Each week on this page we highlight the work of one of Russia's human rights organizations. For the purposes of this page, Rights in Russia considers a 'rights group' to be a civil society organization whose purpose includes the advancement of one or more human rights.
For more information from human rights organizations in Russia, please click HERE.
Rights Group of the Week
On 11 March 2017 Agora International was presented with the Lindebrekke Prize for human rights activism by the Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg. The prize, named after Sjur Lindebrekke, founder of the Norwegian conservative party, was accepted by Pavel Chikov, founding head of Agora International.
Agora International was set up following the closure of the Kazan-based Agora Human Rights Association, subsequent to the latter's designation as a 'foreign agent' NGO. In his acceptance speech for the award, Pavel Chikov spoke of "a complicated time for democratic values and human rights all around the world," in which "a new agenda" is facing human rights defenders, not least because "we see how authoritarian governments export hostile policies and try to use this moment in time to further undermine democratic values." He said Agora's lawyers are working on all the emerging issues, "not because we go looking for them" but "because this intimidation affects everyone; everyone will feel insecure until there are places where things will be OK. In our tiny world, we are all closely interrelated."
According to its website, Agora International "is an association of more than 50 lawyers working on landmark human rights cases" that is currently conducting more than 300 lawsuits across Russia. Agora International has legal teams based in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Nizhniy Novgorod, Stavropol, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Lipetsk, Chita, Helsinki, Sofia and London. Agora International runs a "response unit that handles incidents involving human rights violations operates across the entire European part of Russia. Such incidents may involve torture and murder by the police authorities, the death of individuals in prisons and penal colonies, and the criminal prosecution and attacks against civil rights activists, journalists and bloggers." In 2014, Agora and Pavel Chikov received the Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize.
For more information about Agora on Rights in Russia, see HERE.
Agora International, website
'Agora International Awarded Prestigious Lindebrekke Prize in Norway,' Rights in Russia, 11 March 2017
On 6 March 2017 the Committee for the Prevention of Torture received the Homo Homini Award for 2016 in Prague. The Homo Homini Award is given annually by the Czech human rights organization People in Need since 1994 to individuals and organizations for their contribution to the defence of human rights, democracy and non-violent solution of political conflicts. Each year the award is presented at the One World Film Festival, the world's largest human rights film festival.
As Caucasian Knot reported, Igor Kalyapin, the chair of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, said at the ceremony: "We find extremely important to feel support and solidarity of ordinary people, who are ready to defend human rights not only in their own country, but throughout the world, and who understand that a human rights violation in a neighbouring country will inevitably lead, sooner or later, to problems in their own country."
The Committee for the Prevention of Torture is a Russian NGO based in Nizhny Novgorod. It also has offices in the Republic of Mari El, the Republic of Bashkortostan, Orenburg region, and Moscow and Moscow region. Since 2009 it has been a leading participant in the Joint Mobile Group of human rights defenders that works in Chechnya. The Committee for the Prevention of Torture, set up in 2015, continues the work of the Committee Against Torture, which was founded in 2000 and closed down in 2015 after it was designated as a 'foreign agent' NGO.
The website of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture states that the Committee "was created as a human rights organization with the purpose of exercising public control over the problem of torture application and violent treatment in Russia and granting professional legal and medical aid to torture victims. [...] In the framework of a public investigation lawyers of the Committee conduct an independent self-contained investigation, but its results are used as admissible evidence within the official investigation and later in the courtroom. The hallmark of the organization is its professional legal approach to solving tasks connected to with protection of human rights and lawful interests. This approach has been used since the Committee was created and accounts for the success of the organization. From the moment of the Committee foundation its specialists have checked about 1000 applications dealing with human rights violations, have conducted hundreds of public investigations and have made the state and its representatives pay millions of rubles as compensation to people who suffered from unlawful actions of law enforcement agents. Besides, thanks to the efforts of Committee lawyers, more that 70 law enforcement agents were convicted under torture cases. Another very important mechanism of human rights protection that has no systematic counterparts in the Russian human rights community and is widely used by the Committee is representation of Russian citizens at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg by highly-qualified Committee lawyers. By now specialists in European law of the Committee have prepared and filed 75 applications to the ECtHR. Under the most wide-known case, “Mikheyev vs. Russian Federation”, January 2006, the Court adjudicated in favour of the applicant, found Russia in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and obliged the state to pay Mr. Mikheyev 250 thousand euros as compensation. At present this is the biggest compensation the European Court enforced upon Russia."
On 28 February 2017 police searched the Moscow apartment of Elena Abdullaeva, coordinator of the project “Gulagu.Nyet” ["No to the Gulag"] that collects information about human rights abuses in the penitentiary system, The Moscow Times reported. The search took place on the same day that police searched the family home of journalist and human rights campaigner Zoya Svetova. Elena Abdullaeva is also a former member of the Moscow Public Oversight Commission. The Moscow Times reported: "According to Eva Merkacheva, the commission’s deputy chairperson, who says she managed to speak to Abdullaeva, the police are supposedly looking for a 'stolen mobile phone.' " According to reports, Abdullaeva’s son was detained in December 2016 in relation to a suspected theft of a mobile and allegedly beaten by police. Abdullaeva claimed that the charges of theft had been fabricated.
According to its website, Gulagu.net is a project against corruption and torture in Russia, uniting more than human rights defenders, volunteers and prisoners' relatives. Gulagu.net was founded in September 2011 on the intitiative of activist and former prisoner Vladimir Osechkin, himself a controversial figure in human rights circles. According to its website, the association acts 'transparently and within the law' to combat torture and corruption and protect the rights of persons in places of detention. Over the first five years since its founding, according to the website 2,378,927 people visited Gulagu.net 5,194,048 times, with more than 17,278,700 page visits.
'Russian Police Raid the Home of Second Human Rights Worker in a Day,' The Moscow Times, 2 March 2017
Peter Oborne, 'The dangers of exposing corruption in Russia’s jails,' Open Democracy, 8 August 2016'Gulagu.net против настоящих правозащитников?,' pravo-ural.ru 10 November 2013
On 20 February 2017, Magomed Mutsolgov, head of the Ingushetian human rights organization Mashr, appealed to the authorities to investigate threats allegedly made against him by a senior Ingush police officer, arrested on suspicion of abusing a detainee. Mutsolgov was acting in his capacity as a member of the region's Public Oversight Commission when the threats were made, Caucasian Knot reports. Magomed Mutsolgov wrote in his blog on the Caucasian Knot website: "In all the years I have been carrying out public oversight in pre-trial detention facilities, this is the first instance when insults and threats have been made against a Public Oversight Commission." Caucasian Knot reported that, according to Bagaudin Khadziev, deputy chair of the Public Oversight Commission, the police officer in question behaved aggressively, shouting at Magomed Mutsolgov and threatening him.
The incident serves to highlight the work conducted by Magomed Mutsolgov and the Mashr human rights organization which he heads. On 8 December 2015 Rights in Russia reported that the Justice Ministry had added Mashr to the 'foreign agent’ register. Mashr was set up in April 2005 by relatives of people who had been kidnapped or otherwise gone missing in Ingushetia. The organization is one of the leading NGOs in the North Caucasus that bravely monitors human rights abuses in the region. As RFE/RL, in November 2015 police searched the house of Magomed Mutsolgov. At the time of the search, computers and documents belonging to Mashr were confiscated on the grounds that they contained 'secret data.' Human Rights Watch condemned the allegations against Mutsolgov and his organization as 'outrageous' and said they were clearly aimed to 'intimidate and demonize him in the public eye.' Human Rights Watch pointed out that Article 12 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders stipulates that states shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection for human rights defenders against “any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary actions” related to their efforts to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms.
On 12 February 2017 the Migration and Law Network of Memorial Human Rights Centre reported that a court in Leningrad region had dismissed the case against Choi Myung-bok, a North Korean defector who lives in a town in Leningrad region with his Russian partner and their two children, set to be deported for violating migration laws (Choi had applied for refugee status in 2015-16, but this had been rejected). As The Moscow Times reported, 'Choi no longer faces deportation to North Korea, where he would most likely be executed for fleeing the labor camp he was sent to. He plans to apply for official refugee status once again.' Choi was represented by Olga Tseitlina and Yury Serov. When a local court ordered Choi's deportation and sent him to a pre-deportation, Tseitlina and Serov filed an appeal against the ruling. They also made an application to the European Court of Human Rights for emergency measures to be taken to protect Choi, on the grounds that if deported he would be executed in North Korea. In 2002 Choi had fled to Russia from a labour camp in the Russian Far Eastern Amur region, where he had been sent by the North Korean authorities in 1999. The European Court of Human Rights Ruled in Choi's favour. On 9 February Leningrad region court dismissed all charges against Choi and released him from custody. In 2015, Russia signed an extradition treaty with North Korea and since then has been unwilling to grant asylum to North Koreans.
Olga Tseitlina and Yury Serov are two lawyers from the Migration and Law Network, a part of Memorial Human Rights Centre. Migration and Law Network is headed by Svetlana Gannushkina (who also heads the NGO Civic Assistance). The Migration and Law Network was set up in 1996 within Memorial Human Rights Centre to provide legal assistance to refugees and migrants. Today Migration and Law Network works in 37 regions of Russia, with 59 legal advice points, four of which are in Chechnya. The coordinating centre of the Network is in Moscow.
In an interview from last year with The Moscow Times, Svetlana Gannushkina commented on the extradition treaty with North Korea: “The authorities told us not to worry, because the North Korean government promised to treat refugees well, but we knew differently. We found out that one of the refugees we tried to help and failed was roped onto a moving train. That was how they ’delivered him to his homeland’ — or what was left of him, to be exact.”'О сети «Миграция и право»,' Memorial Human Rights Centre, 1 September 2015
'Russian Court Saves North Korean Defector From Deportation,' The Moscow Times, 14 February 2017
On 7 February 2017 Agora International Human Rights Group published its latest report on the state of the Internet in Russia, 'Internet Freedom in 2016: In a State of Emergency', based on monitoring conducted by the organization throughout 2016. The report, by Damir Gainutdinov and Pavel Chikov, identified 53,004 instances of administrative intimidation, 35,019 instances of restrictions on access to website and 298 criminal prosecutions of Internet users. In addition, the report notes that there were 97 proposals put forward by politicians and officials to regulate the internet, and 170 civil law cases against Internet users. For comparison, the organization's report for 2015 registered 5,073 instances of administrative intimidation (10 times less than in 2016), 1,721 instances of restrictions on access to the Internet (20 times less), and 202 criminal prosecutions (1.5 times less), while the number of of convictions involving prison terms was half that in 2016). In 2015 there were 48 proposals to regulate the Internet (half as many as in 2016) and 49 civil law cases against Internet users (3.5 times less than in 2016). In addition, the number of politically-motivated cyberattacks increased fourfold to 122 from 30 in 2015, court bans on access to information increased by a factor of 3 (24000 in 2016 as opposed to 7300 in 2015) and reported incidences of violence or threats of violence against Internet users almost doubled (to 50 in 2016 from 28 in 2015).
Daria Litvinova, writing in The Moscow Times, reviewing the report, stated that 'Internet freedom in Russia is in deep trouble.' She cited what she considered to be the three 'most alarming signs of this worrying trend,' namely: Russia is 'rock bottom' in global rattings for media freedom; Interent users are being increasingly prosecuted for statements made online, and the number of websites blocked is increasing.
Agora International describes itself on its website as 'an association of more than 50 human rights lawyers working on high-profile cases of human rights violations. As of today our lawyers are conducting more than 300 legal cases spread throughout the majority of Russian regions. Permanent legal teams work in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Stavropol, Ekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Lipetsk, and Chita, as well as in Helsinki, Sofia and London.
Memorial Human Rights Centre is one of the most authoritative voices on human rights in Russia today. Based in Moscow, Memorial Human Rights Centre is concerned with human rights throughout the Russian Federation. The organization also has special expertise on human rights in the North Caucasus. Memorial Human Rights Centre is a member organization of the International Memorial Society. Executive director of Memorial Human Rights Centre is Natalya Sokolova. The board consists of Aleksandr Cherkasov (chair), Liudmila Vakhnina, Svetlana Gannushkina, Sergei Davidis, Anna Karetnikova, Oleg Orlov, Grigory Okhkotin, Vitalii Ponomarev, Yan Rachinsky and Dmitry Shkapov.
This past week board members of Memorial Human Rights Centre were co-signatories of a letter to President Putin regarding threats recently directed against Grigory Shvedov, chief editor of Caucasian Knot news website, and the Centre issued a statement recognizing Oksana Sevastidi as a political prisoner.
The following two reports by Memorial Human Rights Centre this past week also exemplify the depth of the organization's knowledge about the situation in the North Caucasus. Memorial Human Rights Centre reported that law enforcement agencies in Chechnya were inspecting NGOs in the republic that receive foreign funding, and accusing employees of 'engagement in subversive activities.' A statement issued on the subject read (translation by Caucasian Knot): 'First of all, the checks cover NGOs which receive foreign funding. Activists and employees of these NGOs are questioned and accused of involvement in subversive activities, and acting as foreign agents.'
Memorial Human Rights Centre also reported that Chechen law enforcement officers had taken Anzor Aliev, a resident of Sunzha in Ingushetia, hostage. Officers in Grozny detained Anzor Aliev and his father Kyuri Aliev on 23 January 2017. Kyuri Aliev returned home on 24 January, but Anzor Aliev has not been released. Anzor Aliev's mother, Bulikhan, appealed to the office of Memorial Human Rights Centre in Nazran, Ingushetia, on 31 January. Memorial reports that Bulikhan told them her husband had been told to bring her other son, Shamil Aliev, back with him to Grozny: 'Law enforcement officers threatened him that if he failed to obey, they would declare Anzor, whom they are keeping hostage, a terrorist and send him to prison for a long time.' [translation by Caucasian Knot).
Memorial Human Rights Centre website
'Путину направлено обращение по поводу угроз главреду «Кавказского узла»,' Memorial Human Rights Centre, 31 January 2017'HRC "Memorial": Chechen power agents take Ingush resident hostage,' Caucasian Knot, 2 February 2017
'«Мемориал» признал политзаключенной Оксану Севастиди, осужденную за SMS,' Memorial Human Rights Centre, 1 February 2017
'HRC "Memorial" reports NGO checks in Chechnya,' Caucasian Knot, 2 February 2017
From 23 January until 25 January 2017, the Moscow-based human rights organization Public Verdict Foundation ran a campaign to mark the 30th anniversary of the ratification of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As Public Verdict Foundation points out on its website, in 2012 Russia reported to the UN Committee Against Torture and received a detailed list of recommendations from the Committee. Public Verdict Foundation considers that if these recommendations are carried out, torture in Russia will be reduced to a minimum. Public Verdict Foundation has prepared a list of the most important of these recommendations which can be read in Russian HERE. In the course of the three-day campaign, Public Verdict Foundation reminded the Russian authorities about the need to implement these measures, in particular: making torture a crime under the Russian Criminal Code; making international standards of investigation compulsory for investigative bodies; establishment of a government programme for the rehabilitation for victims of torture; the introduction of the Istanbul Protocol in the practice of investigators and doctors; and the rejection of evidence obtained through torture by the courts.
On Facebook and Twitter the campaign used the hashtags #30летКАТвРоссии #НетПыткам #ВместеПротивПыток
On 25 January 2017 Caucasian Knot reported on the case of Mardiros Demerchyan which has been taken up by Public Verdict Foundation as an egregious example of Russia's failure to observe the recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture [quoted as published]:
'The "Public Verdict" Foundation has included the case against Sochi builder Mardiros Demerchyan, accused of false denunciation for his report of torture at police, in the list of trials, proving that Russia has not solved the problem of torture and failed to observe the UN recommendations issued in 2012. The "Caucasian Knot" has reported that on June 12, 2013, Mardiros Demerchyan, a builder of Olympic facilities, was detained, and the other day, he was brought from police station to a hospital. Mardiros Demerchyan claims that law enforcers brutally tortured him, including putting a bar into his anus. At the recent court session, proctologist Marina Strabylina reported that her signature under the protocol had been forged. According to Oleg Novikov, a staff member of the "Public Verdict" Foundation, the Russian side was to present to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) the information on the Mardiros Demerchyan's case till January 2017, and the deadline already expired. Today, the court has held a regular session on the Mardiros Demerchyan's case, and it has been attended by Ilya Shatin, a staff member of the "Public Verdict" Foundation. He has reported that the Foundation carries out an action devoted to the 30th anniversary of the ratification of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.'
Sources:'КАМПАНИЯ: ВМЕСТЕ ПРОТИВ ПЫТОК,' Public Verdict Foundation, 23 January 2017
'Public Verdict associates Mardiros Demerchyan's case with Russia's failure to observe recommendations of UN Committee against Torture, Caucasian Knot, 25 January 2017
On 16 January 2017 the news website Caucasian Knot reported that the human rights NGO Russian Justice Initiative had submitted evidence of female circumcision in Dagestan to the Republic's General Prosecutor's Office. Caucasian Knot wrote: 'In response to the demand of the General Prosecutor's Office (GPO) of Dagestan to provide information about the victims of female circumcision, the Justice Initiative for Russia has sent anonymous interviews collected for a research of the mutilating genital surgeries in girls in the republic.' As Caucasian Knot had reported on 13 December 2016, the Dagestan General Prosecutor's Office at that time asked the Russian Justice Initiative to present the materials of its research into the practice of female circumcision in Dagestan. On 16 January Russian Justice Initiative sent the General Prosecutor's Office texts of 42 anonymous interviews collected for the study Female Genital Mutilation of Girls in Dagestan.' As Caucasian Knot reports, on 16 January the Russian Justice Initiative re-stated its recommendations on what government agencies can do to prevent female circumcision in Dagestan, namely, support nationwide and local women's organizations, strive to eliminate female circumcision and other practices harmful to women's health, and promote religious enlightenment and dialogue with religious leaders.
Russian Justice Initiative is an NGO established in Utrecht, the Netherlands, that together with its partner organizations utilizes domestic and international legal mechanisms to seek justice for grave human rights violations in the North and South Caucasus. Russian Justice Initiative has represented over 2000 clients in over 300 cases lodged at the European Court of Human Rights. Our work encompasses all stages of domestic and international litigation, including implementation of European Court judgments.
'Justice Initiative sends 42 confirmations of women's circumcision to Dagestani GPO,' Caucasian Knot, 16 January 2017
Russian Justice Initiative website
The Russian PEN Centre, a writers' organization whose mission is to defend the rights of writers and freedom of speech, was in crisis this week after thirty writers resigned in protest at the exclusion of journalist Sergei Parkhomenko from the organization, and the disciplining of two other members, at the end of last December. On 28 December 2016 the Russian PEN Centre expelled the well-known journalist Sergei Parkhomenko for life. Sergei Parkhomenko is also prominent as the founder of the Last Address human rights project, which places commemorative plaques on the homes of Stalin's victims, and Dissernet, a project that exposes dissertations that have been based on plagiarized materials. RFE/RL reports: 'Formally, Parkhomenko was expelled from the group for "provocative activity," but he wrote on the website of Ekho Moskvy radio that he was punished for criticizing the Russian PEN Center for failing to support Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who is serving 20 years in a Russian prison after being convicted of plotting terrorist attacks.' Anna Kachurovskaya, writing in Open Democracy, reports that 'Parkhomenko was accused of “straying from the fundamental principles of the PEN-international’s charter” and for “provocative activities incompatible with the aims and remit of the Russian PEN-centre.” Furthermore, the leadership of the PEN-centre has suspended the membership of poet Grigory Petukhov for one year, and issued a stern warning to the writer Marina Vishnevetskaya for “distributing to the media tendentious texts and video recordings of the PEN-centre’s summit on 15 December 2016, which led to the misrepresentation of the nature of the Centre by malevolent internet users and figures in mass-media”.' A series of leading Russian writers have since resigned from the Russian PEN Centre in protest. The exodus reached something of a climax this week with the departures of the 2015 Nobel Literature Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich, Boris Akunin, Lev Rubinshtein and Aleksandr Ilichevsky. Paula Erizanu, writing in The Guardian, quotes a statement by Svetlana Alexievich on her resignation from the Pen Centre on 11 January: 'My comment on Parkhomenko’s exclusion [from PEN] can only be my application to leave the Russian PEN, whose founding ideals were cravenly violated. In the perestroika years we took pride in our PEN but now we are ashamed of it. Russian writers acted as subserviently and outrageously only during the Stalinist period. But Putin will go, whereas this shameful page from the history of PEN will stay. And the names will stay, too. We now live through times when we cannot win over evil, we are powerless before the "red man". But he cannot stop time. I believe in that.' Paula Erizanu in The Guardian reported that Boris Akunin on his resignation 'said that he felt Russian PEN did not stand for freedom of speech, that it failed to defend persecuted writers and therefore has “nothing in common” with the global network of PEN centres.'
Anna Kachurovskaya comments: 'After it went into force, famous Russian writers began to protest the executive committee’s decision. Believing its acts to be unjustified, they began to leave the writers’ club. To date, over 20 people have written on their decision to leave the club — neither the international nor the Russian branches of the PEN-centre have ever before seen a conflict on this scale.' Journalist and human rights defender Olga Romanova was quoted by Open Democracy as saying: 'This conflict’s been going on for a few years. It started when some of us, writers and journalists, invited Lyudmila Ulitskaya to join. A couple of years ago, the [administration] tried to expel us for violating the charter. I went to meetings at the Central House of Writers a few times… I hadn’t heard such speeches since my childhood days in the Komsomol!'
According to the website of PEN International, 'PEN Centres are voices for literature and freedom of expression in their respective countries. We are present in over 100 countries, from Senegal to Japan, Russia to South Africa, Canada to Chile and Norway to New Zealand. Each Centre has its own focus and priorities – campaigning for freedom of expression, for example, or pioneering education and literacy programmes. Some are leading the way in publishing their national literatures, or in promoting writing from different cultures and languages. Between them they produce publications; stage events; run prestigious literary prizes; work within and across communities; advise governments on embedding literature into policy and practice; establish and grow regional networks collaborating on key issues in their part of the world; and, above all, unite when necessary to highlight our collective strength and provide support and solidarity to individuals during difficult times.'
Sergei Parkhomenko, 'На Сенцове они и сломались,' Ekho Moskvy, 10 January 2017
'Nobel Laureate Alexievich Joins Exodus From Russian PEN Center,' RFE/RL, 11 January 2017
Anna Kachurovskaya, 'Writers against Russia’s PEN-center,' Open Democracy, 12 January 2017
Paula Erizanu, 'Nobel prize winner Svetlana Alexievich quits 'shameful' Russian PEN,' The Guardian, 14 January 2017
Russian PEN Centre website
PEN International website
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