Advisory Council (International)

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

Halya Coynash: Remember Sandarmokh & the Historian of the Terror Imprisoned in Putin’s Russia

posted 27 Oct 2017, 12:22 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 30 Oct 2017, 10:34 ]

27 October 2017

By Halya Coynash

It is exactly 80 years since the killing by quota began of Ukrainian, Russian and other prisoners sent to the notorious Solovki Labour Camp during the worst months of Stalin’s Terror. From 27 October to 4 November 1937, 1,111 prisoners were executed by the NKVD, including 289 Ukrainian writers, playwrights, scientists and other members of the intelligentsia. Their remains lie, together with those of nearly nine thousand victims, at the Sandarmokh Clearing in Karelia, near the Russian border with Finland. 

Perhaps the anniversary was not the reason for the low trick played on Yury Dmitriev, the imprisoned historian of the Terror, and his many friends and supporters on October 25. It would, however, be nothing new in this profoundly disturbing prosecution and imprisonment of a world-renowned historian in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  [Read more on Human Rights in Ukraine]

Martin Dewhirst reviews Gleb Morev's 'Dissidenty: dvadtsat' razgovorov' [Dissidents: Twenty Conversations]

posted 26 Jun 2017, 04:32 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Jun 2017, 04:48 ]

26 June 2017

By Martin Dewhirst

A review of: Gleb Morev, Dissidenty: dvadtsat' razgovorov [Dissidents: Twenty Conversations], Moscow, 'AST', 2017, 416 pp., 3.000 copies.

Coming out as an active dissident in Russia (there have always been numerous passive dissidents, dissenters, protesters and protestants in that country) after the 1991 coup and counter-coup is still a very challenging step with uncertain consequences. The separation (or division) of powers (legislative, executive and judicial) is still not a reality; even the Constitutional Court has taken some very dubious decisions; the Duma (parliament) is usually regarded as a talking shop, not as a place for debate; the Presidential Administration can often exert more power than the Government; and elections are widely regarded as neither free nor fair. There is also a feeling among some observers that the dramatic events of 1991 in Russia replaced state socialism with state and state-controlled oligarchic capitalism, which is not a great change for the better, and may be even worse. Is President Putin really an improvement on President Gorbachev? Is Roskomnadzor any better than Glavlit? The regime has changed, but the political system hasn't, some observers write. How many Russians grasp the difference between 'regime' and 'system'?

On the other hand, there are undoubtedly some changes for the better. Despite bans and restrictions on some denominations, religious freedom has increased; it is much easier for some dissidents in danger of arrest to slip abroad to relative safety; some dissidents can go to other countries to speak publicly and privately and then return to Russia; and, thanks to the recent real revolution, the digital one, it is now much easier to receive and disseminate information (but also, unfortunately, disinformation). Despite the notorious 'power vertical', horizontal communication is immeasurably easier than in Soviet times. But the key problem remains: have most Russians been forever so greatly genetically modified by the long Mongol and Tatar occupation that a parliamentary democracy in the Russian Federation, a huge Eurasian landmass, is simply an impossibility?

What can present-day dissidents learn from their Soviet (or anti-Soviet) predecessors? (It goes almost without saying that they had and have no objection whatsoever to sovety, councils, as an invaluable institution.) How, in particular, can they reduce the danger of the present fraudulent neo-Soviet regime, led by a proud and unrepentant 'former' Soviet KGB officer, from being succeeded by a no less fraudulent neo-neo-Soviet regime, rather than by a different political system based on the rule of law?

Gleb Morev was born in the key year of 1968, when a tiny group of dissidents felt morally, not politically, obliged to demonstrate (on Red Square in Moscow) against the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, whose Communist Party leadership was trying to establish a law-based socialist regime with a human face. Morev was too young to play a role in the dissident movement in Soviet times. For all I know, he doesn't consider himself to be a dissident now. Maybe he just feels that there are useful lessons for his country to be learnt from the successes and failures of the 'democratic movement' of the dissidents during what turned out to be the last quarter-century of the USSR.

Following on the heels of Aleksandr Podrabinek's remarkable memoir Dissidenty (Moscow, 'AST', 2014, 418pp., 3,000 copies), Morev uses the same 'Western' title rather than the Slavonic word pravozashchitniki, defenders of the law (and human rights), as enunciated and continually emphasised by Aleksandr Yesenin-Vol'pin, who I think should be regarded as the founder of the (perhaps misnamed) dissident movement in the USSR. He insisted that the Soviet Constitution should be taken seriously and literally; it was the people in power at all levels of the country in the 1960s and later who were often not acting constitutionally. (The very useful Index guides readers to the pages on which Yesenin-Vol'pin is mentioned and discussed. Problems of terminology are raised on, for example, pages 178, 207 and 232.)

Morev's book, prefaced by Jens Siegert, well-known already to seasoned readers of Rights in Russia, contains twenty conversations (almost monologues) with high- and low-profile dissidents. Three people he approached refused to cooperate, others were unavailable, and two, Fr. Gleb Yakunin and Valery Senderov, died before they could be questioned. The book is rather awkwardly divided into four parts, and there is no need, I think, to read these conversations – some short, some long – in the order in which they are printed. Depending on your fluency in Russian and the time you have available, pick and choose – every participant has something, and most participants have much, of interest to say.

Among the contributors whose names will be known to many readers of this note are Sergei Kovalev, Pavel Litvinov, Gleb Pavlovsky and Aleksandr Daniel', three of whom are still living and active in Russia today. Others who played a very important role well before Gorbachev's unexpected glasnost' are Sergei Grigor'yants, Gabriel' Superfin, Vera Lashkova. Vyacheslav Bakhmin, Vyacheslav Igrunov, Sergei Khodorovich, Viktor Davydov, Mikhail Meilakh, Yelena Sannikova and Lev Timofeyev, just over half of whom are still based in Russia, some of them enjoying (I hope) a well-earned rest. All the other six, three of whom live in the West, also deserve our gratitude for what they did in very difficult times: Irina Kristi, Sima Mostinskaya (the widow of Aleksandr Lavut), Marina Shemakhanskaya (the widow of Andrei Kistyakovsky), Fr. Boris Mikhailov, Masha Slonim and, last but in no way least, the Lithuanian poet and essayist, Tomas Venclova.

The fact that so many of these worthy people are now living (most of the time) outside Russia has different causes, one of which may be that what happened in the Soviet Union turned out, in the Russian Federation, not to be a revolution. The Cold War within Russia quickly started up again and intensified immediately after Putin became Prime Minister in 1999. There appear to be no dissident figures now in Russia (or in the West, for that matter) of the stature of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, and Western support and supporters of today's dissidents in the Russian Federation are muted, perhaps because of the widespread view that 'the Kremlin' is no longer a serious threat to law-based states elsewhere in the world because the Cold War is over. Allegedly. 

Martin Dewhirst lectured on Russian literature and history at the University of Glasgow from 1964 until 2000. He is an expert on Russian Samizdat and on the Tsarist, Soviet and neoSoviet systems of censorship. Of late he has been working to improve the conditions in which people deprived of liberty in Russia are held.

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

Halya Coynash: Russia reinstates darkest Soviet days by banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses

posted 21 Apr 2017, 12:27 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 21 Apr 2017, 12:30 ]

21 April 2017

Russia’s Supreme Court has ignored the country’s Constitution and the decades of religious persecution under Soviet rule and banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses, labelling them ‘extremist’. It has thus placed around 175 thousand believers in the Russian Federation in danger of criminal prosecution for their faith. Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted earlier both in the USSR and by Nazi Germany.

The ruling was passed on April 20 by judge Yury Ivanenko, following an application lodged by Russia’s justice ministry. The ministry had formally asked the court on March 15 to order the dissolution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Centre and 395 regional branches. Their activities were suspended pending the Court ruling. [Read more on Human Rights in Ukraine]

Halya Coynash: Mass persecution inevitable if Russia bans the Jehovah’s Witnesses as ’extremist’

posted 6 Apr 2017, 09:05 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 6 Apr 2017, 09:06 ]

6 April 2017

By Halya Coynash

Russia’s Supreme Court appears to be on the verge of banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses after a Justice Ministry application which claimed that this world faith is ‘extremist’. The same Court on April 5 rejected a counter-suit lodged by the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Centre asking that the actions of the ministry be declared political repression and that representatives of local communities be called to testify to such persecution. It claimed essentially that this was not within its jurisdiction. This new move follows constant repression at regional level. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had also fruitlessly asked the Court to adjourn the proceedings until general jurisdiction courts had issued their rulings in cases where bans are being sought on 9 regional branches and where 90 texts are accused of being ‘extremist’.  All applications were rejected, including the most obvious, namely that religious specialists and linguistic experts be called in to give their professional assessment of the so-called ‘extremism’. [Read more on Human Rights in Ukraine]

Halya Coynash, Mass persecution inevitable if Russia bans the Jehovah’s Witnesses as ’extremist,’ Human Rights in Ukraine, 6 April 2017

Geoffrey Hosking: Putin is part of a continuum that stretches back to the tsars [The Guardian]

posted 5 Apr 2017, 11:27 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 5 Apr 2017, 12:08 ]

4 April 2017

By Geoffrey Hosking, emeritus professor of Russian history at University College London

This article was published by The Guardian on 4 April 2017

People often ask me what I think should be done about Vladimir Putin, as though he had suddenly popped up and turned a compliant and benevolent Russia into a malicious, growling bear. But Putin has not sprung from nowhere. He is popular in Russia largely because he is an effective leader of a country that views itself as a great power. He has stood up for its status, honour and self-reliance in the modern world. In doing so he is continuing a tradition that goes back not just to the Soviet leaders but to the tsars.

Like all peoples in a crisis – including the British – Russians value a leader who can maintain both internal order and external security. We often forget that for the past 30 years Russia has been going through a prolonged and serious crisis in which both internal order and external security were vulnerable. The breakdown of the Soviet Union in 1991 created an emergency in which parts of the state broke away and serious conflicts erupted within Russia itself. In 1993 it was on the brink of civil war. [Read more on The Guardian website]

Halya Coynash: "Chechnya style lawlessness will not work in occupied Crimea, however much Russia tries"

posted 21 Mar 2017, 12:56 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 21 Mar 2017, 12:57 ]

21 March 2017

By Halya Coynash

Russia has concentrated negative and repressive features from all over the Russian Federation in occupied Crimea, a Russian human rights activist has said. However, neither she, nor a Crimean Tatar activist whose own son and nephew were abducted, believe that Russia will succeed in imposing the unbridled lawlessness seen in the Caucasus, although not necessarily for want of trying.

Fear that Russia was using the same tactics as in Chechnya was voiced within months of Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. The first disappearances had been of civic activists, and are believed to have been carried out by the so-called ‘self-defence’ paramilitaries who worked in tandem with the invading Russian soldiers. By August Russia had begun carrying out armed searches of mosques, religious schools and Crimean Tatar homes. Soon after that the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, or self-governing body of the main indigenous group in Crimea came under mounted attack and has now been banned. Amid all of this came abductions and / or disappearances of young Crimean Tatars. [Read more on Human Rights in Ukraine]

Halya Coynash: Russian historian of the Terror jailed after Soviet-style denunciation faces new charges

posted 15 Mar 2017, 13:03 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Mar 2017, 13:05 ]

15 March 2017

By Halya Coynash

Three months after Yury Dmitriev, a Russian historian and head of the Karelia branch of the Memorial Society, was arrested and remanded in custody on bizarre charges, the investigators have come up with two new indictments. There is no evidence to substantiate the original charge, and total mystery over the new accusations. The fact that the prosecutor was originally supposed to have acted on the basis of an anonymous denunciation brings a chilling flashback to the worst Soviet days, as does a great deal about this case. A recent slanderous attack on state-controlled television has only compounded the suspicion that the prosecution is part of a mounted attack on Memorial and its work exposing perpetrators of the Terror. Everything about Dmitriev’s arrest and the charges elicit concern and it is no surprise that the President’s Human Rights Council announced on Feb 12 that they were taking the case, which appears fabricated, under their personal supervision. [Read more on Human Rights in Ukraine]

Halya Coynash: 'Human Rights Court judgment confirms violation by Russia of Crimean political prisoners’ rights'

posted 13 Mar 2017, 13:56 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 13 Mar 2017, 13:58 ]

13 March 2017

By Halya Coynash

The European Court of Human Rights has found that imprisoning people thousands of kilometres away from their families is a violation of their right to family ties. The judgement, albeit in another case, is of vital importance since Russia is illegally imprisoning Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and many other Ukrainians, especially from occupied Crimea, in the far east or north of the Russian Federation. In at least some of the prisoners’ cases, the vast distance seems clearly aimed at isolating the prisoners from family, lawyers and the media.

In its Judgement in the Case of Polyakova and others vs. Russia, the Court considered four cases where prisoners had been held between 2 and 8 thousand kilometres from their homes. This had meant that one prisoner did not see his mother prior to her death, and that one child had literally never seen her father.

The broad Russian principle is that prisoners are sent to penal facilities in their home region, this being in line both with the European Convention on Human Rights and Rule 17.1 of the European Prison Rules. The prison service, however, has “extensive discretionary powers” to ignore this principle – and had done so, both in its initial decision and its rejection of applications to move the prisoners. [Read more]

Halya Coynash: "Russia’s lawyer doesn’t deny Russian missile downed MH17, only that it’s terrorism"

posted 10 Mar 2017, 12:11 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 10 Mar 2017, 12:14 ]

10 March 2017

By Halya Coynash

If, as Russia claims, it is fully implementing its obligations under two international agreements – not financing terrorism and not discriminating against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in occupied Crimea, is it fighting Ukraine’s attempt to secure provisional measures which demand only such implementation? And why, when Russia’s own representative at the International Court of Justice was careful not to actually deny the supply of particularly lethal weapons to Donbas militants, is Russia engaging in what was dubbed “legal gymnastics” to claim that this is not financing terrorism? In his address to the Court in the Hague on March 8, Harold Hongiu Koh, Sterling Professor of International Law, accused Russia of turning its legal obligations on their head. “In eastern Ukraine, Russia claims to forbid terrorism financing, then finances terror”. Koh noted the extraordinary argumentation given by Samuel Worthsworth, a British lawyer representing Russia. As reported, Wordsworth’s statement was especially interesting because of what he avoided denying. He asserted: “There is no evidence, plausible or otherwise, that Russia provided weaponry to any party with the intent or knowledge that such weaponry be used to shoot down civilian aircraft, as would of course be required under Article 2.1 [of the Terrorism Financing Convention]." [Read more on Human Rights in Ukraine]

Halya Coynash: Quashing of Russian activist Ildar Dadin’s sentence welcome, but not enough

posted 23 Feb 2017, 11:49 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 23 Feb 2017, 11:51 ]

23 February 2017

Russia’s Supreme Court has revoked the sentence against Ildar Dadin under a draconian anti-protest law and recognized the activist’s right to ‘rehabilitation’, with this meaning a formal apology and – in theory – compensation. This is an important move, but if Russia wants to demonstrate a shift away from repression, it should revoke other laws, like that used to imprison people for criticizing its invasion and annexation of Crimea. He will be released as soon as the prison receives the stamped court ruling. The new ruling comes just 12 days after the Constitutional Court found the anti-protest law basically constitutional but in need of amendments, and called for a review of Dadin’s case. Dadin has been imprisoned now for just over 2 years after being one of the first people arrested under a new Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code, introduced in July 2014. That envisages a sentence of up to 5 years if a court has issued three rulings on administrative offences within 180 days. Dadin was accused of taking part in protests on Aug 6, Aug 23, Sept 13 and Dec 5 2014. It is quite standard in today’s Russia for police to detain people at entirely peaceful protests, with administrative protocols then drawn up and processed by the courts with no questions asked. All of this, and the use of provocateurs, working closely with the police, had clearly happened in Dadin’s case. [...]

1-10 of 101