The views expressed in blogs published on Rights in Russia, including those of the editor, are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of Rights in Russia.

John Crowfoot: Accusations of child sex abuse - and the political subtext in the Dmitriev case

posted 23 Oct 2017, 07:29 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 23 Oct 2017, 07:41 ]

23 October 2017

By John Crowfoot

Photo of Yury Dmitriev

As the Dmitriev trial got under way, journalist Maria Eismont concluded an article about the case ("Dmitriev should be a State-Prize nominee", Russian Reader website, 6 June 2017) with the following words:

"There is another important thing about the Dmitriev case: the charge his persecutors chose for him. He was not charged with ‘extremism’ or ‘separatism,’ which have been commonplace in politically motivated cases, but with child pornography and depraved actions towards a minor. The charges not only guarantee a long sentence and promise the accused problems in prison but also challenge the public to support him. ‘What if something really did happen?’ Dmitriev’s friends and relatives acknowledge that while those who doubt Dmitriev or are willing to countenance the charges are in a clear minority, such people do exist, and some of them are ‘decent’ people.

"The number of ‘paedophilia’ cases, based on controversial, contradictory, clearly flimsy evidence and flagrantly unprofessional forensic examinations, has been growing for several years. Recently, I attended a similar event in Naro-Fominsk, seventy kilometres southwest of Moscow. It was also a memorial evening for a living person who had been incarcerated on charges of depravity against a child, actions the man could not have committed, according to witnesses who were nearby when the crime was alleged to have occurred. Dozens of people had come to remember what a good nurse Yevgeny (Zhenya) had been. Then they corrected themselves: not had been, but is and will continue to be. Then they cried.

"'Paedophilia' cases have long been custom-ordered to rid oneself of rivals and used to pad police conviction statistics, but now they have been put to use in political cases."

Charges of paedophilia or, rather, the threat of such accusations, were very occasionally used against dissidents in the Soviet period, but a search through the Chronicle of Current Events or the USSR News Brief turned up only one case. (Many if not most such threats, naturally, may never have come to light.) Recently, an attempt was made to pressurise rights activist Magomed Mutsolgov by claiming he had child pornography on his confiscated computer (see Under Attack, 2016, fn 105).

The prosecutions covered by Eismont over the past five years follow a different pattern. Typically, they are disputes between separated couples which, at some point, lead to doubtful accusations of child sex abuse. Common features of several cases described by Eismont are that the child was drilled by one side to repeat allegations of sexual abuse that under examination proved false and were subsequently denied by the child itself. More disturbing is that no matter what the evidence the accused was nevertheless found guilty and sentenced to the minimum 8-years' imprisonment for such an offence.

In the Dmitriev case neither the prosecution nor, naturally, his daughter Natasha have presented any evidence of ‘depraved actions’ on the part of her adoptive father. The concern remains that the overwhelming tendency of Russian courts to convict (in 99% of judge-only cases), and the precedent of seemingly automatic guilty verdicts whenever the sexual abuse of minors is alleged, may yet lead to Dmitriev's conviction sometime before mid-January next year.

On the other hand, the evidence and arguments presented in Petrozavodsk City Court by expert witnesses for the defence over the past five months may yet create useful precedents concerning the validity of evidence cited in such cases. In this respect also there is everything still to play for in the prosecution of Yury Dmitriev for child pornography and sexual abuse of a minor.

Sources: Articles by Maria Eismont
"The case of Vladimir Makarov, 'paedophile'",
Radio Echo Moskvy [R], 28 November 2011
"The Production of Paedophilia",
Snob magazine [R], 14 December 2015
"Male nurse Yevgeny Yefimenko found guilty of paedophilia",
Bizbi: News from Naro-Fominsk [R], 28 September 2017

Viktor Kogan-Yasny: A Personal view on Ukraine, Nato, the trajectory of Russia and contemporary liberalism

posted 23 Oct 2017, 04:05 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 23 Oct 2017, 04:10 ]

23 October 2017

Viktor Kogan-Yasny is chair of the NGO Right to Life and Civic Dignity and is a political adviser to the Yabloko party

Ukraine and Nato

Nato establishes a framework. It represents a rejection of the idea and the ideology of revenge, of “counter-imperialism,” nationalism, of the humiliation of the citizens of neighbouring countries. That is why the official decision of Ukraine to join Nato, and not to take revenge on some other party and fight to the victorious end, provides an opportunity for the development of the country and its neighbours, for the advancement of peace and the rule of law, for “learning civilisation” (about which N. A. Struve wrote). Perhaps in ten years’ time in Ukraine there will be more competent citizens and military specialists and fewer streets named after nationalists.

The question remains whether this opportunity will be seized, or whether the post-Soviet environment will gain the upper hand and once again bring about events that will “astonish the world.”

We shall have to wait to see what happens, but we must not lose hope, even if new difficulties arise...

Nato and the roots of Orthodox culture

If we are talking about Orthodox culture and its relationship to politics and public life, then it must be said, despite the plethora of official statements about contrasting positions and civilizational conflicts, that it transpires that all those countries which traditionally form part of the realm of Orthodox Christianity except Russia and Belarus (not counting, of course, countries in the Middle East) are joining Nato, and European countries are joining the EU. Finland is not formally joining Nato, following a very old approach, but few even comment on this. It is the same with Cyprus. Serbia institutionally keeps its distance as a result of the historical conflict of 1999, when the actions of Nato were ill thought-out and ethically highly dubious. But this does not hinder Serbia from joining the EU or collaborating with Nato, since we are now in another epoch and a new set of problems has appeared. As for the situation of Japan, nothing needs to be said.

No country that has cultural roots in Orthodoxy – except Russia and Belarus – bases its ideology and daily practice on confrontation with Nato and the EU. And this confrontation will either come to nothing, or it will result once again in the cultural collapse of Russia, similar to what occurred under the Bolsheviks, based on a rejection of its own roots…

These are no doubt schematic points and observations. In reality, everything is much more complicated…The logic of history can be destroyed by stupidity, envy, provocative actions or simple boorishness, and these can arise as if out of nowhere. But nonetheless it is probably worth paying attention to the logic of history, to have a sense of it and seek to understand it …

A Troubling Observation

Liberals in the widest sense of the word - people who think about politics and were educated in the traditions of the second half of the last century - frequently lose sight of the fact that their ideas, seemingly unquestionable from the point of view of rational public conduct, run up against the egocentrism of a very large social group. This social group consists of people who simply do not consider themselves obliged to respect either themselves or anybody else. A very great number of people adopt the simple and egocentric view, “Leave me (and us) alone”, on the basis of simplistic slogans. To this end they are perfectly ready to sacrifice social development, personal success and material well-being, let alone things such as education and freedom of movement. These people see no fundamental purpose in the rule of law or honesty in personal behaviour, in moral solidarity with others, in mutual assistance, and so on. Maintaining the habitual and straightforward order of things for oneself and one’s immediate environment assumes, for them, priority over every other purpose.

This is why a majority of people in relatively poor Wales, a region that receives huge agricultural subsidies from the EU, voted against membership of the EU. This is why the “beneficiaries” of liberal movements against authoritarian and military-police regimes are in many cases not those who are committed to peace and freedom, but new dictators or people with a criminal background. And this, incidentally, is also why American “rednecks” (in particular, but not only them) voted for Trump.

But the social milieu that bears with it the liberal agenda of the past does not have the potential to react and renew itself. It resembles a club to which various people want to gain entrance because there is a fire outside, but in response the bouncers calmly stop them and push them back with the words: “You can’t come in, you’re not dressed appropriately.”
And looking at the question from a different angle, it is in the character of today’s neo-Bolsheviks, as it was in that of their historical predecessors, to seize the historical opportunity if it falls into their hands and adapt it to their own needs in such a way that all those who “wished for the best” are utterly shocked and disappointed (and there are all kinds of examples, including the behaviour of the leading figures of Ukraine on many issues).

Crimea, Russia, Ukraine

Europe’s post-war borders as they arose in 1945-46 must be inviolable. You can bewail as much as you want that such an approach, while on the one hand giving relative freedom to separatists, who insist on the independence of parts of states from the larger whole or even on the break-up of ethnically and historically complex states, on the other hand enables the peremptory blocking of perfectly justifiable attempts to unify closely-related populations, territories populated by the same ethnic group, or the transfer of territories from one jurisdiction to another. But there is no other means to preserve peace in Europe for the long-term future. Once a review of borders gets under way, the risk of a domino effect arises, with the consequent overwhelming victory of the instincts of the person-in-the-street over legal consciousness.

(The reunification of Germany is a special topic. Firstly, because what was at issue was the reunification of two historical parts of one and the same country. Secondly, because the decision to unify was in the hands of external forces and overseen by them. But even then, let’s recall, there were significant disagreements about the issue.)

This is why Northern Cyprus, Pridnestrovie, Kosovo, Abkhazia, Southern Ossetia (and also to some extent, Donetsk and Lugansk) are one thing, while Crimea is essentially a matter of a different kind. If there had not been formal annexation, the problem would not have arisen, nor the need for a solution. It is quite wrong to create such ambiguous situations, where furthermore it is impossible to maintain the consequent state of indeterminacy over a long period of time. The creation of “frozen conflicts” is an unpleasant and very unsatisfactory, but quite common world practice. Such developments can only be brought about without extremely serious consequences, in a “calm” manner, when disrespect for the rule of law and established legal traditions has reached such a pitch that they result in a radical lowering of legal standards. This is exactly what happened in the case of Crimea.

This is not a question of historical justice, of the protection of one group of people from another, of ethnic and cultural proximity, or of what people want. While all these matters are important, they must be resolved by means.

Law and international relations are incompatible with illogical thinking and with the emotions characteristic of household conflicts. It is precisely from confused logic and hysterical self-assertion that crises and wars begin. Wherever the “view of the ordinary person” gets the upper hand over rationality and transparency in decision-making, where the notion that “if they’re allowed to, why can’t we?” rules, then disaster is to be expected. It remains only to observe what is happening, as one might watch a powder keg inside which processes are taking place that are already beyond anyone’s control.

And this concerns in equal measure both the issue of Crimea and other, very different situations. It concerns the political mindset of the Russian Federation, and of other countries as well.

In general, it is a major mistake not to be able to see the far-reaching consequences of one’s own actions, no matter what the issue.

Mistakes can be of varying importance, but a real comparative assessment of potential outcomes is not always immediately possible, and the potential outcomes not immediately understood.

If the annexation of Crimea creates an enormous problem for the legitimate development of Russia, the failure to investigate the deaths of people creates an enormous legal problem, and a moral problem that exceeds all limits, both for Russian and for Ukrainian statehood, as well as for all major and minor Europe-wide institutions.

Post-Soviet Long and Winding Roads – Literal and Figurative

posted 3 Oct 2017, 07:29 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 3 Oct 2017, 08:08 ]

3 October 2017

Viktor Kogan-Yasny is chair of the NGO Right to Life and Civic Dignity and is a political adviser to the Yabloko party

From time immemorial to the present day, in the lands of ancient Kiev, Moscow and Novgorod, in princedoms, empire, and nation states, there has always been an excessive need, on all occasions, to take complex, long and winding roads towards the attempted solution of political and social issues. This need has always strengthened conformism among the majority of the population and weakened the role of strategic and goal-oriented thinking. In all issues not directly related to the immediate task in hand, there arises a wish to journey off into vagueness, to do nothing, to shift responsibility to the authorities, to those with administrative power. Naturally, such a manner of thinking and behaving grew markedly stronger after the coming to power of the Bolsheviks. It is a manner of thinking hostile to all development. Its idea of “civilization” is standing still on the spot and looking around; not taking action. And we can see this wherever the Bolsheviks have been in power. In all these places we see this logic at work: the idea that civilization must be delivered from outside, and, if acceptable, put to use. 

In the Russian Federation such an approach became de rigueur, with the conscious adoption of policies of this kind. This quickly made the country an awkward, interfering, and also a dangerous neighbour, as well as being a disaster for the citizens of Russia themselves. At the time of the collapse of the USSR, the West had no idea about any of this. Only a few very perceptive sociologists and culturologists then living in the West (Nikita Struve, for example), to whose views no attention whatsoever was paid, were able to present an accurate picture of the situation: a situation that demanded the rapid introduction of Western-style civilisation into Russia, and other countries of the former USSR, the introduction of “civilised thinking,” while at the same time taking steps to preserve and develop the centuries-old culture of Russia. But nothing came of any of this: that civilisation, which constitutes the basis for the achievements of the West, was only adopted in the post-Soviet world to a very limited extent. The culture of the West turned out by-and-large to be ‘impractical’ for adoption, and was forgotten. To the delight of Russian bureaucrats, the country’s military and security elites, and it must be said the Western public, the model of openness, maximum freedom of contact and movement was rejected. The great ideas of the last years of the twentieth century, developed in the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, perished in the muddled, lazy and irresponsible swamp of contemporary Russia. 

… And today we see that the West, absorbed in its own moral problems, has little influence on the situation in neighbouring societies, societies that, in a civilizational sense, have frozen, in some cases at a stage they reached many decades ago. Nowadays the West only considers these countries a means to solve its own problems, or as a burden and a nuisance. But meanwhile, somewhere or other in Tambov, petrol continues to be mixed with water, just as it was twenty years ago, and local residents see nothing beyond the grinding monotony of daily life. And at the same time the political elites of the post-Soviet world operate primarily on the basis of two factors: war and fraud – the same principles on which oligarchical corporate clans function today. 

Those who try to put up serious resistance to all of this, and not merely for the purposes of self-advertisement, too often come to realise they are failing to achieve results, and their efforts promise little for the future. They find themselves facing significant risks to their own life, and very great personal stress, as well as an almost complete absence of attention and interest on the part of those who, in global terms, they think of as their strategic allies.

Editor's blog: President Putin pays tribute to Liudmila Alekseeva

posted 27 Jul 2017, 06:47 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 3 Aug 2017, 03:16 ]

27 July 2017

Reflections on the week of 15- 21 July 2017

Meetings between individuals who encapsulate, each in their own way, different aspects of a turbulent period of a country's social and political life are always fascinating. This past week, on 20 July, when Liudmila Alekseeva, the doyenne of Russia’s human rights defenders, marked her 90th birthday, she was visited by President Vladimir Putin. The two sat opposite each other in Liudmila Alekseeva’s living room in her apartment on the Old Arbat and an account of their conversation was duly published on the official Kremlin website. Video of the two in conversation was broadcast on the nation's main TV channels. The President came with gifts: a bouquet of flowers and an engraving of a view of the town in Crimea where Alekseeva was born, Evpatoria, as well as a decorative plate with a picture of the tower what is now the main building Moscow State University where she had been a student. Given Alekseeva's well-known opposition to the annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the gift of the engraving would seem a particularly pointed one, although according to the published account of the dialogue it was the picture of Moscow State University that moved Alekseeva to comment, saying she had not actually been a student in the landmark tower, although she had helped build it[Read more]

Editor's blog: Impunity and the "absence of requisite determination"

posted 20 Jul 2017, 06:19 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Jul 2017, 14:42 ]

20 July 2018

...reflections (mostly) on the past week of 8 - 14 July 2017 by Simon Cosgrove 

This past week marked the 8th anniversary of the brutal abduction and murder (on 15 July 2009) of Natalia Estemirova who for several years had been the leading member of the NGO Memorial in Chechnya. The killing of this courageous human rights defender, for which no one has been held responsible, stands as a terrible example of impunity in today’s Russia. The week also saw the fourth anniversary of the murder of journalist Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev, a Caucasian Knot correspondent, in Dagestan (on 9 July 2013). In this case also, those responsible for the killing have yet to be brought to justice. While the investigation into Natalia Estemirova’s death formally remains ongoing, the authorities suspended the investigation into the killing of Akmednabi Akhmednabiyev in November 2015.  [Read more]

Editor's blog: Electoral facade looking ragged and raw

posted 12 Jul 2017, 10:32 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 13 Jul 2017, 13:41 ]

12 July 2017

...a look back at the week of 1 - 7 July 2017 by Simon Cosgrove

It might be desirable – even comforting, to some extent - to think that human rights abuses are, by and large, the result of individual human frailty and have nothing to do with politics. That they result from the actions of individual civil servants and law enforcement officers, from ‘human nature,’ rather than from the systematic and purposeful types of actions that constitute the kind of organization we usually denote as a ‘political system.’ But when we come to consider elections in Russia we face evidence that, in this area at least, violations of rights may be both systematic and purposeful.  [Read more]

Editor's blog: Relations between Russia and the Council of Europe reach a new low

posted 6 Jul 2017, 02:35 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 13 Jul 2017, 13:41 ]

6 July 2017

...a look back at the week of 24 - 30 June 2017 by Simon Cosgrove

One very significant indicator of the direction a European country is taking is its relationship with the inter-governmental Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights organization that works to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law. This week the troubled history of relations between Russia and the Council of Europe (of which Russia has been a member since 1996) reached something of a new low when on 30 June foreign minister Sergei Lavrov informed the Council of Europe that Russia was suspending all financial contributions (approximately €33m annually) until the "unconditional total restoration" of the rights of Russia's delegation. Ostensibly this step was a response to the decision by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), of 10 April 2014, to strip Russian delegates of their voting rights following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. [Read more]

Editor's blog: European Court rules on 'gay propaganda' legislation in Russia

posted 28 Jun 2017, 05:00 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 13 Jul 2017, 13:42 ]

28 June 2017

...a look back at the week of 17 - 23 June 2017 by Simon Cosgrove

The week saw a new twist in what many perceive as a mounting conflict between Russia and the Council of Europe, as the European Court of Human Rights ruled on 20 June 2017 in the case of Bayev and Others against Russia that Russian legislation banning promotion of homosexuality to minors encourages homophobia and discrimination. The conflict falls into place along side a number of legal cases that have seen the Russian authorities tussle with the European Court of Human Rights (most notably the Yukos case). If one puts specifically legal issues aside (in so far as that is possible, or even desirable), on the one hand some see the conflict over the 'gay propaganda' law as one of cultures, as Russia asserts values that are different from those currently predominant in the West. On the other hand, some view the conflict as arising primarily in the political field, as President Putin seeks to draw on support from a nationalist conservatism to buttress his increasingly authoritarian rule. [Read more]

Appeals broadcast in support of Yury Dmitriev by writer Dmitry Bykov and musician Boris Grebenshchikov

posted 26 Jun 2017, 02:17 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 30 Jun 2017, 04:53 ]

26 June 2017

On 20 June radio station Echo Moskvy broadcast appeals on behalf of YURY DMITRIEV by poet Dmitry Bykov and (from Petersburg) by the former leader of Aquarium, musician Boris Grebenshchikov.

20 June, Echo Moskvy radio station & website

It also published a list of several hundred people who have signed a petition in support of the historian. Dmitriev's trial is just entering it fourth week.


In Petrozavodsk City Court the hearing of the case of Yury Dmitriev, a well-known historian, continues. A Gulag researcher and compiler of several "Books of Memory", he is among those who created the memorial complexes at Sandarmokh and Krasny Bor, and the memorial graveyard at Sekirnaya Hill on Solovki. Dmitriev is accused of making child pornography, lewd acts and the unlawful possession of a firearm. The hearings are taking place behind closed doors and the media are not permitted into e courtroom. There are serious grounds for believing that the accusation is a deliberate provocation, aimed at ending the historian’s activities and destroying his reputation. [Read more]

Edited and translated by John Crowfoot

Editor's blog: Police break up peaceful protests on Russia Day

posted 20 Jun 2017, 09:25 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 13 Jul 2017, 13:43 ]

20 June 2017

...a look back at the week of 10 - 16 June 2017

Right of assembly

Last week, right of assembly was the main focus of attention for observers of the human rights scene in Russia. On 12 June, Russia Day, the renewed enthusiasm for peaceful, public protest, seen on 26 March, once again showed itself on Russian streets. OVD.Info reported that 1,720 protesters were detained by police (866 in Moscow, 658 in St. Petersburg). Amnesty International said that protesters had been subjected to cruel and degrading treatment. The pattern of dealing with the anti-corruption protests with bans, often brutal police action and arrests was repeated in many other Russian cities. A few days later and on a smaller scale there were also protests (on 14 June) against the vast housing demolition programme proposed by the Moscow city authorities. On that day at least 16 protesters were detained outside the State Duma. [Read more]

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