Advisory Council (Russia)

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

Lev Ponomarev: The task of the human rights movement is to prevent the spread of violence in the country

posted 25 May 2017, 06:46 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 25 May 2017, 07:17 ]

16 May 2017

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

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

With less than a year to go until the Russian Presidential elections, tensions are mounting in social and political life. That's a good thing. It means not everything has been stifled. It is a sign of sorts that the democratic process in the country has been preserved. And yet we see any kind of government opposition being harshly suppressed by the security forces, in violation of the Russian Constitution and the country’s laws. There is a sense, too, that the rising protests will be increasingly suppressed, and that is a cause of concern to civil society – especially the human rights movement. We will run through the main issues that should be a matter of concern to us and that should be resolved with the help of human rights defenders.

— The violence used by the police when breaking up demonstrations and one-person pickets, and on detaining civil and political activists, as well as inaction by the police and investigative bodies in the face of threats and attacks on opposition and social activists.

We note that of late there has been an increase in the number of threats and use of physical violence against journalists, civil activists and political opposition leaders. There have already been victims. Investigations conducted by civil activists have shown that in many cases the assailants have been identified. These independent investigations indicate that those responsible for the attacks are all connected to pro-government criminal gangs. The attacks are not investigated by the authorities, and criminal proceedings rarely instigated.

The government appears to be organising shock troops to intimidate its political opponents.

The danger of this trend is clear: impunity for street violence against government opponents legitimises violence itself, and violence, in turn, not only effectively destroys peaceful forms and tools of civil and political life, but radicalises society as a whole. You have to understand that in this climate no one can feel secure.

Leading figures of a number of Moscow human rights organisations have proposed that the Presidential Human Rights Council and the Human Rights Ombudsperson discuss these events with the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Investigative Committee and the Public Prosecutor's Office. Every fact must be investigated and criminal proceedings must lead to prosecutions.

— Obviously unlawful judgments have been handed down against peaceful protesters. The police detain peaceful protesters on the streets of Moscow and other cities without justification, and judges automatically presume security forces to be in the right, landing protesters with either jail sentences under administrative law or hefty fines that are exorbitant for citizens. There have been many such cases. The last wide-scale violations of citizens’ rights took place during the peaceful protest on 26 March, when over 1,000 people were detained in Moscow alone.

We are faced with the need to provide all those detained with defence lawyers. Some infrastructure has been set up in Moscow to assist the activists. The information resource OVD-Info reports on all detainees and the status of their trials.

The Oleg Beznisko School operates as part of the For Human Rights movement. It teaches civil activists how to defend themselves in court and trains lawyers in the provision of pro bono defence counsel to detainees. Every seminar is videotaped and all are made available on the website of For Human Rights.

There is every reason to assert that Russia has returned to the practice of mass political repressions within the framework of administrative legal proceedings. Dozens, if not hundreds of applications by detainees have been made to the European Court of Human Rights. The only thing left is to anticipate that “Europe will help us” or the Constitutional Court will pay attention to this issue and enable the criminal ties between the police and the courts, which carry out the political orders of the regime, to be cut.

- Increased internet censorship, politically-motivated criminal prosecutions. The sharpening of political polemics will lead to an increase in internet censorship. Hundreds, if not thousands of informers, along with specialists of the Centre “E” of the Russian Federation Interior Ministry [‘anti-extremism’ police] and of the FSB, scan likes and comments on social media, and on that basis initiate criminal proceedings. The accusations are sometimes absurd and ludicrous – from supposed distortion of historical truth and insulting the feelings of religious believers to extremism, a catch-all phrase that can mean virtually anything. This has taken on the form of an obscurantist tendency, for which people are punished, including by means of real terms in prison. 

About a year and a half ago, a number of human rights organizations proposed, within the framework of the plenum of the Supreme Court, to draft recommendations for such trials, but the effort collapsed. They were not successful in narrowing the concept of “extremism” to what is understood as extremism in international practice—namely, calls for actual violence. Possibly it is worth organizing once again a public campaign with the aim of drawing up an appeal to the chair of the Constitutional Court so that the highest court in the land gave, at its own plenum, clear-cut recommendations on criteria for extremism that would correspond with the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

I am convinced that Article 282 of the Russia Federation Criminal Code, in its present form, should be immediately amended. I do not think that the State Duma will do this, but the Supreme Court could initiate a similar process after analyzing those insane decisions made by courts at the local level. It is necessary to undertake a large public campaign with an appeal to the chair of the Supreme Court to bring forward a legislative initiative to amend Article 282. This would stop clearly wild and ridiculous accusations made at the local level being accepted for hearing by courts and public prosecutor’s offices.

And then poorly educated or biased courts will no longer allow the appearance in their guilty verdicts of such monstrous phrases as “denied the existence of Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammed, thereby committing a crime…” (from the verdict on Ruslan Sokolovsky). Indeed, that Sokolovsky was only given a suspended sentence speaks to the fact that large-scale public campaigns can bring limited success.

- The absence of dialogue between social protest groups and the regime. Given the worsening economic situation, there has been an increase in social protest, but the regime tenaciously refuses to engage in dialogue with the protesting groups. It would seem the greatest tension has been evoked by the refusal to abolish the Platon system, the brazen move in Moscow to implement under an accelerated procedure the so-called “Renovation” programme for the demolition of five-storey blocks of flats, and also the Krasnodar farmers’ Tractor March.

The lorry-drivers’ protest has lasted more than a year now and still hasn’t been resolved. Instead of negotiations with protest representatives, fake consultations are conducted with strikebreakers. The dangerous thing is that people inclined to political violence could become, and already are becoming, allies of the lorry-drivers.

Great tension also exists in the farmers’ movement in Russia, especially in Krasnodar region. Unlawful land seizures on the part of agro-holding companies and co-called land oligarchs, who have the support of the regime, have led to direct conflicts and fabricated criminal prosecutions in an effort to jail the leaders of the Tractor March.

A consultation with representatives of the authorities on regularizing the situation with lorry-drivers – and not the first such consultation – will take place at the Presidential Human Rights Council at the end of May. In April of this year a delegation of protesting farmers had a personal meeting with Russian Federation Human Rights Ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova.

I very much hope that the head of the Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, and ombudsperson Tatiana Moskalkova, will be able to persuade the president, or the person authorized by him (if not the ministers Sokolov and Tkachev, who are parties to the conflict) to meet with all interested parties and resolve this growing confrontation.

Regarding housing demolition, the greatest challenge is the announcement of a vote between 15 May and 15 June of those facing resettlement from their homes, whereas the bill will only be heard in its second reading at the State Duma at the start of July. This means that Muscovites are being offered the chance to vote for resettlement without knowing what the law involves. Mass protests are whipping up against the law on renovation, and we human rights activists have to find our place in this protest.

The task for human rights defenders – along with governmental human rights institutions, the Presidential Human Rights Council and the Human Rights Ombudsperson – is to facilitate a dialogue between the authorities and the protest groups at the highest federal level, involving the President or those appointed by him, without the participation of partisan elements from among the authorities.

- The situation in prisons. Over the last year we’ve seen a catastrophe in the public management of the prison system. Firstly, members of the Public Oversight Commissions have been purged; the ejection of human rights activists successfully continues by means of a stream of regular elections. Secondly, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for receiving correct information from prisons and detention centres: for passing on information of this kind, prisoners are threatened with violence, they are raped, and increasingly they receive sentences for so-called “false denunciations”. Thirdly, members of the Presidential Human Rights Council and even the chair of the Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, who is also an adviser to the president, are no longer being allowed to visit prison colonies; this is what most clearly emphasizes the crisis situation.

By and large, the cessation of torture and humiliation in prison colonies can only come with the help of transparency, which should be the aim of regional civil activists. Torture is hard to conceal; as a rule, people living in the area around a prison colony know if it’s in a mess. We need an ongoing public campaign against torture, which should be carried out using every form of mass media to which people have access. Ideally, the ultimate aim is the creation of something like the National Association of Prison Visitors in the UK, which has a presence in every prison, and whose members are free to visit this prison at any time.

As attempts at dialogue between human rights organisations and governmental human rights institutions (the Human Rights Council, the Human Rights Ombudsperson) and the leadership of the Federal Penitentiary Service has reached complete stalemate, a public campaign for the immediate resignation of Gennady Kornieko, head of the Federal Penetentiary Service, must be started. This seems to be the only thing that could break the impasse.


The above list of problems, which is far from comprehensive, shows how Russia is experiencing a wide-spread systemic political crisis in the internal life of the country. Therefore, civil society and politicians must seek new ways to place intense pressure on the authorities to tackle these problems urgently. The alternative is political destabilisation and chaos.

The main task of the human rights community today is to help ensure that political debates take place peacefully. Right now, every other media source is telling us that Russia is headed for violence and bloodshed. We have to make maximum efforts to ensure this prognosis does not come to fruition. By enabling solutions to the problems discussed above, participating in a dialogue with the opposition and interacting with the authorities, human rights activists can play an important role in this latest sharp turn in the history of our country. When experiencing such a turn in the years 1989-1991, Russia managed to avoid major violence. Civil society and human rights activists in particular must do everything they can to avoid violence this time around.

Translated by Anna Bowles, Lindsay Munford and Mark Nuckols

Yury Dzhibladze on official Russian reaction to visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens to EU [Voice of America]

posted 25 May 2017, 02:51 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 25 May 2017, 03:10 ]

13 May 2017

Extract from: Данила Гальперович, 'Mосква раздражена решением ЕС отменить визы для граждан Украины,' Voice of America, 13 May 2017 [Danila Galperovich: ‘Moscow irritated by EU decision to extend visa-free travel to Ukrainian citizens’]

Photo: Charter 97

Russia had been involved in visa-free travel negotiations of its own, but those are now frozen 

Russian officials and politicians reacted with irritation to the decision of the Council of the European Union to cancel visa restrictions for Ukrainian citizens. Official responses in Russia were characterised by frustration as well as attempts to downplay the importance of the development in question.

In particular, deputy foreign minister Aleksei Meshkov stated that ‘the so-called visa-free regime is to some extent a “carrot dangling on a string” slightly relaxing the current system.’ According to Meshkov, under the visa-free regime Ukrainians will not be able to stay in Europe for long and will not receive permission to work. […]

Yury Dzhibladze: Russian officials sought a visa-free regime first and foremost for those with government service passports

Yury Dzhibladze, president of the Moscow-based Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, told Voice of America that civil society figures had worked with officials in trying to secure visa-free travel for Russian citizens. ‘A few years back, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, in which I participate, actively promoted the idea of relaxing the visa regime between the EU and Russia, with the ultimate goal of visa-free travel in mind. Only that succeeded in generating official interest –namely, that of the foreign ministry – in the Forum. All other aspects of our extensive agenda failed to elicit the interest of the Russian authorities.’

‘However, the Russian government’s aim,’ continued the human rights advocate, ‘was always in relaxing the visa regime either only for, or first of all for, those holding government service passports [the passports of civil servants and members of the military serving overseas - trans.]. Our position, which the EU completely agreed with, was that the first people to receive the right to visa-free travel should be participants in youth exchanges, students, entrepreneurs, cultural figures, those travelling for medical reasons, civil society figures taking part in joint projects. But the Russian government insisted that it would only agree to reviewing the prospect of visa-free travel for said categories if all agreed to extending visa-free travel to government service passport holders.’

Dzhibladze explains: ‘This was not about those holding diplomatic passports. Service passports are held by officials in various ministries and federal and regional agencies, different government-related institutions and organisations… Moreover, as soon as the conversation turned to ordinary Russians, the interest of the government side quickly waned. Some degree of progress was achieved in the spring of 2012, when a tentative compromise was reached: if the EU granted a certain number of service passport holders the right to visa-free travel, then the Russian government would be prepared to agree to a relaxed visa regime for some categories of Russians. But we were not able to resolve issues relating to setting the parameters of these categories.’

‘A visa-free or relaxed visa regime is, first and foremost, an opportunity for person-to-person contact and rapprochement between societies. As such, a visa-free or relaxed visa regime should, first and foremost, be for society in general, not for officials or those in power. We tried to promote this idea in the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum when addressing such questions. It is clear that rapprochement between Ukraine and Europe, Georgia and Moldova and Europe has made Russian officials unhappy,’ concludes Yury Dzhibladze.

Translated by Lincoln Pigman

Pavel Chikov: "In the Name of God: Atheists in Russia Under Fire" [The Moscow Times]

posted 19 May 2017, 12:58 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 May 2017, 13:02 ]

18 May 2017

By Pavel Chikov

Source: The Moscow Times

A recent court case demonstrates that the Russian church has teamed up with the state to take aim at atheists

Since Russian video blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky was sentenced to three years probation in a Yekaterinburg court this month, the debate in Russia is on — the debate about whether it’s even lawful in Russia not to believe in God. This national conversation came to a head this week when major Russian television anchor Vladimir Pozner asked if he was breaking the law simply being an atheist. Russia’s Constitutional court judge Gadis Gadjiyev responded later in an interview that atheism is not an offense under Russia’s constitution. [Read more via The Moscow Times]

Aleksandr Podrabinek: Candid Times

posted 15 May 2017, 05:15 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 May 2017, 05:17 ]

9 May 2017

By Aleksandr Podrabinek

Source: Radio Svoboda

Candid times are upon us. It’s not that the regime has stopped lying altogether but that it has ceased to be self-conscious about lies. Or disclosures, either. It used to be, they stormily objected to reproaches of corruption; now they keep impersonally silent. When Dmitry Medvedev, far from the most hard-boiled of corrupt politicians, was shown from his unattractive side, and for the regime it was like water off a duck’s back. Not a word. Silence. “Yeah, whatever!” Previously, when they heard accusations of criminal activity, the regime would try to justify itself (“that's not even to our advantage”); now they grin mockingly. Aleksei Navalny directly accused the presidential administration of organizing the attack on him—and the regime hasn’t said a word. Take that however you like. That is, take it like this: yes, we don’t deny it, you’ve guessed correctly, and that’s how things are going to be from here on out.

Smugness and cynicism have become the norms of political conduct. They ripple out in circles from the presidential administration, modeling for officials the “correct” attitude toward society. Officials are mastering these new manners with ease. Moscow’s Basmanny court has not issued a decision on Zoya Svetova’s complaint of infractions during the conduct of a search. The issue is not even whether Svetova’s arguments do or don’t have grounds; the court simply refused to consider her complaint. Legal justice? That’s not for you! Forget it.

The prosecutor in the trial of the case of Ruslan Sokolovsky, who was catching Pokemons in an Orthodox church, accused the defendant of not respecting the State. “An expression of disrespect for the State is inadmissible,” Prosecutor Ekaterina Kalinina stated. Moreover, she accused Sokolovsky of “anti-constitutional attitudes” and “ridiculing the Russian president.” What does any of this have to do with the law? The law does not prohibit failing to respect the State or having anti-constitutional attitudes, and as for ridiculing the Russian president—that’s old news. Why is a legal professional in court accusing a defendant of something that does not fall within the framework of the law? So that everyone clarifies for themselves that this is not about the law. He is being tried for his attitude and disrespect. It’s all perfectly clear and candid.

Moscow City Hall, having announced a housing renovation program, is not bothering to follow laws or observe the decencies. Not only is the fate of the five-story buildings slated for razing going to be decided by an illegal vote, but the votes of those who did not take part in the voting are going to be considered in favor of razing. Why not vice-versa? Because it’s simply more convenient for City Hall and no explanations whatsoever are needed. They are informing us in no uncertain terms, bald-facedly.

Political cynicism, rippling out in circles, shields not only officials but also those who simply get their salary from the state budget. Showing loyalty by falsifying election results from time to time might not be enough. Tatyana Ageyeva, deputy director of Vladimir School No. 15, threatened those eight-graders who attended opposition rallies with “removal from their families” and being sent to orphanages. This instance raised a stormy public reaction and for now can be considered an outlier. But what is an outlier today could easily become the norm tomorrow. Just as accusations of false denunciation against those who expose police and prison personnel for the use of torture have now become the norm. You’ve been tortured? Sit there and keep quiet. If you complain, you’ll go to prison.

The candor of the regime’s repressive policy has clear sources. The veiled nature of the repressions and their explanation by lofty goals and strategic necessity require a certain ideological construction with the help of which a lie can be wrapped up with a bow. The regime has no such construction. It has no ideology. When the goal of political life consists of enrichment by means of theft and corruption, what kind of ideology can there be? They have not come up with anything appropriate. They lack sufficient intellectual capacities, and it may be that you can’t put the public through a second Bolshevik-type threshing. And coming up with anything new is beyond their abilities.

Therefore they have to commit their evil candidly, without bothering about laws and rules of decency. Which, of course, simplifies for society its transition from submission to revolt.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

Boris Altshuler: An Open Letter to Galina Khovanskaya on the proposed demolition of Khrushchev-era housing in Moscow

posted 15 May 2017, 04:14 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 May 2017, 04:21 ]

30 April 2017

Source: Boris Altshuler, 'Moscow. "Renovation". And onwards. An Open Letter to Galina Khovanskaya,' Moscow Helsinki Group


To the chair of the Committee on Housing Policy and Communal Housing of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation G. P. Khovanskaya

Esteemed Galina Petrovna,

Greetings for the upcoming holidays! [May Day and Victory Day - trans.]

And I express sincere gratitude for your opposition to the ‘holiday of personal enrichment’ of well-known narrow circles for whose sake the essentially criminal programme ‘Renovation’ has been arranged.

Why criminal?

Because ‘Renovation’, as you have correctly pointed out, means a growth in the city’s population of between 3 – 5 million people that will be devastating to the capital.
And because its authors, beginning with S. S. Sobyanin, altogether cynically threw overboard from the programme hundreds of thousands of Muscovites with appalling housing problems (2 families with multiple children in one room in a communal apartment—for 10 consecutive years; 3 families with multiple children in a one-room apartment—for 27 consecutive years, etc.). Not one of the problems raised by the ‘ordinary folk of Moscow’, who went on hunger strike last summer, are being solved.

The deeper reasons for this poverty are monopolism and corruption, corruption and monopolism, which is very precisely reflected in the recent (25 April 2017) interview of our colleague V. V. Tishkov (‘The Collapse of the Affordable Housing Programme’), and in the most general sense – in the utterly despairing statement of I. Yu. Artemev to the board of directors of FAS [Federal Anti-Monopoly Service] of 1 March of this year (‘Cartels are Suffocating the Russian Economy’.

But these are general considerations. The specific reason for writing this letter is the request of like-minded people from the Russian Union of Builders, including RUB executive director V. N. Sakhno, to share with you the innovative idea of building on to dilapidated and/or dangerous buildings instead of razing them—please see the attachment. The construction technology that would allow one to avoid demolishing buildings and resettling occupants is at the same time substantially more economical than that proposed by the ‘Renovation’ programme. And it is an altogether practicable alternative that is attractive to people and would avoid the horrible dilemma which S. S. Sobyanin is putting before Muscovites.

The economical nature of such a programme would also allow one to put into commission enough living space at an affordable rent, which would become for Muscovites a ‘housing lifebuoy’, and would enable, finally, the fulfillment in Moscow of the Decree No. 600 of the Russian Federation President of 7 May 2012 ‘to ensure the formation of an affordable housing market and the development of a noncommercial housing fund for low-income citizens by January 2013’.

Esteemed Galina Petrovna, we are not specialists on the legislative process, but we do not rule out the possibility that the proposal to include building on to existing housing stock, as opposed to its demolition, in the second reading of the bill on the Moscow ‘Renovation’ programme will put a stop to that madness which is the programme in its present form.

Yours sincerely,

Boris L’vovich Artshuler

Chair of the board of the regional NGO ‘Rights of the Child’
Member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, 
Member of the Public Council of the Ministry of Construction and Communal Housing of the Russian Federation (Minstry of Construction), 
Member of the Working Group on the Realization of Citizens’ Affordable Housing Rights of the Russian Federation President’s Council on the Development of Civic Society and Human Rights and of the Ministry of Construction. 

Attachment: Report/document of the company Shelfstroi on the application in Moscow of the project “Building on to existing housing stock as a means of reconstruction.” [Read more in Russian]

Translated by Mark Nuckolds

Vyacheslav Bakhmin: How to win an environmental or town-planning dispute

posted 15 May 2017, 01:32 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 May 2017, 01:40 ]

4 May 2017

By Vyacheslav Bakhmin [Extract]

Vyacheslav Bakhmin is a member of Moscow Helsinki Group, an expert of the Committee for Civic Initiatives, and a member of the organizing committee of the Nationwide Civic Forum, who has studied Russian and foreign experience of conflicts in this area

Photo: Moscow Helsinki Group

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Committee for Civic Initiatives]

Environmental and town-planning disputes are becoming increasingly common in many Russian regions. As the number of such conflicts has risen, so too has citizens’ self-organisation. Sometimes citizens manage to defend their position and protect their city or region. Often, however, they lose their fight for the public interest. But even in such circumstances, it is possible to speak of a certain success, since the problems of green zones, infilling construction and environmental pollution are beginning to be actively discussed in society.

Researchers distinguish two basic conflict models. In the first model, the authorities seek to mediate between the various stakeholders in the conflict, to respect as far as possible the interests of all significant groups, and to find a compromise solution. Such a model requires the active involvement and interested participation of citizens.

In the second model, the authorities side with one or other party to the conflict; often, these are developers or interested companies. In such cases, administrative pressure on protest groups, manipulation of public opinion by means of the mass media and social networks, and intimidation of civic activists are used to manage the conflicts. This happens particularly often with regard to locations that are attractive for investors and where land is a valuable resource. Unfortunately, the second model is the more common form of behaviour practised by the authorities.

What should you do if there is an environmental or town-planning conflict where you live? How can you find out what is going on? How can you best mobilise and unite residents in order to protect their interests? How can you win the fight?

Unfortunately, experience shows that there are no universal mechanisms for achieving victory. Often, it is hard to understand what decided the success of a campaign, or what led to the defeat or prolongation of the conflict. Much depends on specific conditions, the particularities of the situation, the position of the authorities and the potential for mobilising activists. While is possible to recommend certain important measures and steps that are found in most successful cases, it is not possible to guarantee that they will prove sufficient and lead to success. Analysis of conflicts over town-planning and the environment suggests that a positive result is most likely to be achieved if:

· The vital interests of local residents are affected, and there is awareness of a clear and tangible threat that will have a negative impact on the local population;

· There is a strong and highly-motivated group of activists who are confident of the rightness of their cause, and there is general support from the majority of local people;

· There is some support from the local authorities, even if it is passive or adopted under pressure;

· There is an idea that unites people with different resources and capabilities, including academics, lawyers, journalists and other professionals.

To be successful, it is also necessary:

· To monitor the situation regularly and to maintain civic vigilance;

· To draft and use expert opinions of professionals that support your position;

· To study the legal aspects of the situation, including all available official documents;

· To prepare a simple, understandable (for example, in the form of an infographic) and illustrative description of the problem, explaining the dangers of the situation for residents and the environment;

· To collect as many signatures of residents as possible in support of your argument, which will not only help to inform them but also to mobilise more supporters;

· To be able to listen to the opposite point of view, and to hold a dialogue with your opponents;

· To work actively in social networks, and to hold regular creative actions that attract media attention;

· To be able to utilise the mechanism of public hearings, where this is mandatory;

· To require supervisory and law-enforcement agencies to meet their obligations to protect the environment;

· To seek support from major human-rights and environmental-protection organisations, the federal government, the president and other official bodies;

· To appeal where necessary to the courts, with the support of lawyers;

· To be ready to take direct action, and also for possible provocations and repressions, and to be able to conduct oneself in a threatening situation;

· Not to trust verbal promises, but to insist on receiving formal documentation.

Above all, it is useful to study the experience of other campaigners and groups that have resolved problems similar to yours, to try to use their recommendations, and to take note of their mistakes. There are also many studies, publications and even services for civilian activists who are committed to defending environmental and social rights in their local neighbourhoods.

See below for an annotated review of some of these materials, including both successful and not entirely successful cases of environmental and town-planning disputes, as well as useful advice and expert recommendations. [Read more in Russian here]

Translated by Elizabeth Teague

Karinna Moskalenko: "Reducing the time for submitting applications to Strasbourg will only make us work harder"

posted 8 May 2017, 10:16 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 8 May 2017, 10:44 ]

2 May 2017

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

President Vladimir Putin has signed the law ratifying Protocol No.15 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). This document was signed on behalf of the Russian Federation by the Minister of Justice, Alexander Konovalov, in September 2016 in Strasbourg.

Karinna Moskalenko, a lawyer and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a founder of the International Protection Centre, says the ratification of Protocol No. 15 of the ECHR will enter into force when this Protocol is ratified by all Council of Europe member states.

What is most important about the 15th Protocol of the ECHR?

This protocol in fact changes the deadline for submitting applications to the ECHR in a significant way. The current six month deadline will be reduced to four months. This is a significant change as this period may not be sufficient for those people who are without legal representation, are located in prisons or in other complex life situations. But this measure has been unavoidable. As they say here in Strasbourg, the Court has become a victim of its own success. A reduction in the time allowed for filing applications may somewhat reduce the number of complaints. So far as the addition to the preamble of the ECHR is concerned, about which the Russian authorities are making such a fuss, indicating the subsidiary role of the ECHR in relation to national legal systems and the existence of a certain discretion on the part of Member-States in the application of the Convention at the national level, it is necessary to bear the following in mind:

1.The subsidiarity mechanism of the ECHR has always existed in relation to national legal systems and has been a fundamental principle in the functioning of the mechanism of the Convention. This was, first and foremost, that an appeal to the Court was impossible without the exhaustion of domestic legal remedies (in the absence of exceptional circumstances, which are not nullified by the addition to the preamble under discussion here).

2. A certain discretion as exercised by the authorities in the application of the Convention at national level has always existed, and it is enshrined in a number of articles of the Convention, such as articles 8, 9, 10, 11. etc.

However, the degree of discretion for Member-States of the Council of Europe will never be unlimited. Our government must understand this. It should similarly remember that the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights are binding for Russia because of our international obligations, and because of the clear legal provisions under the Russian Constitution.

From this comes my opinion regarding these changes: the amendment under discussion does not negatively affect human rights, and we have fully retained the capacity to defend our interests in the European Court of Human Rights.

Reducing the time for submitting applications to Strasbourg will make us work harder and better at meeting deadlines. We just need to grasp that this period will not be reduced according to the whim of Russian parliamentarians or the President, but only when all countries ratify the Protocol under discussion.

Translated by Graham Jones

Lev Ponomarev: Bolotnaya - 5 Years on. For Russia, Against Arbitrary Rule and Repression. On the Rally of 6 May

posted 8 May 2017, 06:32 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 8 May 2017, 06:36 ]

2 May 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Facebook]

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

On 6 May a protest rally dedicated to the fifth anniversary of the “Bolotnaya Case” will take place on Sakharov Prospect (inside the Garden Ring). The rally has been sanctioned by the authorities. It begins at 1 PM.

The members of the demonstration organizing committee are: Liudmila Alekseeva, Liya Akhedzhakova, Garri Bardin, Valery Borshchev, Vladimir Voinovich, Dmitry Gudkov, Vladimir Korshunsky, Oksana Mysina, Irina Prokhorova, Yury Ryzhov, Georgy Satarov, Zoya Svetova, Andrei Smirnov, Natalya Fateeva, Marietta Chudakova.

Those who formally submitted the application to the authorities for the rally are: Lev Ponomarev, Mikhail Shneider, Aleksandr Ryklin, Sergey Sharov-Delone, Leonid Gozman, Gennady Gudkov, Sergei Davidis.

Five years ago, on 6 May 2012, tens of thousands of Muscovites turned out on Bolotnaya Square to protest the election of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. The demonstration was brutally dispersed, and more than twenty persons were unlawfully detained, convicted and sentenced to several years each of imprisonment.

On 2 May 2017, protest organizers received a document with the signature of the assistant director of the Moscow Department of Regional Security Vasily Oleinik on permission for the demonstration of 6 May.

"On the recommendation of the Vice-Mayor of Moscow, in the city government, A. N. Gorbenko, I hereby inform you of permission to hold a public rally with the aim of drawing the attention of the public, the Moscow city government, and the country, to the inadmissibility of neglecting the foundations of the constitutional order and human and civil rights and freedoms set forth in chapters I and II of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and also to express your opinion on basic, current socio-political problems of contemporary Russia. The public mass-meeting is to take place 6 May 2017 from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM (assembly beginning at 12:00) on the roadway of the inner side of Academician Sakharov Prospect, in the portion from Sadovaya-Spasskaya St. to Bulvarnoe Ring, with a tribune set up opposite Building no. 7, with up to 10, 000 participants.

"I remind you of the necessity of fulfilling Art. 5 of the Federal Law of 19.-06.2004 no. 54-FZ “On gatherings, protests, demonstration, rallies, and picketing,” the observance of public order and personal responsibility for violating it, in accordance with legislation currently in force."

[From the scanned document] 

Translations by Mark Nuckols

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

posted 24 Apr 2017, 08:55 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 24 Apr 2017, 08:58 ]

14 April 2017

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

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


An inspection with a purpose

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

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

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

And what did they want from you?

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

Did you foresee that this could happen?

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

Which elements of your work do you yourselves consider political?

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

Translated by Anna Bowles

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

posted 24 Apr 2017, 05:54 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 24 Apr 2017, 06:26 ]

14 April 2017 

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

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


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

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

What can one say?

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

The true traditions of Soviet dissidence

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

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

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

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

What purpose does such distortion serve?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Translated and annotated by John Crowfoot 

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