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Rights Group of the Week: OVD-Info

posted 19 Jun 2017, 09:29 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Jun 2017, 09:33 ]
OVD-Info is an independent human rights media project based in Moscow that is dedicated to monitoring politically-motivated prosecutions in Russia. In particular, since the resurgence of the public protest movement in Russia (for example on 26 March and 12 June this year) OVD-Info has become one of the most valuable sources of information about police behaviour at rallies, including the number of detentions made by police, the treatment of detainees, and information about the court cases that follow. Last week, OVD-Info reported that at least 1720 people had been detained in Russia at the anti-corruption protests on 12 June throughout Russia (including 866 people in Moscow and 658 in St. Petersburg). These authoritative figures were widely quoted, including by Amnesty International

OVD-Info was founded in December 2011 in reaction to the mass arrests of protesters at that time 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."

Since 14 April 2017 the Open Democracy website has been 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 has also been publishing these updates

OVD-Info, website
'1,700 people detained at Russia’s anti-corruption protests [OVD-Info],' Rights in Russia, 17 June 2017
'Russia: Police humiliate and mistreat hundreds of detained peaceful protesters,' Amnesty International, 14 June 2017
'Bolotnaya 2.0?,' Open Democracy, 14 April 2017
Grigory Okhotin, 'Crowdfunding to bypass Russia’s civil society crackdown,' Open Democracy, 21 March 2017
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