Prisoner of Conscience: Anastasia Shevchenko
In January 2019 Anastasia Shevchenko, a Russian activist, was put under house arrest, the first person to face criminal prosecution under the so-called “undesirable organizations” law. The legislation was adopted in 2015 as part of a series of legislative amendments, which was designed to reduce, and to outlaw altogether the work of foreign-funded nonprofit organizations.
In 2017 Russian authorities labelled Open Russia movement, a pro-democracy nonprofit organization, as “undesirable” and banned it along with some other organizations, established by the Russian businessman and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He is currently living in exile and is known as a fierce critic of the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
If convicted, Shevchenko, the Open Russia movement’s former coordinator in Rostov-on-Don, a city in southern Russia, could face up to six years in jail. And remand is proving tough.
Shortly after she was arrested, her oldest daughter fell ill and authorities allowed the activist to visit her in the hospital just hours before she died. The news about the death of Shevchenko’s daughter prompted a wave of protests in several Russian cities in support of the activist, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don, and Yekaterinburg. Local media reported that at least nine demonstrators had been arrested during the marches in solidarity with the activist.
Both Russian and international human rights organizations have condemned the arrest. Amnesty International declared Shevchenko a prisoner of conscience. “The criminal case against Anastasia Shevchenko is profoundly flawed, and by forging ahead with it regardless, the Russian authorities are creating an abhorrent precedent,” said Marie Struthers, the organization’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, in a statement, released in March 2019.
Prior to Shevchenko’s arrest, the police raided the homes of six people associated with the movement in Rostov-on-Don, including hers. Other Open Russia activists were also targeted. Also in January Open Russia coordinator in Pskov Liya Milushkina and her husband Artyom Milushkin were arrested and accused of selling drugs, a charge that was deemed to be fake. The home of Maksim Vernikov, another activist of the movement, was searched in March. Then he was also charged and placed under travel restrictions.