Advisory Council (Russia)

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

Boris Altshuler: The Housing Problem as a Catalyst for Systemic Reform in the Russian Federation

posted 17 Jul 2017, 07:58 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 17 Jul 2017, 10:15 ]

20 June 2017

By Boris Altshuler, 
Chair of the board of Right of the Child, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, member of the Joint Working Group of the Presidential Human Rights Council and the Ministry of Construction and Housing, member of the Public Chamber (III and IV convocations, 2010-2014) 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group 

The ultimate goal of the protection of human rights is neither power nor reform. Rather, it is to aid specific individuals who have suffered a catastrophic violation of their rights and who find themselves in a critical situation. Recently we have received yet more appeals concerning the appalling housing conditions of families, this time in Moscow, Moscow Region and the Republic of Bashkortostan. Our inability to help in the usual way, along with the systematic inhumanity exhibited by state officials regarding situations to which no one should be indifferent, have prompted us to adopt a systemic approach in our efforts to tackle this problem. This is the subject of the following article.

Short summary: How little has changed over the past 250 years. The “dictatorship of the law” and the “direct line” Q & A session of the President of the Russian Federation forgotten when it comes to the inhumane living conditions of children, and the strange tolerance of the sabotage of the presidential “housing” orders. How does the criticism of the Accounting Chamber and the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service differ from that of Aleksei Navalny with regard to poverty, corruption and monopolisation, the “squandering of trillions of roubles of government funding,” and the cartels in which state institutions are taking part? The professional unsuitability of the “pseudo-market” advisers of the President. The gamut of housing problems that include the situation of orphaned children, renovation and Moscow waiting lists, law-enforcement agents under the thumb of corrupt officials. “It is perfectly possible to build the right amount of housing" (Vladimir Putin). The involvement of people waiting to be assigned housing, families with many children, and activists from Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation in the monitoring of the national priority project, “Housing construction without corruption or monopolies,” are essential to its success.

“History convincingly demonstrates that all dictatorships and authoritarian systems of government are transitory. Only democratic systems last. Despite all their failings, humanity has not come up with anything better. Strong state power in Russia is synonymous with a democratic, law-based, and competent federal state” (article by V. V. Putin, "Russia at the Turn of the Millennium," December 1999).

“...And you will die just as your last slave will die!” (G. R. Derzhavin, "To the Lords and Judges," 1780). 


My wife (the poet Larisa Miller) and I have been reading aloud, at her suggestion, Vladislav Khodasevich’s biography of Derzhavin, and we have been very surprised how little has changed in 250 years. Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin, a devout and honest advocate of a strong state and an indefatigable opponent of embezzlement, abuse of powers and bribery, whose beliefs brought him into conflict with Catherine II, Paul I and Alexander I, was inspired as a young man by Catherine the Great’s famous “Instruction” of December 1766, based on the same “dictatorship of law” which Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, announced in February 2000.

It is a well-known fact that Catherine the Great quickly forgot her “Instruction” and its vitally important legal principles, and Putin’s words about the democratic separation of powers and the dictatorship of law as the basis for a stable system of state administration (see the epigraph above) sound just as hollow today.

In practice, all power nowadays is held by the officials of a single branch of government (the executive), which has steamrollered the legislative and judicial branches, and also brought to heel almost all media outlets and the entire system of law enforcement. This pitiful state of affairs is rounded off by the following problems which are a traditional feature of the Russian landscape: (1) the absence of any accountability on the part of officials towards the population; (2) the suppression by force of any protests by citizens bold enough to express dissent, and (3) the fact that problems can only ever be solved by appealing directly to the head of state. Nothing ever changes, and everything is as it always has been.

The annual Q&A with the President of the Russian Federation (the “Direct Line”, held on 15 June 2017) was the perfect demonstration of this situation – a small number of complaints voiced by individuals were resolved, but no significant changes to the system were announced. For example, no answer was provided to the following question, which is one that we believe could be asked by many parents:

“Our children are living in homes which are unfit for human habitation. As guarantor of the Constitution of the Russian Federation and hence the constitutional right to shelter, why are you so tolerant of the fact that over the past five years the Government of the Russian Federation (under First Deputy Prime Minister I. I. Shuvalov) and the heads of the regions (S. S. Sobyanin and others ‘from Moscow to the furthest borders’) have sabotaged the execution of Presidential Order No 600 of 7 May 2012 on the provision of affordable housing to low-income Russian citizens, and also obstructed implementation of the programme ‘Housing for Families’?”

The vast majority of the questions put to Putin concerned matters such as low pay and unacceptable poverty, the systemic causes of which are well known – corruption and monopolies, monopolies and corruption. Monopolies which are extremely profitable for government officials in spheres of the economy of fundamental importance for the population, and which ratchet up the cost of basic necessities (medication, food, housing) while at the same time driving small businesses and family farms, and such like, so important for our society, out of existence.

An important point that needs to be made is that it is not just Aleksei Navalny and his supporters among Russian citizens who have spoken out about the causes of this national tragedy and the widespread and catastrophic scale on which the problems are encountered.

According to Tatyana Golikova, head of the Accounting Chamber of the Russian Federation: “Every year trillions of roubles are wasted as a result of the inefficient use of government funds – several times more than the amount lost by the Treasury as a result of the fall in the price of oil or the future income from the sale of privatised state assets (around 1.5 trillion roubles over two years)” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, 19 April 2016 -

According to Igor Artemyev, director of the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service of the Russian Federation: “What we are currently facing is the wholesale cartelisation of the Russian economy… These cartels, based on long-standing agreements, represent a criminal offence. These are organised groups…” (1 March 2017 -

Thirdly and lastly, an article in report by Rossiskaya gazeta on a report by the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (“Key to the Bank”, 6 June 2017) contained the following statement: “There are very few areas of the Russian economy from which cartel agreements are entirely absent, but the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service receives most complaints about the drug, medical equipment and construction industries... The report states that one of the features typical of anti-competitive agreements in Russia is the involvement of government authorities.”

Why are certain critics of the system targeted with trumped-up criminal charges, beaten (adults and children alike) with batons and dragged into prisoner transport vehicles, while others (T. A. Golikova, I. Yu. Artemyev and their ilk) get away with similar criticisms? Presumably because it is easy to ignore the reports published by the Accounting Chamber and the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, while a large-scale public protest is harder to cover up.

What is truly breathtaking is that the country’s “economic generals” – including the President’s advisors, Aleksey Kudrin, Sergey Glazyev, Boris Titov, Anatoly Chubais, Vladimir Mau and so on – have said nothing about this major economic problem highlighted by the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, namely the proliferation of anti-competitive agreements in which government authorities are implicated and which have devastating consequences for our country. As was the case back in the 1990s, this professional incompetence of these alleged fans of the free market is spawning a national tragedy, leaving people with nowhere to live, nothing to eat and no medicine to give their children…

I shall say something about the housing problem that, not for the first year, we have been forced to work on, in response to desperate cries for help.

1. Child orphans

“In 2015, there were 96,798 homeless orphans in this country. In 2016, this number rose to 109,000 … You can’t even imagine how many former orphanage residents with young children come to me personally, not knowing what to do for these children, not knowing where to live, where to go,” Anna Kuznetsova, Children’s Rights Ombudsman for the President of the Russian Federation, in an interview for International Children’s Day on June 1. (Rossiiskaya gazeta, 30 May 2017).

“In 2016 alone, President Putin twice issued instructions about the need to ensure housing for orphans. In February 2016, an official representative of the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation called the situation regarding housing provision for child orphans catastrophic…” Aleksei Golovan, director of the NGO Participating in Fate, “The Day of Imaginary Defence of Children,” 1 June 2017 -

2. Moscow: Renovation and Those on Waiting Lists

- From the appeal to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin: “Those on Moscow’s Waiting List,” 1 June 2017:

Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich,... In the summer of 2016, women from the movement ‘Those on Moscow’s Waiting List,’ whose living conditions were simply unendurable, went on an extended hunger-strike against the failure of the Department of Municipal Property to take any action: L .A. Martyanova - three families in one room in a communal apartment, 18 m2; E. I. Kalashnikova - two multi-child families in one room in a communal apartment, 19 m2; E. A. Guberova - four families in one apartment; N. A. Zvereva - six children, expecting a seventh, in a small apartment; L. D. Drozdova - five children, expecting a sixth, in a small apartment, and so on and so forth. However, the line for receiving public housing hasn’t moved at all. IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO LIVE LIKE THIS! The demands of the hunger strikers were supported by the Presidential Human Rights Council, the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation, and the Human Rights Ombudsman of Moscow. Our demands were reported to the Mayor of Moscow, but Sergei Sobyanin did not pay the necessary attention to our problem. Instead of solving the problems of those waiting in line for housing, whose living conditions are exceptionally difficult, he decided to renovate housing that is already suitable for living in.

- From the Presidium of the Presidential Human Rights Council’s expert evaluation of the bill on renovation, 8 June 2017. “The Council’s main objection to the bill on renovation of Moscow housing is linked to the proposed use of public funds for renovation… in the context of social obligations that have not been fulfilled by the city of Moscow for a long time owed to those waiting for housing and to the residents of homes unsuitable for habitation…”, -

Taking into consideration Moscow renovation and those waiting for housing, it’s helpful to recall the surprising powerlessness of law enforcement in the investigation of corrupt practices of Moscow bureaucrats. In the fall of 2016, “Those on Moscow’s Waiting List” circulated documents among the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Investigative Committee, and the Federal Security Service’s Moscow directorate, from which it appears that the deputy head of the Moscow City Property Department, I. A. Shcherbakov, with the personal permission of Mayor Sobyanin, in June 2016 acquired an apartment intended for a Muscovite, priced at 4.3 million roubles, and after a month and a half sold it for 21 million roubles (see these documents enclosed in a letter to V. V. Putin, given to him personally on 8 December 2016 - The fact is, nothing has happened in the past half a year. Mr. Shcherbakov holds the same post, while according to the Moscow city government’s official publications on renovation he is responsible for rehousing citizens whose homes have been demolished.

Here is an illustrative example of the subordination of the law-enforcement system to the officials of the executive branch of the government. And this happens everywhere! To read about how this archaic system of government, lacking in “checks and balances,” threatens the very existence of the Russian Federation, see recent statement by members of the Moscow Helsinki Group

3. The housing problem is easy to resolve in Moscow and other regions of Russia:

It is perfectly possible to build the right amount of housing…Not much needs to be done to achieve this. We need to make the taking of decisions on allocation of land less bureaucratic. Not just to give it out to friends and family, so to speak…” - V. V. Putin at a session of the State Council on housing policy, 17 May 2016.

Three years ago now our Joint Working Group of the Presidential Human Rights Council and the Ministry of Construction and Housing proposed a model for a regional programme allowing rapid construction, without government funding, of a sufficient amount of accessible housing in execution of Presidential Decree No. 600 of 7 May 2012. The proposals were supported by the Russian Union of Builders, thousands of whose members are ready as soon as possible to begin work and resolve this problem. But for three years the proposals have met fierce opposition from the very bureaucrats who only think of “family and friends,” in the president’s apt expression.

Conclusion: WHAT IS TO BE DONE? The priority national project “Housing construction without corruption and monopolies.”


1. As part of the priority national project, to implement construction programmes in the constituent regions of Russia to provide accessible housing for target social groups, enabling construction of housing of an economic class (in line with Article 46.5 of the Construction Code of the Russian Federation), while at the same time ensuring a reduction in prices per square metre by fair competition and favourable conditions for investors (guaranteeing returns and profitability for invested funds, free provision of land near to existing social, transport and other infrastructure, free connection to water, sewage and other utilities, with no bribes or kick-backs, and so forth).

2. For the purposes of preventing corruption and anti-competition agreements, in the course of implementing the regional programmes in line with the general proposal of the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service “to unite the efforts of all agencies of oversight and law enforcement.” (Rossiiskaya gazeta, 6 June 2017)

3. And most important, to organize effective public oversight of each stage of the implementation of the programme, each construction project, with the participation of associations of those on the housing waiting list, parents with many children, and so on, and also of activists from the Foundation Against Corruption led by Aleksei Navalny.

And, just possibly, implementation of the project “Housing Construction without Corruption and Monopolies” will serve as a model that will improve the quality of governance in Russia at federal, regional and local levels as a whole.

See also:

The journal Sel’skoe stroitel’stvo, № 1, 2017, pages 32-33.
“Rural Construction and stable development of the village: overcoming monopolies and cartels as an obvious necessary condition”

25 May 2017, Stroitel’naya orbita, “Renovation: the views of professional builders” (on the session of the Chamber of Trade and Industry of the Russian Federation, 5 May 2017)

24 April 2017. Stroitel’naya orbita.
V. Tishkov, “Failure of the programme for accessible housing. Why the state programme ‘Housing for the Russian Family’ is stalling”

3 February 2017 Novye izvestiya, “The more children, the worse life is”

9 January 2017. “Letter to the President of Russia: Request to declare an ‘official war’ against monopolies in sectors of the economy essential to families with children”

22 May 2016. “A. L. Kudrin and pensions. ‘Kill the elderly, and eat them’,” “it’s not a deficit of WORKERS that we have, but of vacancies!!!”

25 April 2016. Novaya gazeta, “Whoever ‘took aim’ at NGOs, took aim at Russia”

“Proposals of the Joint Working Group of the Presidential Human Rights Council and the Ministry of Construction and Housing, presented to the organizing committee of the session of the State Council of the Russian Federation on housing policy (Kremlin, 17 May 2016)”

17 September 2015. “Save our children from chronic malnutrition”

12 September 2012. “Recommendations of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation: ‘Housing safety net’.”

5 June 2012 “Overcoming socially unacceptable poverty of families and the resulting chronic malnutrition of millions of children in Russia”

22 December 2011. “Recommendations of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation on the outcomes of the hearings on ‘Problems of poverty and labour relations in the context of the family and childhood’.”

7 June 2011. “Poverty and inequality in the lives of children: nutrition, housing, leisure. On the urgent steps needed to resolve these problems”
Based on a discussion at a session of the Expert Group, № 9 “Strategy – 2020,” 31 May 2011

Thanks to Elizabeth Teague, Joanne Reynolds and Simon Cosgrove for assistance with this translation

Temur Kobaliya on the arrest and detention of journalist Aleksandr Batmanov

posted 11 Jul 2017, 11:32 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Jul 2017, 05:52 ]

11 July 2017

By Temur Kobaliya, founder and producer at NGO TV, Volgograd

Photo of Aleksandr Batmanov: NGO TV

For an account in Russian, see 'В Волгограде ведущего НКО ТВ отправили в СИЗО якобы из-за кражи продуктов,' Sol', 11 July 2017

A presenter at NGO TV in Volgograd, Aleksandr Batmanov, has been remanded in custody, allegedly on suspicion of theft from a grocery store. 
At the present time, Aleksandr Batmanov is being subjected to an unprecedented degree of pressure. The journalist has two broken legs, injuries he received as he was trying to escape from an office on the third floor of a police station in the city of Volgograd, where police officers had held him throughout the weekend. 

Aleksandr Batmanov told me that he had run into difficulties when he was investigating the construction of the Volgograd-Arena stadium. In parallel, Aleksandr had been working on a report on the distribution of government grants to local NGOs. 

A few weeks ago Aleksandr had been summoned to a police station on the grounds that, allegedly (no matter how absurd it might sound), he had stolen sausage and bread from a shop. 

However, Aleksandr did not go to the police station. Last Friday he was arrested. The discussions he had with the police investigators at the police station were evidently not to the satisfaction of the police, and he was locked in an office with a view to keeping him there, without food or water, until the Monday. 

Aleksandr decided this was an intolerable situation. In trying to escape through a window, he fell from the third floor and broke both his legs. 

The police officers took fright and decided to obtain a court warrant for his arrest, on charges of theft from a grocery store.

Currently, Aleksandr is being held in Volgograd Pre-Trial Detention Facility No. 1 and there is very little
information about his condition. The police have not made any public statement about the case.

It is not known at present when the court hearing into the charges brought against Aleksandr will take place, or who will represent Batmanov in court. 

I consider that our reporter, Aleksandr Batmanov, is being subjected to unlawful intimidation by police, by means of fabricated charges, because of his work as a journalist.

e are delighted you have been reading Rights in Russia. As a non-for-profit organization that does not carry advertising, we rely on our readers and well-wishers to support our work. If you share our belief in the importance of our mission, in the need to publicize the human rights situation in Russia, please consider making a donation to help keep Rights in Russia alive. To donate, see HERE

Andrei Babushkin: The Obninsk Saga - the Trial of Tatyana Kotlyar Continues

posted 3 Jul 2017, 07:52 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 3 Jul 2017, 08:14 ]

22 June 2017 

By Andrei Babushkin, head of the Committee for Civil Rights 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Blog of Andrei Babushkin
Obninsk [Kaluga region]. In what was formerly a kindergarten at 24 Prospekt Lenina, there is now a magistrate’s court presided over by a justice of the peace. There are small steps leading into the building, low windowsills, and neatly trimmed green bushes below the windows—all of which suggest that what goes on inside is something of a child’s game. But the decisions that are made here determine people’s destiny and are anything but childish. 

Though the purpose of a court is to determine the fates of an unending flow of people, I ask myself, “Where is this court driving us? What does it call on us to do?” 

For two weeks now, this court has been hearing the case against human rights defender Tatyana Mikhailovna Kotlyar [chair of the Kaluga Movement for Human Rights and an active campaigner for the protection of the rights of ethnic Russians seeking to return to live in Russia, stateless persons, migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees - trans.]. In the minds of most ordinary people, the term "human rights defender" conjures up confusion, rejection and anxiety provoked by the fact that they, as ordinary men or women in the street, do not live as they should. Comparison with a human rights defender is dangerous: this mad saint rushes around, talks, writes, and all to what purpose? If they just sat quietly, didn’t bother anybody, then they would be left in peace. If an ordinary person suffers disaster or is struck by tragedy, then they will rush for help to the human rights defender. But so long as everything is calm, why work oneself up? “That’s how those crazy human rights activists behave!” 

In the “case” being brought against Tatyana Mikhailovna Kotlyar, we hear the colloquial expression, “rubber apartment.”[3] This riles local residents. Their heads buzz with images of dozens of sullen Asian construction workers, crowded into a scruffy room stacked high with beds, lined up against the wall, being photographed by the police; of police cars screeching past with flashing lights; of handcuffs—and of thick wads of illegally-acquired money gripped by the owner of the “rubber apartment.” They think, “That’s how it is! They wanted to cheat the state! To rip us off! Our country is flooded with Tajiks! It serves you right!!!” [The term “rubber apartment” is a popular term meaning either an apartment inhabited by homeless migrants or one cited by them as their place of residence so they can register with the authorities as legal residents. See, for example, the website of the School of Russian and Asian Studiesaccessed 1 July 2017 - trans.]

But that is not how Tatyana Mikhailovna Kotlyar sees things. She herself put it best at the court hearing. For some reason, however, if an individual speaks in their own defence, few people are inclined to believe what they say. Therefore, let me tell you. Tatyana Mikhailovna did not flood Obninsk with illegal Asians, as she is often accused of having done. The documents cited in the investigation against her speak, in court language, of "176 episodes." That is to say, in 2015 she registered 176 people as living in her apartment with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. 

In this way she helped to legalize them – in other words, to enable them to legally live and work in the Kaluga region. Here are the surnames of those who have legalized their situation in this way: Taranenko, Kudreiko, Makovoz, Shcherbakova, Kasyanov, Nikitsky, Galich, Kuznetsova etc. Even from looking at their surnames it’s clear that these civilians aren’t from Uzbekistan nor any of the other scorching republics. These individuals are from a neighbouring basket case – that of Ukraine – or more precisely, they are refugees from Donbass. I won’t identify everyone on the list. If you’re interested, come to court and see that I have by no means misled you about the real nature of the charges. In addition to the surnames, the prosecutor also read out the dates of birth of these ‘lodgers’ in ‘rubber housing’. The list left quite an impression on me and I noted the following down for you: date of birth: 2008 (in 2015 they were 7 years old!), 1960 (57 years old), 2004 (11 years old), 2012 (3 years old), 1947, 2005, 2014 (the child would have been just year old in 2015!), 1963, 2011…That is, children and the elderly alike. These people, who make up almost half of the list, are those citizens labelled as ‘not capable of work.’ And thus in 2015, it turns out the cunning Tatyana Kotlyar, ‘who was aware of the criminality and the liability, acting knowingly, with criminal intent’, took an armful of these infant refugees, and accompanying both refugee mothers and elderly refugees aged 70 and above, she rushed to the passport office and got them temporary registration (free of charge, it’s worth noting) at her rental properties. 

Why did she do it? Well, had she not acted, both the young and the elderly would have been given 7 days to return to Donbass, under fire. 

The law states that in order to obtain official documents for temporary asylum in Russia, refugees who have arrived from Ukraine must be entered within 7 days on the migration register. Or they must leave Russia. Being placed on this register is something to which few local housing owners agree, while even if in the event they do, it’s not always possible to register because of various legal procedural delays. There is no state centre for the acceptance of refugees in Obninsk. Generally speaking, the refugees find themselves in an impasse. 

Frankly, the majority of Obninsk residents, were they in Tatyana Mikhailovna’s shoes, would have given in. More specifically, we know for a fact that the majority of the city’s residents don’t even try to do anything to help the refugees. They might give them 500 roubles. Or donate them a jacket…But when it comes to registering at your own home even one Donetsk-born baby…Who can honestly say they have done so? 

And Tatyana Kotlyar did it 176 times. Once again I specify: without monetary reward (the investigators scrutinized everything very closely, tried as they could). She wrote explanations to the local district police officers. She listened to the reprimands of other police. She received guilty verdicts. And now she is still facing prosecutions. As before, she won’t give up—she helps those threatened with expulsion into the crossfire of “fraternal” armies. Even though she herself has long been “in the sights” of local prosecutors. 

No one has made a film about Tatyana Mikhailovna yet. But I can roughly imagine what that film would look like. Have you seen Schindler’s List? It has just the same sort of situation: a German business owner, “acting with criminal intent”, saves members of society who are being persecuted from death. Of course, the heat of passion, powerful music and machine guns are not as palpable in Obinsk as in Steven Spielberg’s works. But Tatyana Kotlyar’s unselfish deed is no smaller. We could write music for it, add special effects, you get the idea. 

But what has happened to society? Why did none of the officials feel responsible for the fate of the refugees? Why did the servants of Justice sit in a kindergarten and, in all seriousness, discuss the possibility of punishing an outstanding individual who saves children from war? The judges, investigators, and prosecutors are all paid by the state and are supposed to stand guard over the interests of the state. Do they really not understand that putting people in prison for helping people is itself a crime against the State? If a state starts punishing good people for doing good, and encouraging callousness and indifference, then the state will perish. Plato spoke of that long ago. And I believe they still study him in law school. 

For your information (statistical data from the Russian Statistical Service for Kaluga)
From 2014-16 (from the start of military actions in Ukraine), the following numbers of people have arrived in Kaluga region: 
2,000 Ukrainian citizens (approximately one tenth of all migrant arrivals) 
1,000 Ukrainians have received advice from Tatyana Kotlyar (i.e. one of every ten Ukrainian arrivals) 
4,100 Ukrainians have left or were forced to leave in the same period 
7,900 Ukrainians remain on the territory of Kaluga region (a third of all migrants who have remained in the territory during that period, after arriving from various countries) 
36,910 total people were born in Kaluga region 
45,781 have died 
From 2014-2016 the population of Kaluga region increased by 5,228 people (not because of the refugees who have arrived?) 

Translated by Elizabeth Teague, Mark Nuckols and Nathalie Wilson 

For more information about Andrei Babushkin on Rights in Russia, see Rights in Russia. For more information about Tatyana Kotlyar, see Front Line Defenders, Front Line Defenders and Civic Assistance Commitee

We are delighted you have been reading Rights in Russia. As a non-for-profit organization that does not carry advertising, we rely on our readers and well-wishers to support our work. If you share our belief in the importance of our mission, in the need to publicize the human rights situation in Russia, please consider making a donation to help keep 
Rights in Russia alive. To donate, see HERE

Criminal charges brought against rights defender Valentina Cherevatenko under "foreign agent" law [VoA]

posted 26 Jun 2017, 05:29 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Jun 2017, 05:39 ]

3 June 2017

Interview with Valentina Cherevatenko by Danila Galperovich

Source: Voice of America

Russian activist faces imprisonment for her humanitarian and peace-building activities

For the first time criminal charges have been brought for failure to obey the law on “foreign agents,” a law which enables the Russian authorities to attach the label “foreign agent” to organizations which receive foreign funding and which – in the view of the authorities – undertake political activities.

Over the last couple of years, many Russian human rights organizations have become victims of this law, including such respected and internationally known organizations as Memorial, Civic Assistance and the Sakharov Centre, all of which are engaged in enlightenment in the sphere of human rights and history.

Criminal charges for alleged violations of this law were officially brought against Valentina Cherevatenko, head of the coordination council of the organization Women of the Don Union, on 2 June. The sociologist from Novocherkassk is accused of “malicious” evasion of obligations imposed by the law on “foreign agents”, an act for which she may face imprisonment.

Many international organisations have criticized the prosecution of Valentina Cherevatenko

The European Union has issued an official statement which reads: “The criminal charges brought against activist Valentina Cherevatenko, a leader in the NGO ‘Union of Women of Don’, represent the first criminal case opened under the ‘foreign agents’ law in Russia. The practice of declaring NGOs as ‘foreign agents’ restricts civil society and impedes the exercise of fundamental freedoms. Ms Cherevatenko's outstanding work on human rights education, peace building, and humanitarian issues is well-known and widely appreciated.”

The international human rights organization Amnesty International also criticized the Russian authorities. Denis Krivosheev, deputy director of Amnesty International for Europe and Central Asia, has said: “The only reason why Cherevatenko is being brought to court and risks losing her freedom is her unceasing defence of human rights. This brave human rights defender has become the first person to be criminally prosecuted under Russia’s draconian law on ‘foreign agents’. She should not have been prosecuted at all, let alone face the threat of imprisonment.” [translated from the Russian – ed].

In an interview for the Russian service of Voice of America Valentina Cherevanteko spoke about who initiated the prosecution of “Women of the Don Union, and which activities of the organization – in the view of the Russian authorities - were indicative of a “foreign agent”

Danila Galperovich: How did the prosecution of your organization and you personally begin?

Valentina Cherevatenko: It began approximately a year ago on the initiative of an FSB officer who wrote a statement to the Investigative Committee. This was the start of this case in which I was a suspect, and on 2 June I received notice that I was to be a defendant in a criminal case.

Danila Galperovich: So the FSB began this case?

Valentina Cherevatenko: Yes, the FSB are the initiators of this case.

Danila Galperovich: Was this an initiave of authorities at the regional level, or did the attack come from Moscow?

Valentina Cherevatenko: I think that this is primarily a regional initiative. I do think that Moscow is fully aware of the case. Probably, this regional initiative has their support.

Danila Galperovich: Many of your colleagues think that you are being demonstratively punished to intimidate others. Do you agree?

Valentina Cherevatenko: The point is that the law under which I have been charged has in fact never been used before. This is the first case of its kind in history. It could act as an example in various ways. It could also literally be used against all those who have not themselves registered in the "register of foreign agents."

Danila Galperovich: The Russian authorities quite often say that the words "foreign agent" is really nothing to worry about and this term has no condemnatory or negative connotations. Do you agree?

Valentina Cherevatenko: No, I do not agree with that. Just my history and the experience of my case prove that this word carries a range of implications. For ordinary people, especially the older generation, the word "agent", essentially means "spy". This is quite serious. And they used to say even in my town, that our organization has been included in the register of agents working under foreign influence and some of the representatives of NGOs have stated they never will be part of the Union of Women of the Don because they are agents. There were phone calls, and I understand that these calls might have come from people who are not quite in perfect health, but nonetheless: they used terms like "your bosses ", "up to your elbows in blood", and so on. That is why the ‘positive’ understanding of this legislation to which you referred is over-simplified, and comes from people who have had no personal experience of it.

Danila Galperovich:What does your organization do?

Valentina Cherevatenko: " Women of the Don" was founded in 1993 as a the usual kind of NGO working on social issues. It may sound pretentious, but as the saying goes, we wanted to "Join hands together so that we wouldn’t be picked off one by one." In 1993, that’s just how it was in those rather difficult times. And in 1994 the Union of Women of the Don was registered as a regional NGO. As from 1995 we started making changes to our charter, and, in addition to alleviating social problems by helping those who were going through bad and hard times. We included working on human rights, women's rights and campaigning for peace into our charter. For many years we were engaged in developing dialogue for the rehabilitation of the people affected by conflicts, by natural and by man-made disasters.

We have experience in Beslan and in Krymsk. We worked with families who were returning from conflict zones. We helped these families. We work with difficult families and with families experiencing socially dangerous situations. That’s quite a wide range of activities for our organization, which is well established. We have the expertise, experience and the opportunity to deal with them.

Not only did we do the work ourselves – from our own resources we managed to give birth to a number of other organisations that resulted from different branches of our activities.

Danila Galperovich: What sort of demands did they present, and when?

Valentina Cherevatenko: In 2013 the prosecutor declared that by working in other regions we had broken the law. I have, of course, a question on this for the Ministry of Justice which for the 20 years of our existence has not once made any comment in this regard.

Therefore in 2013 the Union of Women of the Don, our co-ordination council, took the decision about creating a second organisation – the Women of the Don Foundation for Co-Operation and Development of Civil Society and Human Rights so that the Union of the Women of the Don would no longer be in violation of the law. The Union would work only on the territory of Rostov region, while the Foundation would have the right to work in other territories allowed by law.

The aims and issues of the two organizations coincide because we never planned to involve ourselves with any other kinds of work. However, as regards myself, a criminal case has arisen and one of the charges is namely the creation of the Foundation, that it was as if I had malicious intent, and so on. Today we are accused of creating, giving birth to, another organization, which, by the way, continues to work in other territories, initiate interactive procedures and organise dialogues between Ukrainian and Russian community workers, women leaders, and specialists in provision of different kinds of assistance.

Danila Galperovich: What do you think, how serious is the danger threatening you?

Valentina Cherevatenko:The Article of the Criminal Code under which I am charged provides for a sentence of up to two years’ imprisonment. Just a year ago, when I received the relevant official document at the Ministry of Justice, one of the officials announced to me: “You still don’t know what awaits you”. I managed to say: “Why don’t I know? I understand. It’s likely that you want to lock me up”. Another official added: “Well, that’s just your imagination.”

I really do understand that this danger actually exists. And I really do understand, and many colleagues tell me, that leaving the country would be justified. But, even understanding this, I am not trying to leave for anywhere. I have a family – I have a mother, I have sons, I have grandchildren. I have work and around me are many people who believe and trust in me.

Before our discussion we had a performance at the Forum Theatre, the actors of the Forum Theatre wrote it themselves and called it “Zhanna and the Dragon”. It is a fairy tale based on the situation of “foreign agent” NGOs. We invited people to the dress rehearsal who have really never been in our office. They watched and discussed the play. And I saw that they understood what we were talking about. They told us their view of how we could get out of this situation, how we could survive and remain as people.

Thanks to Frances Robson, Friederike Behr and Graham Jones for this translation

We are delighted you have been reading Rights in Russia. As a non-for-profit organization that does not carry advertising, we rely on our readers and well-wishers to support our work. If you share our belief in the importance of our mission, in the need to publicize the human rights situation in Russia, please consider making a donation to help keep Rights in Russia alive. To donate, see HERE

Liudmila Alekseeva: The first generation of free people has already come of age

posted 19 Jun 2017, 03:25 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Jun 2017, 03:33 ]

13 June 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Оbozrevatel]

Sooner or later protests in Russia will grow into something serious but that won’t happen in the near future, declared Liudmila Alekseeva, the human rights activist and head of the Moscow Helsinki Group in her comments on the wave of protests on 12th June when more than 1,700 people across the country were detained by the police.

In response to a question from the Ukrainian ‘Observer’ as to whether the protests would develop into something serious, the activist said “For the moment – no. But it’s noticeable how young the protesters are. A few years ago it was mostly older people who came to the rallies but now it’s a mass of young people. The authorities are actively producing a generation of oppositionists.”

In answer to a question as to when protests might bring results, she said “I am not an oracle but Herzen once said that we need two free generations. Well, the first of these has already come of age.”

At the same time Alekseeva commented “We have a proverb, Russians take a long time to harness a horse, but travel fast. Who in 1991 would have expected demonstrations outside the White house? No one. And that happened, by the way, in Moscow not in Kiev”.

“We are an unpredictable people but we shall have a European future even though at the moment we are going in the opposite direction. The authorities are going the opposite direction,” Liudmila Mikhailovna emphasized.

Translated by Mary McAuley

We are delighted you have been reading Rights in Russia. As a non-for-profit organization that does not carry advertising, we rely on our readers and well-wishers to support our work. If you share our belief in the importance of our mission, in the need to publicize the human rights situation in Russia, please consider making a donation to help keep Rights in Russia alive. To donate, see HERE

Andrei Kalikh: "Corruption has become much more complex than mere bribery"

posted 15 Jun 2017, 07:53 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Jun 2017, 11:11 ]

14 June 2017

Source: A visa-free for dirty money: transborder corruption, Russia and the west, OpenDemocracyRussia, 14 June 2017

This extract has been republished by kind permission of OpenDemocracyRussia

Andrei Kalikh, independent journalist and a member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum’s “Fighting Transborder Corruption” working group, talks about how the endemic corruption of Russian business, politics and law enforcement is spreading to the west – and becoming a global phenomenon.

Corruption has long since moved beyond national governments

"[...] There is, of course, nothing new about this. Corruption has long since moved beyond national governments: corrupt links cross borders, and we’re not talking here just about business links, but links between officials involved with business as well. And in general, corruption is not a question of mere sweeteners, bribes transported across borders in suitcases. It’s become much more complex than mere bribery and the very narrow and one-sided definition used in Russian law.

For our kleptocrats, gain from transborder corruption means, in the first place, the opportunity to salt their assets away in the west, and in the second, the opportunity to work with associates in the west. This is a unique situation, consisting of two interlocking processes – on the one hand, the export of Russian corruption to Europe, or the entire globe, has led to Customs officers and business people being infected by this virus. On the other hand, foreign officials and corporations invest resources in Russian projects, because they know that Russia means easy money.

In other words, Russia is offering its corruptive attraction to the whole world: look, you’ll find your projects very easy to carry off here, and if you also say nice things about us, you’ll be rewarded and get lots of preferential treatment. Given that the harshness of our laws is mitigated by their non-observance and is in any case only aimed at “outsiders”, for “insiders” the freedom to spend money as they like is much greater in Russia. The reason international corruption is so successful in Russia is that here it’s easier to infringe the law and ignore environmental norms and the rights of the local population – just like in Africa, for example.

Transborder corruption also has a crucial political side to it. Russia has been actively bribing European politicians and corporations for many years. Many Russian officials are convinced that creating a group of political supporters in the west is only possible with the help of money or preferential treatment: setting up investment projects in Russia, for example. But, in any case, it is important to set up a support group like this in political and business circles.

Here’s a concrete and tied and tested example: the financing of right-populist European political parties and movements, interference in elections and operations aimed against anti-right forces. In France, Hungary and several other countries there have been enough documents relating to this published for it to be spoken about openly.

So a pool of tame supporters of Russia’s political system is created in the west – people who may not necessarily need to speak well of Russia, but at any rate may not criticise it. They enjoy profitable contracts and dodgy tenders which they helped draw up and are heavily involved in. This is a particularly important area of transborder corruption that needs to be combated because it creates support for Russia’s political system. [...]"

Corruption has no positive effects

"There are market researchers here in Russia who seriously believe that corruption has a positive effect. And indeed, if you look at it from a strictly practical point of view, you feel that corruption makes business more efficient, which is of course a pure illusion. In the first place, corrupt business people are tied hand and foot. Their business is not under their control: the authorities have a file on each one of them and use it. In the second, corruption creates unfairness: those who give and take bribes live (to a certain extent) better than everyone else.

Everyone else – those who can’t or won’t pay bribes – is a victim of corruption. So I really wouldn’t want to talk about this phenomenon having any positive effects. [...]" 

Trump had close connections with Russia even before his election as president

"As regards Trump, it’s worth saying that even the circumstantial details published, for example, in Forbes Magazine, about how half the apartments in Trump’s “Towers” are owned by Russian Mafiosi and business people, show that he had close connections with Russia even before his election as president. That was why Russia thought it had Trump on the hook: it was betting on him and pleased when he won, but as we know now it was just an illusion. To be honest, if I were the American electorate, I would have postponed this election, simply because of the well-founded suspicions of outside interference in them. [...]"

Western prosecutors are formally barred from following the trail of corrupt money from Russia

"Given Russia’s endemic corruption and the absence of independent public prosecutors, courts and investigators, western prosecutors are formally barred from following the trail of corrupt money from Russia. They are also formally forbidden to initiate any investigation of the sources of dirty money on their own countries’ territory, as they are not responsible for the “predicate offence”, the original crime committed on Russian territory – the embezzlement of public funds, for example."

Translated by Liz Barnes

We are delighted you have been reading Rights in Russia. As a non-for-profit organization that does not carry advertising, we rely on our readers and well-wishers to support our work. If you share our belief in the importance of our mission, in the need to publicize the human rights situation in Russia, please consider making a donation to help keep Rights in Russia alive. To donate, see HERE

Lev Pomomarev on Torture, on Housing Demolition [Radio Sol]

posted 15 Jun 2017, 00:49 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Jun 2017, 09:53 ]

30 May 2017

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

Extract from a programme broadcast on 30 May 2017: 'Tuesday with Lev Ponmarev on Radio Sol. A human rights defender's look at recent events in Russia.' 

Valentina Ivakina: Hello, dear radio listeners, this is 'Tuesday with Lev Ponomarev.' At the microphone is Valentina Ivakina. Every Tuesday from 15:00 to 16:00 Moscow time, specialists of the nationwide NGO For Human Rights analyze the latest events in the country. [...] Hello, Lev Aleksandrovich.

Lev Ponomarev: Hello

Torture in Prison Colonies

Valentina Ivakina: As usual we have a lot of news and issues to discuss with you. Literally yesterday there was a TV broadcast attacking Russian human rights defenders. And you among them. The point was being made that you recently took part in pickets with a placard in your hands with a list of political prisoners, that you work on prison conditions and that allegedly you are doing this work out of self-interest. That there is money involved. What do you say about this? What do you think about this publication? And what would you like to say on our programme in answer to the journalists who published this material?

Lev Ponomarev: I must say that I consider this in part as a result of the success of my work. The fact is that recently the situation in the prison colonies is becoming worse and worse. There are a great many complaints from prisoners, allegations that they are being beaten, literally raped. And there are fewer and fewer possibilities to investigate these incidents. This is because over the last couple of years, in a consistent fashion, human rights defenders have been taken out of the Public Oversight Commissions [POCs]. The POCs work in accordance with the law that established them, and the members of the POCs have the right to enter a prison colony at any time, to inspect for violations of human rights. Well the fact is that, instead of human rights defenders, people have been elected to take part in POCs who have formerly worked in the prosecutor's office, who have served in the military, and so on. So the ability to investigate human rights abuses has become less and less. 

And obviously among these people there are more suporters of the Federal Penitentiary Service. If such a person goes to aprison colony, it's easier to convince them that this scoundrel had to be beaten, because he is a thief, a murderer, and so on. Therefore an atmosphere develops that there is no one to investigate torture, murder, that takes place in the prison colonies.

And since the federal TV channel has made a broadcast about his issue, then probably it has worried them a bit. 

Recently I began to write about the fact that state officials are practically unable to do anything. I appealed to the Presidential Human Rights Council headed by an adviser to the president [Mikhail Fedotov]. But nothing happens. Moreover, Fedotov himself is no longer allowed inside prison colonies. When he went to [prisons in] Udmurtiya, he wasn't let in there. In practice, it turns out that the president's adviser on human rights cannot carry out one of his main functions, namely to inspect prison colonies for violations of human rights. What could be worse? 

In practice prison colonies have become closed to public oversight. And now we are left with one possibility, to send lawyers there. And we actually do hire lawyers, they go to these places, and some of the prisoners tell them about torture and so on. We publish all of this. This work of ours is absolutely transparent. By the way, this film has a lot of manipulating of the facts, I'm not going to talk a lot about that. 

I haven't been using the phrase 'political prisoner' recently, because a political prisoner is one thing, but an ordinary prisoner is something quite different. I took part in a protest with a placard outside the offices of the Federal Penitentiary Service. The phrase 'political prisoner' was not on the placard. It was a list of prisoners who had complained to us about torture. We proposed that these prisoners should be removed from the Karelian prison colonies where they are held and taken to other regions so that they could give evidence. For you see they are being intimidated the whole time. 

And it turned out that a number of prisoners said that they were told to give some kind of incriminating evidence against me, and they did this. Can I condemn them for doing that? Of course, it's not a good thing to do, but on the other hand, I'm not ready to judge them for it. I don't know how these prisoners were forced into doing it. They told them that unless they said something about me, then they would be in for it. Some prisoners proved to be weak and simply gave them the false testimony they wanted about the work of the lawyers with whom we work. We are thinking now about how we can take this case to the courts.

Valentina Ivakina: They write that prison colonies and those places that receive very close attention are visited by people from the FSB, the prosecutor's office, and carry out a thorough inspection. And they don't find violations. And those prisoners you defend themselves say that the lawyers come and persuade them to say they are being tortured. They give an example where after the visit of one of the lawyers, one of the prisoners began to injure himself. That's the kind of thing they are saying. What can you say about that?

Lev Ponomarev: Yes, a few prisoners are pressured into lying, and they give in. We know how often prisoners are beaten and forced to testify. That is why these people are miserable, they find themselves in the hands of people who put no limits on the cruelty they are ready to inflict. 

By the way, I don’t blame the whole prison system, we have hundreds of prison colonies where there is no regular torture or regular beatings, but we do have 10 'torture zones.'  And it happens to be in a few prison colonies in Karelia that torture happens regularly. This is why I know that I’m telling the truth, but the prison officers defend themselves as best as they can. And so they force a number of prisoners to slander the lawyers and me. I am now considering whether to bring a suit to court or not - this is all costly and so on - but I’ll think about it.

Housing Demolitions

Valentina Ivakina: In previous broadcasts of the programme 'Tuesday with Lev Ponomarev' we talked about the fact that you have been a member of the organising committee of the march against the city's arbitary housing programme. The march took place on 28th May. In that broadcast we announced the event. And now can we draw conclusions based on how it all passed off. What sort of conclusions can be drawn? How successful was the march and what’s next?

Lev Ponomarev: I should say that the organising committee of which I have been a member submitted a request to hold the march on 28th May, but there was another request for 27th May from another group of people with whom we did not manage to reach an agreement. There was a feeling that this would weaken the impact of the protest and fewer people would turn up. But I would say nothing terrible happened. People came to take part in both protests, on 27th and 28th.

At least 5,000 people took part in our demonstration. For a protest on social issues, this is a fairly large number of people. On 14th May there had been a few more, nearer 10,000. But now we have from 5,000 to 10,000. And I should say that we can consider the protest to have been worth it. It is clear that under the impact of these protests the authorities are starting to back down and this is good. Ten promises have already been made by the Moscow authorities, that the law on housing renovation will be amended. We are raising a very relevant issue. And if so many amendments are going to be made to the law, then it shows it is a very bad law. The main idea of our protest was that the law should be repealed, because it is an extraordinarily bad measure.

The law proposes, in the context of an emergency that has been artificially created, people should be turned out of their homes, and the apartment buildings demolished. And very many buildings have already been destroyed. We see they are proposing to demolish buildings that people could live in for another 100 years. We see that houses that truly are already impossible to live in are, on the contrary, preserved. We see that when it is really essential to resettle people, let’s say, from hostels in Moscow, people have to live for decades in absolutely impossible conditions. They complain to human rights activists, to the human rights ombudsman, but they don't rehouse them. And they don’t come in for rehousing under the new housing plan either

It is clear that this Renovation Act has not been drawn up for benefit of people, but for the construction industry. It is clear that the primary concern of the Renovation Act is to increase the profits of the building industry in Moscow and elsewhere. We demand that this law be repealed, and, in addition, that the people who made this law, should be punished. 

Maybe we should thank them in some way. When I spoke at a rally there were many who had already spoken before me about the shortcomings of the Act. But my main proposal is that actually we should thank the authorities for bringing about this unification of Muscovites. And before our very eyes we have seen the emergence of a political nation. In fact, this has long been a concern of Vladimir Putin. He has said that Russia should become the political nation of its citizens. So, it happens that, because the government puts pressure on the population, the population takes steps to defend itself and goes out on to the streets to demonstrate. And at this point the political nation is born. We need to persevere, we need to ensure that the Act is repealed. But, apart from this, there are a lot of different issues that we need to tackle together.

Valentina Ivakina: And Moscow is the launching pad for this scheme?

Lev Ponomarev: Yes. I agree with you.

Valentina Ivakina: Have any concessions already been granted by the authorities? And is it true that every week some new details appear?

Lev Ponomarev: Yes, we can see what they are offering us. First, they removed brick houses from the scheme, and they promised to add hostels to it. They have removed mandatory evictions from the law, whereby a person is given sixty days’ notice to quit but if they don't leave within sixty days they are evicted. A legal ruling might be applied, but there can be no appeal against it. Though people have the right to complain to the courts. Now Galina Khovanskaya is proposing ninety instead of sixty days for consideration of the various planned evictions, and so on. Many amendments are being debated, but we do not know what will be adopted.

In the light of all these discussions, we should not weaken our resolve. We recommend that every household, which has been included in the plans for eviction, holds a residents’ meeting to declare that they do not agree with the rehousing proposals. We recommend that such a decision also be taken by those apartment buildings where residents want to be rehoused, because it is necessary to go back and wait to see what legislation is going to be passed. Then, if the residents of a building see that the legislation suits them, they can go back into the renovation programme. The law provides for being able to decide not to be involved in the programme, and then to go back into it. We will give everybody a step-by-step plan for holding a meeting for apartment owners so that they can make their decision. […]

Translated by Frances Robson and Graham Jones

We are delighted you have been reading Rights in Russia. As you know, we are a non-for-profit organization that does not carry advertising. We rely on our readers and well-wishers to support our work. If you share our belief in the importance of our mission, in the need to publicize the human rights situation in Russia, please consider making a donation to enable us to continue our work. Help keep
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Ivan Pavlov on the conviction of Natalia Sharina, ex-director of the Library of Ukrainian Literature [Radio Svoboda]

posted 12 Jun 2017, 07:31 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Jun 2017, 07:35 ]

5 June 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda


Moscow’s Meshchansky district court has found the former director of the Library of Ukrainian Literature Natalya Sharina guilty of disseminating extremist literature and large-scale fraud. She has been given a four-year suspended sentence. Earlier, the prosecution had asked for Sharina to be sentenced to a five-year suspended sentence. […] According to lawyer Ivan Pavlov, the defence was not allowed to present a video during the judicial proceedings that proves that the books had been planted. In an interview with Radio Svoboda the day before the verdict was read, Ivan Pavlov spoke about how the proceedings went.

- Of course, we weren’t able to accomplish everything we had planned since the court did not investigate some of the evidence we put forward. In particular, we wanted to investigate the video footage I received from the library on request back in the first days after the search. These are clips from the security camera in which you can see that people entered the library premises with large bags. It’s unclear what was in these bags, and the entrance and exit from the library were virtually unmonitored. Additionally, a portion of the witnesses confirmed that they saw individuals involved in the search throw some books in. The court denied our request to include these video clips and investigate them during the trial. But, that said, the witnesses were interrogated, so you can’t say that the court completely neglected all of our due-process rights. We were able, I believe, to present a sufficient amount of evidence to exculpate Natalia Sharina.

- In your opinion, how strong was the prosecution’s case? I remember that there were witnesses from their side who testified in favour of Natalia Sharina.

- You know, I believe that there wasn’t a single witness who could have brought anything substantive to the case for the prosecution. There just weren’t any witnesses like that, and there couldn’t have been, since we were talking about the fact that the prosecution up to this point hasn’t even bothered to define specifically which of Natalia Sharina’s concrete actions were criminal. This matter was relevant both during the preliminary investigation and during the trial, and time and again we took note of it. However, if the explanation isn’t concrete, then proving it to the prosecution will be fairly difficult. As for the final note, when the prosecuting official requested a suspended sentence for Natalia Sharina, I consider that to be a positive thing. Nowadays it’s very common for prosecuting officials to speak and insist on harsh sentences, and even during the hearings I found it necessary to thank the prosecutor for not showing the usual severity in this case.

- Among the public there is an opinion that if the prosecutor requests a suspended sentence, or if the judge sentences someone to a suspended sentence, this could be considered an acquittal. In your opinion, how much is this request for a suspended sentence an acknowledgement from the prosecutor that they essentially don’t have evidence?

- I’ll answer this question after the judge has pronounced the sentence, given that to try to predict now what the judge will ultimately do would be bad luck. We do not yet know what the verdict will be, if it will acquit or if it will convict. There have been cases when the prosecutor demanded a suspended sentence but the defendant received actual prison time. So I’m holding my assessment until the sentence is given.

- Do you have information on why the reading of the verdict slated for June 1 was rescheduled? Was there some sort of technical reason for this, or is it worth looking, for example, for underlying political reasons?

- These things happen. The court was just unable to formalize and write the sentence in time. It extended the timeframe so the sentence could be written. I wouldn’t say this happens often, but sometimes courts can’t finish within the set timeframe due to various circumstances and they extend the deadline. The law allows for this, and there’s nothing unusual about it. Of course, it’s unpleasant when you’re focused on a certain date, and all the more so for Natalia Sharina with a broken spine and in terrible pain, arriving at the courthouse just to be met with a closed door, to turn around and leave - it’s unpleasant, but it’s permitted by the law, there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

- And what about Natalia Sharina, how is her health?

- The state of her health is what you’d expect given the situation. This person has been under house arrest since October 2015 and only in the past half a year has been able to take short, two-hour walks. Before that she wasn’t even able to take walks, she sat locked up in the confines of four walls. Of course, no one’s health gets better in such a situation. Moreover, we presented the court with the necessary documents that confirm that after her arrest, when she was being transported in a police van on 29 October 2015, when she had already been arrested, she fractured her spine. And this is no joke; after all, this diagnosis requires constant medical attention, which is impossible to provide while under house arrest, concluded Ivan Pavlov. […]

Karinna Moskalenko: Aleksei Pichugin’s Sentence Has Zero Legitimacy

posted 12 Jun 2017, 06:52 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Jun 2017, 07:39 ]

6 June 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Оpen Russia]

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has upheld Aleksei Pichugin’s application. The former employee of the Yukos security service filed a complaint with the ECtHR regarding a violation of his right to a fair trial. Lawyer Karinna Moskalenko, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a founder of the International Protection Centre, talked about the Strasbourg court’s decision and about the prospects for its implementation by Russia.

What are the key points the European Court has looked at in its decision?

The European Court’s decision is fairly brief, and there’s an explanation for this. The Court analyzed violations of the most fundamental rights and indicated that there was no need to analyze the rest. The same thing happened with the first case, where they uncovered the one paramount violation, which devalued the entire legal procedure.

Does the decision require that Russia revisit the sentence against Pichugin?

Usually, the Russian authorities refuse to revisit a case when articles of the European Convention have been violated other than Article 6 — the right to a fair trial. But in instances when a violation of that article of the European Convention has been declared, there is a general opinion that a new trial needs to be held. The Russian UPK [Criminal Procedure Code] says quite categorically in Articles 413 and 415 that given a declaration of a violation of the right of a person convicted to a fair trial, he has the right to a review of the case under new circumstances. In the Pichugin case, violations were declared of paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 of Article 6. Even if a violation had been declared of only one paragraph of Article 6, he would without question have the right to a review of the case. But we have not had a very positive practice when it comes to this defendant, who has now for a second time been deemed a victim of a violation and an unfair trial. The first time, the Supreme Court committed a strange and inexplicable act: they agreed that the hearing on the case had to be renewed. The very same Supreme Court plenum so resolved, itself did the examining, and itself made the decision as the court of original jurisdiction. But if this is the court of original jurisdiction, then where is the direct investigation of the evidence? Where are the interrogations? Where is the investigation of case materials?

I think the authorities have badly politicized this case, and they are looking for any possible means not to restore Pichugin’s violated rights via a correct or legal path, knowing the attitude of the top echelons of power toward this particular Russian citizen.

What is the likelihood the sentence will be reconsidered?

If we’re talking about Articles 413 and 415 of the UPK, then the likelihood the case will be reconsidered is one hundred percent. If we're talking about how the Russian authorities sometimes behave, then here I wouldn’t even try to estimate the likelihood because this is a political question. If we examine the purely legal question, of course, the sentence should be vacated, and the case should get a new review that ensures the protection of all the rights guaranteed both by national law and by international standards, including the criteria of the ECtHR.

Notice that the ECtHR is not addressing the topic of his sentence, his conviction; it is studying whether there was opportunity to defend Pichugin in the trial. Lawyer Ksenia Kostromina argued this question brilliantly, demonstrating these violations, when the defence was denied access to justice under the same terms the prosecution had. I support Ksenia Kostromina’s position on this matter. She was able to prove this, and it was based on this evidence that the ECtHR issued its decision.

In a rule-of-law state, judges implement the laws of their state, Constitution, and UPK and the decisions of the ECtHR. When it ratified the convention, Russia recognized a binding obligation to implement the European Court’s decisions. This is recognized by all the states that recognize the European Court’s jurisdiction, virtually all the European countries, with the exception of Belarus, which is not a member of the Council of Europe.

What does failure to implement the ECtHR decision mean for Russia?

There is a special body that tracks implementation of European Court decisions. Since the Convention’s protocol 14 went into effect, it has kept careful track of cases and has urged countries to implement ECtHR decisions. How can it compel? By all kinds of moral influence—diplomatically or by extreme measures — by passing a resolution on the failure to implement decisions. In general, no single country has yet reached the point of such a resolution. Russia has had that possibility, that negative chance, ever since the Constitutional Court was entrusted with the obligation, utterly alien to it, of resolving issues involving failure to implement ECtHR decisions. The Constitutional Court cannot decide these questions; the Court was put in a situation that violated the Russian Constitution. This is an amazing phenomenon, when the supreme representative organ of the legislative branch and the Constitutional Court, which is the main upholder of the Constitution, jointly violate the Russian Constitution. And it is a very dangerous precedent.

People say you have to live a long time in Russia. I think all this will pass, too. There are the Constitution’s positions, and they are unshakable, and there are postulates recognized by all the member countries of the Council of Europe, and if they no longer exist, the world will become unpredictable. This is undesirable for every single country not only in the Council of Europe but in the world. Unpredictable behavior by one’s neighbors and their refusal to carry out the obligations they have taken on — these are very dangerous symptoms, and they must be immediately eliminated by the reasonable elements of our regime.

With regard to Pichugin’s fate, if he was sentenced to life imprisonment but at the same time the decision was made as a result of an unfair trial, then that sentence has zero legitimacy today. Therefore, either three months will pass and the decision of the ECtHR will become final, whereupon Russia is required to reopen the case under new circumstances, or else Russia becomes a violator of its obligations, an unpredictable member of the commonwealth of states, which are beginning to beware of their neighbor, because this neighbor that does not carry out the obligations it has taken on is dangerous. I think the Russian authorities should not let it come to that.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

Aleksei Simonov on freedom of speech in Russia: “Anything left living in this realm has to be trampled”

posted 5 Jun 2017, 01:10 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 5 Jun 2017, 01:12 ]

31 May 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Voice of America Russian Service]

The situation with regard to freedom of speech in Russia has not been as bad as it is now since the end of the Thaw in the spiritual life of the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Speaking about this in an interview for the Voice of America Russian Service was writer and film director Aleksei Kirillovich Simonov, president of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, a member of the Free Speech association, and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Aleksei Simonov noted that the victims in the area of freedom of speech have mostly been journalists. However, they are not the only ones. What is happening affects “everything creative and living” that does not fit the authorities’ notion of expediency. As an example, Simonov cited the campaign of harassment unleashed against the School for Investigative Journalism for journalists and bloggers run by the foundation he heads. In his view, the main reason for the general deterioration in the situation is the atmosphere that has taken shape in the country.

Viktor Vladimirov: Aleksei Kirillovich, please tell us what is happening right now with your foundation and especially with the schools it runs.

Aleksei Simonov: The Glasnost Foundation is quietly performing those few functions of which it is capable today and for which it receives funds. But there have undoubtedly been difficulties with our schools. Let me remind you that we have run them for more than seven, if not eight, years. They have been held in more than thirty cities in Russia. Roman Anin, who now heads up the investigations department at Novaya Gazeta, studied in the first school, as did Elena Kostyuchenkova, a recent Sakharov Prize laureate. That is to say, we have graduated fine young people and generally speaking have not had serious concerns. After all, investigative journalism is apolitical in the sense that its methods are not political in nature.

Viktor Vladimirov: When did your troubles begin?

Aleksei Simonov:
About a year ago, when one of our teachers, Grigory Pasko (who had previously been sentenced to four years for “state treason”), was badly beaten in Barnaul. That’s when it all began. After that there was a bomb threat in Syktyvkar, in the space where classes were held, and then they shut off the electricity there and tried to throw some foul-smelling powder inside. And several young men appeared and explained to the students in untranslatable Russian that they were betraying their own homeland. Ever since, all the schools have been subject to attacks one way or another. In Khabarovsk, there was a raid by nationalists. In Yoshkar-Ola they poured brilliant green on a teacher, as had already become fashionable, and so forth. And the main thing is that the authorities aren’t looking for anyone, even though we wrote complaints to the agencies of law and order. It’s now perfectly clear that the authorities have somehow decided to force us to stop these schools. Nevertheless, their popularity hasn’t gone anywhere, so we’re continuing our work.

Viktor Vladimirov: But what did you do to suddenly become objectionable?

Aleksei Simonov: There got to be fewer other oppositionists; many people were broken. And anything left living in this realm has to be trampled, it goes without saying. That’s for one thing. Second, of course, it all started with Grisha (Pasko), whom they can’t forgive for the fact that he emerged (from prison) basically alive and healthy and remained a functional, active, working member of society, unbroken by his imprisonment and the attempt to sully his reputation. Attacks have been carried out against him twice.

Viktor Vladimirov: How do you assess the general situation with regard to freedom of speech in present-day Russia?

Aleksei Simonov: Detestable. In my memory, there has probably not been a situation as awful as there is now with regard to free speech since the late 1950s and early 1960s. And not because there’s less of it. It’s just that there’s more need of it now, whereas the number of restrictions has increased multifold. Moreover, whereas everything used to be held in check by customs and traditions, say, then now it is held in check by laws, their application, and prisons.

Viktor Vladimirov: Is the process controlled and directed from above?

Aleksei Simonov: I don’t think it all comes from above. In fact, the problem is the atmosphere that has formed in the country. And an atmosphere is formed not only from above. It forms from the interaction between the upper echelons and the lower depths. Hence, a very complex situation has arisen here that (this is my sense) even the upper echelons don’t know how to deal with. It’s not just the lower depths not knowing what to do with the upper echelons. What used to be considered utterly normal suddenly became opposition to the direction the regime is laying down for life and education. This is simply blatant testimony to how the trend has changed.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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