Friday, May 31, 2024

The Russian authorities are taking increasingly severe reprisals against children and their families, particularly those opposing Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, in their relentless crackdown on all dissent, Amnesty International said in a new publication today.

The document, Russia: “Your children will go to an orphanage”: Children and the Crackdown on Protest, exposes how Russian authorities deny children their right to freedom of expression, target them and their families for anti-war dissent and subject them to indoctrination through war propaganda. Children are further being instrumentalised to put pressure on adults opposed to war, in particular by separating families, threatening to remove parental rights and even placing children in institutions.

“Despite all the Kremlin’s talk about the value of the family, it is the very bond between children and their parents that is being shamelessly exploited to crush dissent. In this politically motivated assault on children, schools and teachers have become tools of persecution and arbitrary interference by the state. Schools are indoctrinating children with false government-mandated narratives and directly reporting those with dissenting views to the police and security services,” said Oleg Kozlovsky, Amnesty International’s Russia Researcher.  

Despite all the Kremlin’s talk about the value of the family, it is the very bond between children and their parents that is being shamelessly exploited to crush dissent

Oleg Kozlovsky, Amnesty International’s Russia Researcher

“Those who express dissent against the war are particularly vulnerable to threats of forced separation of families or deprivation of parental rights. Even a remote risk of such reprisals is a prospect horrifying enough to deter many people from speaking up.”

The targeting of children and their parents or carers for opposing Russia’s war of aggression is perpetrated via educational institutions and through repressive means including institutionalization, arbitrary arrests, searches, and the criminal prosecution of children.

Such targeting has led to severe mental and physical health impacts on children, including stress-related conditions and trauma. Families suffer financial consequences when parents or guardians face persecution, leading to economic hardship and the disruption of children’s education. Some families end up having to leave the country to avoid criminal prosecution or forced separation.

On 5 October 2022, 10-year-old Varvara (Varya) Galkina was interrogated by the police in Moscow over her WhatsApp profile picture, which featured an anime-style drawing supporting Ukraine. The police threatened her mother, Elena Jolicoeur, and conducted a search at their home. After being mandated to attend a “preventative” programme for “parents improperly fulfilling their duties,” Elena fled Russia with her two daughters fearing further persecution.

On 22 November 2023, Yegor Balazeykin from St. Petersburg, northwestern Russia, was sentenced to six years in prison by a military court for throwing bottles of diesel fuel and white spirit at two military conscription centres 10 months earlier, a widespread in Russia form of protest against its war in Ukraine. He was 16 years old at the time of the incidents. His actions, which did not cause any damage, were disproportionately labelled as “terrorist attacks.” Since “terrorist” cases are tried by military courts, not much is known about the circumstances of other cases similar to Balazeykin’s.

Twelve-year-old Maria Moskalyova from Yefremov, central Russia, was separated from her father, Aleksei Moskalyov, on 1 March 2023 and placed into an orphanage following an almost year-long campaign to persecute her family. The reason for this was an anti-war drawing she had made in school in April 2022. She was reported to the police by the school administration. Aleksei Moskalyov, a single father, was initially fined and later sentenced to a two-year term in a penal colony for “repeated discreditation of the Russian Armed Forces” for his social media comments. In the orphanage, Maria experienced stress and isolation. After a public outcry, she was eventually allowed to live with her other relatives.

On 24 September 2022, police in Ulan-Ude, Republic of Buryatia, in eastern Siberia, arbitrarily arrested opposition activist Natalya Filonova at a peaceful protest against the mobilization of reservists for the war in Ukraine. Charged with “violence against a representative of the authorities,” a claim she denies, she was placed in a pretrial detention centre after several months under house arrest. Her 16-year-old foster son Vladimir Alalykin, who has a disability, was placed in an orphanage. Vladimir was prohibited from attending his foster mother’s trial, and on 31 August 2023, she was sentenced to two years and ten months in prison. Vladimir remained in the orphanage, turning 18 there.

“In this upside-down world that Russia is becoming, if you are a child and disagree with the government, the police, the courts and even schools represent an immediate threat,” said Oleg Kozlovsky.

In this upside-down world that Russia is becoming, if you are a child and disagree with the government, the police, the courts and even schools represent an immediate threat

Oleg Kozlovsky, Amnesty International’s Russia Researcher

Amnesty International urges the Russian authorities to respect and protect children’s rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, ensuring these rights are enjoyed without fear of retribution. They must stop restricting or removing parental rights and placing children in state custody as punishment for exercising human rights or protesting. Social services and children’s rights commissioners should act in the best interests of children and comply with international human rights laws.

Russian authorities must end the practice of trying civilians, especially children, in military courts and stop using the justice system to persecute dissent. War propaganda and political indoctrination in schools must cease.

Amnesty International calls for the immediate release of Aleksei Moskalyov, Natalya Filonova, and others imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights. Unfounded terrorism-related charges against individuals like Yegor Balazeykin must be dropped.

Tags: Russia, Human Rights, Freedom of expression.