Launched by a group of volunteers as a response to mass arrests during political unrest in 2011, OVD-Info is an online human rights media project that tracks arrests and detentions. OVD-Info’s founders put together the project in just a few days. In the years following 2011, the project has expanded to include a full range of issues relating to freedom of assembly and political oppression.
Theory of Change
Publishing specific information about individuals who are arrested and detained mobilizes the general public to pressure the government on individual cases. It also encourages civil society efforts to keep the government accountable by ensuring the general public and international community is informed of them, while creating a reputational cost to the Russian government for responding through forceful means.
OVD-Info collects and publishes information, personal stories, and data on people who have been detained, thus generating public support for their rights to free expression. When it began to expand, the project obtained funding from foreign donors. After the “undesirable organizations” law was passed in Russia, which effectively prevented foreign donors from working in the country, the project started a crowdfunding campaign, engaging celebrities and well-known activists. The aim was not just to raise funds, but also to educate the public on what happens to people who speak out and why it is so important to keep the government accountable. Currently the project also provides legal support to detainees in thousands of administrative and criminal cases. It has developed several online legal resources: a legal chat-bot, a series of instructions for those arrested, a generator of legal motions, and a generator of applications to the European Court of Human Rights.
The crowdfunding campaign raised about $1.5M USD in the first quarter of 2021 alone and now the project has a 67-person team. Up to 90% of their budget comes from small, personal donations. Since 2011, the project registered over 40,000 detentions, 11,000 of them during the winter protests of 2021. Their 24/7 hotline is familiar to most activists in Russia. On average, they receive 10–15 calls per day with spikes of up to 6,000 calls per day during mass protests. The project produces news, articles, massive data sets, and reports quoted by media, NGOs, and the legal community.