Advisory Council (Russia)

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

Damir Gainutdinov: A sentence for a repost. How RuNet users end up behind bars [Intersection]

posted 20 Feb 2017, 11:11 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Feb 2017, 11:15 ]

20 February 2017

By Damir Gainutdinov, Legal analyst at the Agora International Human Rights Group

Source: Intersection

Photo: Intersection

"And we seem to be fighting it but the results are negligible. And results in this case mean jail. So where are the imprisonments?" - Vladimir Putin at a meeting of the Presidium of the Government on smuggling

Our subsequent summary report published in February 2015 indicates a sharp increase in the number of sentences for online activity: at least 18 people were sentenced to between several months and 5 years in prison, and three more individuals were put under compulsory medical treatment. We suggested that this was only the beginning, and that prison sentences for reposts and “likes” would only be an expanding practice. This is indeed what happened: our monitoring of the restrictions imposed on the freedom of Internet use in Russia last year revealed as many as 29 prison sentences and 3 cases of compulsory treatment in a mental hospital. Igor Stenin, the leader of the informal “The Russians of Astrakhan” movement, posted a comment on the VKontakte social network in support of Ukraine and was sentenced to 2 years of imprisonment for making public calls to extremist activity. His case file includes a repost of a short article about the situation in eastern Ukraine, written by a participant of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO), which was posted as a comment by another VK user. The technical progress is evident: in the past, agents used to slip drugs or bullets into detainees’ belongings, whereas now they slip commentaries and screenshots. [Read more on Intersection]

Nadezhda Azhgikhina: Russian Citizens Don’t Want to Live in the Middle Ages

posted 16 Feb 2017, 03:48 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 16 Feb 2017, 04:36 ]

30 January 2017

By Nadezhda Azhgikhina, secretary of the Union of Journalists of Russia

Yet again the State Duma did not heed the voices of citizens and experts and lessened the punishment for domestic violence.

The social movement “Vesna” (Spring) held a protest in St. Petersburg. In an improvised boxing ring, the activists presented three storylines: an alcoholic grandson beating a retired relative, a husband beating a wife, and corporal punishment of a child. The St. Petersburg activists were reacting to the State Duma’s final decision on removing insignificant violence against close relatives (i.e. first offence incidents not causing physical injury or loss of ability to work) from the Criminal Code’s jurisdiction to that of administrative (i.e. civil) law. In practice the decision means that if till today one would receive up to two years in prison for beating one’s wife or child, then after the amendment’s adoption, the accused could be fined up to 30,000 rubles (500 USD), imprisoned up to 15 days or perform up to 360 hours of correctional labour. Already last year Article 116 of the Criminal Code (“beatings”) was lightened, and minor assaults on strangers removed from the code’s purview. Yet assaults on relatives remained. Now, after the proposal’s third reading, 380 members of the Russian parliament upheld the decriminalisation of beatings with three votes against.

In anticipation of the final readings, protests took place in cities throughout Russia, initiated by women’s and human rights organizations, and numerous publications appeared in national and regional news media warning against what authors and experts called a dangerous decision. Remarkably, people of different points of view and political convictions spoke out against decriminalisation of domestic violence, including practically all serious experts and even military agencies. Critics of the amendment included the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Scientific Research Institute of the Prosecutor General, the Serbskii Institute of Legal Psychiatry, the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, the President’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights, “Anna” Association of Crisis Centres, Consortium of Women’s Organizations, as well as various civil society initiatives, lawyers, and policemen. Women’s organizations asked to keep criminal responsibility for beating pregnant women and children in the Criminal Code, but it did not come to pass.

Without providing statistical evidence, initiators of the amendment, in particular Olga Batalina, asserted that society had long awaited the decriminalisation of domestic violence. Senator Yelena Mizulina said not for the first time that the main problem for families is not violence in the home, but aggression from women and lack of respect for men. Police statistics tell the opposite story. The first official data on the number of victims of violence within the family, published nearly 20 years ago, were horrific: more than 10,000 women and up to 2,000 children in Russia are killed annually at the hands of husbands, partners, and other close relatives. The number is comparable to the number of Soviet soldiers killed throughout the entire [10-year] Soviet-Afghan War. In 2015 alone, 50,000 violent offences were committed within families.

Marina Pisklakova-Parker, director of the “Anna” Association of Crisis Centres, believes that number is significantly lower than reality, given that 70% of women who come to the crisis centres never make statements to the police. In her opinion the new amendment, by lessening the punishment for those who commit violence, will lead to a further decrease in official complaints, hiding the problem in the shadows. In solidarity with her is Svetlana Aivazova, a member of the President’s Council on Human Rights, who finds the Duma’s decision a highly dangerous symptom and a step backwards in protecting victims of violent acts. Sergei Shargunov, one of the few members of parliament who voted against the amendment, thinks it contradicts the Constitution, which forbids violence as such.

Lawyer Mari Davtyan calls attention to the fact that it is not about a simple slap, but rather about violence against a human being, most often against young people. In her opinion, the amendment will only make the situation for victims of domestic violence more difficult — moreover, at present there is no precise definition of “violence in the family.” A legal definition of domestic violence is offered by a bill on the prevention of such actions, currently under review in the State Duma. The necessity of such a law has long been recognized not only by experts and human rights defenders, but also by the police, who are in need of a precise set of actions to protect victims and proactively prevent domestic violence.

The understanding of domestic violence in Russian society has changed significantly over the past 25 years. In 1991 it was typically seen as a private matter. I remember well how I spent several months convincing Vitaly Korotich, editor-in-chief of the leading perestroika magazine Ogonyok, which published the real truth of the Soviet past and future, to include a text on women who had been beaten. It took him a long time to understand that it was an important topic — that’s how strong stereotypes were. Today, mostly thanks to the enormous efforts of women’s organizations and the cooperation of Russian and international initiatives, people recognize it as a crime that must be punished. Even on popular TV shows, good cops defend victims of violence and punish supposedly macho men. And one of the initiators of the law on prevention of domestic violence, alongside human rights defenders, was the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Unfortunately, yet again the Russian parliament heard neither those who suffered from violence, nor civil society representatives, nor professionals.

It’s even sadder that the poorly thought-out decision, in experts’ opinions, not only makes more difficult the acceptance of the long-awaited law on domestic violence, but also, most likely, will give a green light to ultra-nationalist groups (which unfortunately are more and more often receiving officials' support) such as Orthodox Parents or Night Wolves, who accuse external enemies and fifth columns poisoned by the liberal virus of human rights of all Russia’s woes. According to them, liberals and feminists who protect victims of violence are encroaching on that most sacred of things — the inviolability of the family, the basis of the so-called uniquely Russkii mir [Russian world]. It is these groups that welcomed Trump’s election as a sign of the victory of “normal Americans” over LGBT people, feminists, and liberals….It’s important to understand that these marginal groups, however much they shout, are not actually expressing the opinion of Russian people.

One very much wants to believe that the President will not sign such a shameful amendment. And that Russian lawmakers will learn to listen to the voices of professional and citizens who want to live in a modern, civilised society, based on respect for human beings, and not in the Middle Ages of myth as imagined by populists and conscienceless political scientists.

New protests against the State Duma’s decision and in defence of victims of domestic violence are being planned in many Russian cities.

[Editor’s note: On 7 February 2017, President Putin signed into force the law decriminalising domestic violence.]

Pavel Chikov: The Benchmark for NGOs

posted 16 Feb 2017, 03:27 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 16 Feb 2017, 14:04 ]

3 February 2017

Source: Moscow Helinski Group [original source: Polit ru]  

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the Duma, has promised that during the spring session of the Duma the problems facing non-profit organizations would be the first item on the agenda. His promise was made at a meeting with non-profits in Volgograd.

According to the newspaper Kommersant Volodin stated that the deputies would sort out the problems facing NGOs ‘in those instances where they need sorting out’. Where, in his view, the most serious problems exist, he did not say, but he emphasized that the provision of services by NKOs would come under government oversight.

The press report noted that the discussion concerned legislative support for the development of NGOs with a social orientation. The leader of the Russian parliament’s lower chamber assured the NGO representatives that, in order to solve the problems, the deputies were prepared to make amendments to the legislation.

At the meeting, Volodin paid particular attention to the need for government oversight in ‘the sphere of the provision of social services’, regardless of whether they were being provided by a government department or an NGO. ‘There are those which exist simply to make money, and that is why government oversight is necessary’, he said.

The law on support for socially-oriented NGOs which have the status of providers of socially –useful services, came into force on 1 January 2017. An NGO acquires the status if it has, for a year or longer, provided socially-useful services of a given quality. For example, if it helps to maintain a home, and the rehabilitation and social adaptation of individuals with disabilities, or of children, left without parents, who are taken in by a family. NGOs of this kind have priority in receiving state support for at least two years.

It should be remembered that people started talking about the status of NGOs after the law on ‘foreign agents’ was passed in 2012. This referred to NGOs which received foreign funding and were involved in political activities. These NGOs were obliged to register and publicly to declare their status as such, and also to follow strict accounting rules.

The very broad and fuzzy definition of political activity gave rise to heated discussions and, after attempts to make it more concrete, it became in effect even broader. Only in the spring of 2016 did the Duma pass a law which took charitable organizations and similar socially-oriented associations out of the category of NGOs involved in political activity.

In an interview with, Pavel Chikov (PhD Law, chair of the International Human Rights Group Agora, member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights of the Russian Federation) expressed his view that it is now possible to predict with a high degree of certainty how Vyacheslav Volodin plans to deal with the problems faced by Russian NGOs: 

In reality there’s very little to say, since NGOs no longer exist in the sense of the term as it was used when they began to spring up in the early 1990s. After the Law on Non-Governmental Organisations was adopted in the mid-1990s (the Federal Law On Non-Governmental Organisations N 7-FZ was adopted by the State Duma on 8 December 1995 and ratified by the President on 12 January 1996; note by, there was an explosion of these organisations in various areas of public life, and hundreds of thousands were established. Yet NGOs in the traditional sense of the term have ceased to exist.

In practical terms, the measures put in place by the federal authorities over the past ten years or more have changed not only the quality and content but also the ethos and meaning of the work carried out by NGOs, and in recent years their numbers have dropped sharply by 25-30%. The latter observation is based on official figures from both Rosstat and the Ministry of Justice. The first and most important thing to note is therefore that the NGO sector has undergone a fundamental change in both qualitative and quantitative terms, and some of the types of organisation which used to belong to this sector, and the types of work they used to carry out, have effectively disappeared.

The organisations which disappeared were primarily human rights NGOs if we understand this term in its broader sense, or in other words those organisations which had traditionally been the main mouthpiece for the Russian NGO sector since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite being in a minority, these organisations had always set the tone and agenda of public opinion as well as forming and influencing it, but they have been effectively wiped out thanks to the efforts of the authorities.

In order to predict the future, therefore, we must understand what has happened and what is happening to the Russian NGO sector. The authorities have spent a long time laying the groundwork, and are now able (and clearly willing) to celebrate the success and victory of their policies. It is perfectly obvious that they have not the slightest intention of making any kind of changes in this respect. Yet there is a second question that we need to examine before we can predict future developments, namely Vyacheslav Viktorovich Volodin’s attitude towards the NGO sector.

In essence, there are few questions left to ask; Vyacheslav Volodin’s tasks within the Presidential administration have included overseeing civil society and NGOs, working together with the Presidential Council on Human Rights of the Russian Federation and holding meetings with its members (at which I too was present). As far as I can tell, he believes that the nature, ethos, structure and character of any NGO’s activities should be roughly equivalent to those of the All-Russian National Front.

In his view, therefore, the All-Russian National Front is the archetypal NGO which supports and is extremely loyal to the authorities and acts as something resembling a pool of potential manpower, and criticises the authorities only occasionally, in moderate terms and in very restricted circumstances. Its funding also comes exclusively from state and pro-state sources. In other words, it functions as something resembling the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions (body directing the activities of all trade unions in the USSR; note by or the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League (youth organisation of the Communist Party of the USSR; note by, or a similar organisation from the Soviet mould.

This belief underlies Volodin’s approach to the promotion and support of NGOs and his categorisation of NGOs into those of a political nature and those of a social nature, using the traditional “divide and conquer” tactic. Socially-focused NGOs are provided with comprehensive support and are widely publicised, often demonstratively so in order to offset the influence of “political” organisations – which are in fact not political in the slightest, but simply independent of the authorities and critical of their policies, and are deemed political merely because they do not support government policies.

And there we have it – all we need is an analysis of what is happening to the NGO sector in Russia, combined with an understanding of what Vyacheslav Volodin believes this sector should look like, and we can predict the future with a high degree of certainty.”

Translated by Joanne Reynolds and Mary McAuley

Pavel Chikov: Attempts by the Trumps, Putins, Orbáns, Mays and Le Pens to undermine the values of freedom are causing a global backlash

posted 7 Feb 2017, 11:01 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 7 Feb 2017, 11:10 ]

27 January 2017

By Pavel Chikov, head of the International Agora Association

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Facebook]

In practice all attempts by the Trumps, Putins, Orbáns, Mays and Le Pens to undermine the values of freedom are already causing a global backlash. Human rights are once more in fashion, trending, mobilising millions of people, bringing back the good old discourse.

Guys, you are trying to justify torture, crackdowns on protests, discrimination, discrediting media outlets and NGOs? You are even trying to justify wars of aggression, the occupation of foreign territories, cluster bombs and chemical weapons against peaceful citizens! Isn’t that simply wonderful!

Everyone is once again talking about what kind of idiots you are, and why nothing is going to turn out well for you. And not just discussing, but already getting together and taking action. You really have woken up and angered a huge number of people with this out-dated medievalism of yours.

Translated by Frances Robson

Lev Ponomarev: Can the Constitutional Court defend the Russian Constitution? [Moskovsky Komsomolets]

posted 5 Feb 2017, 13:08 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 5 Feb 2017, 13:11 ]

23 January 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Моskovsky Komsomolets]

By Lev Ponomarev, leader of the movement “For Human Rights”, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

On 24th January the Constitutional Court will review a complaint from the well known civic activist Ildar Dadin concerning Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code. Dadin became the first person in Russia convicted under this Article: he is bringing a criminal investigation on the grounds that (according to the police) he was prosecuted for allegedly having committed an administrative offence more than three times over a six month period.

Article 212.1, which appeared in Russian legislation in 2014, introduces a sentence of up to 5 years for people who on several occasions have taken part in street demonstrations that did not have official sanction with placards. Five years caged up – this is more than Russian law gives for robbery, racketeering or illegal dealings with minors.

Of course, breaking the rules of conduct at a picket is not good. But is it really fair to punish someone more harshly for a placard than for robbery or violence? Does the severe criminal prosecution for a peaceful protest correspond with the requirements of the rule of law?

Something that’s a public menace is considered a criminal offence. That means causing noticeable harm. What sort of harm is caused by robbers and abusers to society and individuals is quite clear. But what sort of danger is presented by a man with a placard?

For democratic countries the answer to this question is simple: peaceful protesting does not pose any significant danger to the public. Even if the protest came about spontaneously and on a busy thoroughfare, the participants will not be committing any criminal offence. After all, freedom of speech is the fully accepted right of any citizen.

Of course, if they start smashing windows and overturning cars, then that will appear as a public threat and the hooligans will be arrested. But in our case what is at issue is exclusively peaceful protest!

A person can only be locked up ‘for a placard’ in a totalitarian state, when any kind of free thought is inadmissible. This is why it was possible in the USSR to send people to the camps for disagreeing with the ‘general party line’ - and even for telling a joke. But those times have gone, thank goodness, and now we have – according to the Constitution – democratic government and the rule of law!

But now the amendments, introduced into the Criminal Code by Article 212.1 , cast doubt on this. Our fundamental basic law – the Constitution – guarantees the observance of basic human rights: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly. But the Criminal Code is written as if this is not the case.

The Presidential Council for Human Rights and the Development for Civic Society, just like many human rights advocates and lawyers, has given the thumbs-down to the new development.

At first glance it seems that the introduction of this Article is not terrible at all: just think, they have sent off one person to jail!

But here we must turn our attention to why Ildar Dadin ended up in prison: apparently it was for taking part in one-person pickets. Video tapes have documented that the young person went out onto Manezhnaya Square with placards, but he protested there on his own. According to the law one-person pickets do not need official sanction and are not in breach of the law.

But the judge sitting in the Basmanny district court, Natalia Dudar, disregarded the evidence of the video tapes and, in delivering a judgment, relied upon the muddled evidence of the police: allegedly Dadin was not picketing on his own, but with some other mythical person. The verdict – three years’ imprisonment.

If for a one-person picket (or even, if the police are to be believed, for pickets on the large scale of two people) such a severe sentence is given, then what awaits Russians intending to protest in a group of four, ten or even a hundred people?

Do you think that this does not affect you at all and that street protests are just for marginal people who never agree with anyone about anything? Then just imagine that they want to remove all the the children’s playgrounds that are today in the yard just outside your apartment building, they want to put down asphalt where there are now lawns, and in place of a school, install an upmarket garage. There is a high likelihood that in such a situation, you, your neighbours or friends would go out full steam to save the swings and sandpit – and just for this you would find yourself in prison for years, you would be separated from your family and after release you would be forever stuck with a criminal record.

Keeping silent and never “gathering in a group of more than two” – this is the fate that awaits us, if the article is not repealed.

And now a very great deal depends on the Constitutional Court – however bombastic it may sound, the future fate of the country depends on it. If the article is repealed, then the supremacy of the Constitution is will be upheld and this will be a victory for civic society and justice. If not, then this may open the way for other dubious articles of the Criminal Code that will restrict the possibilities for Russians to engage in dialogue with the authorities. And the future course of the country’s development will then be quite easy to see.

Translated by Frances Robson

Aleksandr Verkhovsky: “It’s important the government supports the taboo against anti-Semitism”

posted 5 Feb 2017, 09:04 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 5 Feb 2017, 09:10 ]

25 January 2017

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

A few days ago, at the suggestion of State Duma Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy, the Russian media began talking about the problem of anti-Semitism in society. Representatives of Jewish communities and simply public figures condemned Tolstoy for what he said about the descendants of people "who had sprung from the Pale of Settlement" - that is, about Jews.

According to Aleksandr Verkhovsky, director of the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis, the deputy speaker’s insulting statement was an isolated instance rather than a sign of a high level of anti-Semitism in society. This does not mean, however, that one should shut one’s eyes to these kinds of isolated instances. Aleksandr Verkhovsky explains why:

“The level of anti-Semitism in society can be measured by various parameters: specific ideological views; or the Bogardus scale of how close someone is prepared to let someone — Jews, for example — approach.

“Right now all these indices are dropping in Russia. To judge from sociological surveys, the ideas of anti-Semitism are no longer relevant compared with many other topics. Naturally, some anti-Semitic prejudices do exist, but they are less widespread than they were 15-20 years ago.

“There is no particular difference with regard to which social stratum the person belongs to. Representatives of the elite do not differ from the rest of the population in their anti-Semitism in any way. There is a small difference between residents of various types of location (village, small town or city), but again, the difference is negligible.

“What we do see, including in Tolstoy’s example, is not evidence of any widespread moods. It is simply various conspiracy theories that sit in the minds of citizens who are very concerned about politics and sometimes burst to the surface.

“Today’s Russian anti-Semitism divides into two component parts. On the one hand, it as an ideological anti-Semitism among those groups for which this topic is ideologically important. For example, radical Islamists, neo-Nazis, and Black Hundreds. But all these are relatively small groups of citizens. On the other hand, there are more widespread prejudices connected simply with the popularity of conspiracy theories.

“Right now, conspiracy theory in all its varieties is structurally borrowed from old, classic anti-Semitism. Therefore, if someone, for certain reasons, believes that the entire history of the modern day amounts to the battle between the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers, then he will inevitably reproduce anti-Semitic clichés.

“As soon as any anti-Western campaign begins, conspiracy theories immediately become popular. In the Russian context, these are two interconnected things.

“Since 2014, there have been more conspiracy theories in the Russian media. This year, an insane propaganda campaign began in connection with Ukraine. Because it picked up speed so abruptly, the usual censorship restrictions relaxed for a while. This was directly reflected in the number of anti-Semitic public statements.

“Since the mid-1990s, at least on federal television, any anti-Semitic statements have been stopped before they began; the anti-Semitic theme was totally taboo. When it was necessary to mobilize propagandists quickly, these reins had to be loosened somewhat. Therefore, on television we did see some manifestations of anti-Semitism. Later these reins were tightened up again, and the majority of these statements disappeared. But from time to time, some of them do break through as before. And Tolstoy demonstrated this for us. No one was forcing him to say what he said. He could have gotten along without it.

“If the taboo against the use of this kind of rhetoric by official and quasi-official persons is lifted, that changes the lay of the land very powerfully, and the consequences are unpredictable. Therefore, I think that the top leadership does not have an interest in this, and there will be no development of the anti-Semitic theme in our information sphere.

“Although, theoretically, a rise in anti-Semitism in the country is possible. It’s not at all hard to provoke a wave of it; all it takes is the desire. It's not even necessary to mobilize the entire country to hate Jews. All it takes is a small percentage, 10 percent, for example, of citizens who think that their aggression toward Jews or anyone else is being encouraged, rather than curtailed, by the authorities.

“In this sense, one could name anyone at all as the object of aggression. We saw this, for example, during the 2013 anti-gay campaign. We have a fairly homophobic country, but people preferred to ignore that topic. When the population began to be frankly set against them, though, the impunity of attacks rose drastically because people realized they weren’t going to be punished for this. Those who wanted to go beat up someone started doing this easily. The same could happen with respect to anyone at all. The question is whether our regime will risk agreeing to this.

“It seems to me that we just don’t understand yet why our political leadership should have the need to single out Jews as an object of violence. Therefore, I wouldn’t worry about any rise in the level of anti-Semitism. But if no disciplinary measures are taken against Tolstoy, that’s a bad sign. That would mean that some official or other thinks that these kinds of statements are permissible. And it’s important that the authorities support the taboo against anti-Semitism.”


On 23 January, former Channel One host, State Duma Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy, in commenting on the protests against transferring St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church, referred to the opponents of the actions by Petersburg authorities as the descendants of people who had “sprung from the Pale of Settlement.” An audio transcript of what he said was published by Ekho Moskvy.

“I want to add from myself, personally, that while observing the protests around the handing over of St. Isaac’s, I can’t help but notice an amazing paradox: the people who are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who destroyed our churches, having sprung from there . . . from the Pale of Settlement holding a revolver in ’17, today their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, working in various other very respected places—radio stations, legislative assemblies—are carrying on the cause of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers,” Tolstoy said.

The Pale of Settlement is the territory in the Russian Empire beyond whose boundaries Jews were forbidden to live. The deputy speaker’s statement and the mention of these words of Tolstoy's has been perceived by many as anti-Semitic. For example, this was how Tolstoy's statement was characterized by Borukh Gorin, press secretary of the Russian Federation of Jewish Communities.

Gorin went on to say: “If a person ascribes views to an ethnic group exclusively on the basis of its ethnicity, then, of course, these are not simply generalizations but ethnic generalizations, in this case, Judeo-phobia,” Gorin added.

Rabbi Aleksandr Boroda, president of the Russian Federation of Jewish Communities, noted that these kinds of statements by the parliament’s deputy speaker undermine interethnic peace in the country and increase tension.

Boris Vishnevsky, a deputy in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, called Tolstoy’s statements “cannibalistic” and proposed that for this he should be stripped not only of his post as deputy speaker but also of his seat in the Assembly.

Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights, also condemned the deputy speaker. “Anti-Semitism is as shameful a disease as syphilis; in decent society, you’re supposed to hide it, not set it out on view,” he emphasized.

Pyotr Tolstoy himself sees nothing insulting in his words. In a post on Facebook, he wrote that “only people with a sick imagination who do not know their country’s history can see ‘signs of anti-Semitism’ in what I said.” He believes that this attention to what he said can be explained by the fact that "someone" wants very much "to bring another line of schism into the public discussion, this time along ethnic lines."

Translated by Marian Schwartz

Lev Ponomarev: Kossiev vs Putin

posted 31 Jan 2017, 15:11 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 31 Jan 2017, 15:16 ]

25 January 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]

By Lev Ponomarev, executive director of the movement For Human Rights and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Everyone in our country knows who Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is, but they have only fairly recently heard about Sergei Leonidovich Kossiev, and even then not everyone. So let me remind you: Kossiev is head of the No. 7 torture prison colony in Karelia where, until very recently, the political prisoner Ildar Dadin was held.

Dadin spoke of the torture going on at the No. 7 prison colony and was transferred to Altai for safety reasons. But there are still around a dozen people at the No. 7 prison colony right now who confirm that torture is taking place. This information is being procedurally established by interviews with lawyers.

Some of the prisoners have also managed to complain to the Russian Federation Ombudsperson for Human Rights Tatyana Moskalkova, as well as to Igor Kalyapin and Pavel Chikov, both members of the Presidential Human Rights Council.

At present, these prisoners are being blatantly threatened by prison officers, who tell them that they will be "put in their place" as soon as the inspection is over, that they will be beaten even more severely and "crippled", and that they will be prosecuted. And all this is done under the direct supervision of Kossiev, who has personally threatened to "break the legs" of those who complain. The interviews with lawyers containing allegations of torture can be found on the "Territory of Torture" site.

And on 18 January, the incredible happened. Aleksandr Terekh, head of the Federal Penitentiary Service in Karelia, visited the No. 7 prison colony and thanked Kossiev for his work.

Just think about it: the head of the regional Federal Penitentiary Service is thanking his subordinate for personally tormenting prisoners.

And all this at a time when our state has declared it will combat torture in correctional institutions. President Vladimir Putin has regularly stated that it is illegal to use violence against prisoners. On 3 January 2017, in response to statements made by members of the Presidential Human Rights Council following their visit to the No. 7 prison colony in Karelia, Putin instructed the General Prosecutor's Office to investigate the compliance of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) with legislation. And again, speaking on 11 January 2017 at an event to celebrate the 295th anniversary of the Russian Prosecution Service, the president said: "It is necessary to monitor the human rights situation with regard to individuals serving prison sentences."

The problem is, Kossiev doesn't seem to give a damn about what Putin says. He has the support of Terekh himself, along with an entire group of sadistic prisoner officers.

The forthcoming visit by members of the Presidential Council for Human Rights to the prison colony is making the situation particularly urgent: prisoners will be intimidated even more before this trip to ensure that they withdraw their claims when the speak to the prestigious commission.

Kossiev together with Terekh and his violent prison officers versus President Putin and the Presidential Human Rights Council. Who will win this seemingly equal battle? Let's stock up on popcorn and watch how the situation develops.

Translated by Nicky Brown 

Lev Ponomarev: "Hatred. Eight years ago, Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova were shot dead in the centre of Moscow" [Ekho Moskvy, 18 Jan]

posted 30 Jan 2017, 06:16 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 30 Jan 2017, 06:22 ]

18 January 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]

By Lev Ponomarev, leader of the movement “For Human Rights” and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Eight years ago [on 19 January 2009], human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, a young journalist who was still a student, were shot dead in the centre of Moscow.

This was not an accidental killing. As the investigation found, they were killed by nationalists who were motivated by ideological hatred.

During his trial for the murders of Markelov and Baburova, Nikita Tikhonov, one of the founders of the neo-Nazi organisation BORN [Militant Organisation of Russian Nationalists], declared that his colleague [and co-founder of BORN] Il’ya Goryachev had connections to the Russian Presidential Administration and had been promised at the highest level that the case against him would be smoothed over and he would be absolved from punishment. [1]

The court did not comment on possible links between Goryachev and the authorities, though the state officials with whom he had supposedly been in contact were identified during the trial. Regardless, however, of whether the members of the combat organisation told the truth during the trial or whether they had themselves been misled, one thing was clear: the organisation’s foot-soldiers really believed that Goryachev had protection [krysha, literally “roof”].

Stas and Nastya were killed because they were open opponents of the political establishment. And the authorities are constantly signalling that dissidents enjoy no status and should be eliminated.

Sadly, in the eight years since the murders, nothing has changed. Emotional pro-establishment demagogues regularly appear on television to call for “wiping out the fifth column” and “dealing with traitors.” It is no surprise that fanatics, fired up by the hatred that pours from the TV screens, regularly attack pickets and beat up peaceful demonstrators. They hunt down civic activists and human-rights defenders to whip up a fight or douse them with urine. 

Photo of Stas Markelov and Anastasia Baburova via Moscow Helsinki Group

I am convinced that all these cowardly scoundrels carry out their surreptitious attacks simply because they are confident that they will not be punished. After all, their actions correspond to “the general line of the Party.” That explains why Il’ya Goryachev fainted in the dock when he learned that he had been sentenced to life imprisonment.

Pumped up with the ideology of hatred, isolated from real life, these people are ready to kill “the enemies of state” on the orders of the television. Would they have carried out these murders had they not be incited to do so?

If you too oppose hatred and want to live in a Russia without political assassinations, come to the event in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova. It will begin at 19:00 on 19 January on Tver Boulevard at the junction with Tver Street (the nearest Metro stations are Pushkinskaya, Tverskaya and Chekhovskaya). 

[1] In 2011, Nikita Tikhonov was sentenced to life imprisonment, while Evgenia Khasis, accused of acting as his assistant, was sentenced to 18 years in prison. In 2015, Il’ya Goryachev was sentenced to life in prison. 

Translated by Elizabeth Teague 

Lev Ponomarev: "There must be a very strong public reaction. Then, perhaps, there will be some sort of positive influence on how the Yarovaya law is going to be applied" [Radio Sol]

posted 23 Jan 2017, 08:07 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 23 Jan 2017, 08:40 ]

10 January 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Sol

Below is an extract from: 'Удар по миссионерам, угроза «вырвать зубы» от главы парламента Чечни и скандал с лекарствами,' Radio Sol, 10 January 2017

Valentina Ivakina: […] The headlines of our broadcast will be as follows: “A blow against missionaries, threats by the Speaker of the Chechen parliament, and the scandal with medicines”. I would like to start with this so-called blow against missionaries. We are discussing the situation which has been unfolding in St Petersburg since 2 January. In one of the social websites there was a post that appeared with the heading “Prosecutred for yoga”. Hello, Lev Aleksandrovich.

Lev Ponomarev: Hello

V.I.: I’ll give a bit of background. The Petersburg programmer Dmitri Ugai was invited to a festival in St Petersburg on Ligovsky Prospekt in October 2016 and there he delivered a lecture on aspects of yoga. This turned out in an extremely unexpected way both for Dmitry himself as well as many others, because he has been charged with violating the law on freedom of conscience, church membership and religious affiliations, in other words for violating the very section which is part of the newly-adopted ‘Yarovaya’s law.’ There is a whole scandal blowing up about it here. What do you know about this, what is your take on the event? Perhaps it’s already possible to express some kind of prognoses about it?

L.P.: What is written in Yarovaya’s law continues what has been the prevailing tradition in Russia to fight against so-called non-traditional tendencies in religion. We have four traditional religions. These are the Orthodox faith, Catholicism, Judaism and Islam. There is still Buddhism, perhaps, and Catholicism isn’t considered by us to be traditional. But all the others are simply suppressed. The thing that they are most afraid of is that someone might take up missionary activity. The wording is very restrictive, and can be construed in different ways, that the role of a missionary can only be carried out by a person who is fully authorised by a religious organisation, in a specific place and at a specific time.

On the other hand, yoga is a spiritual practice. Spiritual practice is not explicitly defined in this law. Whether this is a religious practice, whether a narrative about spiritual practices amounts to missionary activity, this is not defined in any way in the law. But considering the obscurantist way Russians have of thinking, it is absolutely obvious that it is possible to expect some sort of denunciation or complaint. It’s clear that this was just a denunciation. It is a particularly ludicrous denunciation. But it has worked. I believe this problem has arisen nowadays in society because society is very conservative, as I already said, the obscurantism is totally deliberate. But on the other hand, it would seem that enlightened judges should stand in the way of this obscurantist thinking. But I think we are extremely short of them. We have judges who for one reason or another have remained one of the most conservative elements of our Russian society. I think here various things have come together. On the one hand, they are very dependent on the authorities. They are appointed by the regime. Federal judges nominate them, and the president signs off on his choice.

On the other hand, they are very highly paid, and for that reason this dependence of theirs doubles or triples. They understand that if they do not do what the regime wants and do not interpret newly adopted laws in the correct way, they can lose their jobs, their very high salaries and the great benefits which they enjoy. As a third point, it is no secret that all our bureaucratic structures are corrupted, and judges are also corrupt, in accordance with their possibilities, so to say.

Therefore the judges think that if they acquit someone somewhere, or did not bring criminal charges, this means that those people who are watching, or “minding” them from the administrative structures, will consider it a result of bribery. All this together creates an unpleasant form of Russian justice, very conservative, trying to please the regime and very dependent. This is in spite of the fact that so many words have been written about the independence of Russian judges. Therefore a lot of pain is going to be caused in the first trials where the application of the law is being worked out. So here there is just one possibility: society must show its outrage, there must be a very strong public reaction. Then, perhaps, there will be some sort of positive influence on how the Yarovaya law is going to be applied in this area. [Read more in Russian

Translated by Frances Robson

Ivan Pavlov: “We cannot allow convicts to be in an absolutely right-less state”

posted 23 Jan 2017, 07:17 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 23 Jan 2017, 07:20 ]

10 January 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Rus2Web]

On 8 January, it emerged that Ildar Dadin—the first person to be convicted for repeated violation of Russia’s law on assembly—had been transferred from prison colony no. 7 in Karelia to prison colony no. 5 in Altai. Dadin’s loved ones had not known where he was for more than a month. Tatiana Moskalkova, the ombudsperson for human rights, explained the length of the journey by noting that stops were made en route to Altai, for instance, during New Year’s celebrations. Ivan Pavlov, lawyer, director of Team 29, and recipient of the Moscow Helsinki Group’s prize for the defence of human rights in a court of law, wrote on his Facebook page that Dadin’s case could lead to amendments to prison laws.

Here are my five pence-worth on the possibility of such amendments.

Ildar Dadin was found in a prison colony in Altai. It’s a good thing he was found. His transferral took thirty-seven days. For Oksana Sevastidi, sentenced to seven years in prison for treason for sending a text message, the journey from pre-trial detention in Krasnodar to internment in an Ivanovo prison colony took more than two months and spanned the cities of Volgograd, Voronezh, and Yaroslavl.

Transferal is the process of moving convicts to the place where they are to serve their sentences. Usually, as in the cases of Dadin and Sevastidi, this involves travel by train. Special railroad carriages house densely populated cells for the “passengers,” who are served rations, and spend lengthy periods of time waiting at train stations during which prisoners are not even allowed to use the restroom.

Prisoners’ routes are not straightforward. Rather, there are multiple stops along the way at so-called ‘transfer prisons,’ regional pre-trial detention centres where conditions can be not just bad, but very bad.

But I am not talking about those conditions right now. All this time, the convict does not know where he is being taken, and his relatives are kept in the dark about his location. The convict is deprived of practically all civil rights, including the rights to legal representation and to contact with close relatives. He becomes a parcel, which gets from point A to point B according to a tricky route.

Information about this journey is classified, and this is why no member of the Federal Penitentiary Service has answered the question #WhereIsIldarDadin. Granted, this information is kept secret in order to reduce the risk of prisoner escapes. However, it is clear that in this case the need for security should not completely eclipse guarantees of human rights. We cannot allow convicts to be in an absolutely right-less state for such a long time, or for their relatives to be deprived of the right to information about their loved ones.

I believe that one amendment to prison laws ought to be a limit on the duration of transferal. A rule can be established: the duration of a convict’s transferal cannot extend beyond a week, the approximate duration of the journey from Moscow to Vladivostok. Moreover, time spent in transit should be subtracted from the convict’s sentence, with each day on the road equivalent to three days in prison. 

By Ivan Pavlov

Translated by Lincoln Pigman

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