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