likely that Anastasia, Yana, Maksim and Anton are being precisely because of their shared values. The criminal cases against them, therefore, amount to nothing less than outright political persecution.

For many victims of political persecution in Russia unbiased legal support comes at a price. However, in all four cases the Open Russia Human Rights Team was there providing invaluable legal support free of charge. Without your support people like Anastasia and Yana would not have access to affordable and sound lawyers. Contribute to Open Russia Human Rights today by clicking the button above to give victims of political persecution the legal protection they deserve.