Arseny Roginsky is chair of the board of the International Memorial SocietyRights in Russia: What is the International Memorial Society today? Arseny Roginsky:
Today Memorial is a network of organisations operating in several countries. Most of our organisations are in Russia— 38 of them. There are about ten organizations in Ukraine, one each in Latvia and Kazakhstan and, further abroad, in Italy, Germany and France. Each organisation operates autonomously and independently; and all of them together form a community, which is called International Memorial. The management board of Memorial is more of a coordinating body than a directive body. Once every four years delegates from all the organisations gather at a conference, re-elect the management board and plan the main strategy for our work going forward. [Read more]
10 July 2012 n-ost correspondent Pavel Lokshin spoke with Ludmila Alekseeva on the eve of the first reading in the State Duma of the new NGO bill on 6 July 2012. n-ost: The Russian Parliament is about to debate a new bill which labels NGOs that receive international funding “foreign agents”. It forces them to reregister and disclose their finances or else to face exorbitant fines, a ban on their activities or even prison terms. How will the Moscow Helsinki Group, of which you are a co-founder, respond to this bill? Ludmila Alekseeva:
The Kremlin will wait in vain for us to register as “foreign agents”. We won’t let ourselves be branded like that. If the bill is adopted we will give up foreign funding. We will accept restrictions on our activities. How other representatives of civil society will respond I don’t know. [Read more
This is a translation by Rights in Russia of an original German text made available by kind permission of n-ost
11 April 2012 An interview with Irina Flige, director of the St. Petersburg Memorial Research and Information Centre, by Masha Karp "If there is an enthusiast, there is a monument. If there isn't one, then there is no monument"
"In Russia I think at the present time there is only one measure for political events: whether blood will be shed or not. Unfortunately, we are on the threshold of these events."
On 28th March Index on Censorship, which has just celebrated its 40th anniversary, awarded one of its Freedom of Expression awards to Memorial Research and Information Centre. Irina Flige, director of the Centre in St. Petersburg, was presented with the award in London by Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, one of Index on Censorship’s original trustees (photo below: Index on Censorship). In this interview with Masha Karp, Irina Flige speaks about the work of the Centre, the protests that have taken place in Russia, and the current situation in Russia. [Read more]
Interview with Alyona Ob'ezdchikova, director, Interregional Human Rights Group, Voronezh
Rights in Russia: The Interregional Human Rights Group does much work combating corruption. Could you tell us about this, and about how it ties in with the rest of your human rights work?
I would like to tell you about some aspects of our international work combating corruption. The serious fight against corruption in Russia is just beginning, because state activities in this field still seem to be little more than imitation. I think it’s fair to say that the death in pre-trial detention of Sergei Magnitsky has been a turning point. His death had a major impact in Russia. Those who speak up often do so against corporate interests that are corrupt and criminal. But sometimes they are not even against these criminal groups as such, they just want to honestly carry out their own business. And they face repression from state bodies, most often from law enforcement bodies - the police and prosecutors, either separately or sometimes together. [Read more
Olga Gnezdilova, barrister and expert on the right of association in Russia, who works with Lawyers for Civil Society in Voronezh and is the author of a recent report on the right of association, talks with Rights in Russia about the current legal framework for civil society organizations in Russia.
Rights in Russia
: How do you see the current situation for NGOs in Russia? Olga Gnezdilova
: I can’t say that violations of freedom of association are very serious at the moment, but we see significant new problems arising in the future. On the one hand some positive changes may well take place, but on the other hand some negative changes are also expected.
As for the negative changes, from 1 January 2013 new amendments to the Civil Code of the Russian Federation are to be introduced. These will reduce the number of legal forms of non-profit organizations to six kinds. All other kinds, like autonomous non-commercial organizations, non-commercial partnerships, and public movements will cease. Organizations that have these legal forms will probably be given time to reregister.
If the organizations do not manage to reregister in time they will be closed down. And we think that many organizations will be closed. Many organizations do not have lawyers on their staff, and they do not keep up with the latest changes in the law. If they do not do anything, these organizations will be closed down. [Read more
Just after New Year, Rights in Russia had the opportunity to ask Aleksei Simonov, president of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and a member of the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights, to share his perceptions of current developments in Russia. Rights in Russia
Aleksei Kirillovich, what is your view of the events that are taking place in Russia today? Aleksei Simonov
Russia has frozen stock still in bewilderment at herself. What has happened in Russia can be compared to the well-known joke about the centipede. The centipede was asked: “Tell us please, how does it happen that straight after the 17th leg, you put down your 26nd? And after that, your 33rd?” And the centipede froze because she had never thought about this. For her it was a natural thing to do. She thought to herself: “How do I do that?” And she wasn’t able to move any more. There is a feeling that Russia, like the centipede, in the weeks before New Year froze stock still in bewilderment at herself. She didn’t expect that she could do anything like that. She simply did not expect what happened first of all on 10 December, and then on 24 December. She honestly had not thought she was capable of anything like it. [Read more
In Voronezh, Rights in Russia recently had the opportunity to ask Galina Arapova, chair of the Media Rights Defence Centre (which this last November celebrated the 15th anniversary of its founding) about a new legal database her Centre has set up.
Rights in Russia: Could you tell us about the new database?
Galina Arapova: Yes of course. We have created a special Database on Russian Judicial Practice in Media
Law. The database is for everything related to freedom of expression, access to
information. We have identified all the categories of cases and claims, civil and criminal, that can be brought
against journalists, editors and other media workers. On this basis we
have sought to gather together judicial judgments from the widest range of Russian
regions with the help of colleagues, media lawyers, editors. We have also asked
judges, and some judges have given us a full list of rulings that they have
made, providing us with judgements from their archives. For example, we have
been very grateful to the chair of Lipetsk regional court. We sent them a
request for information and the chair of Lipetsk court instructed his staff to
provide us with all the media law cases – there were 180 cases – from the last
ten years. It’s a huge amount of work that the staff of the court did to give
us all their judicial practice for our database. Not every chair of a regional court will go to
such lengths to give information to an open, non-governmental, database. [Read more]
Yesterday, 29 December, Moscow’s Meshansky district court upheld a 30,000 rouble fine levied against independent election watchdog Golos on 2 December 2011. On that day the court ruled that Golos had violated a law prohibiting news outlets from publishing polling data five days before an election. Rights in Russia was at the hearing and afterwards spoke with Grigory Melkonyants, deputy director of Golos, and Ramil Akhmedgaliev, Golos’ legal representative, a lawyer from the Agora Human Rights Association.
Grigory Melkonyants Ramil Akhmedgaliev
Rights in Russia: How would you assess the significance of today's court decision?
Ramil Akhmedgaliev: Today Meshchansky Court rejected our appeal. In fact what happened is that the court simply restated the earlier decision that had been issued by the magistrate. So far as procedural violations are concerned, the judge simply ignored them (I mean, violations of the principles that are at the basis of how a court should work: a court should consider an issue from all sides, in a full and objective manner, and treat prosecutor and defendant equally - the "equality of arms").
: What we see is that today’s court decision had already been prepared in advance and the court proceedings and our arguments were of no significance. The judge needed only twenty minutes to reach his judgment and write out his five-page decision, print it and hand us copies. The court system has once again shown that even the most absurd accusations can find support in court. In the event, the nature of the ‘sociological research’ of which we have been accused has still not been made clear to us. In the same way, not a single paragraph was cited during the court hearing. Not a single figure was quoted. None of the accusations were substantiated. Moreover, the charges only speak of posting research of this kind on the site www.golos.org
. However, for some reason the case materials contained screen shots of reports of violations taken from the Map of Violations
The Court did not react to the numerous procedural violations that had occurred in the first case, heard on 2 December, that had been seen by journalists and sympathisers present at the hearing. The court, however, took the view that everything had been in line with the law.
Rights in Russia: What will be your next steps?
Grigory Melkonyants: We shall petition for a judicial review of this decision and prepare an application to the European Court of Human Rights.
Photos: (c) Grigory Melkonyants and (c) HRO.org
The Russian parliamentary elections on 4th December have put Russian voters in a difficult situation. Aware of the fact that many parties have not even been allowed to register for the elections, and certain that to some extent or other vote-rigging will take place, what can those who oppose the ruling United Russia party and the illegitimate elections do? The debate has been going on in Russia for months. Broadly speaking, there are three main points of view on what to do:
1) Voting for any party other than United Russia (this is the option favoured by Alexey Navalny, who dubbed United Russia the "party of crooks and thieves ").
2) Putting a cross against all parties and thus rendering the ballot paper invalid (this is the tactic recommended by Boris Nemtsov and the "Nakh-Nakh" movement, among others).
3) Protesting against the elections by ignoring the polling stations altogether and rallying in the streets instead (this is supported by Edouard Limonov and Vladimir Bukovsky).
Rights in Russia decided to ask members of our international advisory committee, journalists writing on Russia and other westerners concerned about the situation in the country: What would you do if you were eligible to vote in the Russian elections on 4 December and why? We are publishing some of their answers below:
Martin Dewhirst, University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK, a member of Rights in Russia's international advisory committee.
If I was a citizen of the RF I would definitely vote on Sunday, despite knowing that the 'election' would be far from free and fair. More importantly, I would already have been observing the pre-'election' process and informing the excellent 'Golos' organisation of any violations of the rules and regulations that I had noticed. The run-up to polling day is in some ways more important than what happens on the day itself. ('Golos' seems to have got the Russian neo-Soviet political Establishment really rattled. Its name is etymologically connected to 'glasnost'', not entirely adequately translated as 'transparency'. The present Moscow White House and Kremlin seem to be less tolerant of 'glasnost'' than the Gorbachev faction of the CPSU was in the late 1980s.) What to me is really important is the overall trend or tendency. Are the 2011 'elections' more free and fair or less free and fair than the corresponding 'elections' in 2007, 2003 and 1999? I would be trying to answer that question in my area and discussing it with friends and colleagues elsewhere in the RF.
Why would I vote (as well as observe) on Sunday, being sure that the results would be manipulated at a higher level, if not at any 'observable' levels? Because I think that for all their faults 'elections' even under the wretched Putin regime are at least somewhat more like real elections than 'elections' were in Soviet Russia from 1918 until the late 1980s. I have been an official observer (for the OSCE/ODIHR) of a dozen elections and 'elections' in the former USSR, and on many occasions I have been really moved by how seriously (often in contrast to the situation in my country, where elections are taken for granted by most people, and a huge proportion of the electorate doesn't bother to vote) the opportunity is taken to express one's preference, if one so desires, for a party other than the one in power. At least afterwards such people can tell their friends and family that they at least tried to improve the political situation in their country, however minimal the chances of success. And on this occasion, the more votes there are for parties other than United Russia just might increase the chances of forcing the regime to tolerate the development of a stronger, more active and more tolerant independent society.
Personally, I always prefer to be proactive and positive rather than purely negative, and so I vote for a person or a party rather than against certain people and certain parties. So, if I could, I would vote for Yabloko, if only as the least bad choice.
Oliver Carrol, Editor, open Democracy Russia
I think, in the current circumstances, both Navalny's and Nemtsov's suggestions seem appropriate courses of action. Neither is a failproof way of registering dissatisfaction with the system, but complete disengagement with political process, such as suggested by Limonov, is a much more dangerous road to go down. A fixed and corrupt electoral process is, in my opinion, better than no process at all.
Robert van Voren, Chief Executive of the Global Initiative on Psychiatry
I would go for option 1, because I think by not participating in the vote you make your point only once, and then have no chance for the next years. Better make sure there is a strong opposition within the Duma and then pressure the government as much as possible and on every occasion.
Jens Siegert, director of the Moscow office of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, a foundation closely linked to the German Green Party, a member of Rights in Russia's international advisory committee.
As this is a poll, my answer may not suit you, because I would not choose one of these three alternatives, but vote for the Yabloko party. And please do not count this answer to Navalny's proposition to vote for any party than United Russia. This is not the same, though many observers think so.
Edward Lucas, Editor, International section, The Economist, author of “The New Cold War,” Bloomsbury 2008
I would spoil my ballot (option two) and also demonstrate (option three). I would spoil the ballot paper because none of the parties are real parties and the election is not a real election. Voting for a phoney party (which they all are) legitimises the electoral process. Spoiling the ballot is an unambiguous expression of dissent. I would demonstrate because a physical protest on the street, with all the risks that entails, is at least potentially the biggest threat to the regime. They can fake elections but they cannot make large numbers of people invisible. Sadly we have only small numbers at the moment but you have to start somewhere.
Jamison Firestone, Managing Partner of Firestone Duncan, a law firm which employed Sergey Magnitsky.
I would chose option 1 and probably combine it with 3. I would choose 1 because with option 2 you can say that of X percent votes, Y percent voted for United Russia and the United Russia percentage will not be drastically effected. By reducing X, the people who vote, all you do is make it look like Russians are just disgusted with everyone and that is not all that dangerous for United Russia. If on the other hand people don't throw their vote away but give it to anyone other than United Russia, Y, the percentage of people who voted for the Party of Crooks and Thieves becomes a smaller percentage of X, the total number of people who voted, and it becomes clear that what people are really disgusted with is United Russia. This is something that the government would not be able to spin and it would scare the shit out of them.
Mary McCauley, is an Associate of the International Centre for Prison Studies, a member of Rights in Russia's international advisory committee.
I would vote (with a heavy heart) for Yabloko, not because of Navalny but because Nakh-nakh won’t work, and Yabloko is the best of the bunch.
Luke Harding, journalist, former Guardian correspondent in Russia, author of “Mafia State”, Guardian Books, 2011
I'm not sure I should be commenting on how Russians should vote in next week's "election", since I'm not Russian. BUT I think it's an individual matter of conscience and that all three options are valid ways of expressing dissatisfaction with the current status quo and the total absence of meaningful democracy in today's Russia. None of the three methods are likely to be very effective, given the certain use of "administrative resources" to fix the vote in United Russia's favour, even though the party has now completely lost the trust of most Russians. This is the first depressing moment in Russia's election season. The next comes on March 4, when Putin is "re-elected" as president.
Luke Harding had been The Guardian correspondent in Moscow for four years when in February 2011 he found himself deported, becoming the first western journalist to be expelled from Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Harding describes his expulsion, and the harassment by the FSB that preceded it, in his new book Mafia State: How One Reporter Became An Enemy Of The Brutal New Russia.
Rights in Russia:
How did it happen that you were deported? Luke Harding:
It started four months after I arrived. The spark for all this, the catalyst, was an interview that two colleagues in London did with Boris Berezovsky. In this interview Berezovsky said that he was plotting a Russian revolution and was trying to finance the overthrow of the Putin regime. I had never met him, I scarcely knew who he was, but it was clearly a good story. I phoned the Kremlin and spoke to Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press spokesman, and got a quote from him. The interview was published in The Guardian
and my name was the third by-line on a front page story. And then, really immediately after that, very strange things started happening and the FSB kind of fell on me really. There were all sorts of surreal encounters. But the most chilling thing was that the FSB broke into my flat in May 2007 for the first time. [Read more