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.

Nikolai Kavkazsky on human rights in Russia: 'Nothing good'

posted 14 Jan 2020, 10:36 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 14 Jan 2020, 11:56 ]

5 January 2020

Nikolai Kavkazsky is a human rights activist, lawyer, politician and former prisoner in the Bolotnaya case

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group Source: Radio Liberty, 5.01.2020

The past year has been one of the worst ever for human rights in our country. The government has decided to increase attacks on human rights organisations, the oldest of which has existed since dissident times: the Moscow Helsinki group. For the first time in Russia’s recent history, the group was deprived of its grant support. As a result of this, it was unable to pay most of its employees, myself included. The court also liquidated the largest organisation in Russia: For Human Rights. Memorial was also mercilessly fined and in a two-week period two deputy heads of the Committee for Civic Rights, an NGO led by Andrei Babushkin, were arrested, after which NTV and other TV channels broadcast programmes demonizing the human rights activists
. Moreover this was done at a time when it became clear that the Public Oversight Commissions that oversee observance of human rights in prisons, were again staffed almost wholly by people with backgrounds in law enforcement, and civil society activists were not included among their members. 

Opportunities for the protection of human rights have become noticeably rarer. What will happen if the government destroys all human rights organisations? Where will those people whose rights will be violated go?! I think an attack like this on human rights defenders, including what amounted to the destruction of the Presidential Human Rights Council, is directly related to the principled position of civil society in defending the accused in the Moscow case and other prisoners of the regime.

There are more and more political prisoners in our country every year. The government has opened new criminal cases in addition to the Moscow case, including the Network and New Greatness cases. It is also important to not forget the Rostov case in which Yan Sidorov and Vlad Mordasov received six-year sentences for publicly displaying placards. The resurrection of the so-called Dadin article, which can be used to jail individuals for repeated participation in unapproved demonstrations, characterises the interest of the authorities in intimidating Russian society. Among the Kremlin's repressive initiatives is the 'foreign agent' law, which permits the fining of individuals for simply liking something on social media.

I will discuss the repressive drug policy legislation separately. After the Golunov case, Putin proposed introducing criminal liability for propaganda relating to drug use. This will serve to create additional barriers for organisations that are involved in harm reduction, or fight for the rights of drug users, such as the Andrei Rylkov Foundation, Narkprosvet or Humanitarian Action. If the law is passed it will, in essence, criminalise speech. And nowadays, anyone can be sent to jail for having had drugs planted on them or for using WiFi without a password that can be hacked by others, but soon it will be even easier for the authorities to secure convictions under current drug laws.

Here the reaction of the pseudo-opposition A Just Russia party is indicative: the party of Sergei Mironov excelled itself, proposing jail terms not only for propagandising drug use but even for simply making neutral mention of drugs, which really sounds absurd! They want to be able to jail people for drug use, which is currently only punishable under administrative law, and they also for avoiding drug treatment. Under this proposed law they would be able to punish those who seek help for addiction but by-pass Russia’s ineffective punitive system of drug treatment.

Discrimination against millions of our fellow citizens on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity continues: from the murders in the North Caucasus, up to the recent beating of Ekaterina Lysykh, an 18-year-old student from St. Petersburg. Taking all this into account, the chances of and kind of law banning domestic violence looks slim; even if such a law is passed, it is unlikely that it will actually work.

Both freedom and human rights are political issues, they must not only be protected, but also gained. The slogan of the Socialist-Revolutionaries still rings true: 'Through struggle, you will acquire your rights!' Perhaps this current worsening of the situation is just an attempt by the authorities to intimidate citizens, to force them to give in. It's up to us whether they are successful in doing so.

Translated by James Lofthouse

Liudmila Ulitskaya: Heed the mothers! About the relatives of political prisoners who have gone on hunger strike and are demanding a meeting with the authorities

posted 23 Dec 2019, 06:08 by Translation Service   [ updated 24 Dec 2019, 08:29 ]

18 December 2019

Liudmila Ulitskaya, writer

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Novaya gazeta]

Mothers always defend their children: from cold, hunger and enemies. It is regrettable that we are seeing mothers trying to defend their children from a state that has taken a hostile position towards the younger generation.

We who lived most of our lives under the Soviet regime are frightened people. We are accustomed to the fact that any criticism directed at the authorities can lead to heavy punishment. The majority of us are well schooled to be silent.

The younger generation, the people of 21st-century Russia, have no experience of this silence, and they try to speak openly with the authorities, to show them that this country has laws that they are not observing, and laws which violate the current Constitution.

These young people – intelligent, educated, independent-minded – have fallen under the repression of those same authorities which they futilely try to engage in discourse.

Today, the mothers of young people, including some minors, are demanding that the authorities unconditionally release the prisoners in the so-called Moscow Case, New Greatness Case, Rostov Case and others which have been fabricated by zealous law enforcement officers, working in the tradition of the repressive Soviet apparatus of the GPU, the NKVD and the KGB.

The attempts of the Mothers Against Political Repression movement to talk with the authorities, to demand from the leaders of the Russian Federation an explanation of today’s insane policy regarding young people (depriving them of the right to vote, participate in society, and establish dialogue between the state and society) are running into a stone wall of silence. This is dangerous. It is dangerous not to heed the voices of people, particularly young people, who will live in our country after us, build it, raise it to the high cultural and intellectual level which Russia was famous for in past years: during the time of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bunin, Chekhov, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and the artists of the Russian avant-garde.

The young people who have been thrown into jail and sent to camps today are the future of our country. They must be protected, respected and loved.

If we don’t understand this, we are doomed to become not citizens of a modern civilised state, but denizens of a province of the world.

Listen to the mothers of those who may constitute the pride of our country in two decades’ time.

Translated by Anna Bowles

Aleksandra Krylenkova reflects on President Putin's recent meeting, on Human Rights Day, with the Human Rights Council

posted 19 Dec 2019, 02:57 by Translation Service   [ updated 19 Dec 2019, 03:57 ]

18 December 2019 

Sergei Nikitin headed Amnesty International's Moscow office from 2003 until 2017. He is a member of the advisory council of Rights in Russia.

I first met Aleksandra Krylenkova in 2015 in Simferopol. We sat in a café opposite the FSB building, and I asked her, “What was it like here before the Crimea was annexed?” Sasha answered that there was the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine), and that the people who work at the FSB now are the same people who used to work for the SBU. Aleksandra told me a lot about the human rights situation after the Crimean Peninsula was annexed. I was very struck by her knowledge and determination. After this, we chatted sometimes and I followed her work with interest.

On Human Rights Day, 10 December 2019, Putin had a meeting with members of the Presidential Council for Human Rights. It’s now chaired by Valery Fadeev, who’s replaced Mikhail Fedotov. As usual, my impressions of this meeting were depressing.

Here’s how Sasha Krylenkova set out her impressions on Facebook:

“At the meeting [of the Human Rights Council] yesterday, there was one notable – but unnamed – changed reality. At previous meetings it had not been possible to raise a great number of the country's ‘pressing problems’. It was a struggle to get the chance to say anything. Yesterday, though, almost everything was talked about. This included the [supposed terrorist organisation] Network, the [supposed extremist organisation] New Greatness (Novoe velichie), torture, the ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir, and much more. When he replied, Putin mixed up Hizb ut-Tahrir with the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Network with New Greatness, the Moscow protests with those in Paris. It doesn’t matter.

There’s no news about political clampdowns in our country. There’s no news about how people and their lives are meaningless. There’s no news about how the authorities are dealing with the court cases to do with Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Greatness, the Network, and this summer’s street protesters. Words have simply stopped having meaning. That’s the news.

So long as people are afraid to tell the truth, and the authorities try to hide the truth, the truth has meaning. Words have weight.

We say that it not 1937 now. These days there’s the internet, Novaia Gazeta, Dozhd’ and Ekho Moskvy [independent media]. Today we’re able to talk. We can still do that. But it doesn’t have meaning any more. The words we say have lost their weight.

In 1956, after the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union [at which Khrushchev denounced Stalin], heaps of people said: ‘But we didn’t know anything about it! It’s dreadful!’, but these very people knew of neighbours, or their friends’ relatives, or their co-workers, who’d been sent off to prison camps. But that didn’t mean anything.

That’s what it’s like now. We can say words, but they don’t have any meaning. And in something like 2037 or 2053 everyone will be saying, ‘There were a thousand political prisoners in 2019?? Tens of thousands of innocent people charged under Article 228 of the Criminal Code??? Tortures committed by the FSB?? Falsified court cases about terrorism? It’s dreadful! But we didn’t know anything about it...’

There is strength in words and the truth. But only when words have meaning.”

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts

Sofia Ivanova on the All-Russian Civic Forum: "If we want to change something about our lives, we can’t expect anyone else to do it for us"

posted 8 Dec 2019, 05:40 by Translation Service   [ updated 18 Dec 2019, 14:06 by Rights in Russia ]

Image may contain: 1 person, eyeglasses and text3 December 2019

Sofia Ivanova is a human rights defender from Ryazan, a city where she is chair of the regional branch of Golos, the independent election monitor. She recently attended the All-Russian Civic Forum in Moscow and writes here about her impressions.

After having attended the All-Russian Civic Forum twice, I had decided that it wasn’t for me. I do not like it when civil society platforms call on us to engage in dialogue between the “third sector” and the government in order to build a stable democratic society. In this context, “dialogue” looks like thousands of representatives of NGOs with very different purposes and priorities (flown in courtesy of the organisers) sitting in a darkened auditorium and watching a small number of VIPs on the stage, listening to their speeches, applauding them, taking photographs of them and so on. During topic-based panel discussions, the crème de la crème talk about what is wrong and put forward proposals that the Forum is supposed to pass on to the Government. Then these VIPs go away, and the representatives of NGOs introduce themselves to each other… And the end result is a document of some kind that calls on the Government to help address problems in various spheres of public life, and that contains a number of concrete proposals as well as many platitudes about the significance of activities focused on the social good. Topics covered include the environment, human rights, torture in prison, infringements of the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and association and citizens’ voting rights, housing and public utilities, pensions, medicine and education. The document is handed over to the organisational committee for revision, and is then published. Apparently all that is needed is for the people to be heard.

A year passes and nothing changes. Another year passes, and things only get worse, because the Government does not listen. Even the most pressing, topical and very concrete proposals put forward by civil society are simply ignored. The Government clamps down even harder. But the Forum meets for a third, fourth and fifth time, and this strange imitation of “dialogue” between the Government and civil society continues. Apparently there are no problems relating to civil society in Russia, since civil society is obedient and easily managed – and if anyone dares to think differently, they will feel the full force of government repression.

This time I attended the Forum with the aim of catching up with my fellow members of “Golos”, an organisation that defends citizens’ voting rights, since we have not had any other opportunity to meet recently owing to cost constraints. The Forum presented itself as the ideal space for discussions on the forthcoming elections. I am under no illusion that anyone has listened to us, and that these future elections will be honest. And I steeled myself to endure overly long speeches about how we must “listen”, “join together”, “pay attention to recent developments” etc. Nevertheless, the chance to sit down together with like-minded persons from near and far and discuss the vital work that will need to
be done in order to monitor the elections was too good an opportunity to pass up. In order to make our discussion about the elections more productive, I signed up as a moderator – and I have no regrets about that at all.

This was the first Forum I left with a feeling of accomplishment. Why? First of all, because the participants did not ask the Government for anything or pander to it in any way, but merely noted that real progress and change in the country will only be brought about by civil society. Secondly, I was one of around 100 moderators, and I am confident that every single one of us enjoyed the process of preparing for and leading our sessions.

The Forum has always been a meeting place for many interesting, intelligent and proactive people that can come up with constructive suggestions, but this year they were no longer sitting unseen in a dark auditorium, politely clapping, but working in small groups and taking part in lively and person-centred exchanges.

There were some people who felt bored at this year’s Forum, but I subscribe to the old adage that if you want people to have positive memories of an event you should get them involved, give them responsibility and keep them busy )))

Another significant change related to the final document produced by the Forum, which formerly called on the authorities, but now calls on civil society, the citizens, and specific people. At least 1,000 people voted to adopt this document at the 2019 All-Russian Civil Forum.

Naturally I am under no illusion that the Forum will solve any problems, or that our lives will now change. But this time I heard other people saying something I have understood myself for a long time – if we want to change something about our lives, we can’t expect anyone else to do it for us. We must rely on ourselves and on like-minded individuals, and we must accomplish small but concrete steps forward, supporting one another, standing in the way of tyranny and forcing the Government to perform the tasks assigned to it in the Constitution of the Russian Federation. At the 2019 All-Russian
Civic Forum I learned that I am not the only one who thinks along these lines, and this is an incentive to
keep moving forward when the task seems too daunting.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Sergei Nikitin: 'Write a Letter'

posted 17 Nov 2019, 07:56 by Translation Service   [ updated 17 Nov 2019, 08:06 ]

12 November 2019 

Sergei Nikitin headed Amnesty International's Moscow office from 2003 until 2017. He is a member of the advisory council of Rights in Russia.

Five or six years ago, Amnesty International Russia conducted a joint project with Novaya gazeta: that Russian newspaper published the texts of perhaps the most famous writer in the Netherlands, a man by the name of Arnon Grunberg. Arnon had written regular columns for Amnesty International Netherlands, and after meeting me, he agreed to participate in a project of my devising: writing especially for the Russian reader. Novaya gazeta undertook to help.

I remember that in one article Arnon wrote that civil disobedience in the West is perceived primarily as a symbol. As an expression of one’s opinion. But also—the Dutch writer wrote—citizens have the opportunity in elections to vote against guilty politicians.

Unfortunately, as we see, there is no such opportunity in Russia. The present-day regime does everything it can to distort the people’s free exercise of will, and the result of so-called elections is in fact the realization of the wishes of those who are already at the helm.

Arnon Grunberg wrote that, in his opinion, in countries with a totalitarian regime, the best form of protest for the ordinary person is “internal emigration”: one must simply ignore the state. Live as if it did not exist. The Dutch author felt that this was a justified strategy for those countries where the state takes on the role of puppeteer and where the citizen is relegated to the role of marionette.

In fact, this is what happened to many in the Soviet Union, and many in today’s Russia may also adopt this position. But maybe not so many. Definitely not everyone. Because how can you go into internal emigration if you’re young and your life has gone by since your very birth under the portrait of the same person: an aging KGB officer with a good-natured squint looking down from the walls of official offices.

It’s gratifying to see the younger generation going out on the streets of Moscow and other cities to protest peacefully. Apparently, these youths’ nonviolence seriously irritates the regime. This summer on the streets of Moscow, young men and women were brutally beaten by their peers, who wore plastic armor and hid their faces behind balaclavas. In Rostov, in the south of Russia three young people who took part in a peaceful protest without asking permission from authorities, were convicted in an unfair trial. Two of them were sentenced to more than six years. Six years will be stolen from these young men’s lives; one of them is 20, the other 23. The third participant was given three years’ probation.

We cannot go into internal emigration when our children are in prison. In these conditions, there is little the ordinary person can do. But anyone can support those who have been unjustly thrown behind bars. This is what the same Novaya gazeta wrote about yesterday in the article 'Here is a letter for you!', telling the story of the Petersburg philologist Elena Efros, who has been writing letters to complete strangers for four years. She writes to prisons and prison colonies. She writes simply about life. This is very important: supporting an honest person in a difficult time, showing them that they are not forgotten, that people remember them.

From this article I learned about volunteering with the Rosuznik project: splendid people are offering all of us help with writing letters to people in prisons. A remarkable initiative. For those who live far from Russia, for those who cannot spend money even on a stamp and envelope, for those who cannot get to a post office, Rosuznik will help.

I will write a letter.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

Sergei Nikitin: Where do Russia's human rights lawyers find their strength?

posted 20 Oct 2019, 09:16 by Translation Service   [ updated 20 Oct 2019, 11:05 ]

20 October 2019 

Sergei Nikitin headed Amnesty International's Moscow office from 2003 until 2017. He is a member of the advisory council of Rights in Russia.

When you talk about Russian human rights activists, you always think of the lawyers who tirelessly defend the rights of those activists. I never tire of praising these professional lawyers, who do not spare themselves in the fight for truth and the rule of law.

Things are very bad with the rule of law in Russia, and you can’t help thinking, where do these admirable people find their strength?

Irina Biryukova, a lawyer from the human rights NGO Public Verdict Foundation, shares her thoughts and feelings on social media:

“Right now everyone is trying to stay cheerful, to look for means and solutions. We support one another, sometimes we have a laugh to at least distract ourselves somehow. But there’s no joking around. It’s not the time for that.

"You read the news, you watch videos, you discuss with your colleagues the situation on various matters in different groups (a collective mind consisting of a team of professionals who have become friends and not just colleagues, is invaluable. I’m proud) and there is a feeling that we can’t find some button to press and open the window, to let in fresh air.

But the news of the wedding of our Kotik and Anna is both joyful and heart-breaking. It’s hard to get your head around it. Children are getting married. Children are getting married in a pre-trial detention facility! If I remember rightly, Anna is 18. My daughter will be 18 in December. So Anna is the same age as my daughter. I wish them happiness and endless love. Strength and patience to pass through these circles of hell. But this should not be happening. At all. We are marrying children in jail. And they are not there for doing anything illegal. But they understand all this, they are scared, but they are ready for this. And so, at such cost, they, these children, try to open the eyes of other people to what is going on. And they’re managing it. Slowly, but they’re managing. These are genuine heroes of our time.”

Irina also writes about Moscow activist Konstantin Kotov, sentenced to four years in jail under the Dadin article and Anna Pavlikova, accused in the "New Greatness" case. They have got married. The ceremony of marriage registration took place in the Matrosskaya Tishina detention centre, where Kotov is currently being held.

As the website reports, Konstantin Kotov is a 34-year-old Moscow opposition activist, who conducted solitary protests against political repression and police brutality. He was repeatedly detained by the police. The last time, he was detained on 10 August in the centre of Moscow during a rally in support of opposition candidates for the Moscow City Duma. On 5 September 2019, Konstantin Kotov was sentenced to four years in prison under the article dealing with repeated violations of the rules for holding rallies. He does not acknowledge guilt.

19-year-old Anna Pavlikova is a defendant in the “New Greatness” case, and at the time of her arrest she was a minor. She spent several months in a pre-trial detention centre, where she complained of health problems. She was then transferred to house arrest. According to investigators, a group of young people founded the extremist organisation New Greatness with the aim of overthrowing the Russian authorities. Pavlikova and the others accused insist on their innocence and point to the role of an alleged provocateur from the security services, who's idea it was to that the defendants create an organisation and write a constitution for it.

Translation by Anna Bowles

Sergei Nikitin on this month's Moscow city elections: "Influencing policy in the city by lawful means has become impossible"

posted 29 Sep 2019, 09:35 by Translation Service   [ updated 20 Oct 2019, 11:06 ]

29 September 

Sergei Nikitin headed Amnesty International's Moscow office from 2003 until 2017. He is a member of the advisory council of Rights in Russia.

This year, the second half of summer and the start of autumn were marked by the elections to the Moscow City Duma and the associated protests. Many people followed attentively how independent candidates prepared to stand in the run up to the elections. They collected signatures from supporters, tried to publicise as widely as possible their plans for what they would do if elected, and went out to meet people. It seemed an interesting prospect: not only pro-Kremlin candidates would take part in the elections to the Moscow City Duma, but also those who criticise the Kremlin and the current policies of the Moscow authorities. However, even at the stage of candidate registration, it became obvious that the authorities had the cheek to deny those who won’t dance to the Kremlin’s tune any chance of standing in the elections.

The authorities often refused to accept documents handed in by independent candidates. Candidates were physically prevented from entering electoral commission premises, or the commissions meant to receive documents suddenly closed their doors, or else just disappeared. Mosgorizbirkom, the Moscow City Electoral Committee (MGIK), refused to register any independent candidates who actually managed to bring in their documents. The reason given was the high percentage of rejected signatures among those who had signed in support of the potential candidates (10% is the maximum permitted proportion of rejected signatures). Independent candidates who – in anticipation of this sort of provocative behaviour by the authorities – took particular care in collecting signatures, accused MGIK of playing tricks when checking signatures. It’s just not possible that there could have been such a high percentage of rejected signatures in the documents submitted! But the authorities had their own reasons for preventing the opposition from participating in the elections. They upheld only one out of 23 complaints about unjust counting of signatures, complaints made by those disallowed from standing as candidates. Those who supported these candidates could not remain silent in the face of the authorities’ cynicism, as demonstrated by the actions of the electoral commissions.

Indignant citizens – mostly young people, of course – decided to express their disagreement with the obvious cheating and the brazen trampling on their rights as voters, as well as the rights of those prevented from standing in the elections. In July, Muscovites began to take to the streets in peaceful protests. The demonstrations on Sakharov Prospect in Moscow on 20 July and 10 August 2019 turned out to be the largest political protests in Russia since the wave of protests of 2011-2013. 1,373 people were arrested at the protest on 27 July, which is a record for the last few years: so many peaceful protestors had never been arrested before.

The particular cynicism of the Moscow authorities became apparent. Prospective candidates, whose documents had been refused for far-fetched reasons, were also arrested. There were a very large number of short prison sentences handed down (under administrative law) to candidates who had not been registered. And investigations were initiated in connection with two criminal cases: one case concerned alleged interfering with the work of the electoral commission, and the other concerned alleged rioting. Both charges were a mockery making out that innocent people were doing what, in reality, the authorities themselves were doing. The ‘riot’, including brutal beatings of peaceful and defenceless citizens, was carried out by uniformed members of the security forces wearing body armour, and it was the employees of the electoral commissions who themselves obstructed the work of these commissions.

A convenient myth was put about regarding alleged foreign interference. The FSB announced it was looking in the opposition’s links with foreign organisations and was trying to find evidence of foreign funding of the protests. Pro-Kremlin publications emphasised that it was non-Muscovites who had taken part in the protests, suggesting conspiracies with secret enemies. These sorts of rumours go down well in the Russian Federation, where many people remember the paranoia about the West during Soviet times.

The reaction of citizens has been simply outstanding: all protests bore a peaceful character and, with the exception of a small number of provocateurs, no one showed any resistance to those in uniform, who behaved brazenly and with impunity, and who resembled either cosmonauts or medieval knights with truncheons. Practically all those armed with police batons hid their faces under balaclavas and wore no distinguishing badges or identification. The number of concealed faces among the security forces grew after the protest with the most detentions on 27 July. It was after that event that an internet campaign to identify members of the security forces was launched.

Like the protest demanding the release of Ivan Golunov, as a result of which, many believe, the journalist was released, a campaign demanding the release of those jailed for taking part in peaceful protests over the elections began under the motto “Let them stand!” Moscow courts worked with unusual haste: contrary to habit, cases were considered quickly, lengthy sentences were issued without substantiation, and individual candidates were jailed under administrative law literally one after the other. Ilya Yashin was arrested just as he was coming out from the detention centre where he had served his sentence, and as a result of a lighting-swift court hearing he was sent back behind bars. And that happened five times in a row. One can no longer speak of fair due process in Russia’s courts.

All these events—which have apparently quieted down a bit, but have not entirely ended now that the elections to the Moscow City Duma have taken place — have demonstrated the dauntlessness and courage of Muscovites, of all those who did not fear police batons and went out time and again to protest. One can only admire these people and be amazed at their endurance and patience. In a situation of absolute injustice, in a situation where influencing policy in the city by lawful means — through their representatives in the City Duma — has become impossible, revolutionary attitudes may develop, and then it will be hard to expect peaceful events. It’s entirely possible that the authorities, having grown accustomed to speaking to the people only in the language of batons and violence, will provoke such a turn of events. And it seems to me that the release of just one unjustly convicted person—Pavel Ustinov, who by chance became a victim of police violence - was just a way of releasing a bit of steam in society and of creating the illusion among the credulous that the protest campaigns have been strong and effective.

The situation in Russia is bad, and I am ceaselessly amazed at the strength of human rights advocates and lawyers, of the staff of OVD-Info, and many other organisations, who have worked tirelessly day and night to at least somehow make life easier for the unfortunate people who have fallen under the Kremlin’s ruthless steamroller.

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts and Mark Nuckols

Sergei Nikitin: Aleksei Sokolov reports on improvements at the Krasnoturinsk women's prison colony in Sverdlovsk region

posted 29 Jul 2019, 12:31 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Oct 2019, 11:06 by Translation Service ]

26 July 2019

In these blogs, Sergei Nikitin presents a selection of materials about human rights in Russia.

Sergei Nikitin headed Amnesty International's Moscow office from 2003 until 2017. He is a member of the advisory council of Rights in Russia.

According to Aleksei Sokolov, the head of the “Legal Foundation” Association: 
“There is a new head at the Krasnoturinsk women's colony No.16”

On 17 July 2019 Aleksei Sokolov and Yana Gelmel from Legal Foundation, a human rights organisation, visited the women's correctional colony, meeting with several convicts and providing them with legal advice.

Aleksei Sokolov: “We met the women in the colony, who we were not able to meet back in March. Under the previous director, these women “refused” to talk to us and seemed to be depressed.

This time, we felt like we saw a completely different set of prisoners. Women were laughing and seemed happy. They were neat and tidy, wore makeup and were smiling. They thanked us kindly and told us about the changes that have occurred in the colony since we got involved. Women are increasingly being provided with essential necessary medical care. Their requests are no longer being ignored by administration representatives, and they are taken to a free hospital for examination at the first sign of illness. Life in the colony has changed significantly for the better.

Some women still arrived at the meeting in the old manner - with the statements about refusing meetings, and all the statements were handed to the administration representative with us present. I think it was for the last time. "

The representatives of the organisation are confident that the rule of law has returned to the colony and that women will be treated as such. Now human rights activists intend to bring to justice those who, by their actions or inaction, led to the deaths of prisoners.

There was an unofficial and illegal system of punishments for convicts in the IK-16, established by the colony administration. After this information came to light, the administration of IK-16 began to exert unprecedented psychological pressure on female prisoners, forcing them to retract their testimonies and refuse the help of lawyers and human rights activists.

Pictured: Aleksei Sokolov and Yana Gelmel of Legal Foundation, a human rights NGO based in Ekaterinburg.

Source: 'There is a new director at the IK-16 prison colony, where inmates previously died,' Pravozashchitniki Urala, 19 July 2019

Translated by James Lofthouse

Sergei Nikitin: Rights defenders in Urals report deaths of female convicts in IK-16 prison colony

posted 16 Jul 2019, 01:19 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Oct 2019, 11:07 by Translation Service ]

16 July 2019

In these blogs, Sergei Nikitin presents a selection of materials about human rights in Russia.

Sergei Nikitin headed Amnesty International's Moscow office from 2003 until 2017. He is a member of the advisory council of Rights in Russia.

Human rights activists in the Urals federal district have stated in a report on their website that a number of female convicts in the IK-16 prison colony have died. 


In an afterword to the document, human rights activist Aleksei Sokolov writes: “The FSIN (Federal Penitentiary Service) system is a road of death where people can disappear forever. I do not know how many more prisoners will die, but the FSIN system needs urgent reform and more humanistic values. This reform must be in deeds, not in words. At the same time, there should be real control over the penitentiary system. And of course, there needs to be a reassigning of penitentiary medical units to other federal and regional structures or municipalities at a legislative level.”


Between February and June 2019, Ural-based lawyers and attorneys from human rights organisations interviewed 20 women with ties to IK-16 in the Sverdlovsk Region, and 4 employees of a local hospital.


After the survey, they concluded that the local prison colony was responsible for their deaths, with the activists also claiming that the representatives of the prison administration intimidated female prisoners and forced them to refuse any legal aid.


The women interviewed stated that convicts did not receive adequate medical attention in IK-16. Female convicts are not under observation and do not undergo preventive medical examinations. There is no hospital within the colony, no medical specialists and only an inadequately stocked first-aid post.


Female prisoners died in their beds as a result of both late medical assistance and lack of medicine. Neither the IK-16 administration, nor its medical staff paid attention to the dying prisoners, who were eventually sent to a hospital in Karpinsk, where they later died.


According to preliminary data, between 2016 and 2019, 13 women died as a result of failure to provide timely qualified medical care in IK-16.


All of the above-mentioned convicts died in the Karpinsk hospital.


In February 2019, human rights activists Aleksei Sokolov, Yana Gelmel and lawyer Roman Kachanov interviewed 11 female convicts in IK-16, using video recording. During these meetings, inmates spoke about the deaths in the colony and how they are treated by the colony administration.


In May 2019, the head of the infectious disease department at the hospital wrote a letter to the head of IK-16, in which she asked the colony staff to pay special attention to a group of HIV-positive prisoners who were sent to the hospital. These patients arrived in a serious condition, often in agony. All the efforts to treat women admitted from the colony were ineffective, due to their late hospitalisation.


It is yet to be seen whether the prosecutor's office will pay any attention to the human rights defenders’ statements.

The report on which this blog is based, 'Осужденных-женщин в ИК-16 доводили до смерти. Аналитическая справка,' can be read in full here. The photo is from the report.

Translation by James Lofthouse

Sergei Nikitin on Golunov, PACE and Russia's wonderful human rights lawyers

posted 8 Jul 2019, 11:18 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Oct 2019, 11:07 by Translation Service ]

4 July 2019

In these blogs, Sergei Nikitin presents a selection of materials about human rights in Russia.

Sergei Nikitin headed Amnesty International's Moscow office from 2003 until 2017. He is a member of the advisory council of Rights in Russia.

The Golunov case was concerning for many, and certain naive people began to believe that they were finally witnessing the power of protest. The way I see it, Golunov got caught between two warring clans: the FSB and some other higher echelon of power. As a result of the foolish drug-planting incident, one of the siloviki has dealt with his enemies elsewhere. The progressive forces quarreled with one other, and Golunov somehow remained silent upon his release, releasing a long and rather boring text about the redistribution of the cemetery business.

The second of the authorities’ successes was Russia’s return to PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe). And once again, Putin’s forces managed to kill several birds with one stone. First, deputy Slutsky and his comrades proudly returned to Strasbourg, with their arrogant and cavalier behavior reminiscent of their version of a “Great Russia”. The reason for their disappearance (first the right to vote disappeared, and then the deputies themselves and only then did Russian funding cease) was sanctions against Russian policy in Crimea. But nothing has changed in this regard, and the regulations have been hastily revised. With regards to the annexed Crimea, PACE may have changed its behaviour, but Russia has not. 

Secondly, there was a variety of reactions from Russia’s human rights community about the PACE decision. We saw an exchange of, lets say, unpleasant remarks within the community. There were quite harsh accusations from some human rights activists and journalists, which were followed by indiscriminate generalisations and personal insults. 

Thirdly, Russia’s return to PACE and the subsequent assessment of this decision by a number of Russian human rights activists led to strong criticism from their Ukrainian counterparts. They quarrelled for a while (though hopefully not for long). It is sad to see such a state of affairs after Russia’s return to PACE.

Clearly there is also some good news: Oyub Titiyev has been released, but unlike Golunov, he spent a year and a half in jail, and nobody went out of their way to deny the accusations made against him. I always admire the wonderful work of human rights lawyers. I'm talking about Public Verdict, which works wonders in seeking justice in seemingly impossible situations as well as the tremendous drive of Irina Biryukova and her team, founded and led by Natasha Taubina. We are seeing changes in the impudent system of the Federal Penitentiary Service at least for the time being, with the perseverance and dedication of the Urals-based human rights activists, where Aleksei Sokolov and his colleagues are defending prisoners’ human rights. In the south of Russia, where the rule of law seems to be an unattainable fantasy, one can be proud of young and courageous lawyers, including the recent prisoner of conscience Mikhail Benyash. Anyone else who reads their summaries from courtrooms and lawyers' offices would have given up long ago. But not them - they are boldly fighting for justice and remain optimistic. 

I do not want to miss anyone out, but it would be difficult to list every Russian human rights activist. There may not be very many of these wonderful people in this huge country, but I believe they are the best representatives of Russia, and I am proud of them. 

Translated by James Lofthouse

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