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Rights Group of the Week

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: Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus

posted 22 May 2017, 09:04 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 May 2017, 09:12 ]

On 17 May 2017 the Supreme Court of Adygei quashed cases against Environmental Watch for Northern Caucasus (EcoWatch) brought under the foreign agent law, and cancelled fines that had been imposed earlier on the NGO under the same law. As Caucasian Knot, reports, citing Andrei Rudomakha, the coordinator of EcoWatch, a judge sitting in Maikop City Court had fined EcoWatch and its leader under administrative law for failing to include indications that the group was a 'foreign agent' NGO on press releases it published. The suit against EcoWatch had been brought by the government media oversight agency, Roskomnadzor, for the Southern Federal District.

According to Andrei Rudomakha, on 17 May 2017 the Supreme Court of Adygei quashed these judgments on appeal on the grounds that EcoWatch had not been informed by the Ministry of Justice that it had been included in the 'foreign agent register' at the time of the publication of the press releases in question.

Legal support for EcoWatch in the case was provided by the NGO Lawyers' Club. 

Rights in Russia has earlier reported that, on 21 March 2017, Sofia Rusova, a board member of the North Caucasus Environmental Watch (also known as EcoWatch), an NGO, was detained during a one-person picket she was holding in Moscow. As Caucasian Knot reported, Sofia Rusova was protesting against the construction of ski resorts in the Caucasian Reserve: "The Caucasian Knot has reported that today the activists Sofia Rusova and Atsamaz Khadikov have held solo pickets at the building hosting the Eighth International Environmental Forum, in protest against the activities of the Electrozink Factory and the construction of a resort in the territory of the Caucasian Reserve. At first, the guards tried to tear up the picketers’ posters. A journalist Maxim Rumyantsev how was at the place of the incident, called the police, stating that Rusova 'had used violence' against him. According to Sofia, he tried to grab the poster [that read] 'No to construction of ski resorts in the territory of the Caucasian Reserve!' "

Source:
'EcoWatch achieves cancellation of fines at Adygea's SC,' Caucasian Knot, 17 May 2017
'ЭкоВахта добилась в Верховном суде Адыгеи отмены штрафов,' Кавказский Узел, 17 May 2017
'Person of the Week: Sofia Rusova,' Rights in Russia, 27 March 2017
'Russian MoJ puts "EcoWatch" on register of foreign agents,' Caucasian Knot, 16 September 2016
Ecological Watch of the North Caucasus, website

Rights Group of the Week: Committee for the Prevention of Torture

posted 15 May 2017, 07:40 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 May 2017, 07:56 ]

On 12 May 2017 Moscow police released a report explaining that they had earlier refused to investigate an attack on the head of the human rights NGO Committee for the Prevention of Torture based in Nizhny Novgorod, Igor Kalyapin, at a 2014 press conference at which he voiced criticism of the Chechen authorities, on the grounds that the assault was carried out to ‘protect’ Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. This failure of the Moscow city police to take action in the case of this assault on Igor Kalyapin (an assault that took place in public with many witnesses and was videoed) is one further demonstration of the climate of impunity in which such brazen and outrageous assaults against human rights defenders are carried out. 

The Moscow Times reports that Igor Kalyapin, who is also a member of Russia's Human Rights Council, was pelted with eggs at the Moscow news conference held in December 2014 at which he had condemned Chechen authorities for their use of "mass punishment" as a weapon against armed groups. Citing MediaZona, The Moscow Times states: "Moscow police formally refused Kalyapin's request to press a charge of hooliganism in July 2016, but only released a report on the decision in early 2017. [...] The document defends the man's actions as 'in Kadyrov's defense'."

Igor Kalyapin has been attacked on several other occasions, The Moscow Times notes, including an incident in the Chechen capital Grozny on 22 March 2016 when "a group of fifteen men beat the activist close to a hotel [...], also pelting him with flour, eggs, and green disinfectant dye." This assault followed an attack on members of the Joint Mobile Group, an organization that combats human rights abuses in Chechnya, that took place on 15 March 2016. On that occasion, as Frontline Defenders describe: 'On 9 March 2016, masked men physically attacked and set fire to a bus carrying a group of human rights defenders and journalists from Ingushetia to Grozny, the capital of the Chechen Republic. The human rights defenders and journalists were travelling together whilst participating in a press tour organised to publicise the work of the Joint Mobile Group (JMG). Later on the same day, armed and masked men attacked the office of Joint Mobile Group in Karabulak, Ingushetia."  As Frontline Defenders set out in the same piece, "Joint Mobile Group was established in November 2009 by a group of Russian human rights organisations, with a leading role played by Committee for Prevention of Torture (CPT). It was created following the murder of human rights defender Ms Natalya Estemirova, in order to provide victims of human rights abuses in Chechnya with legal aid. JMG received the Front Line Defenders Award in 2011 for their work in investigating torture and disappearances in Chechnya, and was also the 2013 recipient of the Martin Ennals Award."

As Rights in Russia has reported earlier, 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."

Sources:
'Russian Police Say Attack on Rights Activist Was in "Defense" of Chechen Leader,' The Moscow Times, 12 May 2017
'Rights Group of the Week: Committee for the Prevention of Torture,' Rights in Russia, 13 March 2017
'CPT receives Homo Homini Award,' Caucasian Knot, 7 March 2017
'Homo Homini Award,' Wikipedia
Committee for the Prevention of Torture, website
'CASE HISTORY: JOINT MOBILE GROUP,' Frontline Defenders

Rights Group of the Week: RosKomSvoboda

posted 8 May 2017, 08:39 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 8 May 2017, 09:01 ]

On 2 May 2017 the English service of Russian Legal Information Agency (RAPSI), an arm of the government-owned news agency RIA Novosti, reported that, according to the NGO RosKomSvoboda, four messaging services had been blocked in Russia by the Russia regulator for media and communications, Roskomnadzor, namely, BlackBerry Messenger, Imo, Line and Vchat. On 5 May, again citing RosKomSvoboda, RAPSI said that the Chinese messenger WeChat had also been blocked. It may be a rather curious fact that a state news agency should be quoting an NGO in Russia, but at the least it points to an acknowledgement of the expertise of RosKomSvoboda in its chosen area of activity.

RosKomSvoboda [РосКомСвобода] is a Russian NGO set up in 2012 with a mission to combat censorship of the Internet, as well as to promote the ideas of freedom of information and self-regulation of the internet-sector. RosKomSvoboda was set up on 1 November 2012, the day that the government's Single Register of Banned Websites (also known as the 'blacklist') came into existence. RosKomSvoboda's website points out that the name for the NGO was chosen 'as a stylistic opposition to Roskomnadzor, the government department that is directly responsible for adding websites to the blacklist and for blocking access to sites.'

RosKomSvoboda's website states: "Today RosKomSvoboda carries out continuous monitoring of the legislative activities of government bodies in relation to the Internet, and also law enforcement, in particular the blocking of websites. RosKomSvoboda conducts public campaigns and supports civic initiatives to advance freedom of information and the privacy of the personal data of Internet users. Another area of work is the protection of the rights of users and owners of websites that have been unjustifiably blocked by court decision."

Among recent activities of RosKomSvoboda have been a campaign to win the release of Dmitry Bogatov [#FreeBogatov], a mathematician currently in pre-trial detention on charges of extremism, monitoring of the government's recently introduced Register of News Agregators, and Project Safe, a resource to assist Internet users in protecting themselves from surveillance and maintaining the privacy of their data and correspondence.

Sources:
'Four messaging services blocked in Russia,' RAPSI, 2 May 2017
'Popular Chinese messenger blocked in Russia,' RAPSI, 5 May 2017
RosKomSvoboda, website
РосКомСвобода, Wikipedia

Rights Group of the Week: International Memorial Society

posted 1 May 2017, 08:16 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 May 2017, 08:27 ]

On 25 April 2017, International Memorial Society said officials had sought to prevent teachers and school students attending the award ceremony for the NGO’s school history-writing competition. Caucasian Knot  reported on 25 April that, on the eve of the awarding ceremony of the winners of the contest for high school pupils 'The Man in History, Russia – the 20th Century,' organizers said that officials had demanded that teachers and children should not travel to Moscow. As Caucasian Knot reports, the competition has been held since 1999; it's purpose is to further the development of civic awareness and of historical understanding among young people: 

"This year, the completed 18th contest received 1993 works from 78 regions of the country. The jury selected 43 best works, whose authors and their teachers were invited to Moscow to take part in the awarding ceremony, scheduled for April 26. However, this year, the organizers have complained about the pressure on the contest and its participants. On April 20, reports started arriving from the majority of regions, where the winners of the contest live, that officials from regional ministries of education forbid pupils and teachers to attend the awarding ceremony."

Irina Shcherbakova, who works for International Memorial Soceity and is one of the organizers of the competition, told Kommersant

"All the head teachers said that they had received a phone call from higher up – either from the regional ministry of education or from the city administration. The callers, in their turn, stated that they had been rung by the federal Ministry of Education and Science with the message that neither the children nor the teachers should travel to Moscow for the ceremony. Different reasons were given. Some directors were told that there was an increased terrorist threat and therefore children should not travel to Moscow. If parents said that they would go with their children, they were told that only the teachers could accompany the children. And pressure was put on the teachers. Some were told the competition has been organized by a banned organization, hence the children will be turned into extremists in Moscow.

Source:
' "Memorial" states pressure on participants of children's contest,' Caucasian Knot, 25 April 2017
'«Родителям говорили, что детей в Москве сделают экстремистами»,' Kommersant, 23 April 2017
'Pressure on participants in Memorial’s competition for schoolchildren. ‘Parents were told that in Moscow the children would be turned into extremists.’ [Kommersant],' Rights in Russia, 23 April 2017

Rights Group of the Week: Mashr

posted 24 Apr 2017, 07:36 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 24 Apr 2017, 07:37 ]

On 20 April 2017, the Justice Ministry removed Ingush human rights NGO Mashr from the register of ‘foreign agents’.
Caucasian Knot reported that: "In his post 'Russia’s MoJ: "Mashr" is not a "foreign agent",' Mr Mutsolgov has published a photo of the MoJ’s notification reading that the 'Mashr' was excluded from the register of 'foreign agents' "in accordance with sub-point two of point 7.1, Article 32, of the Federal Law 'On NPOs'.” According to this point, an NPO is excluded from the register if 'according to outcomes of a check it was established that the NPO has not received money and other property from foreign sources and (or) has not participated in political activities in the territory of the Russian Federation'." On April 18, Magomed Mutsolgov noted in the above post that 'the authorities have in fact recognized that the "Mashr" operates within the framework of the law'."

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 8 December 2015 Rights in Russia reported that the Justice Ministry had added Mashr to the 'foreign agent’ register.

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.

Sources:
'"Mashr" excluded from list of “foreign agents”,' Caucasian Knot, 20 April 2017
'Prisoner of Ingush SIZO voices threats against POC members, Magomed Mutsolgov reports,'  Caucasian Knot, 20 February 2017
'Муцольгов заявил об угрозах заключенного в ингушском СИЗО в адрес членов ОНК,' Mashr, 20 February 2017
Mashr, website
'Russia Lists Ingush Rights Group As "Foreign Agent",' RFE/RL, 9 December 2015
'Magomed Mutsolgov accused of “anti-Russian and subversive activities",' HRO.org, 7 November 2015
'Russia: Officials Harassing Ingushetia Rights Defender,' Human Rights Watch, 10 November 2015

Rights Group of the Week: OVD-Info

posted 17 Apr 2017, 01:56 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 17 Apr 2017, 02:28 ]

On 14 April 2017 the 
Open Democracy website began publishing a translation into English of weekly updates by OVD-Info on politically-motivated prosecutions in Russia. By kind permission of Open Democracy, Rights in Russia will also be publishing these updateswith special focus on right of assemblyfreedom of expression and political intimidationOVD-Info is an independent human rights media project dedicated to monitoring politically-motivated prosecutions in Russia. The project was founded in December 2011 in reaction to the mass arrests of protesters in Moscow. As the organization states on its website, OVD-Info monitors politically motivated prosecutions on a daily basis and publishes information on a regular, up-to-date basis, including statements by the victims themselves. They write: "We believe that information liberates and protects, while analysis of the gathered data allows the situation to be changed for the better in the future...OVD-Info strives to be objective in the gathering and presentation of information. The project does not advance any person's political interests and does not seek to achieve any narrow political goals." OVD-Info also coordinates provision of legal assistance to people who are victims of politically-motivated prosecutions.

Earlier this year, in an article published on the Open Democracy website, Grigory Okhotin, a researcher and independent journalist who is one of the founding members of OVD-Info, wrote:

"Freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are especially critical issues in a climate where people are regularly detained for speaking out against the government. By monitoring arrests and detentions, civil society can keep the government accountable and aware that their actions—and mounting human rights violations—are being exposed to the Russian public and the international community. In an initial response to the arrests in 2011, a group of volunteers launched OVD-Info, an online monitoring project to keep track of arrests and detentions during the protests. We put together the project in just a few days, as a quick response to the political unrest happening at the time. Between 2011-2012, OVD-Info tracked 5,166 politically motivated arrests at 228 protest events in and around Moscow. In the years following, the project has expanded to look at all issues of freedom of assembly and political oppression, collecting information, personal stories and data on people who have been detained.

Because the state is unpredictable and generally tries to keep these stories out of public view, this type of work can be quite risky and the availability of funding is volatile. In the beginning, we were a small project run entirely by volunteers. When we began to expand, we acquired funding in the traditional NGO business model, by getting grants from donors, including international organizations. But in 2015, Russia passed a new law on NGO funding, which directly prohibited work with two of our major donors at that time, the Open Society Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy—labelling them “undesirable organizations.” Like many other NGOs around us, we immediately had to adapt and find new ways to fund our work.[...] 
Russians are engaged in this work, speaking out and fighting back, perhaps more than ever. International audiences are also participating—for example, by making online donations or sharing our reports and linking to our social media posts. But since we’ve started the project, we have witnessed a decrease in freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. It’s hard to know whether this will continue to get worse, or how much we are affecting government behaviour—but this type of impact evaluation is not the point. Even in this space of shrinking freedoms, new business models allow us to remain relevant. Without the ability to evolve and seek new ways of funding, we and other groups like us would have shut down years ago. But Russian civil society continues to innovate, to engage the public, and to hold the government accountable—in whatever ways we can."

Sources:
OVD-Info, website
'Bolotnaya 2.0?,' Open Democracy, 14 April 2017
Grigory Okhotin, 'Crowdfunding to bypass Russia’s civil society crackdown,' Open Democracy, 21 March 2017

Rights Group of the Week: Russian LGBT Network

posted 10 Apr 2017, 08:09 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 10 Apr 2017, 08:53 ]

On 1 April 2017 Novaya gazeta reported that over 100 gay men have been brutally detained — and at least three killed — in Chechnya. On 2 April 2017 the Russian LGBT Network issued a statement on the reports: "

The Russian LGBT Network is highly disturbed and concerned about the information on the kidnapping and killing of people in Chechnya because of their sexual orientation. We are also outraged by the reaction of the officials of the Chechen Republic, who in fact justify the killings. No national and/or religious traditions and norms can justify kidnapping or killing of a human being. Any references to “traditions” to justify kidnappings and killings are amoral and criminal [read the statement in full HERE]"

Matthew Kupfer, writing in The Moscow Times, stated that "the crackdown seemed like something out of the Stalinist-era repressions." Igor Kochetkov, a board member and former chairman of the Russian LGBT Network, is quoted in the article as describing the scope of the detentions as "unprecedented". He told The Moscow Times: "We are under the impression that this is a special operation to capture gays.” The Moscow Times noted, "The Russian LGBT Network has set up a hotline for LGBT people in the North Caucasus and is actively working to evacuate individuals in danger from the region." 

Citing Novaya gazeta, on 3 April 2017 Caucasian Knot said that a 'secret prison' for the detention of LGBT people was located in the city of Argun, Chechnya. On 5 April 2017 Caucasian Knot reported that the Russian LGBT Network had offered to assist with the evacuation of LGBT people from Chechnya. Caucasian Knot wrote: "The data on persecutions of homosexuals in Chechnya need investigators’ verification, the 'Russian LGBT-network' has stated. The organization is ready to help the victims, before they are evacuated from Chechnya."  On 5 April 2017, Tom Balmforth wrote on the RFE/RL website that the Russian LGBT Network had received more than 10 appeals for help from homosexuals in Chechnya seeking to flee the southern Russian republic. 

The Russian LGBT Network is an NGO that works to promote the rights of LGBT people in Russia. The organization was founded in April 2006. In October 2008, the All-Russian Conference of Civic Organizations in Support of the LGBT Movement was held in Moscow. During this conference, the network transformed into an interregional public movement. The organization's current Charter and Strategy were created, and governing bodies were elected. On its Facebook page, the Russian LGBT Network states that its goals are the following:

Develop a direct dialogue with the authorities, political parties, human rights and civic activists
Hold nationwide information campaigns
Help unite and organize LGBT people in the regions of Russia
Provide LGBT people with psychological and legal support, regardless of their place of residence and other discriminating factors
Help the parents and friends of LGBT
Conduct research on the socio-legal status of LGBT people in Russia
Provide international organizations, which control Russia’s observance of its international human rights obligations (UN, the Council of Europe, OSCE), with alternative reports on the situation of LGBT people in the country.
Hold round table discussions, seminars, conferences, trainings etc.
Publish informational, educational and methodological materials
Provide professional assistance with strategic legal cases
Provide the LGBT community with distant informational, psychological and legal support
Hold nationwide trainings for leaders of the LGBT-movement
And a lot more...The organization sets out its achievements as follows:

We have helped create LGBT groups and organizations in 20 different regions of Russia
We have established regular and direct contact with the Human Rights Commissioner of Russia, members of the Presidential Council for human rights, as well as various ministries and other authorities of the Russian Federation
We got the leading Russian human rights organizations to acknowledge the need to protect the rights of the LGBT community
We had Measures against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity included in the recommendations for the Russian Federation (UN Human Rights Committee, 2009; CEDAW, 2010, etc);
We have gained the support of major international organizations, such as the UN and the Council of Europe
National networks of lawyers and psychologists have been created to provide LGBT people with various forms of support, including face-to-face and distant consultations
We have a hotline that is available in all parts of the country
Thanks to our work, a lot of LGBT people in Russia have found the courage to come out and be who they are
We have helped to draw public attention to the issues of homophobia and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
We are recognized by the leading human rights organizations
We have our own office and staff
At this point in time the Russian LGBT Network has regional devisions in 16 regions of the Russian Federation.

Sources:
'Statement of the Russian LGBT Network’s Board regarding the information on the kidnappings and murders of LGBT People in the North Caucasus,' Rights in Russia, 2 April 2017 [original source: Facebook]
' "Russian LGBT-network" offers to evacuate gays from Chechnya,' Caucasian Knot, 3 April 2017
'Fifteen LGBTs ask evacuation from Chechnya, Caucasian Knot, 5 April 2017
Tom Balmforth, 'Homosexuals Appeal For Help Fleeing Chechnya Amid Allegations Of Antigay Campaign,' RFE/RL, 5 April 2017 
Matthew Kupfer, 'Detained, Tortured, Killed: How Chechnya Cracked Down on Gays,' The Moscow Times, 6 April 2017

Rights Group of the Week: Anti-Corruption Foundation

posted 4 Apr 2017, 04:14 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Apr 2017, 08:05 ]

On 26 March 2017, police dispersed protests against corruption in cities across Russia, arresting more than 1,000 in Moscow, including the organizer of the protests, Aleksei Navalny. As RFE/RL reported Aleksei Navalny had "called for protests in cities across Russia to condemn corruption after his anticorruption foundation published an investigation into property owned by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Russia and abroad." As the BBC reported, a court initially fined Navalny 20,000 roubles for going ahead with the banned protest. Subsequently, as RFE/RL reported, on 30 March 2017 Aleksei Navalny was given a 15-day jail sentence when Moscow City Court upheld his conviction under administrative law for allegedly 'resisting a police officer' on the day of the March 26 protests. In addition to Aleksei Navalny, 12 members of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, which he heads, were given short administrative jail sentences following the March 26 protests. RFE/RL quoted a spokesperson for the Anticorruption Foundation as saying the arrests were "an obvious attempt to disrupt the work of the organization." Navalny's lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, said after the court had announced its verdict that she would take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

RFE/RL reported that following Navalny's arrest, the authorities "quickly moved to shut down his anticorruption foundation, sealing off its offices, seizing equipment, and jailing the Kremlin opponent and eight key staff members." The media outlet also quoted Roman Rubanov, the director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, as saying he believed the authorities were trying to paralyze the organization's work: "We're working in emergency mode. We're working in a situation when our organization is under threat. Of course we have a plan for such events, but the normal work of our organization has been interrupted, and for the time being it is hard to imagine how it is going to continue. We don't know when we are going to get our building back and what they've taken. In material terms, they may have taken away a lot. [...] For the third day now some kind of activity is taking place in our office, and we're not allowed in. It's being guarded by police. In general, this looks very much more like robbery or theft than legal action." 

RFE/RL also reported that "Activists said electricity was then cut to the offices where they had been broadcasting coverage of nationwide rallies to what they said was an audience of 3.7 million. All staff in the office were detained, and the following day courts confirmed the arrest of eight staff members and five technical staff involved in the broadcast, jailing them for between seven and 25 days. Roman Rubanov said on March 28 that the office remained under the control of security services and that equipment had been removed from the premises." 

The Moscow Times quoted Roman Rubanov as saying that the Foundation's offices had been occupied by FSB agents three days after police forced the staff to evacuate their premises following an alleged bomb threat: "Rubanov told the news site Meduza that agents from the Federal Security Service, Russia’s post-Soviet KGB successor, were spotted presenting their identity badges to gain access to the business center that houses the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s office."

In a statement issued on 31 March 2017, Amnesty International said: "Arrests and other reprisals against employees and volunteers of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF) are part of the latest clampdown on the rights to peaceful assembly and expression in Russia. They are facing administrative arrests and harassment by the Russian authorities for organising a live broadcast of the anti-corruption protests that swept across Russia on 26 March, while the state-run media largely ignored this significant political event. The detention of the ACF’s staff and volunteers also allowed the authorities to search its office and remove computers and documents containing valuable, and possibly confidential, information. The ACF members were found guilty of “administrative offences” after unfair and politically motivated trials on 27 and 28 March. Twelve individuals, who have been arrested, are prisoners of conscience and should be immediately and unconditionally released."

Sources:
'Russian Federation: Detained members of corruption watchdog are prisoners of conscience and should be freed immediately,' Amnesty International, 30 March 2017
'Putin Downplays Anticorruption Protests, As Moscow Court Upholds Navalny's Jail Sentence,' RFE/RL, 30 March 2017
'Navalny Lawyer Pledges European Court Battle,' RFE/RL, 30 March 2017
'Russia's Modern-Day KGB Has Occupied Alexei Navalny's Office,' The Moscow Times, 28 March 2017
Tom Balmforth, 'Navalny's Group Targeted Over Protests As Kremlin Seen Weighing Crackdown,' RFE/RL, 28 March 2017
'Russia jails protests leader Alexei Navalny for 15 days,' BBC, 27 March 2017
'Police Disperse Anticorruption Rally In Moscow,' RFE/RL, 27 March 2017
'Он Вам Не Димон,' YouTube
Anti-Corruption Foundation, Wikipedia
Фонд борьбы с коррупцией 
Фонд борьбы с коррупцией, Wikipedia
'Rights Group of the Week: Anti-Corruption Foundation,' Rights in Russia, 17 July 2016

Rights Group of the Week: Civic Assistance Committee

posted 27 Mar 2017, 07:42 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 27 Mar 2017, 07:49 ]

On 23 March 2017 Fortune magazine named Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the human rights NGO Civic Assistance Committee, as one of 'the world's 50 greatest leaders.' The citation reads: "In Putin’s Russia, fighting for human rights isn’t the safest career path. And yet Gannushkina, a 75-year-old mathematician, soldiers on. Her Civic Assistance Committee has helped over 50,000 people, mainly migrants and refugees, navigate Russia’s byzantine legal system. Some of her successes: Pushing to amend refugee laws to grant citizenship to millions, and lobbying for the rights of refugee children to attend Russian schools. All this, despite her organization being labeled a 'foreign agent' by the Russian government."

Civic Assistance Committee is a non-profit charitable organization with a mission to help refugees and internally displaced persons (often called 'forced migrants' in Russia). The Civic Assistance Committee was set up in 1990 by a group of people in Moscow in reaction to the anti-Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan. From its foundation, Civic Assistance Committee has acted as mediator between migrants and official government bodies, providing legal assistance, upholding social rights and offering humanitarian aid to those in need.

On 22 September 2016 the Right Livelihood Award Foundation announced that rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina, director of the Civic Assistance Committee, was co-winner of the Swedish human rights award, which is sometimes referred to as the "alternative Nobel." As RFE/RL reported, Svetlana Gannushkina shared the 2016 prize (which included a cash award of $350,000) with the Syria Civil Defense group, Egyptian women's rights activist Mozn Hassan, and Turkish independent newspaper Cumhuriyet.

Photo of Svetlana Gannushkina: Avaz Hasanov (via HRO.org)

Sources:
Geoff Colvin, The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders, Fortune, 23 March 2017
'Журнал Fortune включил в топ-50 мировых лидеров правозащитницу Светлану Ганнушкину,' HRO.org, 27 March 2017
'Right Livelihood Award Laureates,' Right Livelihood Award Foundation, 22 September 2016
'Russian Rights Campaigner Wins "Alternative Nobel",' RFE/RL, 22 September 2016

Rights Group of the Week: Agora International

posted 20 Mar 2017, 09:33 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Mar 2017, 09:37 ]

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.

Sources:
'Agora International Awarded Prestigious Lindebrekke Prize in Norway,' Rights in Russia, 11 March 2017

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