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The case of Yury Dmitriev: “He always expected an attack”

posted by Rights in Russia   [ updated ]

18 April 2017

By Elizaveta Mayetnaya, Radio Liberty

Source: HRO.org [original source: Radio Svoboda]

A criminal investigation concerning Yury Dmitriev – the 61-year-old historian who heads the Karelian branch of the Memorial human-rights NGO -- has been completed. The case has been referred to the prosecutor's office before being sent to the court. Dmitriev is accused of child pornography (taking photographs of his adopted daughter when she was a minor), obscenity, and illegal possession of a firearm. Since his arrest in December 2016, Dmitriev has been kept in pre-trial detention.

Dozens of international and Russian human rights organisations have spoken in Dmitriev’s support. However, the court has not only ordered that the distinguished historian must remain in custody until mid-May; it has also placed a limit on the time allowed [for his defence] to study the case against him.

As Radio Liberty has learned, European historians and cultural figures have appealed to Karen Gabrielyan, Karelia’s chief prosecutor, not only to release Dmitriev from detention but also to ensure "the observance of his rights in accordance with Russian and international human-rights law and, above all, his right to a fair trial." Otherwise, the signatories write in their appeal to the Prosecutor, of which Radio Liberty has a copy, they will launch a campaign “to include those involved in Dmitriev’s prosecution on the Magnitsky Act list.”[1]

"Yury Dmitriev’s arrest and detention on improbable charges have aroused great concern among academics, historians and cultural figures in Poland and other European countries. We are alarmed by reports that the state-controlled mass media are presenting Dmitriev's case in a way that is aimed at harming not only his reputation, but also that of the authoritative NGO Memorial,” wrote members of Poland’s KARTA Centre, which studies modern European history, maintains substantial archives and engages in educational activity.[2]

In August 2015, on the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression, Poland’s Ambassador to Russia, Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nałęcz, presented Yury Dmitriev with the Gold Cross of Merit, both for his work to preserve memory, and for his services to the Polish people.

“Sandarmokh”,[3] “Solovki”,[4] "Memorial Lists of Karelia"[5]—these are the words that best sum up the life and work of Yury Dmitriev. Dmitriev was among those who discovered the Sandarmokh cemetery, the largest burial-ground of victims of political repression in Karelia. Its ten hectares were used by the NKVD [the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, responsible for political repression under the rule of Joseph Stalin] as a secret firing-range where over 9,500 people, of sixty nationalities, were shot and buried in 1937-1938. With his own hands, Dmitriev dug up the corpses and recorded the names of the prisoners buried on Mount Sekirnaya in the Solovki prison camp.[6]

According to his fellow historians, Dmitriev has a unique ability to discover things. He also did a great deal to discover many other cemeteries, which have been made into memorial sites. “People, do not kill one another!” – these words, voiced by Dmitriev, are engraved in stone at the entrance to the Sandarmokh memorial complex.

[Read more in Russian here  or here

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[1] For background information, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnitsky_Act and https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/2016-draws-close-new-laws-fight-corruption-us-and-uk-kick/?gclid=COqv6KOYutMCFUJAGwoduP8Apw

[2] For information, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KARTA_Center

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandarmokh

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solovki_prison_camp

[5] http://visz.nlr.ru/person/book/karel/1 [in Russian]

[6] Described by Alexander Solzhenitsyn as “the mother of the GULag,” the Solovki prison camp was located on the Solovetsky Islands in north-western Russia. It was used as a forced labour camp for political prisoners both in Imperial Russia and later in the Soviet period. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solovki_prison_camp

Translated and annotated by Elizabeth Teague 

Federal Ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova on the arrests of 26 March in Moscow

posted by Rights in Russia   [ updated ]

19 April 2017

Source: HRO.org

Tatyana Moskalkova, Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsperson, has said that the administrative penalties imposed against 35 people arrested in Moscow during anti-corruption protests on 26 March 2017 were inconsistent with their offences.

She explained that all of the violations had already been dealt with, reports Radio Svoboda.

According to Moskalkova, no bodily injuries were inflicted against those arrested. She also stated that she had not been contacted by protesters, although she received appeals from human rights organisations including For Human Rights.

On 26 March 2017, anti-corruption protests took place in a number of Russian cities and more than 1,000 people were arrested at the protest in Moscow.

According to OVD-Info, on 11 April, courts in Moscow examined more than 300 administrative cases against anti-corruption protesters.

Sixty-five people were placed jailed under administrative law and around 200 people were fined between 10,000 and 20,000 roubles.

Translated by Nicky Brown

Cultural figures and academics speak out in support of Novaya gazeta and Echo of Moscow

posted by Rights in Russia   [ updated ]

17 April 2017

Source: HRO.org

Journalists, writers and academics have published a declaration of solidarity with journalists from Novaya gazeta and Echo of Moscow, Sergei Parkhomenko, editor and civil society activist has reported. “Take a look at the signatures – you’ll see so many well-known names. It seems to me it is an important event that all these people should unite to speak out on something that has become important for each of us – and at a moment that they all consider decisive,” said Sergei Parkhomenko. 

The statement is the first joint action of the association with the working name “Free Speech”, whose purpose will be to defend free speech in Russia. 

Open Letter 

We, as members of the “Free Speech Association” – writers, journalists, public figures in the arts, academics – are extremely disturbed by threats aimed at our colleagues, journalists working at “Novaya Gazeta”, who have published on their pages material on mass arrests, torture and extra-judicial killings carried out against people living in Chechnya. 

We believe that the threatening and aggressive reaction to the journalists’ work that was seen on 3rd April at a rally of many thousands at the Central Mosque in Grozny, is unacceptable in a civilised society and should be evaluated from the point of view of Russian law. 

The absence of a proper reaction on the part of the law enforcement agencies and the country’s authorities triggered the usual threats – this time against the journalists from “Echo of Moscow” who spoke out in support of their colleagues at “Novaya Gazeta”. 

We remember too well how threats of this kind end. The uninvestigated murders of Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estemirova, the failure of investigators and the court to conduct a rigorous trial in the case of the murder of Boris Nemtsov compel us to follow the development of this situation with special trepidation. 


We demand that law enforcement agencies and the Prosecutor-General of the Russian Federation deliver a full legal evaluation of actions intended to incite hatred and enmity towards journalists carrying out their professional duties, and to decisively put a stop to regularly recurring recent attempts to substitute the legal foundations of the Russian Constitution with some sort of vestiges of customary law or religious dogmas. 

Nadezhda Azhgikhina, journalist 
Svetlana Aleksievich, writer
Alexander Arkhangelsky, writer 
Dmitry Bavilsky, writer 
Elena Baevskaya, translator, teacher 
Irina Balakhonova, Publisher 
Nune Barseghyan, writer, psychologist 
Leonid Bakhnov, writer 
Irina Bogatyreva, writer 
Tatyana Bonch-Osmolovskaya, writer
Marina Boroditskaya, poet, translator, children's writer
Alla Bossart, writer
Olga Varshaver, translator
Dmitry Vedenyapin, the poet
Marina Vishnevetskaya, writer, screenwriter
Vladimir Voinovich, writer
Sergey Gandlevsky, writer
Alisa Ganieva, writer
Alexander Gelman, playwright
Kristina Gorelik, journalist
Varvara Gornostayeva, publisher
Mark Greenberg, translator
Natalia Demina, journalist
Vitaliy Dixon, writer
Olga Drobot, translator
Eugene Ermolin, critic, cultural historian
Victor Yesipov, poet, literary critic
George Efremov, poet, translator
Natalia Ivanova, writer, critic
Alexander Illichevsky, writer
Igor Irtenev, writer
Gennady Kalashnikov, the poet
Pavel Kataev, writer,
Irina Kravtsova, Publisher
Gennady Krasukhin, literary critic, writer
Maya Kucherskaya, writer
Alexander Livergant, translator
Natalia Mavlevich, translator
Alexey Motrov, writer
Vladimir Moshchenko, writer
Anton Nechaev, writer
Leonid Nikitinsky, journalist
Sergey Parkhomenko, journalist
Grigory Pasko, journalist
Nikolay Podosokorsky, philologist, literary critic 
Alexander Podrabinek, journalist 
Alyosha Prokopiev, poet, translator 
Maria Rybakova, writer 
Zoya Svetova, journalist 
Olga Sedakova, writer 
Alexey Slapovsky, writer 
Vladimir Sorokin, writer 
Vladimir Sotnikov, writer
Tatyana Sotnikova (Anna Berseneva), writer
Irina Staf, philologist, translator
Lyubov Somm, translator
Lev Timofeev, writer
Lyudmila Ulitskaya, writer
Elena Fanailova, poet, journalist
Igor Kharichev, writer
Alexey Tsvetkov, writer, essayist
Grigory Chkhartishvili (Boris Akunin), writer
Alla Shevelkina, journalist
Tatiana Shcherbina, poet, essayist
Sergey Yakovlev, writer
Alexander Yarin, translator

Translated by Frances Robson 

New book about political prisoner Aleksei Pichugin

posted 16 Apr 2017, 12:30 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 16 Apr 2017, 12:35 ]

12 April 2017

Source: HRO.org

The second edition of the book by Vera Vasilieva, a correspondent of HRO.org, Aleksei Pichugin - Roads and Crossroads. A biographical sketch is about a former employee of the company, YUKOS, who was sentenced to life imprisonment and recognized as a political prisoner by the Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow).

Eleven years ago Vera Vasilieva first became interested in this case involving Yukos’ former head of department of economic security when Moscow City Court began the second trial of Pichugin. The first edition of her book was published at the end of 2011 by the Prague publishing house “Human Rights Publishers”. This is a story about a man who became a hostage in the war for the control of oil resources and who maintained his honour and dignity in this war without rules. It is about how Pichugin, under pressure in the key moments of his trial, by his own admission, drew strength for his struggle from colleagues, supporters, family and friends.

This second edition, was prepared with the participation of Novaya gazeta, with the personal involvement of Dmitry Muratov, its editor-in- chief. It is supplemented by a narrative about everything that has happened to Aleksei Pichugin since 2011.

The main events of this narrative include the following. In 2012 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the right of a convicted person to a fair trial had been violated and it could only be restored by a new trial. Subsequently, a year later the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation refused to comply with that judgment. Aleksei Pichugin was unexpectedly moved from “The Black Dolphin” "(Prison Colony No.6 in the town of Sol-Iletsk in Orenburg region), where he had been held from 2008 to 2016, in early July last year to Moscow's Lefortovo pre-trial detention centre. There were house searches and summonses to interrogation made to Aleksei Pichugin’s younger brother and their mother Alla Nikolayevna, and many other harassments.

In addition, the author completely reworked her chapter "The Black Dolphin". After the publication of the first edition of the book, Vera Vasilieva visited Sol-Iletsk three times. From these visits she managed to bring back not only many photographs of the prison colony and its environs, but also pictures of the residents of the town where there is hardly a soul who hasn't themselves worked in the "Black Dolphin" or who don’t have any relatives or acquaintances who have done. Also included in the book is the testimony of a former cellmate of Aleksei Pichugin about Pichugin and his life in the penal institution.

Further remarkable evidence is in the form of a letter from a person close to the investigation, stating that the investigative team working on the Pichugin case is not conducting an objective investigation. According to this source, the investigators are required to collect only incriminating evidence, rejecting any evidence in favour of the innocence of representatives of the out-of-favour oil company.

According to Vera Vasilieva, the real highlight of the new edition is the drawings and illustrations of artist Anastasia Zbutska, who "does not simply reproduce reality but shows the artist's relationship to it, thereby giving the text a greater expressiveness.”

On 4th April 2017, it was reported that political prisoner Aleksei Pichugin had been returned to the Black Dolphin after a nine-month stay in Lefortovo. Independent observers assumed that Pichugin had been brought to Moscow once again to try to compel him to testify in the so-called "third criminal case against Khodorkovsky" regarding the murder of the mayor of Nefteyugansk, Vladimir Petukhov. Aleksei Pichugin has repeatedly declared his innocence, but the investigators tried to persuade him to give false testimony against the management of the oil company. Whenever he refused to do this, he referred to Article 51 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which gives the right not to be compelled to testify against oneself or one’s loved ones.

The second edition of the book Aleksei Pichugin - Roads and Crossroads. A biographical sketch can be purchased in Moscow at the library of The Sakharov Centre. In other cities in Russia it can be ordered with free mail delivery by the Russian Postal Service, by sending an application by e-mail to apichugin-book@list. ru.

Translated by Graham Jones

Human rights defender Aleksei Glukhov reports on acts of repression against participants in anti-corruption protests

posted 13 Apr 2017, 03:19 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 13 Apr 2017, 03:20 ]

6 April 2017

Source: HRO.org

The approaches of local authorities and law-enforcement agencies to protestors [who took part in the anti-corruption demonstrations of 26 March 2017] differed across Russia’s regions, according to lawyer and human rights defender Aleksei Glukhov. As Gukhov points out, however, those arrested were declared guilty by the courts almost everywhere, and almost no-one was acquitted.

As reported by the Rosbalt news agency, Glukhov noted that "The authorities reacted differently on the day of the protests in the various regions. In some places — notably Moscow, Dagestan and Krasnodar — participants in peaceful demonstrations were arrested on the spot and handed over to the police, and the courts subsequently handed down virtually identical judgements.”

"Southern Russia and Moscow differed from other regions in the very large number of jail sentences handed down to protesters under administrative law. In Krasnodar, the detention centre was packed out with protestors. There was even an unwritten rule in force, according to which people were not to be jailed on other charges. But in other places, such as Yekaterinburg, detainees were put into buses parked close to where the protests were held; those arrested were charged and then, reportedly, released and told to wait until they were summoned to court,” Glukhov said.

"In Chuvashia, by contrast, no arrests were made on the day of the anti-corruption demonstrations. But later, people were arrested at work or elsewhere, taken to court and fined between 500 and 1,000 roubles [UK£7.05 – £14.10] on charges of non-compliance with the lawful demands of police officers," Glukhov reported.

Glukhov said he knew of about a hundred court cases relating to the 26 March 2017 protests. What all regions had in common was that almost all the detainees were found guilty, and the judgements handed down by the courts were all virtually identical, even where the courts themselves differed. At present, there is only one known case where the accused was found not guilty. "In Nizhny Tagil [Sverdlovsk Region],” Glukhov said, “one of those who attended the anti-corruption protest was acquitted on the grounds that he had not been a participant and had not carried a placard, but had merely streamed the event using Periscope [a live video streaming app for mobile phones]."

Translated by Elizabeth Teague

Statement by Memorial Human Rights Centre concerning the demonstrations of 26 March

posted 10 Apr 2017, 06:12 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 10 Apr 2017, 07:14 ]

31 March 2017

Source: HRO.org [original source: Memorial Human Rights Centre]

"On Sunday 26 March 2017 demonstrations against corruption took place in many Russian cities. Those in Moscow and St. Petersburg were particularly large. The number of arrests was also very large. In Moscow a new record was set: more than one thousand people were detained for realizing their constitutional rights.

The press secretary of V.V.Putin called the demonstrations a ‘provocation,’ and explained the significant participation in these events by young people on the grounds of alleged promises of ‘monetary rewards’ by the organizers of the protests.

But if the events of that Sunday were indeed provoked, it was solely by the authorities.

First of all, the authorities did this by their determination not to give official answers to lawful questions by citizens about corruption in the highest echelons of government. People took to the streets precisely because of the absence of any reasonable reaction to evidence of dubious financial receipts by the head of the Russian government, Dmitry Medvedev, that were exposed by the Foundation for Combating Corruption.

A second factor was the authorities unmotivated rejection of requests to hold the march along Tverskaya street.

The obstacles put up by official bodies all over the country to giving permission for the holding of anti-corruption public events were unlawful.

They evidently exceeded the restrictions on freedom of assembly permissible in a democratic society.

The demagogy of the authorities in referring to the ‘law’ only emphasise the actual lack of fundamental freedoms in Russia. The federal law ‘On assemblies, rallies, demonstrations, marches and picketing’ in its current form, together with a series of other normative acts adopted in recent years, has in essence abolished the constitutional rights of citizens, substituting a system based on ‘permission’ for one based on ‘notification,’  a system which in essence amounts to prohibition.

It cannot be considered an acceptable state of affairs when the executive branch of government decides at its own discretion where criticism of government can and cannot be expressed.

However, even under current Russian law, the lack of agreement by local authorities is no justification for the mass arrest and beating of participants in a peaceful protest.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly pointed out that convincing and indisputable grounds are needed to justify interference with the right to peaceful assembly.

The illegality of a demonstration from the point of view of the lack of preliminary notification of the police does not in itself justify a limitation on the right to peaceful assembly.

Any demonstration in a public place, to some extent, inevitably disrupts the usual flow of life, creating hindrances to traffic.

But so long as demonstrators do not resort to force, the authorities must show tolerance in relation to peaceful assembly.

People who gathered on Tverskaya Street did not show any aggression at all, and there were no grounds to hinder them from expressing their point of view. The possible presence of individual provocateurs and aggressive individuals cannot and must not be a reason to disperse a peaceful demonstration. On the contrary, the police can and are obliged to defend the right of citizens to express their opinions, while ensuring their security.

The accounts of witnesses, video recordings and testimony of those who were themselves detained clearly show the unlawful nature of the detentions and the lack of grounds for the use of force by the police.

In the course of the arrests, many participants in the demonstration in Moscow were subjected to inhumane treatment and violence on the part of police officers.

The conditions under which those detained in Moscow were taken to the police stations, and subsequently treated, in many cases violated the ban on torture and inhumane and degrading treatment.

Today in Moscow and throughout the country, courts continue to hear the cases of those detained. As of 30 March, according to the data gathered by the human rights project OVD-Info, in Moscow alone at least 65 people were sentenced to terms in prison from two to 25 days.

People were prosecuted under administrative law, fined and jailed in violation of the right to fair trial.

The response to questions asked lawfully of the authorities has been the arrest and imprisonment of twelve employees and volunteers of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (including the head of the organization, Aleksei Navalny) and of four operators of online broadcasts, the sacking of the Foundation's office and the confiscation of its equipment.

The reaction of the authorities to the mass protests on 26 March has not been limited to arrests, fines and jail terms. From all over the country there have been more and more reports of unjustified summonses of individuals who took part in the demonstrations to the Centre for Combating Extremism. Students have been threatened with expulsion from university. In a number of cities, including Moscow, criminal charges have already been brought in a relation to certain episodes that happened in the course of the protest.

All this gives grounds to speak of a new wave of political repression.

Today it is necessary to do everything possible to stop this wave and to avoid catastrophic consequences for the present and future of our country.

We are convinced that the unjustified use of violence by the police does not support, but on the contrary destroys, law and order, and undermines respect for the law and the legitimacy of institutions of state.  

In the modern world, a regime that is unable to respond to society in any other way than by means of police batons and political repression is doomed. This is not a demonstration of strength, but of cowardice, and of a lack of preparedness and of the ability to defend one's point of view.

We call for an immediate end to the prosecution of participants in peaceful assemblies, and for the release of those who have been jailed under administrative law. 

We call for those officials guilty of violating the rights and freedoms of the participants in the protests of 26 March to be brought to justice. 

Political prisoner Aleksei Pichugin sent back to “Black Dolphin” prison colony

posted 10 Apr 2017, 05:38 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 10 Apr 2017, 05:42 ]

4 April 2017

Source: HRO.org

Legal representatives of political prisoner and former Yukos employee Aleksei Pichugin have announced that he has been sent back to the Black Dolphin prison colony. Aleksei Pichugin’s lawyer Kseniya Kostromina said she will visit him in the near future at the Sol-Iletsk prison.

Last Monday, 27 March, information was made public that Aleksei Pichugin had disappeared from the Lefortovo remand centre in Moscow, where he has been held since July 2016. Since then neither his lawyers nor relatives received any official communication regarding the whereabouts of the prisoner.

Aleksei Pichugin, under life sentence, has already spent eight years – from 2008 to 2016 in the ‘Black Dolphin’ prison colony (Prison Colony No. 6 in the town of Sol-Iletsk in Orenburg region). The former Yukos oil company employee has repeatedly stated his innocence, as well as alleging that the investigators had sought to persuade him to give false testimony against the leadership of Yukos.

Independent observers have suggested that Pichugin had been brought to Moscow for the purpose of trying once more to compel him to give testimony for the so-called “third criminal case” against Khodorkovsky concerning the alleged organisation of the murder of the mayor of Nefteyugansk, Vladimir Petukhov.

In October 2012 the European Court ofr Human Rights ruled that in the case of Aleksei Pichugin there had been a violation of the right to fair trial, and for the restoration of justice the verdict should be quashed and the criminal case against Pichugin reviewed. Memorial Human Rights Centre has declared Aleksei Pichugin a political prisoner.

Translated by Frances Robson

Maksim Panfilov: “I physically wouldn’t be able to crush a shockproof helmet”

posted 3 Apr 2017, 10:36 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 3 Apr 2017, 10:45 ]

20 March 2017

Source: HRO.org 

The defense has finished presenting evidence at the hearing in the case of political prisoner Maksim Panfilov. On March 20, 2017, the accused was questioned, Каsparov.ru reports. In court, Maksim Panfilov explained that he went voluntarily to the protest on May 6. “My rights were violated by the rigging of the elections. Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, on the right to peaceful protest without weapons, was violated during this very protest. Riot police began to constrict the crowd, they used special equipment, beat people with nightsticks, and sprayed some sort of caustic gas.”

Maksim Panfilov also explained that, beforehand, he did not know Filippov, the riot police officer whose helmet he allegedly ripped off, as if to hurt him, because the helmet was fastened. In addition, the prosecution claims that Officer Filippov felt pain due to the fact that Panfilov allegedly crushed the helmet forcefully with his hands.

“I don’t deny that I took off Filippov’s helmet, but it was not fastened. When I took it off, I threw it aside. I did not crush the helmet, it’s steel, shockproof, I physically wouldn’t be able to do that. I acted this way to distract him, because he was twisting someone's arms, but he didn’t even pay attention to me. I took off his helmet and ran off to the side. I didn’t see anything else. I’m not even sure that it was Filippov; he didn’t even turn his head towards me,” Maksim Panfilov explained.

The "Bolotaya Square" defendant also complained that officers used force when detaining him: “They detained me very roughly, tearing my clothes. They tore off a piece of my turtleneck, they tore my coat, they hit my legs with a nightstick. I fell down, after which four riot officers took me by the limbs, another squeezed me around the neck, choked me, and carried me to a police van. There’s a picture of this on the internet. At the police station, they fined me for 'insubordination,’ I paid it, back in Astrakhan.”

The defense also asked the public commission, headed by Liudmila Alekseeva, to put together a report on the dispersal of the peaceful protest on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, and a map of the march’s route, posted on the site of the police department. The mother of the accused, who is Panfilov’s legal representative, was interrogated in private.

Panfilov is accused of committing the crimes stipulated in Section 2 of Article 212 (“Participation in Civil Unrest”) and Section 1 of Article 318 (“Use of Force against an Official”) of the Russian Criminal Code. The media reported on the morning of April 7, 2016, that he had been detained in Astrakhan. After a search of his apartment, Panfilov was taken to the police station, and after that he was transported by plane to Moscow.

According to investigators, at Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, the accused “struck police officers who were protecting public order, trying to rip off their helmets.”

Maksim Alekseevich Panfilov, born in 1985, resident of Astrakhan, suffers from a neurological condition, and wasn’t working at the time of his arrest. He has been charged under Section 2 of Article 212 (“Participation in Civil Unrest”) and under Section 1 of Article 318 (“Use of Force against an Official”) of the Russian Criminal Code, as part of the Bolotnaya Case. He has been in custody since April 7, 2016. He is recognized as a political prisoner, since the prosecution is being carried out on a charge of lawbreaking for which there is no evidence, while his right to a fair trial is being violated and he is being held in custody that is disproportionate to his actions.

For more information about the Bolotnaya Square case, see here.

Sova Centre publishes two new reports

posted 3 Apr 2017, 10:21 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 3 Apr 2017, 10:33 ]

22 March 2017

Source: HRO.org

By Vera Vasilieva [extract]

On 21 March 2017, the Sova Centre for Information and Analysis presented two reports at the International Memorial Society: “Old problems and new unions. Combating xenophobia and radical nationalism in Russia in 2016” and “Unlawful implementation of anti-extremist law.”

The director of the Sova Centre, Aleksandr Verkhovsky, and Centre staff Vera Alperovich, Nataliya Yudina and Mariya Kravchenko, participated in the presentations.

“The context in which the nationalists had to act, was set as early as 2014, when the events in Ukraine that everyone knows about unfolded. At that time, there were two important factors. The first was that the ultra-right field splintered into two parts, one part supporting the ideas of the “Russian Spring” or the so-called “New Russia”, while the other did not share their enthusiasm, and a conflict arose between them.

The second important factor was the sharply increased pressure on the ultra-right environment by law enforcement agencies, which led to the prohibition of many nationalist organisations or the loss of their leaders through prosecution,” noted Vera Alperovich, who prepared the first report with Nataliya Yudina.

According to the expert, the street actions of “Russian Spring” supporters failed to attract even the small number of like-minded people who came to them in 2015. For this reason, there was a trend towards non-political forms of activity – all kinds of combat training and gathering, discussion clubs and lectures, etc.

As for the opponents of “Novorossiya”, they “were forced to cooperate with the liberal-democratic movement.” However, as Vera Alperovich noted, “this tactic was not successful, because among the liberals, the nationalists have a rather bad reputation.”

In 2016 the quantity of racist and neo-Nazi motivated attacks slightly decreased compared to the previous year, according to the Sova Centre.

“But in reality, the scope of violence is unknown. It is difficult to gather information from open sources because the mass media very rarely write about it now, or from closed sources, because the victims very rarely talk about what has happened to them, they rarely go to human rights organisations for assistance, and even more rarely to the police. As a result, the data we provide is just a drop in the ocean,” clarified Nataliya Yudina.

[...] For more information, including the texts of the reports, please visit the website of the Sova Centre.

Translated by Kate Goodby 

Team 29 launches online publication

posted 30 Mar 2017, 23:59 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 31 Mar 2017, 00:03 ]

22 March 2017

Source: HRO.org

Team 29, an association of lawyers and journalists dedicated to the defence of human rights, has launched its own media outlet entitled Team 29. According to Zaks.ru, quoting Team 29's press service, the site will report on problems relating to access to information in Russia. The new portal will also discuss cases related to state treason and state secrets, as well as the protection of human rights in the area of freedom of information, and problems arising from the opaque nature of Russian state institutions.

"Our journalists have long been writing about working with Russian law-enforcement agencies, about people put on trial for state treason, espionage or extremism, and about the problems of accessing socially significant information in Russia. Now there will be more such reports and they will be published on a regular basis," according to the press service of lawyer Ivan Pavlov, who leads Team 29.

As noted on Team 29’s Facebook page, all information about the association, which previously was spread across a number of resources, will now be located at the new site. In addition, a fundraising project has been launched on the new portal; this will contribute toward financing the publication, and Team 29’s legal work.

Team 29 is an informal association of lawyers and journalists. It was set up [in 2015] by former members of the Freedom of Information Foundation, which ceased its activity in 2014 after it was forcibly included in the list of so-called "foreign agents." The lawyers belonging to Team 29 have attracted considerable public attention through their work on legal proceedings regarding a "troll factory" and the case of Svetlana Davydova [Svetlana Davydova was arrested at her home near Moscow in January 2015 on charges of treason. She was accused of telephoning the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow in 2014 to alert them that Russian soldiers might be heading to eastern Ukraine. She was later released - trans.] Team 29 represented the St Petersburg media in their case against Aleksandr Zapesotsky, Rector of the St Petersburg Trade Union University. They defended the NGO "Planet of Hopes" in its dispute with [the state-owned] All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK). Team 29 leader Ivan Pavlov represented Oksana Sevastidi in her high-profile trial on allegations of treason by means of SMS messages [Olga Sevastidi was convicted of high treason in in March 2016 and sentenced to seven years in prison for texting in 2008 about a Russian train carrying military equipment toward Georgia’s breakaway region Abkhazia during the short war between Russia and Georgia. She was released in March 2017 - trans.]. And lawyers belonging to Team 29 are representing the "Beautiful Petersburg" movement in a case involving the city’s district administrations.
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The years 2015 and 2016 saw the intensification of often arbitrary state oversight of the work of Russian NGOs, and the creation of new legal challenges to their existence. Doubt was cast upon the legality of the very existence and activities of NGOs in Russia, and their role as an indispensable part of independent civil society came under threat. This conclusion is highlighted in the research report, “The Development of Civic Activism Notwithstanding: Russian NGOs in the Wake of the ‘Foreign Agents’ Law.” [‘Развитие гражданского активизма вопреки: российские НКО после законодательства об “‘иностранных агентах” ’]. Organisations declared by the Justice Ministry to be “foreign agents” have been forced to pay disproportionately large fines and suffered reputational and financial costs, as a result of which some have been forced into liquidation.

Environmental and human rights NGOs have proved most likely to be targeted. At its 70th session in 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that recognised the importance of the role played by human rights defenders and the need for their protection. The resolution was approved by 117 member-states.

In a special report published in 2015, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks noted that “The current NGO legislation is open to the possibility of misuse as a repressive tool against human rights defenders. Stringent sanctions, including the possibility for NGO managers to face criminal charges, can have a chilling effect on the work of civil society institutions and cultivate self-censorship.”

In a special report dated 2013, the International Memorial Society stressed that “The concept of the ‘law on foreign agents’ is not based on the principle of the rule of law. There is not a single problem that this law would solve. The purposes of those who initiated this law were purely political and opportunistic, and its wording introduces obvious legal uncertainty. The law 'on foreign agents' effectively leads to the presumption of guilt artificially directed against a specific group of organisations.”

The world's leading international human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has stated that "the so-called ‘law on foreign agents’ is one of a series of measures aimed at suppressing civil society and freedom of expression” in Russia.

Russian NGOs have repeatedly objected to the law and appealed against it, including at the European Court of Human Rights. Human rights activists stress that the law is clearly discriminatory and has an extremely negative historical context.

Ninety members of Russia's PEN Center, joined by historians, members of the Free Historical Society and other Russian academics, have called on the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation to halt the arbitrary treatment of NGOs classified as "foreign agents."

Translated by Elizabeth Teague

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