24 October 2016
By Vera Vasilieva
The Internet resource Change.org has published an appeal to the President of Russia calling for the number of members of the fourth intake of the Public Oversight Commissions (POCs) to be increased and to announce a call for new members.
The lists of new members of the POCs in 42 Russian regions, that have the function of overseeing the observance of human rights in places of detention, were published late in the evening on Friday, 21 October 2016 on the website of the Public Chamber of Russia.
It turned out that former members who actually had worked to ensure protection of the rights of prisoners from arbitrariness by the authorities in remand centres and prisons have, in many cases, now been replaced by people whose backgrounds lie in the prison system itself. Almost immediately many well-known human rights defenders, who for many years effectively worked in this area, published commentaries on the situation. In their view the selection of POC members with that kind of background amounts to the purposeful destruction of public oversight in places of detention throughout the country.
As the authors of the petition stress, human rights defenders who had performed well in these positions have not been included in the new membership of POCs, while people who had no relation to human rights work became members.
Among figures that called forth the sharpest public reaction are the former head of the Butyrka, the main Moscow remand centre, Dmitry Komnov, who was in charge of remand centre at the time that Sergei Magnitsky, lawyer of the Hermitage investment fund, died in detention there. Despite the fact that he is on the 'Magnitsky List', Komnov has become a member of the Moscow POC.
Of the previous POC members who recommended themselves as conscientious human rights observers in Moscow remand centres, only Moskovsky komsomolets journalist Eva Merkacheva remains.
In addition, those who have initiated the petition point out that the Public Chamber set a limit to the numbers of members of the commissions for each region of the Russian Federation.
The petition states: "The make-up of the commissions, as presented for voting to the board of the Public Chamber, does not take into account either the size of the population, the distance between places of detention and the homes of the members of the POCs, or the number of places of detention.”
Andrei Babushkin, chair of the Committee for Civic Rights, a former member of the Moscow POC who has also lost his place in the new membership, gives an eloquent example on his LiveJournal blog.
For Moscow region [the region encircling Moscow city - ed.], where more than 7,300,000 people live and there are 12 pre-trial detention facilities, five prison colonies, more than 40 units for temporary police detention, and almost 200 police stations, the Public Chamber fixed an upper limit of 33 members for the POC.
Moreover, only 26 people were elected to serve on the POC. Candidates, such as Anna Karetnikova, a member of the board of the International Memorial Society who had until then served on the Moscow POC for eight years, and her colleague on the capital’s POC, Elena Abullaeva and other human rights defenders, were not elected.
As is well-known, the federal law 'Оn Public Oversight' forbids one and the same person to be appointed to a POC in one region of the Russian Federation more than three times in a row. When this point was adopted in the law, it was hoped that, once the POCs had functioned for a number of years, a new generation of human rights defenders would come to continue the work begun by the older generation. However, against expectations, this has not happened, and for that reason a number of prominent human rights defenders who have acquired over eight years considerable experience in this area and wish to continue the work, applied to become members of POCs in other regions. However, they were not elected.
In Mordovia, where there are more than ten prison colonies, 16 people were put forward as candidates to be members of the POC, including the most active member of the local POC, Sergei Marin, and the journalist and member of the Moscow POC, Zoya Svetova. However, the Public Chamber confirmed the election of only nine people as members of the POC. Neither Zoya Svetova, nor Sergei Marin, were elected.
"The POCs cannot effectively carry out public oversight to ensure the protection of human rights in places of detention in the region, and this will lead to a rise in the number of violations of the law and of human rights. We request that the number of members of the POCs at these fourth elections should be increased, and that there should be an additional intake,” the appeal states.
The peititon is оpen for signing.
HRO.org in English >