What We Say
1 March 2015
We honour Boris Nemtsov (1959 – 2015), a courageous democratic politician, murdered late at night in central Moscow on 27 February 2015. He was gunned down on the eve of a major 'anti-crisis', anti-war demonstration, of which he was one of the key organizers, in what has all the hallmarks of a politically-motivated killing. We join with Amnesty International and other Russian and international human rights and civil society organizations and figures in calling for a prompt, impartial and effective investigation of his killing.
The murder of Boris Nemtsov is the latest in a long line of killings of leading Russian civil society figures - journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders and politicians - that includes such names as Galina Starovoitova, Sergei Yushenkov, Anna Politkovskaya, Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova and Natalia Estemirova.
Throughout his life Boris Nemtsov maintained his adherence to democratic politics. He believed in civic participation, in free and fair elections, in freedom of speech, and in the politics of persuasion, not of force or fear. He stood up for the protection of human rights. Boris Nemtsov not only believed in these principles, he acted upon them and sought to put them into practice. As a practitioner of politics he sought to maintain a public space where people could express their opinions, debate the future of their country, and without fear or pressure choose their political leaders and representatives in free and fair elections. He believed in a Russia where there would be freedom under the rule of law, a real division of powers, where democratic institutions would not be merely decorative, where there would be an independent judiciary, where the Constitutional protection of fundamental rights would be a reality, where civil society organizations would be nurtured, not branded as ‘foreign agents’, and where free speech would be fostered, not radically curtailed by a vicious media campaign prosecuted against dissenting opinion. That public space, against the background of a war in Ukraine that has seen more than 5,000 people killed, is sorely under threat today.
Boris Nemtsov, a charismatic figure, was for many a symbol of this public space and of a free and open politics. One of the young stars of a new democratic politics in Russia in the 1990s, he came to fame as governor of Nizhny Novgorod in 1991 and served as a deputy in the State Duma and as a minister and deputy prime minister under President Yeltsin. At one time he appeared to be Boris Yeltsin's preferred candidate as his successor. He was a leader of political parties – Right Cause, Union of Right Forces, Solidarity, and RPR-PARNAS. In 2013 he was elected a deputy of Yaroslavl region legislative assembly. He was an active campaigner and polemicist, taking a leading role in many public demonstrations and publishing a large number of political pamphlets and articles, many of them devoted to exposing corruption.
At the dawn of the rebirth of democratic politics in Russia, in what became a catch-phrase of the time, conservative Communist Party functionaries taunted reformist Boris Yeltsin with the phrase: ‘Boris, you are not right!’ [‘Boris, ty ne prav!’ - first spoken by Egor Ligachev, interrupting a speech Yeltsin made demanding deeper reforms at the 19th Party Conference]. Today, on 1 March, as thousands of people demonstrate in Russian cities to mark the memory of Boris Nemtsov, at a time when democratic values are under threat as perhaps never before in post-Soviet Russia, it is of him we say: ‘Boris, you were right!’ You were right in your commitment to a free, open and public politics. You were right to hope and believe that Russia has a democratic future. It is not only your personal tragedy, but the tragedy of Russia, that a commitment of this kind should come at the cost of such enormous personal risk. We honour your example. We honour your courage. We salute you.
29 October 2012
A new situation has developed in the Russian Federation. The reaction by the Russian authorities to the peaceful demonstrations for free and fair elections that took place in the winter of 2011 and the first half of 2012 has reached a new intensity severely restricting human and civil rights in Russia. On the one hand, a whole swathe of poorly drafted legislation has been passed, or is currently making its way through the legislative process, restricting public assembly, re-criminalizing libel, obliging NGOs that receive foreign funding and engage in loosely defined ‘political activities’ to register as ‘foreign agents’, increasing the scope of treason law, and criminalizing ‘insulting believers’. On the other hand, law enforcement agencies have progressively racheted up a series of repressive measures against those who publicly express disapproval of the authorities. [Read more]
Civil society in Russia takes lead in showing commitment to free and fair elections, rule of law and protection of human rights
6 March 2012
According to OSCE election observers and the independent election monitors Golos and the League of Voters, the presidential elections held on 4 March were seriously flawed. In these circumstances, the authorities should conduct effective investigations into allegations of electoral fraud, and bring those responsible to justice. Elections which fall short of the standards for free and fair elections undermine the legitimacy of government. A failure to prosecute those responsible would undermine the rule of law. [Read more]
3 March 2012
A favourite phrase of Russian human rights defender Sergei Kovalev is: ‘Kto v dome khozyain?’ – ‘Who is boss in the house?’ In other words, who has power in Russia? Is it the government (the leadership in the Kremlin/the bureaucracy)? Or is it the public – civil society? In asking this question Kovalev is not questioning the role of government in conducting its legitimate functions. But he is demanding that government should not put itself above the law. He is demanding that governments respect the rights of their citizens. [Read more]
On 14 February a painting by the artist Aleksandr Savko ‘Sermon on the Mount’ from a cycle of works entitled ‘Mickey Mouse’s Travels through Art History’ was ruled to be extremist by Kaluga regional court. The legal representative of Aleksandr Savko pointed out that from this moment dissemination of 'Sermon on the Mount' will come under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code (‘Producing and disseminating extremist materials’). For bloggers and owners of websites this could lead to a fine of up to 3,000 roubles or 15 days in prison, combined with confiscation of the computer. For legal persons, including media, there could be a fine of up to 100,000 roubles and closure for up to 90 days, combined with confiscation of the organization’s computers. People who publish this picture themselves could risk facing criminal charges for extremism (Articles 280, 282 of the Criminal Code of Russia). These restrictions on freedom of expression are in violation of Russian law and Russia's international obligations. The Russian authorities must act to protect freedom of expression.
The authorities in Russia should act to prevent the passing of discriminatory and homophobic legislation
The authorities in Russia must act to prevent the passing of discriminatory and homophobic legislation. On February 8, 2012, the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly passed in second reading a bill to impose fines for “public activities to promote sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transsexuality.” The maximum penalties for violating the provisions of the bill are 5,000 roubles ($170) and, for officials, 50,000 roubles ($1,725). Legislation of this kind is discriminatory and an unwarranted restriction on freedom of expression and assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. As such, it is in violation of Russia’s international human rights obligations.
This bill is profoundly repugnant in the manner in which it seeks to equate homosexuality with a crime like paedophilia. Similar legislation has already been enacted in Ryazan, Arkhangelsk and Kostroma.
St. Petersburg is home to a number of important LGBT organizations, including the LGBT organization Coming Out, the Russian LGBT Network, and Side by Side LGBT film festival. The St Petersburg LGBT Organisation Coming Out says: “If this law is passed, Russian LGBT will live in fear of punishment just for being open about sexual orientation in their social environment. It paves the way to legalized discrimination, justifies violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Moreover, under the pretence of protecting minors, this law in fact will lead to further isolation and greater number of suicides by homosexual adolescents in a country that is already leading in the numbers of teenage suicides. “
Allout, Amnesty International, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch have called for this legislation to be abandoned.
As a recent blog on Rights in Russia pointed out: “Apart from lobbying the authorities in Russia, we should not forget the brave people in St Petersburg who are publicly protesting against this bill. They deserve our deep respect and will welcome messages of international solidarity reflecting widespread revulsion against these grim homophobic proposals.”
We join with human rights defenders and public figures calling for the immediate release of Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Left Front political movement, from prison.
On 25 December a Moscow court sentenced Sergei Udaltsov, detained in prison since 4 December, to a further 10 days in prison for allegedly resisting police at a protest on 24 October. He had been due to be released on 25 December.
On 13 December 2011, Amnesty International declared Sergei Udaltsov a prisoner of conscience who should not be detained at all. That day Amnesty Interational issued an Urgent Action calling for Sergei Udaltsov’s release. Amnesty International noted that Sergei Udaltsov had been in detention in Moscow since 4 December, “solely for attempting to lead peaceful protests against alleged election fraud."
On 4 December, the day of elections to the State Duma, Sergei had been detained outside a Moscow metro station and sentenced to five days in prison for allegedly refusing to obey police orders. On 9 December, the day he was due to be released, police prevented him leaving hospital where he was at that time being held and, on 10 December, took him to a court where he was sentenced to a further 15 days in prison for allegedly having absconded after a previous arrest on 12 October.
Sergei Udaltsov's health is poor since he has been on hunger strike and he was hospitalized during his detention.
In Russia today, 10 December 2011, human rights have come of age. No one should be surprised that a clash has occurred between the regime led by Vladimir Putin and Russian society. Today, Vladimir Putin and society talk to each other from different historical epochs. Over the last twenty years society has changed enormously, but the political regime and its masters have remained stuck with a mindset that is closely linked to Soviet traditions. In Vladimir Putin ‘s vision of the world, to strengthen political power you need to control television and the press, manipulate elections, and resist the development of civil and political rights. Those in power accept as a matter of course that elections should be manipulated to deliver the required results. But Russian society has changed. On 4 December a large number of people suddenly woke up to the fact that the elections were fraudulent, and they did not like it. Just as nothing succeeds like success, so nothing fails like failure. Not only did the extensive electoral manipulation fail to produce a better result for the authorities, but it was exposed for what it was. For many Russians, this has been a ‘Wizard of Oz’ moment, and they have lost their respect for, and fear of, the regime led by Vladimir Putin. Today, as demonstrators fill the streets of Moscow and other Russian cities to protest against the denial of their electoral rights and in support of the basic norms of democratic governance, human rights have come of age in Russia.
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