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 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
On 6/1 members of the Public Oversight Commission of Dagestan who had received a complaint about possible torture of a detainee at Makhachkala’s pre-trial detention facility No. 1 were not permitted to inspect the facility, Caucasian Knot reported. On 6/1 two members of the Public Oversight Commission [POC] of Dagestan, Bagrat Musaev and Magomed Gadjiev, were not allowed to inspect SIZO (pre-trial detention centre) No. 1 of Makhachkala on the grounds of what the local department of the Russian Penitentiary Service (know as FSIN) called 'regime activities.' As Caucasian Knot reports, the Musaev and Gadjiev were responding to a complaint received by the Public Oversight Commission with regard to an allegation of the use of torture against a detainee. When Musaev and Gadjiev arrived at the SIZO, they were not allowed to enter the facility. Despite the refusal to allow the two representatives of the POC to enter the detention centre, the head of the local FSIN press service, Amirkhan Gasanov, said 'there will be no obstacles for POC inspections, and on January 7 the POC members will be able to get into SIZO-1 and carry out the necessary check.' However, according to Federal Law No. 76, members of a POC, 'having notified the administration [of a detention facility], have the right to visit without special permission all places of enforced detention, to question persons who are suspects, have been charged or convicted, and to receive complaints from them, and officials are obliged to receive members of the Commission immediately.'
As the website of the Public Oversight Commission of Dagestan points out: 'The Commission is not an NGO, but a Russian independent preventive mechanism of the the institutions of civil society, working in compliance with Federal Law No. 76 and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture.'
Federal Law No. 76 of 10 June 2008: 'Об общественном контроле за обеспечением прав человека в местах принудительного содержания и о содействии лицам, находящимся в местах принудительного содержания'
On 30 December 2016 the Justice Ministry of the Russian Federation added the Sova Centre to the register of so-called 'foreign agent' NGOs. As The Moscow Times reports, federal officials said the Sova Centre was so designated 'after an unscheduled inspection of its offices, without offering any further details.' The Sova Centre was set up in 2002 by human rights activists from the Moscow Helsinki Group and the Panorama Centre and has established itself as a leading independent monitor of racism and xenophobia in Russia. Halya Coynash, writing in Human Rights in Ukraine, says that the reason for the designation 'almost certainly lies in the Centre’s monitoring and criticism of Russia’s ever-increasing misuse of dangerously broad "anti-extremism" legislation.' Coynash notes that Sova Centre director Aleksandr Verkhovsky 'points out that the formal act [of the Justice Ministry] in full asserts that the organization “carries out the functions of a foreign agent, receiving foreign money and publicly assessing the activities of the state authorities”,' and quotes him as telling Interfax: 'Of course, we receive money. And we assess the activities of the authorities. I think that is what every citizen does. I find it totally incomprehensible how that is labelled political activities. The Sova Centre intends to appeal against the decision.
ПЫТОКTerritory of Torture is a group of activists who run a website of the same name, working to uncover and publicize instances of torture in particular at Prison Colony No. 7 in Segezha, Karelia (and also more widely), to bring the perpetrators to justice, and to raise funds to pay for legal representation for the victims of torture. The inspiration for the group's creation has been the imprisonment of Ildar Dadin at Prison Colony No. 7 and his subjection to torture and other forms of inhuman and degrading treatment. The most prominent activist in the group is the journalist and human rights defender Anastasia Zotova, who is the wife of Ildar Dadin. The group works in association with four partner NGOs, namely Za prava cheloveka, Fond v zashchitu zakliuchennykh, Sota.vision and OVD-Info. The group also runs two projects: a campaign to repeal Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code that criminalizes repeated violations of the Russia's draconian laws on public assembly, and restricts the right to free expression, and a campaign to free Ildar Dadin. The group can also be read on Facebook and Telegram.
Recently, an article by Anastasia Zotova published in English by OpenDemocracy reported on allegations of torture in other prison colonys in the Republic of Karelia: 'The deeper you go into the woods, the darker it gets. My colleagues and I at Territory of Torture have received more complaints from Karelia’s IK-1 prison colony. These complaints concern not only beatings and humiliation, but even (excuse the expression) “a stick up the arse” — anal rape with a baton or other instruments. Over a dozen current prisoners from IK-1 and around the same number of former prisoners have spoken of their experiences of torture at this prison colony. [...]'
Free Ildar Dadin!, Facebook
Against Torture in Segezha, Telegram
On 16 December 2016, Moscow's Zamoskvoretsky district court dismissed an application by the International Memorial Society to be removed from 'foreign agent' register, RAPSI reported. The organization's executive director, Elena Zhemkova, said they would appeal the ruling. International Memorial Society said the ministry of justice wrongly interpreted some publications on the website of the NGO as evidence of 'political activity.' However, International Memorial Society argues that these statements are a manifestation of the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation. International Memorial Society also pointed out that, according to a ruling by the Constitutional Court, an international organization cannot be registered as a 'foreign agent'. International Memorial Society was designated as a 'foreign agent' NGO on 21 July 2014. The previous week, Tverskoy district court in Moscow had fined the International Memorial Society 300,000 roubles (nearly $5,000) for failing to register voluntarily as a 'foreign agent' NGO.
The previous week during a visit to Moscow, Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, had described the 'Foreign Agents' law as 'discriminatory' 'regressive' and as having a 'chilling effect on civil society at large'. Following the decision by the court on 16 December 2016, the European Union issued a statement condemning the 'foreign agent' law as 'inhibiting independent civil society' in Russia. The European Union called on the Russian authorities 'to align their policies and legislation with the human rights obligations and commitments that they have undertaken, and to abandon the practice of branding Russian NGOs as "foreign agents", as well as all resulting administrative harassment.' The statement said the work of Memorial was 'of the utmost importance for the promotion of human rights in Russia and the preservation of its historical memory.'
For more information about International Memorial Society, see an interview by Rights in Russia with Arseny Roginsky, chair of the board of the NGO, from April 2013.
'Moscow court refuses to exclude rights group Memorial from “foreign agents” list,' RAPSI, 16 December 2016
'Judge dismisses lawsuit brought by International Memorial Society against Ministry of Justice,' HRO.org in English, 16 December 2016'International Memorial Society is protecting the right to freedom of expression,' HRO.org in English, 15 December 2016
Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, 'Annual Conference of the Russian Regional Human Rights Ombudsmen,' Council of Europe, 7 December 2016
'Statement by the Spokesperson on the "foreign agent" status of the Memorial International Society,' European Union External Action, 16 December 2016
'Interview with Arseny Roginsky: "The authorities still do not understand what freedom of association means",' Rights in Russia, 26 April 2013
International Memorial Society: website
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