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.

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

Sergei Nikitin on the case of journalist Ivan Golunov

posted 11 Jun 2019, 13:05 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Oct 2019, 11:08 by Translation Service ]

10 June 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.

Ivan Golunov is a correspondent for the online media outlet In the past, he has been involved in researching political corruption.

He was detained on the afternoon of June 6th in the centre of Moscow, where he was set to meet with other journalists. Two young men in civilian clothing ran up to him. "They came up behind me, one of them grabbed my arm” one of the men said: ''You are being detained." I asked: "Who are you?" They said to me: “What, you haven’t guessed? Criminal investigators!” This only came to light on the morning of June 7th. The police claim to have found 3.56 grams of mephedrone on his person, as well as a number of bags containing an unknown substance at his home. Golunov believes he is being framed.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow reported that Golunov was found in possession of five packets containing a powdery substance, with an additional three found in his home. The announcement was accompanied by photographs of packages containing white powder, laboratory glassware and bottles full of chemicals. A friend of Golunov claims that only one of these photographs was actually taken in Golunov’s apartment. Those containing evidence of drug possession, he believes, were staged elsewhere.

Despite the fact that Golunov was detained on the afternoon of June 6th, it was not until 3am on June 7th that investigator Igor Lopatin contacted Ivan’s friend, BBC journalist Svetlana Reiter, and suggested that she find a lawyer. Lawyer Dmitry Dzhulai told Meduza that Golunov had demanded to call for legal aid. The journalist also asked them to test his hands and nails to see whether he had actually touched drugs. However, the police refused. In addition to this, Golunov said that he was beaten by the police. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has denied this.

Meduza’s CEO, Galina Timchenko and editor-in-chief, Ivan Kolpakov; maintain that Golunov is innocent and that he is being persecuted as a result of his journalistic work. “We know that Ivan has received threats in recent months, and we think we know from whom. Meduza will follow closely every action taken by the investigators in Golunov’s case. We will find out who is behind this, and make the information public. We will defend our journalist by all available means.”

Golunov is known for his investigations of corruption within the Moscow mayor’s office and in the funeral services industry.

The search of Golunov’s bag took place in the presence of a witness, who appeared to be friends with the police. They took out a bag containing something multi-coloured from his rucksack. According to Golunov “It was a rectangular package, about the size of a passport.” There were small green-brown balls inside the package taken from his bag, which were shown to those present.

The evidence was packed into an envelope and sealed. Golunov refused to sign it, despite demands to do so. The journalist maintains that the package does not belong to him, saying: “This was the first time I’d seen it.” He noted that, during his arrest, the police were behind him and could have planted it in his backpack.

Golunov told police that he had never used psychoactive substances before.

Golunov has maintained his innocence and insists that the drugs do not belong to him. From the moment of his detainment, until 8:25am, no samples were taken from his hands or from under his nails, “because I’ve never used drugs, and never held them in my hands.” This lack of evidence may prove his innocence, he argues.

Pickets are being held to demand Golunov’s release in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs building in central Moscow. The Russian Union of Journalists has promised to obtain a statement from law enforcement agencies as soon as possible. The Presidential Council on Human Rights is needed to best understand the events. Duma deputy Sergei Shargunov has sent a request to the Prosecutor General.

On social media, many people are suggesting further legal action against journalists trying to expose the truth. As was the case with human rights defenders in the North Caucasus, it would seem that planting drugs has become a common method of dealing with political opposition in the capital.

For a chronicle of events in the case, see: Meduza

Translated by James Lofthouse

Sergei Nikitin: May 2019 - Female prisoners in Krasnoturinsk prison allege torture

posted 2 Jun 2019, 14:01 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Oct 2019, 11:08 by Translation Service ]

2 June 2019

In these monthly 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.

Krasnoturinsk is a town to the north of Ekaterinburg in the Urals region of Russia. Local human rights activists Aleksei Sokolov, Yana Helmel and lawyer Oleg Bakin regularly travel over 200 miles to get there from Ekaterinburg, meeting with female convicts in the local prison colony, IK-16, in order to provide them with legal assistance.

They arrived on May 22nd and entered the colony premises, where Bakin waited for the prisoners. However, the deputy head of the colony, E. Yesaulkov, came in their place and led Bakin to the convicts' quarters. The women, without ever going into the room, verbally declined to meet with a lawyer. No explanation for this refusal was given. The prisoners were then led away in an unknown direction. According to Bakin most of the girls looked depressed, answering questions evasively and quietly.

That afternoon, Bakin once again filed a request to the IK-16 administration to meet with the other convicts. However, as was the case earlier that day, the prisoners were led in by the same officers. These women, who were under close supervision, all quietly stated that they did not wish to meet with a lawyer.

As a result, Bakin was unable to provide legal advice to female prisoners, who had previously complained about instances of torture as well as failure to provide medical assistance in the colony.

Back in April 2019, Bakin, alongside lawyers Roman Kachanov and Olga Herman visited IK-16 to provide legal advice for female prisoners, who had previously reached out to a human rights organization for help, in connection with the violation of their rights. Yet subsequently, almost all of these visibly-distressed prisoners refused the lawyers’ help. Only one of the prisoners agreed to meet with the lawyers, but the colony administration decided to quickly move her to the municipal hospital in a police van, which remained outside the hospital until the lawyers had left the colony.

In March 2019, the Ural human rights activists came to this colony several times, meeting convicts and providing them with legal advice. During this time, female convicts complained of threats from Yesaulkov, who psychologically pressured them and demanded that they refuse the help of human rights activists.

Immediately after meeting with the convicts, activists filed a complaint, in which they highlighted Yesaulkov’s threats and other illegal actions.

The local prosecutor's office, however, decided that there were no grounds for sending the verification materials to the preliminary investigation bodies. Only one prisoner, Anastasia Porokhina, confirmed that she was under pressure. The rest of the women did not confirm whether or not they were subject to threats or intimidation from Yesaulkov.

In late March, all female convicts refused the help of human rights defenders.

Human rights defender Aleksei Sokolov (pictured left) says:

Women prisoners who complained of torture are now forbidden to call home and meet with lawyers or human rights activists. According to the prisoners’ relatives, those who disobey are immediately transferred to strict detention conditions, or are threatened by the colony administration.”

The guards of the colony, who have received numerous complaints from female prisoners, have since attempted to sue Sokolov. Additionally, they have tried to control the site "Human Rights Defenders of the Urals", which publishes information about instances of torture and the failure to provide medical assistance to the women held at IK-16.

The court date is set for May 27th, 2019 in Ekaterinburg. Sokolov says: “We are preparing for it, and the wardens can expect some unpleasant surprises."

Source: Pravozashchitniki Urala, 23 May 2019

Translated by James Lofthouse

Sergei Nikitin: April 2019 - the application of anti-extremism legislation in Russia; and violations of human rights in a Sverdlovsk prison colony

posted 6 May 2019, 11:08 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Oct 2019, 11:08 by Translation Service ]

6 May 2019

In these monthly 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.

Below is an adaptation of an original text by the Sova Centre, headed by  Aleksandr Verkhovsky, on the official statistics from the judicial department of the Supreme Court related to the fight against terrorism in 2018.

In April 2019, the website of the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation published statistical data about the activities of the Russian courts and the state of criminal convictions in 2018.

According to the department’s data, under the relevant articles, 731 people were sentenced in 2018, compared with 785 in 2017, that is 7% less than a year earlier.

In the words of the director of the Sova Centre, Aleksandr Verkhovsky, there are positive tendencies within the statistics. The main one was the fall in the total number of criminal sentences brought under articles of anti-extremism legislation regarding public statements.  “This concerns not only Article 282, but also Article 280 – the second most frequently used – and others. It’s possible that policy in this area is becoming more reasonable,” he told Novaya gazeta. The second tendency relates to the two most common articles of the Administrative Code – regarding symbols and distribution of banned materials – “the increase in the number of sentences is very small compared to previous years.”

Meanwhile, said Verkhovsky, with regard to Article 280 there was a noticeable reduction only in the first half of the year, the second half almost completely compensated for the fall in figures. He explained this as follows: “There were suspicions, that amid talk of decriminalisation of Article 282, cases would be reclassified under Article 280, since the boundaries between them were now blurred. It’s possible that is what is happening now.” Verkhovsky is worried by a rise in convictions under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code – participation in banned extremist organisations, which he cannot yet explain, and under Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code – for public incitement - or justification- of terrorism. “In practice, we don’t see any increase in terrorist agitation. This is the result of the FSB, rather than any real activity”, stressed Verkhovsky.

One nuance, he pointed out, is the increase in number of criminal cases on charges of propaganda or justification of terrorism against people detained or already in prison. Verkhovsky is doubtful about the legality of these charges: in prison, it is easy to fabricate evidence, and the question remains: “since it is not possible to incite anyone to terrorism except one’s cellmates in prison, it’s debatable that this could be considered public incitement.”

For more information see: 'Официальная статистика Судебного департамента Верховного суда в сфере борьбы с экстремизмом за 2018 год,' Sova Centre, 19 April 2019

Pictured: Aleksandr Verkhovsky

Translated by Mercedes Malcomson

Below is an adaptation of an orginal text by Aleksei Sokolov, executive director of the Inter-regional Human Rights Group, entitled: 'Systematic violation of human rights in Prison Colony IK-16 in Sverdlovsk region, in the Urals':

Three human rights activists from the Urals – the lawyers Roman Kachanov and Aleksei Sokolov and the expert Yana Gelmel from Ekaterinburg - have carried out extensive work to establish the presence of systemic bullying in this women’s prison.

The activists found that authorities in the colony devised and implemented a system of torture or degrading treatment and punishment for minor infractions or refusal to work for the authorities, i.e. to be a source of information for them.

The activists questioned five women who had served time in the prison colony, and two employees.

During the interview, they were given evidence supporting previously obtained information about torture. Additionally it was found that jailers had demanded that women write “statements of refusal to meet with the Public Oversight Commission”.

On 20 February 2019, human rights activists met with the deputy head of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service in the Sverdlovsk Region, A.V. Shek. He promised unrestricted access and confidential meetings with the women prisoners we summoned.

On 22 February 2019, Roman Kachanov, Aleksei Sokolov and Yana Gelmel interviewed nine prisoners. In total, fourteen prisoners and two employees of !K-16 were interviewed, and they confirmed that the colony practised torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment, specifically:

Prisoners’ personal belongings are illegally confiscated: their towel, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, personal hygiene items and aluminium mug. The toothpaste, toothbrush and soap are returned to them only after they are locked up for the night, and after reveille, for ten minutes. Letter-writing paper and stamps are not issued.

While in isolation cells, female prisoners are prohibited from sitting on a stool. Women have to stand all day, which causes terrible pain, psychological and physical suffering. They can sit down only during meals: for ten minutes at breakfast, lunch and dinner. All the women interviewed said that an attempt to sit down could result in physical punishment.

IK-16 does not provide full medical care. Prisoners are not given medical examinations. According to those interviewed, all the women who died suffered pain before their deaths, but the colony did not receive help from doctors.

As ‘punishment’, prison staff may block access to the room where prisoners’ food is kept. There is a food room in each sector of the prison. The length of this punishment depends on the wishes of the prison workers and lasts from one to four days.

IK-16 has an established system of ‘punishment’ whereby prisoners are forbidden from making telephone calls to their children, spouse, parents or other relatives.

IK-16 deploys the dragging around of bags of manure as a system of group ‘punishment’. Regardless of their age, female prisoners bag up manure near the pigsty/barn, which is located in the production area, and carry it themselves to the living area, after which they spread it around in the living area, on the beds, regardless of the fact that the beds are being filled with manure. The manure dragging process lasts from eight to twelve hours a day.

Convicts are obliged to constantly, literally, yell, often In chorus, “Hello” – including by the officers who they see in the course of the day and from afar (for example, at a distance of 100-200 metres).

After activists from the Interregional Centre for Human Rights took the above information to  the General Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service in the Sverdlovsk Region, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Sverdlovsk Region and the Investigation Department of the Russian State Investigative Committee in the Sverdlovsk Region, the most severe psychological pressure was applied to the prisoners they had interviewed, by various means.

Then, on 6 March 2019, the human rights activists held a press conference in Ekaterinburg, talking about torture in the prison colony.

A week after the press conference, persons unknown broke the windows of the car in which the lawyers from the Interregional Centre for Human Rights were intending to travel to Colony IK-16.

In April the human rights activists began to be refused meetings with prisoners at the colony, because the prisoners themselves did not want such meetings.

For more information see: Aleksei Sokolov, 'Аналитическая справка по итогам проведения общественного расследования по фактам системного нарушения прав человека в ФКУ ИК-16 ГУФСИН России по Свердловской области,' Pravozashchitniki Urala, 15 April 2019

Pictured: Aleksei Sokolov

Translated by Anna Bowles

Simon Cosgrove & Yuri Dzhibladze: Lessons of Oyub Titiev’s trial - The work of human rights defenders in Chechnya must continue

posted 6 May 2019, 09:30 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 8 May 2019, 09:41 ]

 6 May 2019

 By Simon Cosgrove and Yuri Dzhibladze 

 Pictured: Oyub Titiev at his trial

In the second week of March, as representatives of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, we travelled to Chechnya to observe the final day of the eight-month-long trial of human rights defender Oyub Titiev. Titiev is the head of the regional office in Grozny of a leading Russian human rights NGO, Memorial Human Rights Centre. Following his arrest on 9 January 2018, the prosecution of Titiev has become a major international concern and has prompted, along with statements by international organisations and heads of states, the launch of an investigation by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the so-called OSCE Moscow Mechanism. Since his arrest, Titiev has been held in custody. The charges laid against him of possessing drugs have been condemned by human rights groups as fabricated and Amnesty International has declared him a prisoner of conscience.

Since the end of the second war in Chechnya, the authoritarian rule of Ramzan Kadyrov has seen widespread violations of human rights, including the persecution of political opponents, disappearances, secret prisons, torture and extrajudicial executions, all conducted with apparent impunity. Human rights defenders who have sought to challenge this impunity have been particular targets. In 2006, the prominent Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who wrote extensively on human rights violations in Chechnya, was shot dead in Moscow after she had been threatened by Kadyrov. In July 2009, Natalia Estemirova, head of the Grozny office of Memorial, was murdered, also undoubtedly in connection with her human rights work. The following month, Chechen human rights defender Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband Alik Dzhabrailov were murdered.

Trumped-up criminal cases and physical attacks against the critics of the government are typical for Chechnya. In 2014, Ruslan Kutaev, a civil society activist and an academic, was jailed for four years on trumped-up heroin possession charges after criticising Kadyrov in public. In 2016, Zhalaudi Geriev, a journalist with the independent Caucasian Knot news outlet, was sentenced to three years on drug charges. Both Kutaev and Geriev alleged they were tortured in custody to extract confessions. In March 2016, human rights defender Igor Kalyapin, head of the Joint Mobile Group of human rights defenders, was attacked by unidentified masked men in Grozny. More recently, Kadyrov has himself publicly spoken in support of honour killings; and over the last two years dozens of people suspected of being gay (as the Russian LGBT Network has documented) have been rounded up and tortured, and some have been killed, to international outrage.

Since 2009 when Titiev took over as head of Memorial’s Grozny office from his predecessor, Natalia Estemirova (for whose murder that year no one has yet stood trial), he has led the work of recording and publicising the continuing human rights violations in the region and challenging the impunity of those who perpetrate them. A few weeks before his arrest, he was investigating the case of the extrajudicial execution of 27 residents of Chechnya. This, as many observers say, could have triggered the attack against him. Others believe that the prosecution of Titiev was retaliation for Western personal sanctions against Kadyrov.

Whatever was the trigger, it is widely believed that Titiev’s prosecution has been intended to put a stop to the activities of human rights NGOs in the region altogether. After all the repressions against critics of the regime, Titiev was probably the last person in the republic whom local people trusted and to whom they were not afraid to speak about abuses by the authorities. In a detailed account presented at his eight-month trial, Titiev, well-known for his strong Muslim faith, healthy lifestyle, love of sport, educational work with young children and aversion to drugs and alcohol, claimed the drugs were planted in his car by police officers. By organising a criminal prosecution of this highly respected, morally impeccable and very decent person, the Chechen authorities aimed not only to put Titiev behind bars but also to discredit and present him as an immoral person and a fraud. They sought to intimidate the disaffected and undermine people's faith in justice and human dignity. After all, if such a person as Titiev, seen by many as a role model of dignity and moral integrity, eventually turned out to be a fraud, then literally no one can be trusted, and there is no choice but to obey those who possess power and would never renounce the use of violence.

Two weeks before Titiev’s arrest, Magomed Daudov, speaker of the Chechen parliament and Kadyrov's right hand, called human rights defenders ‘enemies of the people.’ Kadyrov himself referred to Titiev as a traitor and drug addict, openly ignoring the presumption of innocence, and claimed that after the trial is over, human rights defenders would be banned from Chechnya. Given statements such as these and the general lack of independence of courts in Russia in politically-charged cases of this kind, there was little chance the trial would be fair, all the more so in a region such as Chechnya where all areas of public life - including the justice system - are by all accounts dominated by the will of the individual ruler and his closest associates. No one in Chechnya, including judges, is supposed to dare openly to challenge the words of the strongman leader. Requests by defence lawyers to have the trial moved outside Chechnya to ensure its impartiality were rejected by the judge in the case, Madina Zainetdinova.

Before Titiev’s trial had even begun there was a general acceptance among observers that a conviction would be the predetermined outcome. The only question observers considered uncertain was the length of Titiev’s sentence.

Not surprisingly, Titiev’s right to a fair trial has been “repeatedly violated,” with the trial “marred by numerous irregularities” and the prosecutors’ case not standing up to “basic scrutiny”, as Amnesty International pointed out. Equality of arms was absent as almost all motions by the defence were turned down by the judge and Titiev’s claim that the drugs were planted by the police was not properly investigated. Evidence was clearly forged by the investigation. Some of the many examples include, for example, the fact that more than 15 CCTV cameras in the area where Titiev’s car was stopped and a plastic bag with marijuana was allegedly planted were suddenly not working precisely at that time; a sticky tape with Titiev's hair was for some reason attached to the plastic bag, while the same tape had been put on his head earlier during interrogation when the police imitated torture; and the only witness who testified that he had seen Titiev smoking marijuana, a repeated drug user who miraculously escaped imprisonment, did not recognise Titiev during cross-examination.

In his final address to the court Titiev issued an eloquent rebuttal of the charges in a speech pervaded by dismay and bitterness that he was about to be jailed on a fabricated charge intended to end his human rights work. Titiev also called for those responsible for his fraudulent prosecution to be brought to justice.

The trial proceedings we witnessed at Shali district court, as well as previous hearings, were closely followed by Titiev’s colleagues from Memorial and other NGOs from across Russia, representatives from Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organisation Against Torture, along with officials from the embassies of Germany, the Netherlands and the EU, and journalists based in Moscow and Europe.

The level of national and international presence was unprecedented throughout all eight months of the trial, accompanied by numerous statements by inter-governmental organisations and extensive media coverage. This encouraged local residents to speak up, defying the atmosphere of intimidation: almost twenty of Titiev's neighbours came to the court to testify, paying tribute to his moral integrity and saying that under no circumstances would they believe that he possessed drugs. Even some of the prosecution witnesses from among the police officers, forced by their superiors to provide false testimony against Titiev, were visibly uncomfortable. Locals whom we talked to on our way to the court all knew too well that the real reason Titiev was on trial had nothing to do with drugs. Authorities’ plans to discredit Titiev clearly failed: no one in Chechnya and beyond accepted the official line.

The massive international solidarity campaign has worked and brought the positive outcome no one really expected. On 18 March, one week after the final day of the trial hearings, Judge Zainetdinova read out her judgment over more than nine hours, sentencing Titiev to four years in a settlement colony, as opposed to the four years in a prison colony requested by the prosecutors. More importantly, the judge changed the qualification of the crime from one of a ‘high’ degree of gravity to ‘medium’ gravity, thus making Titiev eligible to apply for parole in May 2019 after having served one third of his term, counting from the day of his arrest in January 2018. Given the conditions in Chechnya under which the trial took place and the overall highly repressive atmosphere in the region, this is the best possible outcome one could have hoped for. In just two months, Oyub Titiev may be a free man.

The international attention focused on Titiev’s case was a powerful assertion of international solidarity with the human rights defender and an important statement of the absolute requirement for observance of international standards of fair trial. As Amnesty International has pointed out, the efforts by Titiev’s supporters within and outside Russia “provided a level of protection to Oyub Titiev against torture and ill-treatment frequently used in Chechnya and throughout Russia to extract ‘confessions’.”

It is vital in the aftermath of the trial that Titiev’s case continues to be the focus of public attention, both within Russia and internationally, to ensure his future humane treatment and rapid release after the parole request has been made in May. Titiev, who has decided not to appeal the verdict, intends on his release to continue his human rights work.

By putting Titiev, a courageous Muslim man who has dedicated his life to defending human rights, behind bars, the Chechen authorities have shown they are seeking to end the work of human rights defenders in the republic. International civil society and human rights organisations must rise to that challenge, working with governments, inter-governmental institutions and media outlets. The work of civil society organisations and human rights defenders in the Chechen Republic and the North Caucasus must continue.

Simon Cosgrove is chair of Rights in Russia, a British NGO working to promote information about the human rights situation in Russia and the work of human rights organisations. Yuri Dzhibladze is president of Moscow-based Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights. They both are participants and former board members of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, a network of NGOs from Russia and the EU working to strengthen links between civil society groups on the basis of shared values of democracy, rule of law, human rights, civic participation, and sustainable development.

Pictured: Simon Cosgrove (left) and Yuri Dzhibladze (right) outside the district court in Shali, Chechnya

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