Rights Groups in Russia

To read our earlier translations of publications by Russian human rights groups, please click HERE

Memorial Human Rights Centre: 15 Muslims, charged with preparing a terrorist attack on the Kirghiziya Cinema, are political prisoners

posted by Rights in Russia   [ updated ]

17 April 2017

Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre

Weapons were planted on the defendants and they were charged with preparing an act of terrorism and sentenced to terms of between 11 and 12 years in prison

On 27 November 2013, in an apartment in a Moscow hostel where half a dozen Muslims were living, law enforcement officers burst in and ‘found’ explosives and ammunition. The Main Department for Combating Extremism of the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that it had uncovered a cell of the Egyptian Islamist organization Takfir wal-Hijra, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.

On 22 April the men were convicted in a trial at Moscow District Military Court.

The assertion in the judgment that the defendants were members of Takfir wal-Hijra is unsubstantiated. No such charges were not brought against them, nor were they considered by the court. Moreover, experts doubt that this organization exists.

It can be seen on the police video of the search, a copy of which is in the possession of Memorial, that the police were not concerned that the persons in question could set off an explosion. They assure the bomb disposal expert that ‘everything had been made safe.’ The bomb disposal experts who conducted a ‘test explosion’ of the materials concluded that it was a fake device (in other words, the substance was not capable of a dangerous explosion).

Neither the investigation nor the trial established the origin of the munitions, nor by whom, how, or when the alleged device was prepared or taken to the apartment, or to whom it in fact belonged.

This gives grounds to suppose that the weapons and munitions were planted, and the case fabricated.

Finally, the judgment handed down did not establish the purpose or motives of those convicted of preparing an ‘explosion using an improvised explosive device in the Kirghiziya Cinema.’ The absence of an intention means that there are no grounds to bring charges under Article 205 of the Russian Criminal Code. In short, no evidence for the preparation of a terrorist act in the Kirghiziya Cinema was heard in court.

The fabrication of criminal cases of terrorism is one of the main reasons for the increase in the number of political prisoners in Russia since 2000. As a rule, the victims of ‘anti-terrorist’ repressive measures are residents of the North Caucasus and Muslims.

Memorial Human Rights Centre considers the following to be political prisoners: Tazhib Makhmudov, Artur Maslakov, Imran, Artur and Anzor Tekilov, Tagir Akhtakhanov, Sergei Cheprasov, Matliub Nasimov, Islam Ramazanov, Aslan Suleimanov, Khoso Esmurzaev, Adam Shavkhalov, Ersmak Saraliev, Nurmagomed Balakadashev and Inyal Balakadashev.

We demand that the conviction be quashed, that there be an impartial review of the case, and that those responsible for the fabrication be brought to justice.

For more information about this case, see here.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not mean that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves of the individual’s views, statements or actions.

OVD-Info: The Russian authorities’ clampdown on activism and freedom of assembly continues

posted 21 Apr 2017, 08:01 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 21 Apr 2017, 08:10 ]

21 April 2017

Rights in Russia republishes a translation by OpenDemocracy of OVD-Info's weekly summary of its work monitoring politically-motivated arrests in Russia 

Use of force against a police officer, insulting religious believers' feelings, taking a selfie with an Easter egg — these are just some of the pretexts used against active citizens in Russia. Русский

After we reported last week that Russia’s Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case into Moscow’s anti-corruption protests on 26 March, we now have details of the charges against one of the four detainees, Yuri Kuliy. He is being charged on the basis of putting his hand on the shoulder of a riot policeman. Another detainee, Alexander Shpakov, who apparently hit a police lieutenant, reveals how he was beaten during arrest.

There’s signs that local authorities in Petrozavodsk, Karelia will open a criminal case against one of the participants in the anti-corruption protests. And we publish the story of Alexei Minyailo, who was detained on 26 March, but managed to avoid administrative arrest.

Vyacheslav Maltsev, the Russian nationalist politician who suffered a heart attack during transit last week, and Konstantin Zelenin, his aide, have now been detained for a further 15 days on administrative arrest.

In several regions, the authorities have increased restrictions on freedom of assembly. In Tomsk, for example, the authorities moved a space for meetings from the centre into an industrial zone; and in Samara, the authorities excluded a meeting space which had previously hosted anti-corruption protests. In Tatarstan, the rules governing the holding of demonstrations have been made more complicated.

The organisers of the countrywide “I’ve had enough” demonstration, set for 29 April, have come under pressure. In Novosibirsk, the organiser of a local protest (otherwise permitted by the authorities) has been threatened with a criminal case for extremism.

Insulting the believers

On 20 April, Russia’s Supreme Court declared the Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist organisation and liquidated it. During the legal process, Ministry of Justice representatives requested that all local Jehovah’s Witness organisations also be liquidated.

We publish the story of Igor Martynenko, an Irkutsk anarchist activist detained as part of an investigation into insulting religious believers’ feelings. This week, Martynenko was sent to administrative detention once again for not carrying out a police officer’s orders. You can also watch the video of the interrogation of Ruslan Sokolovsky, the Ekaterinburg blogger who also accused of offending religious believers’ feelings, as well as spreading hate and possession of a “spy pen”.

Finally, it turns out you’re not allowed to take selfies with Easter eggs. Pavel Lobkov, an employee of Dozhd TV, was detained (and later fined) in Moscow this week for photographing himself in a penis outfit next to a Easter-themed egg.

In Chuvashia, activists were detained for photographing themselves with easter eggs that spelled out the phrase “Freedom to [Vyacheslav] Maltsev”.

Freedom of assembly

This week, the Petersburg police have been busy: they’ve detained long-distance truck drivers, Other Russia activists for their demonstration “Taking the Smolny” (they were kept at the police station for two days) and people participating in walks of the “New opposition” (who also spent two days in the police station).

In Sochi, participants of an anti-corruption protest were also detained and later sentenced to administrative detention. In Moscow, police tried to disperse the truck drivers’ camp, and in Zabaikalye, a man standing with a picket against the Platon system was arrested for five days.

Criminal cases

In Karelia and Kirov, prison authorities are opening fresh cases against inmates who complain of torture.

Darya Polyudova, the Kuban left-wing activist who received a two-year sentence on separatism charges for posts on social media, has had her request for early release refused. Another “online separatist” Vladimir Khagdaev, from Buryatia, received a three-year suspended sentence.Alexander Belov, co-chairman of the “Russians” ethnopolitical association, had his sentence reduced from 7.5 years to 3.5 years. Belov was sentenced on financial manipulation charges, spreading hate, creating an extremist organisation and calls for extremism.

What we’re reading

- Meduza’s story on how demonstrations against utilities tariff hikes in Novosibirsk worked.

- “Are you Semyon?”: the story of Semyon Simonov, a Sochi rights defender, about his detention in Volgograd.

- Snob shows how people are going to prison for “use of force against police officers”.
What’s next

On 25 April, Moscow city court will examine a petition against the arrest of Dmitry Bogatov, who’s charged with preparing mass unrest in connection with anonymous calls to demonstrate on Red Square on 2 April.
Thank you

Thanks to everyone who continues to support us. Find out how you can OVD-Info here.

For more information on OVD-Info, read this article from the organisation's founder on how OVD is breaking the civil society mould here.

OVD-Info: Bolotnaya 2.0?

posted 14 Apr 2017, 11:58 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 14 Apr 2017, 11:58 ]

14 April 2017

Source: OVD-Info [this translation republished by kind permission of OpenDemocracy

OpenDemocracy continues its partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday, OpenDemocracy publishes the latest information on freedom of assembly from OVD-Info.

This week, Russia’s Investigative Committee announced that four people have been arrested in connection with the events of 26 March, when anti-corruption protests were held across the country. Alexander Shapkov, Stanislav Zimovets, Yuri Kuliy and Andrei Kosykh are all accused of assaulting police officers.

Dmitry Bogatov, a maths teacher from Moscow, has also been arrested in connection with an investigation into calls for mass unrest on 2 April, when unknown people called for a demonstration on Red Square. To keep Bogatov under arrest, the investigators have added more serious charges, including preparing to organise mass unrest and justifying terrorism. You can read more about criminal and administrative investigations, as well as informal pressure, against people in connection with 26 March protests here.

These investigations are reminiscent of the 2012 Bolotnaya Case, which, with over 30 people arrested and imprisoned in connection with protests on 6 May 2012, continues to intimidate activist networks and potential protesters to this day.

Don’t comply

Friday 13 April saw house searches and arrests against nationalist activists in Moscow and Saratov. Ivan Beletsky and Yuri Gorsky, organisers of the annual “Russian March”, had their apartments searched in Moscow, and Beletsky was later questioned (and released) in connection with the criminal case against 26 March participants. That same morning, police searched the home of Vyacheslav Maltsev, a popular blogger and self-described “national democrat” politician. Maltsev was then transferred from Saratov to Moscow, but suffered a heart attack en route. Upon arrival in Moscow, Maltsev was charged with not complying with a legal order given by a police officer in connection with 26 March.

Another criminal case in connection with 26 March was opened in Irkutsk. On 8 April, local police arrested several people who had participated in the anti-corruption protests. They had planned to hold a meeting on 9 April in connection with 26 March. Later it turned out that one of them, Dmitry Litvin, is facing charges of insulting believers’ feelings for a publication on social media, and the other individuals will act as witnesses. However, at the Center for Combatting Terrorism, they were questioned about the protests and calls to terrorism. The police had trouble finding one of them, Igor Martynenko, a prominent Irtkutsk activist, before realizing that he’d already been arrested for 10 days on “non-compliance” charges. Martynenko’s case was later sent for further examination by the court, but the activist remains under arrest.

Meanwhile, across Russia, courts continue to process cases against people who participated in anti-corruption demonstrations. Check out our survey text on how these courts are organised in Moscow. There’s violations a-plenty, of course — in Petersburg, judges are sending people’s cases back to investigators en masse; and in Chelyabinsk, police officers rewrote a report full of mistakes in the courtroom corridor. The directors of Moscow schools have started being summoned to the Investigative Committee.

Closed Russia

The authorities are conducting searches not only against Russian citizens involved in 26 March. For instance, activists with Open Russia are experiencing pressure in various regions — in Irkutsk, police carried out a search at the home of an Open Russia coordinator; and in Izhevsk, police searched the home of Mikhail Nazarov, an Open Russia activist who was preparing to join a congress in Tallin. Police removed Nazarov’s foreign passport, and then opened a criminal case against him.

Russia’s long-distance truckers are still striking across the country, and police are drawing up reports against them for solitary pickets, even if people are only preparing to hold them. The police are not only pressuring the truck drivers, but people who are supporting them. In Yeisk, for example, two National Bolshevik activists were given 15 days of administrative detention — the party connects this to their active support for the strike.

Detentions against other actions continue — for instance, for reading out the Russian Constitution (which protects freedom of assembly) on Red Square.

What we’re reading

- MediaZona speaks to Irkutsk activists about detentions in the investigation into “insulting believers’ feelings”

- We look at two cases of people detained on 26 March. The first, who was arrested for 10 days for a folded-up placard; the second fined for 20,000 roubles for “shouting slogans” and “blocking the road” on 26 March

- Meduza explains in detail what’s wrong with the case against Moscow maths teacher Dmitry Bogatov
Thank you

Thanks to everyone who continues to support us. Find out how you can help here.

For more information on OVD-Info, read this article from the organisation's founder on how OVD is breaking the civil society mould here.

Statement of the Russian LGBT Network’s Board regarding the information on the kidnappings and murders of LGBT people in the North Caucasus

posted 10 Apr 2017, 08:10 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 10 Apr 2017, 08:12 ]

2 April 2017

Source: Facebook 

The Russian LGBT Network is highly disturbed and concerned about the information on the kidnapping and killing of people in Chechnya because of their sexual orientation. We are also outraged by the reaction of the officials of the Chechen Republic, who in fact justify the killings. No national and/or religious traditions and norms can justify kidnapping or killing of a human being. Any references to “traditions” to justify kidnappings and killings are amoral and criminal.

The Russian LGBT Network makes every effort to contact the victims and to provide the emergency support. Taking into account the recent statements of the Chechnya officials, we believe that the only thing that can work out is the evacuation. We cooperate closely we the human rights defenders both in Russia and abroad, and ready to evacuate.

On Monday, the Russian LGBT Network will appeal to the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation with two claims. The one is the demand to investigate the information on the crimes, published in “Novaya Gazeta”. Another one is the claim to check whether the public statements of the Chechen officials made on April 1 and justifying the killings, contain the elements of the offence.

We are grateful to everyone who contacted us and asked how they can help. What do we need now?
- Help us to spread the information about the fact that the Russian LGBT Network is ready to evacuate people. Please think for whom this information can be useful. You can spread the information publicly or personally. Everyone who needs help can contact us by email or call the Hotline (8 800 555 73 74). The call is free all over Russia. 
- In accordance with the Russian legislation, every citizen can apply to the Investigative Committee with the demand to investigate the information about the crime published in mass media. We encourage everyone to apply (the template of the claim will be published tomorrow).

We understand that many people want to help those in need. But please remember that any uncoordinated actions can put in additional danger people in need and those who are ready to help. Therefore, we do not recommend to collect the addresses of people who are ready to provide temporarily shelter.

Be aware, that the situation with the human rights in the North Caucasus is truly difficult. Now people’s lives are endangered and the only way to help is the evacuation. The Russian LGBT Network has the necessary resources to evacuate people, there is a team that already makes every effort to safe lives. That is why we ask everyone to share with us the information about people in need and any offers of assistance.

Memorial Human Rights Centre: The prosecutions of Krasnoyarsk Muslims Andrei Dedkov and Andrei Rekst are politically motivated

posted 4 Apr 2017, 04:43 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Apr 2017, 04:43 ]

21 March 2017

Andrei Dedkov, a Muslim from Krasnoyarsk, was held in a pre-trial detention facility from April 2016 until March 2017 on charges of organizing a cell of ‘Nurdzhular,’ a religious association ruled to be extremist in Russia. At present, he is awaiting trial and under travel restrictions. In the same case Andrei Rekst, who is now on bail, is also a defendant. According to investigators, Rekst was a participant in the cell organized by Dedkov.

Memorial considers the prosecutions of Dedkov and Rekst to be politically motivated. While Dedkov was in detention, he was a political prisoner. We shall also consider them to be political prisoners if they are sentenced to terms in prison and are detained.

Dedkov and Rekst have been charged under Section 1 and Section 2, respectively, of Article 282.2 of the Penal Code of the Russian Federation (organizing the activity [Section 1] or participating in the activity [Section 2] of an NGO or religious organization or other organization that has been closed, or had its activities banned, by court decision on grounds of extremism that has entered into force, with the exception of organizations that in accordance with Russian law have been designated as terrorist). Dedkov faces up to 10 years in prison, and Rekst up to four years.

It is not the first time that the Russian authorities have prosecuted Muslims who study and disseminate books from the Risale-i-Nur Collection (‘The Epitomes of Light’) by the Turkish theologian Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1877 — 1960). In 2008 the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled that the international religious association Nurdzhular, of which allegedly the followers of Nursi are members, was an extremist organization. The law enforcement bodies consistently call ‘Nurdzhular’ an organization ‘with an evident structure’ that disseminates Islamic and Turkish political influence in the world.

However, in reality, all that exists is an apolitical community of people who consider themselves followers of the teachings contained in Risale-i-Nur, communicate with each other and hold joint readings. As yet no evidence of the existence of a structured organization, directed from Turkey, has been presented, and we suggest that this notion is an invention of the Russian authorities. The fabricated cases that have followed one another have been filled with new details of unsubstantiated charges: collaboration with the CIA, efforts to violate the territorial integrity of Russia, and so on.

So far as the writings themselves are concerned, in 2007 14 translations of works by Nursi were banned by a decision of the Koptevsky district court in Moscow. We consider this ban, like the ban on Nurdzhular that followed, to be groundless. A number of the arguments put forward by the experts on which the court based its judgment are absurd. For example, in the religious literature the experts found passages containing condemnation of sinners (and even self-criticism by someone who had repented) and passages intended to frighten atheists with retribution after death, and on this basis drew the conclusion that the texts are extremist and incite religious discord.

Moreover, in Nursi’s books there are no calls to violence or terrorism, nor hate speech. The Council of Muftis of Russia, the Central Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Russia and the Sova Research Centre have all stated that the writings of Nursi represent no danger to society and do not contain any propaganda of violence. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has urged that the ban on these writings be reviewed.

We find no grounds to prosecute people who read, whether individually or in a group, the books of Said Nursi. Such prosecutions are only motivated by the desire of law enforcement bodies to create the illusion that they are combating organized extremism.

We believe that the followers of Said Nursi are subject to prosecution solely for their religious convictions and their nonviolent realisation of the right to freedom of thought and conscience.

We demand that all charges against Andrei Dedkov and Andrei Rekst be dropped, and also that bans on religious literature that does not incite violence be lifted.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not mean that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves of the individual’s views, statements or actions.

More information about the case of Andrei Dedkov and Andrei Rekst can be read here.

A public appeal to S. V. Kirienko by human rights defenders

posted 27 Mar 2017, 01:59 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 27 Mar 2017, 02:08 ]

16 March 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group  

To: Sergei Vladilenovich Kirienko, First Deputy Head of the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation 

Dear Sergei Vladilenovich!

You, as First Deputy Head of the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation, are responsible for the President’s policy relating to domestic political affairs.

We, Russian human rights defenders, believe that one of the main challenges in domestic politics in Russia at present is the established practice of using illegal physical force against prisoners in prison colonies and pre-trial detention centres.

This issue has a defining impact on Russia’s reputation in the world. Complaints regarding the use of force, beatings, and torture are being taken, in large numbers, to the European Court of Human Rights, to the UN Committee for the Prevention of Torture and to other international bodies. In the eyes of the world Russia is acquiring a reputation as a state that uses torture.

We work closely on this issue with two official human rights bodies – the Ombudsman for Human Rights in the RF, and the Presidential Council for Human Rights and Civil Society – but, even so, we think it is necessary to hold a meeting on the subject as soon as possible with your participation.

The essence of the matter is the following: recently, and in part thanks to the efforts of the governmental human rights institutions, a civil rights activist, Ildar Dadin, who had been convicted by the Basmanny district court in Moscow under Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code, was found not guilty by the Russian Supreme Court and was freed.

In November 2016 Ildar Dadin reported that torture was being used in Prison Colony No. 7 in Karelia, where he was serving his sentence. Dozens of prisoners confirmed his allegations of torture, not only in Prison Colony No. 7 but also in other prisons in the region.

According to the statements of these people, the local department of the Investigative Committee refused to open criminal cases into the allegations. Subsequently prosecutors reversed that decision, and investigations are underway. At the same time, there are consistent attempts to bring criminal charges of lodging false reports against prisoners who have made the complaints regarding torture.

One of the plaintiffs, K. Sh. Shurgaya has already been charged with making a false report, and a charge of allegedly assaulting an officer has been made against another plaintiff, Kh. S. Gabzaev.

We are convinced that if these plaintiffs are not transferred out of Karelia to another region, in the course of time, under pressure from prison staff, they will all either be compelled to withdraw their statements or will be accused of making false allegations.

In effect, at present, they are hostages in a torture zone in Karelia; held hostage by the prison staff who regularly subject them to violence, and frighten them.

We have already appealed to the leadership of the Federal Prison Service with the request that the prisoners, who lodge complaints of torture, be transferred to another region, but have met with a refusal. And we understand why.

We appeal to you to hold a meeting in which we would participate along with the heads of the governmental human rights institutions and the leadership of the Prison Service in order to resolve this problem. We, human rights activists, have exhausted our opportunities to discuss this with the leadership of the Prison Service.

Members of the Council of Human Rights Defenders of Russia
Liudmila Alekseeva, Moscow Helsinki Group
Valery Borshchev, Social Partnership Foundation
Svetlana Gannushkina, Civic Assistance Committee
Oleg Orlov, Memorial Human Rights Centre
Lev Ponomarev, For Human Rights
Natalya Taubina, Public Verdict Foundation
Aleksandr Cherkasov, Memorial Human Rights Centre 

Translated by Mary McAuley

For more information about the Council of Human Rights Defenders of Russia, see HERE

Agora International Awarded Prestigious Lindebrekke Prize in Norway

posted 20 Mar 2017, 06:12 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Mar 2017, 09:36 ]

11 March 2017

Source: Agora International

The prestigious award was presented to the head of AGORA, Pavel Chikov, by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Today in Oslo, the Agora International human rights group was awarded the Lindebrekke Prize for human rights activism. The prize is named after Sjur Lindebrekke, founder of the Norwegian conservative party. The prestigious award was presented to the head of Agora, Pavel Chikov, by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Afterwards, Chikov delivered an acceptance speech:

“The first time in my life I met with Norwegians was in South Dakota, USA. I was studying public administration there, and knew there was a large Norwegian community. These guys drank a lot, were always very serious, and never laughed. Rather like Russians.

"At that point I was already working in the field of human rights. It was sixteen years ago, when George W. Bush had only just been inaugurated. Putin had become president of Russia, and opposition media were already under attack.

"That was the year when I first felt that the situation was worsening in both countries. At least, I felt then that Europe was the best place.

"Now this is a complicated time for democratic values and human rights all around the world. Today we see how even the best places are facing a new agenda in the field of human rights – we are seeing waves of migration, hate crimes, and incoming violence from other nations that prompts fierce domestic reactions. We also see how authoritarian governments export hostile policies and try to use this moment in time to further undermine democratic values.

"Russian artists cannot enjoy freedom even in Norway, because they may face problems on returning home.

"In Russia, Norwegian journalists are beaten with impunity, as happened a year ago in the North Caucasus, and are expelled from the country and banned from returning for five years, as happened with Thomas Nilsen of the Barents Observer.

"The head of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the leading Norwegian human rights organisation, has already been banned from visiting Russia and meeting with old friends for many years.

"The president of the Sami parliament of the Kola Peninsula, Valentina Sovkina, is beaten and robbed and stopped on the Russian-Norwegian border near Kirkenes, in order to prevent her from participating in the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, in New York.

"Agora’ lawyers work on all these issues. This is not because we go looking for them. It is because this intimidation affects everyone; everyone will feel insecure until there are places where things will be OK.

"In our tiny world, we are all closely interrelated.

"This is why it’s important to have friends in Oslo, Bergen and Tromsø. We maintain close ties with the Rafto Fund, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the University of Oslo and the Human Rights House Network. That is why I’m proud to accept this award. 

"Thank you!"

Translated by Anna Bowles

Institute of Law & Public Policy: On February 22, 2017 the Supreme Court of Russia quashed the conviction of Ildar Dadin following the Judgment of the Constitutional Court No. 2-П of February 10, 2017

posted 28 Feb 2017, 11:07 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 Mar 2017, 11:37 ]

27 February 2017

On 22 February 2017, the Supreme Court of Russia quashed the conviction of Ildar Dadin following the Judgment of the Constitutional Court of 10 February No. 2-П

On 22 February 2017, the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation (hereinafter – “Supreme Court of Russia”), enforcing the Judgment of the Constitutional Court of Russia (hereinafter – “RCC”) of 10 February 2017 No. 2-П http://www.ilpp.ru/en/news/events/2017/02/12/events_737.html, heard a motion to reopen a criminal case against Russian activist Ildar Dadin. On 7 December 2015, Mr Dadin was convicted under Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code of repeated violations of statutory rules on holding public assemblies, and sentenced to 2,5 years in prison.

The Presidium of the Supreme Court of Russia held that:

1. The criminal case against Ildar Dadin was to be reopened in the light of new circumstances;

2. Mr. Dadin's conviction by the Basmanny district court of Moscow of 7 December 2015 upheld by the Moscow City Court on 31 March 2016 was to be quashed;

3. The criminal case against Mr Dadin was to be dismissed;

4. Ildar Dadin was to be released and granted a right to compensation.

Ildar Dadin participated in the hearing via a video link. At the beginning, he petitioned the Supreme Court of Russia to grant him a right to be physically present at the hearing, however, the Supreme Court declined to do so. Shortly after the presiding judge declared a recess to enable Mr Dadin to confer with his lawyers on further steps to be taken in the proceedings. When the hearing was resumed Ildar Dadin made a statement in which he refused to take any further part in the proceedings.

In the course of the hearing both Mr Dadin’s lawyers and the Deputy of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation Leonid Korjenek stated that the criminal case against Ildar Dadin had to be dismissed given the absence of any criminal conduct on his part as Mr Dadin was not repeatedly subject to administrative sanctions for the violation of the statutory rules on holding or participating in public assemblies (two of the three judgments imposing administrative sanctions on Mr Dadin had not yet come into force by the time the criminal proceedings were instituted).

Furthermore, Mr Dadin's lawyers – Ksenia Kostromina and Alexey Liptser, Attorneys at law, argued, invoking the RCC Judgment in Mr Dadin’s case, that no criminal proceedings can be instituted against a person for organising or participating in an unauthorised public assembly, where such assembly does not cause or, at least, create the risk of causing harm to property and persons of other citizens or organisations, environment, public order or other constitutionally protected values.

Dismissal of the criminal case against Mr Dadin became possible due to the RCC Judgment of 10 February 2017 No. 2-П in which the RCC reviewed the constitutionality of Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code of Russia.

The Institute for Law and Public Policy drafted Ildar Dadin’s application to the RCC. At the RCC hearing, Sergey A. Golubok, Ph.D., Attorney at law, represented Ildar Dadin as part of the Institute’s project “Enhancing Civic Engagement in Strategic Constitutional Litigation in Russia”.

Full text of the application (in Russian) 

Asmik Novikova [Public Verdict Foundation]: "Torture—This is not about the Middle Ages, this is what’s happening to people who walk alongside us in the street" [7X7]

posted 19 Feb 2017, 11:53 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 23 Feb 2017, 01:18 ]

6 February 2017

This is an extract from an interview by Elena Soloveva with Asmik Novikova, research director at Public Verdict Foundation

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Internet journal «7х7»]

Russia is a signatory to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Convention was adopted [by the UN General Assembly] in 1984 and entered into force in 1987—thirty years ago. To mark this date, the Public Verdict Foundation organised a campaign on 23-25 January #ВместеПротивПыток [#TogetherAgainstTorture]. The Foundation’s research director, sociologist Asmik Novikova, discusses the results of the campaign here.

Q: Is it possible to say what the results of the campaign were? Was there, for example, any reaction on the part of the authorities?

A: We did not make any specific appeal to the authorities. We did, of course, tag certain state agencies—the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Procuracy—to remind them of the obligations of states that have signed the Convention. But this was not the kind of action that demands an immediate or substantive response. Our primary purpose was to inform the active online community about the Convention and to remind them that torture is not just something that occurred in the Middle Ages but is, rather, something that is inflicted on people we pass in the street who suddenly, without warning, find themselves thrown into a nightmare. By telling their stories, we flesh out the problem with living and concrete content. It is commonly assumed that torture is suffered only by people who are suspected of some kind of crime, or who are already in custody. But this not how it really is. Torture today is a much more common and complex phenomenon than most people understand.

Q: When you read these stories, you realise that even children can be subjected to torture. I’m referring to the story of a little boy aged seven...

A: As a result of our campaign, this story has attracted the most attention: many people have responded to it, and many of them reposted the story. We understand that this story is starker and more emotional than all the others. And yet this is, in a way, rather sad. When something like this happens to an adult, it is seen as less repulsive and horrific. Take for example the story of Mardiros Demerchyan. This is a man with a large family, who tries to earn an honest living, and yet he suffered as he did. Not only was he subjected to extraordinary violence and humiliation but, after he complained about his treatment, he was punished for complaining.

Q: Just a few days ago, a prisoner was punished in the same way in correctional colony IK-7 in Segezha [Republic of Karelia]—the same colony where Il’dar Dadin was held. It is becoming quite common to punish someone who complains about being tortured.

A: Yes, we have discussed this and, about a month ago, we appealed to the Human Rights Ombudsperson. In our appeal, we documented this trend which is, in our opinion, a very dangerous one. The right to lodge a complaint is enshrined in our Constitution as a right enjoyed by everyone. Acting in accordance with the law, people lodge their complaint with the relevant authorities, whose responsibility it is to investigate such matters. But instead of carrying out an effective investigation the authorities conduct a preliminary inquiry which, as a rule, does not discover anything (since a full investigation is possible only as part of a criminal enquiry, not as part of a preliminary inquiry). But instead of simply refusing, in the end, to launch a criminal investigation, the authorities go one step further and prosecute the person for making a false accusation. So this preliminary investigation is usually just a formality, the complaint is not usually upheld, and the authorities take the view that the person bringing the complaint is intentionally trying to deceive them and to accuse a specific state employee of a crime.

This is outrageous, since it undermines the credibility of the monitoring by official bodies. In that case charges should be brought in all cases in which the authorities refuse to initiate criminal investigations in response to a complaint, regardless of whom the charge was made against. Even if we imagine a situation where an effective investigation has been conducted and has been found that there was no torture, but there had been, for example, reasonable use of force, this should not be assumed to mean that the complainant might not have acted in good faith and could not have made a mistake but, rather, intended to make false accusations against a government official. Opening criminal cases against people suffering from the actions of law enforcement officers is a form of intimidation. 

Q: The Investigative Committee and Federal Penitentiary Service are two different agencies. But due to the situation with complaints of torture, the impression arises that it’s one system, lacking a third side that could prevent violations. Is this impunity leading to an increase in torture?

A: We don’t know if more or fewer such incidences are occurring because to this day our country hasn’t fulfilled one of the United Nations Committee against Torture’s key recommendations: torture should be treated as a separate case of malfeasance. But for us it’s criminalised as an ordinary crime, that is to say, a neighbour might torture a neighbour. Misconduct by public officials is a separate chapter of the Criminal Code, and in order to accuse a law enforcement officer (a public official) of torture, there needs to be an article in the corresponding section. When we initiate criminal proceedings, they’re generally based on Article 286 (“Exceeding authority of a position”). But there’s no independent article and, thus, no statistics, as they simply can’t be gathered.

It seems to me there’s no particular upsurge right now; the situation has remained the same as it was: there’s nothing good to speak of, and no possibility of achieving more effective investigation of these incidences. I can say with absolute certainty that the Investigative Committee is not functioning as an organ that ought to effectively investigate each reported instance of torture or violence.

Q: A few years ago, the human rights defender Andrei Yurov said in an interview with the online journal “7x7” that the penitentiary system is becoming more open. But now there’s a sense of backsliding.

A: There were strong Public Oversight Commissions (POCs), the law on public monitoring worked well. Professionals working for the POCs were able to carry out inspections without warning and often chose for themselves the places they wanted to inspect. They weren’t limited to assessing the detention conditions (the condition of cells, toilets, availability of outdoor exercise, and so on), and attempted to work on fundamental rights—the right to life and prohibition of torture. That work saw results.

Nowadays many independent people who could serve as inspectors have not been allowed to join the Commission. As a mechanism for public monitoring, the POCs have seriously lost their effectiveness. The institution is reduced to something that half of the time is a mere imitation of its proper functions. And there’s nothing to replace it, because that same law ended the public monitoring practices that existed before the POCs.

It turned out like this: after the law on POCs, the opportunity to go straight into a prison colony or jail and assess the observance of human rights there belonged to nobody apart from members of POCs and public councils, and also the Ombudsman for Human Rights. The law on POCs is good in all aspects save one: it introduces a restriction on who can monitor these issues. Under this law, where it’s written that POCs must carry out monitoring, a typical situation for our country has arisen: human rights defenders write a letter requesting access to a prison colony, and the establishment’s administration or the regional management of the Federal Penitentiary Service replies in good conscience that, in accordance with the law on public monitoring, only those appointed by the law may come to carry out monitoring, and you are not one of them. That is, they politely refer back to the law.

Currently to some extent civil society has chased itself into this trap. Everyone was so glad when the law on public monitoring was passed, but now those who want to carry out monitoring aren’t allowed, and they have no opportunity whatsoever to enter into corrective establishments. Earlier, though, before the law on POCs, there were such opportunities and it was possible to get access.

Q: In October 2015 the 'Sadists' Law' was passed. It states that a prisoner may be subjected to physical pressure for any kind of offence. Can this be seen as an attempt to legalise torture?

A: That is too radical a conclusion. If I remember correctly, the law refers to the possibility of using force. But there is nothing radically new in it. It duplicates the same rules that feature in the law On the Police regarding, for example, when and how to use physical force and special measures of restraint. This normative standard has always existed, but at the level of departmental guidelines. Now they have been incorporated into legislation at a higher level. Previously, any routine violation meant that a prisoner could be sent to the isolation ward.

This law does not state that special measures can be used for any kind of violation. Special measures are permitted where resistance or disobedience by prisoners involves violence or the risk of violence. But physical force may be applied quite widely. It may be enough for a prisoner not to have complied with an officer's instructions. I think that this could, in a way, give him free rein. The officer would then have formal grounds to say, "I warned him, and only then did I use force".

What has struck me the most is that there is all this potential for image capture and data storage, and yet they say that the personal video recorder that every officer must be fitted with is not switched on every time that physical force and special measures are used; only 'where feasible'. But if this video recorder exists (and it should exist), then there is no reason for it not to be switched on. It simply must be switched on – especially in the case of the use of force, special measures and firearms. The law has been extended with regard to the areas to which it applies, yet controls have not been tightened. The requirement that "the greater the freedom of action, the stricter the oversight" has not been respected.

Q: Is there anything that can be done to improve the situation?

A: There is a lot of work to do, but there are two basic things. We need to abolish investigative departments inside prisons. No kind of investigative work regarding criminal investigations should be happening. All possible operational and investigative steps have already been taken when the person was still under investigation. Enough! The person has been prosecuted and has ended up in a facility to serve out his sentence, so just let them serve it! Yet we often see investigative departments that pressure inmates and try to get information out of them regarding unsolved crimes. Let investigators do their work on the outside!

Secondly, it is essential that investigative work into all allegations of torture and brutality be in accordance with the Standards for Effective Investigations, which are directly taken from the practice of the UN Committee against Torture and the European Convention, as well as from the body of judgments already made by the European Court of Human Rights against Russia. The Investigative Committee needs to work better.

Memorial considers Crimean farmer Vladimir Balukh a political prisoner

posted 19 Feb 2017, 07:34 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Feb 2017, 07:38 ]

8 February 2017

Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre

Vladimir Balukh, a farmer and pro-Ukrainian activist who remained a citizen of Ukraine after 2014 and refused to become a citizen of Russia, has been charged with committing crimes under Article 222, Section 1 (illegal possession and transportation of firearms and ammunition), of the Russian Criminal Code. Since 8 December 2016 Balukh has been in pre-trial detention, and his period of detention has on two occasions been extended, on the latest occasion until 4 March 2017.

On 8 December 2016, in the home of Vladimir Balukh’s common-law wife in the village of Serbryanka in Razdolnensky district of Crimea, FSB officers conducted a formal ‘search of the premises’. During this search, they allegedly found in the attic of the house 89 ‘military’ [as described in the court ruling remanding Balukh in custody] 5,45×39mm cartridges, professionally made, of which 19 cartridges were ready for firing.

There is a high degree of probability that the immediate reason for fabricating the criminal case against the activist was the fact that, on 29 November 2016, he had put up a sign on his house that read, ‘Street of the Heavenly Hundred Heroes, 18’ [‘Вулиця Героїв Небесної сотні 18’]. After this, he was visited by the chair of the village council along with his assistants who threatened him that his independent stance would bring unpleasant consequences, including the ‘discovery’ in his home of weapons or drugs. The chair of the village council demanded that Balukh remove the sign.

It would seem to be highly unlikely that an activist well-known at the regional level, who is an object of continuous harassment by law enforcement agencies and leading local officials, and whose house was twice subjected to searches in 2015, would store ammunition. It is also important to note that the investigators have no evidence that the ammunition found in the attic of the house of Balukh’s common-law wife in fact belongs to him; his fingerprints are not even on them. The discovery of the ammunition took place in the presence of witnesses brought in by the police and in the absence of the accused.

We note that the permission to conduct the formal ‘search of the premises’ in the house of Balukh’s common-law wife was issued by the deputy chair of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Crimea, Viktor Sklyarov, more than a month before the search was conducted.

The decision to remand Balukh in custody is disproportionate to the public danger represented by the alleged crime. It is shocking that the accused has been remanded in custody on charges of a crime that is not serious and without any apparent grounds.

Memorial Human Rights Centre demands the immediate release of Vladimir Balukh and the end of his prosecution.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not mean that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves of the individual’s views, statements or actions.

For more information about the case, see here.

The Yandex-Wallet for the Fund for the Assistance of All Political Prisoners of the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners is 410011205892134 

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