Pavel Chikov replies to questions from Ekho Moskvy listeners [20 April 2018]

posted 6 May 2018, 07:05 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 6 May 2018, 07:12 ]

20 April 2018

Pavel Chikov, lawyer acting on behalf of Telegram, head of the Agora international human rights group, replies to questions from Ekho Moskvy listeners 

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

Question 1
Is it true that many ISPs in other countries have also suffered because of the actions of Roskomnadzor [the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media], and that these actions could be considered equivalent to state-endorsed hacking?

The European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR] has already examined cases where authorities have blocked access to websites indiscriminately and at the same time rendered entirely innocent websites inaccessible. A Turkish professor whose educational website became collateral damage in the blocking of another website was awarded EUR 7500 in compensation for infringement of the right to freedom of expression (Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights). Russian nationals have also made similar applications to the Strasbourg court, for example the Internet publisher Vladimir Kharitonov, who is represented before the ECtHR by one of our lawyers, Damir Gainutdinov. Kharitonov's website was blocked in 2012 because it shared the same IP address as the website “Rastafari Tales,” which Roskomnadzor had found to be drug propaganda. Kharitonov’s application was communicated by the ECtHR last year, and the latter referred to it as a potentially leading case. Against this background, the incidental nature of victims of attacks by Roskomnadzor which came to light this week suggests that any related application to the ECtHR might succeed. Around 120 ISPs have already responded to our appeal, and 30 lawyers and attorneys have volunteered to represent them on a pro bono basis. Now everything depends on the willingness of these ISPs to speak out against this arbitrary behaviour on the part of the authorities.

Question 2
Pavel, I’ve been recognised as a victim of fraud, but the investigation has been carried out half-heartedly and has already lasted four years in total. All of my appeals to higher instances, even to the Presidential Administration, have gained me nothing but non-committal, purely formal responses. What can one do in such a situation, when one’s trust in the law has been entirely eroded?

In criminal proceedings, both the victims and the accused need specialist legal assistance. Regrettable as it may be, the extreme inefficiency of the Russian law-enforcement system means that few achieve any success whatsoever without a decent lawyer. As far as your case is concerned, a federal act has been adopted on compensation for judicial and investigatory delays. If a victim’s case has not been settled within five years, he or she is entitled to seek compensation from the court for the damages suffered. Legal precedents have been set in this area, inter alia in cases involving our own lawyers, and sums ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of roubles have been awarded.

Question 3
Mikhail, Khimki
Has the time now come to pay for a VPN?

That’s a question which everyone must answer for himself or herself. No lawyer can dictate or enforce the services which people should use. People who prefer to keep their correspondence secret from the intelligence services will find a way to continue using Telegram, either using a VPN or a proxy server, or will find some other way entirely.

Question 4
Sergei Shimovolos, lawyer, Nizhny Novgorod
Why does FIFA not listen to concerns voiced about human rights violations when deciding which country should host the World Cup?

The bureaucracy surrounding international sports is a separate world with its own rules and laws, and one which holds the key to the enormous sums of money that can be earned from the events themselves, the broadcasting rights, advertising, fans and so on. It is largely for this reason that the major sporting federations and Olympic committees like to pretend that they are apolitical, even though there can be no question about the fact that human rights and human rights violations surpass the realm of politics. Over the past two decades, however, authoritarian regimes have made enthusiastic use of this position adopted by the sporting bureaucrats, attempting to improve their image on the world stage by hosting competitions, and I am sure that FIFA and the World Cup fall into this category.

Question 5
As the head of an international human rights organisation, which human rights do you believe are violated most frequently? Thank you.

Developments around the world in recent years have shown that the universal values of the former era are at serious risk of being undermined. Whereas the authorities in most countries previously attempted to conceal mass violations of human rights and to uphold their liberal image, nowadays we are seeing leaders of non-democratic countries, or even traditional democracies, eroding established standards and values deliberately, demonstratively and sometimes with gusto. This is the main threat and the main problem to which human rights activists around the world must respond today.

Question 6
Maksim, Moscow
Pavel, who do you think will win in the end, in the confrontation between Durov and the State?

I don’t think there is a confrontation between Durov and the State. There is a confrontation between civil society, which wants private communication, without interference in its personal life from the ‘Eye of the Tsar’, and rigid security officials from the past, who’re not aware that we’re in the 21st century.

Question 7
Nadezhda, student, Moscow
Pavel, why do you want to be a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council?

It doesn’t stop me doing my work. Furthermore, it’s said that the composition of the Council will be reviewed after the inauguration, so its future is, for now, uncertain.

Question 8
Margarita Sergeeva, Saint Petersburg
Are you not discouraged by the fact that you are defending the rights of those who don’t really need them?

Perhaps it seems improbable to you, but in the vast majority of cases, literally 9 out of 10, the people whom we defend and whose interests we represent, achieve success. It’s not always a total and unqualified victory, and very rarely happens quickly. Often it’s not possible to talk publicly about it. But, for example, in the 150-odd politically motivated criminal cases involving bloggers and civil activists that our lawyers have taken up over the last 10 years, only a few ended up in prison, and in around half of the cases we managed to put an end to the harassment. But even those who were given sentences are now awaiting decisions on their cases from the ECtHR. Any legal work is always a long game. It’s necessary to be patient.

Question 9
Why was Telegram in particular targeted?
Svetlana Alekseevna, office worker, Moscow
How do you think it’ll turn out? Are we moving towards the “Chinese model” of the internet?

It’s necessary to understand the intended aim of the Russian siloviki, primarily the FSB and people with a security point of view, as it relates to the Russian parts of the internet. They want to isolate it as far as possible from global networks, because that’s the only way that they can provide effective control over its content and users. Yes, these people want the “Chinese model.” In order to achieve this, they need to create a single demonstrative precedent. The target has to be significant. Thus, Blackberry Messenger or Zello online-radio, of which there are only a small number of users and which are relatively unknown to Russian users, aren’t suitable. Blocking these services last year went practically unnoticed. Therefore, it had to be one of the leading messengers – WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram or Signal. Considering it is owned by Facebook, an attack on WhatsApp would be an attack on Facebook, which, clearly, they’re not prepared for yet. Pavel Durov is of Russian origin, the siloviki have a dossier on him, there’s history with VKontakte, the main developers of Telegram were formerly in St Petersburg, and Durov himself is a media personality, unlike, for example, the heads of the other messenger services. So, an attack could be personalised. That said, Telegram has fewer users in Russia than WhatsApp or Viber. All of this put together explains the choice of target. For the siloviki, Durov is a Russian, and this justifies the attacks.

Question 10
Aleksei, manager, Moscow
Pavel, is it time to set up a – let’s call it – ‘cyber trade union’ in Russia?

Occam’s Razor dictates that entities are not to be multiplied without necessity. Digital resistance and a civil cyber war are already a reality. Millions of Russians this week felt unhappy as a result of the actions of the Russian authorities. Many internet businesses faced difficulties. Discontent is growing and it will come out one way or another. We don’t need any artificially created structures for this. It is the natural reaction of a healthy society, and will find a way to be realised.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds and Mercedes Malcomson