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Wednesday 14 August 2019

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Konstantin Kotov

MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has sent a civil rights activist to pretrial detention under a controversial law that criminalizes participation in more than one unsanctioned protest within a 180-day period.

The Presnensky district court ruled on August 14 that Konstantin Kotov should be kept in pretrial detention until October 15.

More than 50 people, including Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinsky and writers Lyudmila Ulitskaya and Viktor Shenderovich, vouched for Kotov, urging the court not to incarcerate him, as his actions posed no danger to society.

Kotov was detained on August 10 for taking part in an opposition rally that demanded the local election commission register independent candidates on the ballot in upcoming elections.

If convicted, Kotov, who pleaded not guilty, could become the second person sentenced under the heavily criticized legislation known as Dadin's law after Ildar Dadin -- the first and so far only person convicted under the statute.

Dadin, who served more than a year in prison after he was convicted of the same offense in December 2015, was detained in the Smolensk region on August 14.

He wrote on Facebook that a man who introduced himself as a police officer "illegally" forced him into a police car and brought him to a police station.

According to Dadin, he went to the town of Safonovo to meet opposition activist Denis Bakholdin, who was released from prison on August 14 after finishing a jail term after he was sentenced for intending "to join a radical group in Ukraine" in 2017.

The rules require scientists to give five days' advance notice to ministry officials anytime they plan on meeting a foreign colleague.

Scientists say the Russian authorities have ordered new restrictions limiting the interaction between Russian scholars and their foreign counterparts.

A copy of the new rules was first published on August 13 by a St. Petersburg scientist as part of an open letter addressed to the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

The letter, signed by Aleksandr Fradkov, appealed to officials to rescind the rules, which he said included "limitations and absurdities that would impede scientific contacts with our foreign colleagues" and would potentially "damage the prestige of our country and its scientific and technological development."

Fradkov, a mathematician and computer scientist, did not immediately respond to e-mails or a phone call from RFE/RL seeking further comment.

The rules, which are signed by Science and Higher Education Minister Mikhail Kotyukov, require scientists to give five days' advance notice to ministry officials anytime they plan on meeting a foreign colleague. After such meetings, scientists are also required to submit a report and a list of participants in the meetings.

Other rules include a stipulation that if a meeting takes place at a Russian scientific organization, at least two Russian scientists should be present; and foreigners, when visiting Russian scientific organizations, can only copy or record information under rules of international treaties.

"Such ridiculous and impossible orders will not improve the security of our country, but will only lead to an increase in isolation from developed countries," Fradkov wrote. They also "discredit the authorities, making it difficult to solve the problem of Russia becoming one of the most advanced in science."

The rules were dated from February, according to the scan posted online, and distributed to scientific organizations last month.

Responding to queries from reporters, the Science and Higher Education Ministry issued a statement saying the rules were merely a proposal, and had not in fact entered into force.

In comments to the news outlet RBK, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also appeared to downplay the rules.

"Certainly one needs to be vigilant, because foreign intelligence agencies, of course, are never asleep, and no one has canceled scientific and industrial espionage. It takes place 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is aimed against our scientists, especially young scientists," Peskov was quoted as saying.

However, he added, "this does not mean that we should shackle ourselves into some, let's say, rules that will not lead to anything good."

Speaking on the Moscow radio station Govorit Moskva, one scientist, Igor Chashei, linked the new rules to a spate of investigations targeting Russian academics. That includes Viktor Kudryavtsev, a rocket researcher jailed on treason charges on accusations of passing classified scientific secrets to a Belgian research group.

"It will make everything more difficult. There will be more hassles. And nothing will come of it. It's just bureaucrats' games," Chashei said.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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