Advisory Council (Russia)

On this page you will find statements and opinions by members of Rights in Russia's Advisory Council (Russia).

Aleksandr Verkhovsky on what you have to do to become a foreign agent in Russia

posted by Rights in Russia   [ updated ]

14 April 2017

The director of the Sova Centre for Information and Analysis, Moscow-Helsinki Group Prize winner Aleksandr Verkhovsky, speaks to Olga Timofeeva about the Centre’s work and about what you have to do to become a foreign agent in Russia.

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Internet Project Les.Media

Extract



An inspection with a purpose

The theoretical decision to include an organisation on the register of foreign agents can be disputed in court. However, nobody has succeeded so far. You can also challenge the 300,000-rouble fine which is imposed on an organisation for not registering itself. Perhaps this will be easier for Sova than for other organisations: the judge of the Bassmany court made the decision about the fine in the absence of the defendant, who was waiting outside the door all the time.

Tell us the technical details of how the inspection is carried out. Who is in attendance?

Nobody comes! You get a letter. Ours said that the check is being carried out purely to establish whether or not we are performing the functions of a foreign agent. It said that the relevant information had been obtained from some state organ by the Ministry of Justice. In my letter of reply I wrote that I would like to know which state organ, and what information about our activities? What activities? We were refused, and told that the information is for internal use; and nobody will tell us who complained about us. Well, OK. The inspection looks like this: they send a request for a list of documents we need to send them. Also, the Ministry of Justice staff were pretty lazy about this: they presented us with some list of documents, and we collected them. And when we brought them in, the girl sitting there was very surprised that we’d brought so few copies. ‘Oh yes, I’d forgotten about that!’ she said, and then they sent us a long list of what else they wanted. It was a much thicker package.

And what did they want from you?

Basically they want the obvious things. Financial documents, contracts with partner agencies. Meeting minutes, board discussion minutes, formal papers. In principle, they could find other violations during this check, but they found nothing of that kind. And the fact that, from their perspective, we engage in political activity is no violation, it’s a feature of what we do. We have to enter this feature on the register. From the point of view of the Ministry of Justice, the violation is our failure to register ourselves. Our failure to realize soon enough that we had to.

Did you foresee that this could happen?

Of course I knew that the register exists, but I’ve said many times that we are not engaged in political activity, in any reasonable sense of the word. Therefore we won’t register ourselves. Yes, we have some foreign funding. God grant that it continues. We’re not going to refuse it; but regarding political activity I’m afraid our opinion differs from that of the State. These things happen.

Which elements of your work do you yourselves consider political?

We don’t consider ourselves to be engaged in political activity. However, of course, if you read the current legal definition, then anything and everything you like can be political activity. Any independent assessment of the activities of State bodies by civil society groups should be considered political activity, they wrote that to us in the report: we gave a “public assessment of the activity of State organs”. There you are. Of course. But it seems to me that the law is being applied here with, to put it mildly, excessive literalism. Because if this is so, then absolutely all organisations are engaged in political activity. Every organisation that speaks out on any public question would be subject to a check. If your organisation rescues stray dogs, then sooner or later it will assess the performance of the local authorities in handling stray dogs. Even if the assessment is positive, no matter, it still turns out to be political activity. If this is to be taken literally, it’s ludicrous. Does that mean it’s not to be taken literally? We believe that in taking any sanction (and inclusion in such a register is a sanction), the principle of proportionality should be observed. It is being violated here. How exactly we should understand the rule of law is probably something for the Supreme Court to explain. Or the Constitutional Court. But there is no explanation. Therefore to date all the organisations that have ended up on this accursed register and appealed the matter in court have lost. These cases are gradually making their way to the European Court of Human Rights, but that’s a slow process. It would be better if the Supreme Court took up the matter and explained things, rather than the European Court deciding how we should run Russia. And of course it would be better still if parliament took the matter up and sorted it out. But it would be unwise to depend on that.

Translated by Anna Bowles

Aleksandr Podrabinek: An immoral way to protest [Radio Svoboda]

posted by Rights in Russia   [ updated ]

14 April 2017 



Veteran human rights activist Aleksandr Podrabinek (b. 1953) responds to an article by Zoya Svetova (b. 1959) on the Radio Svoboda website, in which she compared the protest letters signed by her parents, Felix Svetov and Zoya Khrakhmalnikova, and by many others (see Voices from the Past, “Extra-judicial repression in 1968-9”) with those addressed to Putin and Medvedev today. 

In Svetova’s view such actions are part of a Russian tradition epitomised by Lev Tolstoy’s famous 1908 declaration, “I cannot remain silent”. The tradition was resumed in the 1960s by the emerging dissident movement, she says, and continues in today’s collective appeals to the country’s president and prime minister. For Podrabinek this is a serious distortion of reality, past and present. Furthermore, it weakens the opposition and serves the most dubious purposes.


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In her recent article “A moral protest” Zoya Svetova declared that the submission of appeals to the authorities is an example of moral resistance to the regime. To support this statement, she cites the 1966 letter of Soviet cultural figures in defence of the writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuly Daniel. [1]

Those crafty petitioners offered to stand surety for the two men if they were let out of the camps, because, apart from anything else, their release was “in the interests of the world Communist movement”. Svetova then draws a parallel with the present day, attributing a high significance and moral importance to appeals made to President Putin or to Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. These appeals, Svetova tries to convince her readers, “continue the tradition of Soviet dissident letter-writing”.

What can one say?

If the history of the democratic movement in the USSR is so disgracefully distorted today one can imagine how it will be pillaged twenty or thirty years hence by those who find it advantageous to create myths about the past that suit their current public or political needs.

The true traditions of Soviet dissidence

Appeals to the Soviet leadership were not a central feature of the dissident movement. If there were loyal appeals to “the right honourable Leonid Brezhnev”, first secretary of the CPSU (1965-1982), they quickly vanished as a genre.

The harshness of political repression at that time did not encourage excessive politeness. Naturally, there were always those among the Soviet “chattering classes” who wanted both to sign a letter and to make sure they did not lose their jobs. Twinges of conscience were balanced or outweighed by a fear of losing the benefits they enjoyed under the Soviet State. This accounts for the way that mild criticism was wrapped up in assurances of loyalty to “Leninist norms”.

There is no need to distort the history of the democratic movement to serve one’s present servile needs. From the late 1960s onwards dissidents appealed mainly to world public opinion (see Voices from the Past, this issue, “An Appeal to the UN Human Rights Commission,” June 1969). Letters of protest, declarations and appeals were passed to Western journalists working in Moscow; the BBC, Radio Liberty and other Western radio stations then relayed dissident voices back to the rest of Soviet society. At the time, it was very popular among dissidents and ordinary citizens of the USSR to direct their appeals to the United Nations and international human rights organisations.

From the mid-1970s onwards the Helsinki Groups within the USSR – based in Moscow, Lithuania, Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia – began to appeal directly to Western governments.
[2 – See Helsinki Accords, 1975]

What purpose does such distortion serve?

So, what is the point of this pretence that the moral force of the dissident movement lay in making requests to the Soviet leadership? Can today’s equivocators not manage to sit on two stools at once without slandering the dissidents of the 1960s to 1980s?

There have always been those who are loyal to the regime of their day. They will always be with us. They represent that part of society which is tired of their rulers’ crazy behaviour, but too timid to say so out loud. And if such people do say something their appeals to the regime are cautious and very respectful.

Take, for example, the Russian PEN Centre. On 24 December 2016, its executive committee summoned up the “desperate” courage to request Putin to ease the conditions in which Ukrainian film-maker Oleg Sentsov (found guilty on 25 August 2015) is serving a twenty-year sentence in Yakutia.  

There are numerous such defenders of truth and justice with links to government circles. The presence of such a stratum in society is only to be expected. No one can reproach them with a lack of courage. No further demands can be made of such people – except the following: one, do not distort the history of the democratic movement in the Soviet Union to suit your present submissive needs; two, don’t present a servile protest of this kind as though it’s an act of exemplary morality.

Such “protests” have already sunk to an unbelievable level in Russia. Whatever next?

NOTES 

[1] Trial in January 1966. Appeal delivered to Soviet authorities in November that year.

[1] & [2] See Voices from the Past, this issue – An Appeal to the UN Human Rights Commission (June 1969)


Translated and annotated by John Crowfoot 

Lev Ponomarev on the arrest of Vyacheslav Maltsev

posted by Rights in Russia   [ updated ]

14 April 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Rаdio Sol]

Extract

Sergei Egorov: […] Arrests have been taking place all over the country, with the latest of them happening just yesterday. Early in the morning, representatives of the Investigative Committee arrested the oppositionist politician Vyacheslav Maltsev at his apartment in Saratov, after sawing open his front door with an angle grinder. Maltsev himself streamed the entire happenings live on Periscope, and the video shows sparks flying from the door. The politician’s wife and small daughter were also present in the apartment. Investigators started to search the apartment at around 7 in the morning, but Maltsev’s lawyer was not granted entry until around 9.30. Vyacheslav Maltsev was ultimately arrested, and court proceedings are underway to decide on the punishment that should be meted out to him for his alleged failure to follow legitimate orders by a police officer at the anti-corruption protests on 26 March. We discussed these events with Lev Ponomarev, Executive Director of the All-Russian Movement “For human rights” and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Welcome, Lev.

Lev Ponamarev: Thank you for having me.

Sergei Egorov: Are you personally acquainted with Vyacheslav Maltsev?

Lev Ponomarev: No, I have never met him.

Sergei Egorov: Is it true that you learned about what had happened from the news?

Lev Ponomarev: Yes, that’s true. I was browsing the Internet and an alert appeared on the Novaya gazeta website. I have not yet had access to any further details.

Sergei Egorov: To what extent can it be considered lawful – court warrant or no court warrant – to break into a person’s apartment early in the morning and saw open their door, and to then refuse entry to their lawyer and take the person away, causing them such extreme stress that they have a heart attack?

Lev Ponomarev: It goes without saying that this has all been done for show in order to scare the opposition and the activists who are taking to the streets in ever greater numbers. The first point to be made is therefore that the authorities are asserting their power. The second point which is important to understand is that there is sometimes a genuine need to carry out a search urgently in order to prevent the destruction of evidence – of brothels, drugs and so on. Generally speaking, it is entirely possible that a search may need to be carried out at short notice by the authorities. There must be good reasons for doing so, however, and this should be examined within the framework of the ongoing judicial investigation; perhaps Maltsev will lodge counter-claims of some sort in connection with the investigators’ use of force to enter his home. I hope he will do so. There are loopholes in our legislative procedures which are of course exploited by the authorities, but citizens are not allowed to do the same. My colleagues and I have discussed how best to behave in a situation of this kind. Firstly, the investigators choose to arrive at 6 in the morning in order to scare people – there’s no reason why they shouldn’t come later. Secondly, a court warrant should be shown or read it out. Maybe they did so – we weren’t there, after all. Maybe these conversations took place through the closed door. Did the investigator introduce himself and prove his identity by displaying the relevant documents at the spy hole? Sensible behaviour also involves calling a lawyer immediately, and I hope that Maltsev did this. Our legislation does not state that searches can only be carried out in the presence of a lawyer, and this is a point of confusion, since access must be granted to a lawyer from the time of detention – but when is the time of detention? In the opinion of police officers, a “detention” starts not when the investigators take away the individual in question, but when a report is produced on the detention by a police officer at a police station. The Criminal Code has now been amended to grant lawyers a more explicit right of access to their clients, but I do not know how this amendment will play out in practice. It was indeed sensible to refuse to open the door and to play for time until the lawyer arrived, which is what Maltsev did.

Sergei Egorov: It’s hard to keep a door closed when someone is sawing it open with an angle grinder!

Lev Ponomarev: I’m talking about the most sensible way to behave.

Sergei Egorov: And he did behave sensibly, of course. According to reports, he was taken away at around 7 in the morning, which is when they started to search his apartment, but his lawyer was not granted access to the apartment until around 9.30, and witnesses to the search were also present.

Lev Ponomarev: This was a flagrant violation of the law. Lawyers are entitled to be present from the very start of the measures undertaken by the law enforcement agencies against a citizen. All of these contentious points must be challenged before the Constitutional Court, and I hope that Maltsev lodges a constitutional appeal regarding the fact that the search was started before his lawyer had arrived. I hope that the Constitutional Court can clarify what is meant by the provisions of Russian legislation which state that a lawyer should be present from the time of detention, and that the Court will intervene in this situation. The fact that the lawyer was refused access for hours on end, the fact that the search took place in the absence of a lawyer, the fact that they brought along witnesses to the search – all of these are infringements of Maltsev’s rights. I hope that some kind of record was kept of these infringements – after all, a meticulous record should in theory be kept of everything they find, the time when it is found and the behaviour of the witnesses to the search. As if that were not enough, I’ve even read that some of the people who arrived at the door were wearing civilian clothes and surgical face masks.

Sergei Egorov: Yes, that’s true – their faces were hidden behind face masks.

Lev Ponomarev: It all resembles nothing so much as a circus, and we must contest everything that has happened. This ostentatious and flagrant invasion of Maltsev’s privacy should result in legal consequences which serve as an example to others. […]

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Lev Ponomarev on the case of the Krasnodar farmer, Oleg Petrov

posted by Rights in Russia   [ updated ]

11 April 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Sol]

Extract

Valentina Ivakina: (…) We have managed to link up with Lev Ponomarev, executive director of the movement “For Human Rights”. Lev Aleksandrovich, hello!

Lev Ponomarev: Hello.

Valentina Ivakina: I already said at the start of the programme that at the moment you are in Krasnodar. Tell me, what are you doing there, what is currently known about the situation there?

Lev Ponomarev: I came here to take part in the appeal hearing about the custody of Oleg Petrov, a farmer. There was absolutely no reason to remand him in custody. In general, the whole criminal case has been fabricated. He is the leader of a farmers’ movement. You know that there was a “tractor march” six months ago. Then there was an attempt at a second “tractor march.” In Kuban there is a very serious problem – the land is either taken from the farmers illegally, or they don’t get the chance to expand, those people who really work well and would be able to expand their enterprise don’t get the chance to buy shares in land and expand, they artificially prevent them from expanding their holdings. The big agricultural firms are squeezing them. These are land oligarchs who are closely connected with the authorities.

I gave a personal guarantee and asked for the release of Petrov on any conditions. I brought along the guarantee of Liudmila Mikhailova Alekseeva, the most senior and well known human rights defender. However the judge literally hung onto the words of the prosecutor. It was obvious that the prosecutor was really conducting the trial. That is why they did not give us the chance to get Petrov released from custody. But we have some success. We persuaded Petrov to come off hunger strike. With today the tenth day of the hunger strike, it is very dangerous, and he agreed to stop. I believe that this is all the same a success.

We convinced him that it is essential to fight on, and for this he will need all his strength. The court hearing has just ended, and we’ve come out. About 35 to 40 farmers attended the hearing, they came from various districts of Krasnodar. This shows that Oleg Petrov is in fact a real leader of this movement. We have been discussing what to do. And I said to them: “Well, lads, it’s clear what to do. This is why I came. It is necessary to create a human rights organisation of farmers.” Because each of them takes their own case to Moscow, we are trying to help them, but it doesn’t really work out. I have only a small number of lawyers and it’s necessary to work on all these cases. But they have to unite, collect a bit of money, hire lawyers and professionally defend their rights in the courts here, and if need be, hold rallies and so on.

Just now we literally held a meeting on the doorstep of the regional court. Everyone had to disperse. And I had a good idea, and I said: “Let’s hold a founding meeting for a human rights organization now, an organization to defend farmers and business people who are working on the land. Who is in favour?” I organised this meeting, we voted to set up an organization. Now people are signing to say they took part in the meeting so that the protocol has a legal character. And we have chosen a name: ‘For a just and dignified life in the Kuban.’ I think that this is an mportant outcome of my trip there.

Valentina Ivakina: How was the trial itself conducted?

Lev Ponomarev: I would say that the judge pretty much toed the line. What really strikes me, though, is that we saw two young women, good-looking, who, so to speak, I feel were not really individuals so much as part of the system. First the judge read out the case materials, and then straight away the lawyer says, "I want to put a few questions to Petrov." We were linked to Petrov, as a videoconference had been set up there. The judge says, "Yes, of course." The Prosecutor then stands and says, "I object", and the judge reverses his decision there and then. It was clear that it was the second young woman, representing the Prosecutor's Office, and not the judge, who was in charge of these proceedings. It’s part of the machine. Why, in fact, couldn't they ask a question? No, she decided that no questions were to be asked, and the judge just rolls over. I started thinking, where did these good-looking, well turned out young women come from, and why are they so lacking in humanity? I mean, the judge has enormous powers. We don't have a one-party system, as we did in Soviet times, in which the Central Committee of the CPSU made the decisions. Judges make the decisions now. Nevertheless, these judges are not independent.

Valentina Ivakina: What are the prospects now for Oleg Petrov? They previously said that he would remain in custody until the end of May. I take it that nothing has changed, has it?

Lev Ponomarev: No, it has, by two days. The Prosecutor's Office has also been creative. It gave the matter some thought and reckoned that he should be detained not until 27 May, but until the 24th. This is the outcome of our proceedings: they cut his detention by three days. The next step, of course, is to appeal to the Presidium of the regional court. We will offer security for bail again and from Moscow we will work out what levers to pull to ensure that the judge still hears the case. The arguments are straightforward: here you have a completely honest person who has never been convicted, with a three-week old child that his wife had recently, and a huge farm of 500 hectares, which cannot go to ruin. If he stays in custody, there is real chance that the farm could go under. It seems that this is what they want; they want to bankrupt Oleg Petrov.

Valentina Ivakina: What steps can the farmers’ human rights organisation take next?

Lev Ponomarev: First of all, it should be expanded. We’ve set the organization up, it consists just of the founders – around 15 people. The membership will probably increase. At some point, we should perhaps hold some sort of conference in Krasnodar region. I'm willing to come along. We will boost its profile and impact. We expect that the future of Krasnodar region will depend on how active the organisation is going to be. […]

Translated by Frances Robson and Lindsay Munford 

Liudmila Alekseeva: We cannot introduce the death penalty in Russia because we do not have a just and fair justice system

posted 10 Apr 2017, 05:44 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 10 Apr 2017, 05:46 ]

4 April 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: National News Service]

Liudmila Alekseeva commented on a statement by the leader of the Just Russia political party, Sergei Mironov, concerning his readiness to seek the imposition of the death penalty for terrorists. 

The head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Liudmila Alekseeva has stated: "We cannot introduce the death penalty in our country because we do not have a just and fair justice system. Can you imagine how many people would be deprived of their lives through miscarriages of justice, due to sentences ordered by who knows what persons? At present someone might be deprived of their liberty. But as long as they are alive, the situation can be redressed. You can seek to have them released. But for our courts to make the decision whether somebody is to live or not to live!? Let Mironov experience our judicial system for himself! Maybe he would begin to understand things more clearly.”

Translated by Graham Jones

Liudmila Alekseeva: Once again, the authorities are resorting to intimidation and deceit

posted 10 Apr 2017, 03:55 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 11 Apr 2017, 10:43 ]

1 April 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [Voice of America Russian Service

Liudmila Alekseeva, Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, in discussion with Viktor Vladimirov, correspondent for the Voice of America Russian Service, on the anti-corruption protests in Russian cities on 26 March and their aftermath.

Viktor Vladimirov: Liudmila Mikhailovna, on 26 March over 1000 people – including minors – were detained in Moscow alone. What do you find most worrying about these developments?

Liudmila Alekseeva: What worries me most is the tendency for the authorities once again to talk to citizens from a position of strength, both during the protest and after it, resorting to intimidation and deceit. For example, television channels in Russia have as yet made almost no mention of the event, despite its importance for our country’s public life. Judging by the President’s public utterances, the authorities have no desire to talk to members of civil society about what is worrying them, or to meet them half way – they still want to scare people and force them to stay at home instead of resolving issues through compromise.

Viktor Vladimirov: The protesters included more young people – and even teenagers – than ever before. What lesson have they learned?

Liudmila Alekseeva: It is true that there were more young people and even very young people than would normally be expected at a protest of this kind. Yet the protesters were not all young, as some people are claiming – they were a mix of ages. The lesson which these young people are still learning from the protest boils down to a simple truth: they do not matter to the authorities, and the authorities do not wish to listen to them or take them into account in any way.

Viktor Vladimirov: Efforts are underway in schools and universities throughout the whole country to dissuade students in the strongest possible terms from participating in protests. What is your view on this?

Liudmila Alekseeva: This is a particularly stupid idea, because young people do not respond to methods of this kind. A significantly more worrying development is the fact that people identified on CCTV recordings of the protests on 26 March are still being tracked down and detained. My concern is that this will turn into another “Bolotnaya Square” case, with people being arrested for many years afterwards and having their lives ruined for the simple reason that they attended a peaceful protest without breaking any rules.

Viktor Vladimirov: Yet authorities at different levels of government talked about the need for dialogue with the public in the days following 26 March. How should those statements be understood from where we are standing now?

Liudmila Alekseeva: I have not heard any statements of this kind from representatives of the authorities; they are not the ones talking about the need for dialogue. It is merely the representatives of the intelligentsia who are interested in such a thing. Valentina Matvienko is the only one who has mentioned it, albeit very cautiously.

Viktor Vladimirov: It is starting to feel like the courts are in cahoots with the police and are merely rubber stamping sentences for those detained on 26 March. Do you share this view?

Liudmila Alekseeva: They are of course practising their usual rubber stamping habits, in some cases to the point of absurdity. For example, police officers claimed that Aleksei Navalny had put up resistance when he was detained by law-enforcement officers, and that he had shouted out some threat or other. In court, his lawyer presented video evidence showing everything that happened during his detention.

Everyone can see from the video recording that Navalny did not resist and did not shout out anything. He got into the police van in silence. The judges were shown all of this. They watched it and… sentenced him to a fortnight’s administrative detention for offences he did not commit. This is outrageous. When I once had an opportunity to speak to the President, I told him that the sad fact of the matter is that we have no fair courts which act in accordance with the law. He spoke very gently and respectfully to me, but he replied, “Liudmila Mikhailovna, you are wrong.” What more is there to be said…

Viktor Vladimirov: What do you think about the protests arranged for 2 April which have been publicised on social media?

Liudmila Alekseeva: I think that this is nothing but a provocation. The thinking goes as follows: anyone who turns up at these protests must be a tough nut, and this will give us the chance to catch them all and put them in prison. No, a gathering on 2 April would be a bad idea. Aleksei Navalny and other influential people have already confirmed that they have not called on people to march on this date. The only possible explanation is that it is a provocation.

Viktor Vladimirov: Memorial Human Rights Centre has called for the officials guilty of violating the rights and freedoms of the protesters who were out on the streets on 26 March to be held accountable. Do you agree?

Liudmila Alekseeva: Of course I do, but sadly it will never happen because we are not living in a country governed by the rule of law.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Igor Kalyapin on the aftermath of the demonstrations of 26th March [Radio Svoboda]

posted 10 Apr 2017, 03:34 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 10 Apr 2017, 03:53 ]

30 March 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Rаdio Svoboda]

Extract from 'Will they answer for “Dimon”? Who is being jailed and fined for 26 March actions?' Radio Svoboda, 30 March 2017

[…] Mikhail Sokolov: After the anti-corruption rallies on 26 March, the capital’s police alone detained more than a thousand people — twice as many as after the events on Bolotnaya Square in 2012. In Russia as a whole, police detained more than fifteen hundred people, including not only active rally participants but also minors, university students, ordinary witnesses, and even reporters. The courts right now are vigorously carrying out Vladimir Putin’s instruction that everyone who allegedly steps outside the bounds of the law must suffer punishment in accordance with the law. Who is being jailed and fined? […] I asked Igor Kalyapin, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council. What is your reaction and that of your colleagues to what is happening?

Igor Kalyapin: If we’re talking about Nizhny Novgorod, we have a unique situation here, too. First of all, we had an absolutely outrageous provocative situation when they refused to consent to the rally. At first they did consent to the rally, and then the city administration rescinded their consent, which the law does not provide for at all, withheld it, citing the fact that all the squares—there are nine so defined in the city—designated for holding mass events were allegedly occupied. Skipping ahead, I’ll say that all the squares that day were, in fact, free.

The situation proceeded to develop in line with what is in my view quite a unique scenario. The thing is that, despite the fact that people came to the rally, there were quite a lot of them — a little over two thousand — for Nizhny Novgorod, the police made arrests. A little more than 40 people were detained in all. But we did not see a single instance of the use of physical force. We didn’t see any, but that doesn’t mean I have any doubts. It doesn’t mean there might have been some somewhere, but that because I didn’t see it, it didn’t happen. We had entire brigades of observers come out.

After the rally’s organizers were detained, the rally turned into a spontaneous march through the whole city, including stopping at the Kremlin, and the police escorted it all. There wasn’t a single excess connected with our direct activity, involving the use of force, cruelty, torture, and so forth. As for the trials held afterward, as far as I understand, they were conducted according to the same scenario throughout the country. That is, first, reports were written and charges made out according to a pre-arranged format.

The story we saw in the beginning, it’s very indicative, that is, a person was detained at 19:10, but according to the official documentation he was arrested before that. That is, this is normal, this is all natural. Some literate OMON riot police officer who knows how to write is sitting there, and he writes ten identical reports with carbon paper and then, on that basis, writes up the charges, and so forth. No one in the court checks them. Motions to call witnesses are denied. Motions to introduce certain documents are denied. That is, the courts don’t want to investigate anything; the courts take the police officers at their word. As far as I understand, this is the standard situation; pretty much the same thing happened in Nizhny Novgorod.

Mikhail Sokolov: The Presidential Human Rights Council itself, some of the members made a statement condemning the actions of the police and state, but your chairman and one of your members brought cookies to an OMON officer who was injured under strange circumstances. What position do the majority take, do you have information on that?

Igor Kalyapin: I do. Heated debates have been under way for the past few days and are still ongoing. The fact that Mikhail Aleksandrovich [Fedotov] and a colleague went to have tea with an OMON officer — that, I think, is their personal business. The problem was that this was presented as the Council’s position, and so forth. I believe that Fedotov as a public figure and as a person who, unquestionably, is associated with the Presidential Council, probably should not have done such symbolic things. But ultimately this is his personal business.

With respect to the Council’s position, it is the following. We have a general position, all the Council’s members without exception, as far as I understand, take the position that, unquestionably, the authorities in Moscow, as in a great many other cities in Russia, refused to give permission for the events utterly without grounds, without any legitimate basis for this. The authorities have not carried out their responsibility to try to create conditions for holding events, as opposed to refusing them. That is the joint position.

Beyond that, some of the Council, about half, believe that despite the absence of consent, the police did not have the right to detain people merely because they had come out for a peaceful action. This position was shared by twenty-four people at the time I left. […].

Mikhail Sokolov: Igor, what do you think, what are the prospects now? Will the authorities tighten the screws, and will civil society resist that somehow?

Igor Kalyapin: Strange as it seems, I share Shlosberg’s viewpoint and optimism. I believe that if civil society is going to demonstrate the kind of dynamic development it demonstrated at this rally, then the authorities won’t have a chance to tighten the screws. I am absolutely certain of this. […]

Mikhail Sokolov: Igor, how do you intend to act? We may really have the threat of a new big criminal case, more jailings, if they picked up a thousand people, then fifty or so people, God forbid, could be charged, maybe a hundred, in order to scare young people.

Igor Kalyapin: I absolutely share that concern, something like that really might happen if the authorities have completely lost their mind, which I don’t entirely rule out. In fact, to go and put even ten or so of these young people behind bars — it would be very easy for them to arrange that. That would be suicide for the authorities. But they have done many suicidal things, therefore I can’t rule it out.

The only thing I would like to object to our main present-day skeptic and pessimist, Sharov-Delon, is that the number of video cameras has increased not only among the police but also among the public. I think that if each time all the photographs and videos citizens have after rallies are gathered into a group, then this technology he talks about could be effectively opposed.

Mikhail Sokolov:
Your fellow member of the Council, Nikolai Svanidze, made the following statement: “We are going to conduct an investigation into the events of 26 March through the powers of an expanded commission.” In the final analysis, there should be a report—not to the Gestapo, no — but to the head of state. Do you think that makes sense?

Igor Kalyapin: You know, I believe that any public investigation and public report at the end of the investigation would be unquestionably effective. If that public investigation is publicly reported on to the head of state, then that is unquestionably all the more effective. It doesn’t matter whether this is Putin or Navalny.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

Valentina Cherevatenko: "Each month 40,000 people cross the border at the Stanitsa Luganskaya checkpoint"

posted 4 Apr 2017, 00:04 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Apr 2017, 00:08 ]

3 April 2017

I'd like to bring to your attention an initiative I think is very important. This request for support comes from Ilya Bogomolov, who is chair of the board of an organization called International Medical Care that is seeking to improve the very difficult conditions for people at the Stanitsa Luganskaya checkpoint in eastern Ukraine. Each month 40,000 people cross the border at the Stanitsa Luganskaya checkpoint to meet their relatives and friends, visit doctors, get social support, complete paperwork and collect parcels. But as Ilya Bogomolov describes below, conditions at the checkpoint are very bad. To achieve their goals, Ilya and his colleagues need your support. Ilya writes on Facebook (here translated from the Russian): 

“The Stanitsa Luganskaya checkpoint is one of the few remaining lifelines that connects Ukraine, which has been torn apart by the war, with its divided parts. Thousands of children, the elderly and the disabled make the journey. They are forced to stand in line for many hours – sometimes even several days – despite the heat and the cold, the snow and the rain.

“Every day someone loses consciousness in the queue or is taken ill. Sometimes they even die. There is often gunfire, and then some are wounded and killed. There are cases of people fainting from the hunger. Yet there are no doctors. They are just not there. Because of the war in Stanitsa Luganskaya, they all left, and those who stayed on work around the clock in the local district hospital and are not physically capable of working for longer. The district hospital is 80% short on medical staff. In the village of Schaste a 78-year old female GP goes out on call.

“Our organisation, the international charity International Medical Care, has received permission from the leadership of the Territorial Administration and Civil-Military Administration of Lugansk region to set up a health and medical tent at the Stanitsa Luganskaya entry/exit checkpoint, where a doctor and nurse will be on duty. This permission was only given to our charity, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders (across the conflict as a whole).

“The ICRC keeps watch from the side that is not controlled by the Government of Ukraine, and our medical tent will stand on the far side of the boundary line. The tent will provide the necessary medical care and distribute water, hot tea and sandwiches to those in the greatest need. Baby food for infants will also be made available. If necessary, the doctor will provide first aid at the scene (in the queue). A doctor and a nurse from other regions (volunteers) are already there. Tents, stoves and the necessary equipment have already been purchased, and a site for the tent has been earmarked.

“We need maintenance money for the doctor and nurse for one year, to include housing allowance, food, mobile phone and personal expenses. Funds are also needed to buy medicines, foodstuffs, firewood and water. There will be unforeseen expenses. According to our calculations, the maintenance of the medical staff, expenses for food and medicines for the sick, children, the disabled and those in need come to USD 600 per month.

“In light of a law in Ukraine that was passed on 15 March 2017 on a complete transport blockade of the unrecognised republics, the pressure on the Stanitsa Luganskaya checkpoint will increase exponentially. The population in Ukraine is completely impoverished, and it is virtually impossible to raise the necessary funds. We decided to post our project on Global Giving. Our page is: HERE

“The management at Global Giving have carefully checked our charity. We handed over to them all the necessary documents, the results of an independent audit for the past two years (plus tax returns and bank statements), as well as recommendations from our donors and recipients. Our first goal has been to raise USD 5,000 in three weeks (deadline of 31 March) from 40 different donors in order to become permanent partners. We will then be able to deliver our support programmes to victims of the war without being monitored. You can donate directly on the page in various ways. See HERE. Our organisation will then get the necessary financial assistance, and we will be able to provide support to those in need throughout the year."

Translated by Lindsay Munford

Aleksei Simonov: Harassment of independent media. Radio Svoboda journalists beaten up in Krasnodar region

posted 3 Apr 2017, 09:42 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 3 Apr 2017, 09:43 ]

28 March 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda]

In Krasnodar krai the Radio Svoboda journalists, Sergei Khasov-Kassia and Andrei Kostyanov, were beaten up. They were in the town of Kropotkin to report a farmers’ march which was to take place on 28 March. The cameraman, Andrei Kostyanov, is in hospital with a broken rib, Sergei Khasov-Kassia has no serious injuries. The regional police department stated that at present ‘the police are taking all the appropriate measures’. Aleksei Simonov, president of the Glasnost Defence Foundation and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, has commented on the incident.

Aleksei Simonov observes that in Russia a situation has developed in which journalists, reporting any kinds of protests ‘are automatically seen as being part of the protest´ and the Kuban always stood out ‘putting it mildly, as hostile’ to independent media.

‘I have the feeling that a complete silence is spreading across the country. Any attempt to express your dissatisfaction with something that is taking place, and which is reported by the means of mass communication with the slightest sympathy, immediately becomes fraught with danger both for those who express their dissatisfaction and for those who try to report this publicly. I have the feeling that in the past two to three days more than a thousand people have been arrested in Russia, and while of course they are quietly releasing some of them and will continue to do so, many of those arrested have been beaten, simply because when you start this kind of thing, you get carried away, and the lads go completely wild.

As I understand it they are given a great deal of leeway in how they deal with both protesters and with those who are reporting events.

The situation has become one where those describing an event are automatically seen as part of the protesters, although they should be sharply distinguished, each has his or her task – some to protest, others to report on the protest whether they agree with it or not, but that’s a matter for the future, once it has appeared on the screen. Here everything was done to prevent its reaching the screen. During the period when Tkachev was head of the region, the Kuban was distinguished, putting it mildly, by its hostile attitude towards not only independent media, they were even suspicious of official media. The means of mass communication were always suspect in the eyes of the bureaucracy, precisely because their purpose was to inform the mass of the population, Aleksei Simonov concluded.

Translated by Mary McAuley

Liudmila Alekseeva: A new generation has grown up in Russia which values freedom and dignity, and is prepared to fight for its rights [Obozrevatel]

posted 3 Apr 2017, 09:04 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Apr 2017, 04:26 ]

29 March 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Obozrevatel]

The protests, which were held across Russia on 26th March, showed that in the country there is a new generation which values freedom and which is capable of bringing about democratic changes within a period of less than ten years.

This is the opinion expressed by the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Liudmila Alekseeva in an interview wtih the Ukrainian edition of Obozrevatel.

"It’s amazing! This is the first rally, where the majority were young people aged under 25-27. In the past we have always had more mature people coming out. Now we are getting young people in their teens and school students. But also a lot of young adults," the Russian human rights activist said.

Alekseeva admitted that she was "very pleased" to this observe this because "it means that the years that have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union have not been in vain. There is a new generation, which appreciates freedom and human dignity, and is ready to fight for its rights".

She acknowledged that in Russia there is a whole new range of young people, including those who are apolitical and careerists. "But there are very many more, especially compared with Soviet times, who are dedicated to freedom," Alekseeva said.

Answering the question as to why the Kremlin propaganda is apparently effective with middle-aged and older people, but failed with young people, Alekseeva explained: "The young people have already realized that they're lying. Young people do not watch television. Their grandparents are sitting at home. What do they do? They switch on the TV. But our young people delve into the Internet."

Alekseeva also said that she was very disappointed by the latest public opinion surveys in Russia, according to which 86% of the population is happy with the annexation of the Crimea. "But after these developments, I believe that change could happen sooner rather than later. Maybe in even less than ten years,” she said.

Translated by Graham Jones

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