Rights Groups in Russia

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Oleg Orlov: "Security issues must not be set in opposition to observance of human rights" [Committee for Civic Initiatives]

posted 3 Jan 2017, 13:20 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 3 Jan 2017, 13:23 ]

18 December 2016

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Оtkytaya politsiya]

Representatives of the Committee for Civic Initiatives who are in charge of the ‘Open Policing’ project, together with Polit.ru, spoke to Oleg Orlov, a member of the Memorial Human Rights Centre.

As part of the ‘Open Policing’ project we are interviewing representatives of human rights organizations. Our first question to you – tell us, please, how your organization ‘Memorial’ came into being and, briefly, its history.

The Memorial Human Rights Centre was set up in 1991. It needs to be said, straightaway, that we are part of a large structure, a community of Memorial organizations, which, come together as ‘International Memorial’, and which this autumn was included in the register of foreign agents (on 21 November the International Memorial Society filed a suit against the Ministry of Justice, demanding that it be taken off the register of foreign agents, on 7th December the Tverskoi district court in Moscow fined International Memorial Society 300,000 roubles for its failure to put itself on the foreign-agents register, and on 16 December the Zamoskvoretski court in Moscow rejected Memorial’s suit). The Memorial Human Rights Centre, along with a large number of regional Russian organizations, is part of the Russian Memorial organization, itself a part of the International Memorial Society.

In 1991 we started work, but on an informal basis, we didn’t then have a constitution or registration. In 1993 we acquired formal status, were registered, and our constitution was registered with the Moscow department of the Ministry of Justice.

Why did we come into existence? Memorial appeared as an organization which studied and shed light on the reality of the political repressions of the past – through museums, archives, libraries, a list of the victims of the Stalinist regime. And almost immediately and quickly we realized that we could not talk of political repression in the past, if it was still happening.

In 1991 there still were political prisoners, not everyone had been released. We began to compile lists of those still inside, we began to demand that their cases be reviewed or they be released without delay. Not long before, a tragic incident had occurred in Georgia when a peaceful demonstration was violently dispersed, and people died. Then events of one kind or another took place in the so-called ‘hot spots’, with major infringements of human rights. And we understood that we should set up a specific structure within Memorial which would focus on the observance or the infringement of human rights today.

Naturally we were concerned with questions relating to places of detention. That persuaded us to set up a specialised structure, and we did. I repeat, initially we worked on an informal basis, and then we created an independent organization which belong to the Memorial community. Today, and it’s frightening to think how many years have passed since 1991, we seem to be returning to the past. We’re caught, for the present, in a noose and seem to be roughly where we were in 1991: we once again have political prisoners in Russia, once again there are terrible, large-scale infringements of human rights in ‘hot spots’, once again the situation in places of detention is extremely serious. [Read more in Russian]

Translated by Mary McAuley

Memorial Human Rights Centre: Statement on the case of Boris Stomakhin

posted 28 Dec 2016, 09:26 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Dec 2016, 09:47 ]

22 December 2016

On 26 December 2016 a hearing will take place at Chusovoi town court to consider the transfer of Boris Stomakhin, who is serving a sentence for publications on the Internet at prison colony No. 10 in Perm region, to cell-type conditions. The prison colony’s management requested back in October that Stomakhin be transferred to these conditions, but at that time the court returned the relevant documents to the prison colony for revision. The request was subsequently resubmitted.

Memorial has already requested that the prison colony and Chusovoi town court in considering this request refuse to permit the imposition of stricter conditions of detention on Stomakhin.

We know that the reason for the request to transfer Stomakhin is a series of penalties imposed on him as a result of which he was repeatedly placed in solitary confinement. In particular, the prisoner himself has said in a letter that he was placed in solitary confinement for 15 days from 29 February 2016, allegedly for leaving his cell the previous day without an identification tag on his prison uniform. However, Stomakhin has asserted that he did not leave his cell that day. In protest, Stomakhin went on hunger strike for the full 15 days. Directly before the first hearing concerning the transfer to harsher conditions, Stomakhin was again place in a punishment cell. The reason was again given as the absence of an identification tag, this time during wake-up call when the prisoner is not yet dressed in their uniform on which there should be a tag.

The imposition of penalties without reason for the purpose of reprisals against a prisoner, preventing parole, or imposing harsher conditions of detention is, unfortunately, a widespread practice in Russian prisons, a practice which is obviously in violation of both the law and ethics.

Since 2006 when Boris Stomakhin broke his back he has been disabled and has limited mobility. At present his health is deteriorating. Transfer to a distant location and stricter conditions of detention may present a threat to his life, making it practically impossible for him to receive visits, in particular from his elderly mother.

While we condemn many of the statements and declarations made by B. Stomakhin, we consider, nevertheless, that the sentence handed down to him – seven years in a strict-regime prison colony – is unjustified and is in absolute contradiction to the principles of proportionality and justice. All the more unjust and disproportionate would be his transfer to significantly worse conditions of detention.

The publications for which Stomakhin was convicted represented no real danger to the public, there were no victims, nor were any people incited to violence by these texts. Along with the statements containing calls to violence, completely absurd charges were brought against Stomakhin, for example he was charged with justifying the murder of Alexander II and with attempting to influence the activity of Shamil Basaev many years after his death. These absurd charges formed the basis for at least half of the prison term to which Boris Stomakhin was sentenced.

Stomakhin has been behind bars for more than four years now, since November 2012. In our opinion, there are no reasonable grounds to justify such imprisonment. We consider that Boris Stomakhin must be released and we demand an end to the cruel and degrading punishments to which he has been subjected.

Institute for Law and Public Policy files amicus curiae brief on request of judge of Russian Constitutional Court

posted 21 Dec 2016, 11:32 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 21 Dec 2016, 11:37 ]

15 December 2016

The Institute for Law and Public Policy, an independent think-tank organization, has filed an amicus curiae brief upon the request of a judge of the Russian Constitutional Court. In the brief, the Institute examined the ECtHR case law on the admissibility of individual applications submitted by a company’s shareholders and on affording them just satisfaction, as well as its case law on levying of public dues (taxes, tax sanctions, administrative charges etc.). Moreover, the Institute examined the possibility of enforcement of the 31 July 2014 ECtHR judgement in accordance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The ILPP submissions were presented the Russian Constitutional Court by Grigory Vaypan, Head of Litigation Unit of the Institute, at a hearing on December 15, 2016. See more: http://ilpp.ru/en/news/events/2016/12/15/events_703.html

The Institute of Law and Public Policy (ILPP) is an independent, non-profit Russian think-tank organization based in Moscow. For 24 years, ILPP has been one of the leading Russian expert centers in the sphere of comparative constitutional and international legal research and the development of advanced legal education. The mission of ILPP is, in particular, to perform and support research activities in the field of constitutional, comparative, and international law; to develop respect for the rule of law and liberal-democratic values in Russia; to facilitate Russia's integration into the international legal community; and to promote international and inter-regional legal policy dialogues; The Institute has successfully completed more than 120 national and international projects with the focus – among other areas – on constitutional review and access to justice.

Since 2013 the ILPP has extensive experience with the Russian Constitutional Court, European Court of Human Rights and UN Human Rights Committee, and is currently pursuing a long-term project on strategic litigation in constitutional matters in Russia, the purpose of which is to strengthen the role of the constitutional justice system in Russia, raise the level of human rights protection, and improve the capacity of civil society groups to engage in strategic litigation before the Constitutional Court.

The ILPP produces two periodicals – “Sravnitelnoe Konstitutsionnoe Obozrenie” (Comparative Constitutional Review) (since 1993) and “Mezhdunarodnoe Pravosudie” (International Justice) (since 2011). Since 2009 the ILPP has been a member of the International Association of Constitutional Law (IACL) representing a network of Russian constitutional lawyers internationally.

Memorial recognizes video-blogger Sokolovsky as a political prisoner

posted 12 Dec 2016, 07:52 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Dec 2016, 07:52 ]

5 December 2016

Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre

Ruslan Sokolovsky, a blogger from Ekaterinburg, has been charged under Article 282, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (inciting hatred or enmity, or insulting human dignity, on the basis of attitudes towards religious belief) and Article 148, Section 2, of the Russian Criminal Code (public actions expressing a clear lack of respect for society and committed with the aim of insulting religious feelings of believers in places specially reserved for the conduct of worship) for playing Pokemon Go on his smartphone in the Cathedral-on-the-Blood in Ekaterinburg, and the subsequent preparation and publication of videos containing sharp criticisms of religion and the Russian Orthodox Church. On 2 September 2016 Sokolovsky was detained, and the following day he was remanded in custody. He was transferred to house arrest on 8 September 2016. On 28 October 2016 on unsubstantiated grounds Sokolovsky was again remanded in custody and sent to a pre-trial detention centre.

Memorial Human Rights Centre concurs with the assessment of experts from the Sova Centre for Information and Analysis who consider that the actions of Sokolovsky do not fall under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code: while the videos he published do contain profanities directed at Christians and Muslims, they do not, however, contain dangerous incitement of any kind.

Such public expressions, doubtless, deserve condemnation. However, along with the Sova Centre we consider that the words ‘debasing dignity’ must be removed from Article 282 of the Criminal Code. Such actions must be the subject exclusively of liability under administrative law, since they do not represent a serious danger to society.

The application of Article 148, Section 2, of the Criminal Code is also inappropriate: not one of the visitors to the cathedral suffered as a result of the actions of the blogger, and no damage was done to Church property.

On the whole, we consider that the existence of criminal liability, in particular where this involves deprivation of liberty, in connection with such vaguely-worded evaluative definitions of a crime as ‘public actions expressing a clear disrespect to society and committed with the aim of insulting the religious feelings of believers,’ is unacceptable in a democratic society.

Memorial Human Rights Centre considers Ruslan Sokolovsky a political prisoner and demands his immediate release.

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.

Memorial recognizes opposition politician and journalist from Naberezhnye Chelny Sergei Eretnov as a political prisoner

posted 12 Dec 2016, 07:46 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Dec 2016, 07:49 ]

2 December 2016

On 12 July 2016 Sergei Eretnov, a deputy of the 2nd convocation of the city council of Naberezhnye Chelny in the Republic of Tatarstan and founder-publisher of the newspaper Komitet Revizor, was sentenced to three years in a general regime prison colony and fined 200,000 roubles under Article 33, Section 5 and Article 171.2, Section 2, point ‘b’, of the Russian Criminal Code (aiding and abetting the illegal organization and conduct of gambling by an organized group). Earlier, while awaiting trial from 8 July until 4 September 2014, Eretnov was held in pre-trial detention, after which he was transferred to house arrest until the day of his conviction when he was again taken into custody.

Sergei Eretnov is the founder and publisher of the newspaper Komitet Revizor and a well-known opposition politician in Nabereznye Chelny. He has regularly accused representatives of the authorities of corruption and links with organized crime and has clashed with city officials, including former and current mayors. His name featured in the so-called ‘gambling case’, a prosecution concerning the operation in Naberezhnye Chelny of a large number of illegal rooms with gaming machines, immediately before the 2014 elections to the State Council of the Republic of Tatarstan. In other words, the prosecution of Eretnov began a significant time after the opening of the criminal case and the arrest of other defendants in the case, when persons believed to be members of a criminal gang testified against him.

Eretnov himself, his supporters and a number of journalists, allege that he was prosecuted because he had planned to take part in the elections as a candidate and had serious chances of winning. In order to prevent this, he was prosecuted. Local opposition politicians say Eretnov was potentially the strongest candidate from the opposition in the Avtozavodsk polling district, against whom the authorities actively used the administrative resources available to them, as well as ‘black’ political technologies, seen for example in the way that two ‘doubles’ immediately came forward as candidates against him. After Eretnov’s arrest, the electoral commission refused to register him as a candidate in the election.

It should be noted that the Naberezhnye Chelny city court acquitted Eretnov, and others so charged, of the more serious offences under Article 210 of the Russian Criminal Code (taking part in a criminal group) on the grounds that the prosecution could not prove that he had organized a criminal group. Moreover, he was also found not guilty under Article 159 of the Russian Criminal Code (large scale fraud).

In effect, the court found Eretnov guilty only of having allegedly provided real estate services on one occasion, assisting the organizers of a gambling business to obtain a long-term rental on a property. In our view, the imposition of a sentence involving deprivation of liberty on charges of having brought two parties together to make a deal renting a property is absurd when the prosecution could not even prove that Eretnov in fact knew that this property would be used for unlawful purposes. At the same time, the only evidence for the dubious ‘fact’ in question was the testimony of another person involved in the case – a person whom even the court that issued the judgment viewed with scepticism, concluding that in other episodes he had borne false witness against Eretnov. It is obvious that in this instance there are ineradicable doubts about the guilt of Sergei Eretnov, doubts that, according to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, must be interpreted in favour of the accused.

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 this case, see here.

Legal Training Centre (St Petersburg): Legal Seminar in St Petersburg, 11-12 November 2016 ‘Working with offenders in the community. Alternative forms of justice’

posted 7 Dec 2016, 11:11 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 7 Dec 2016, 11:15 ]

Центр правовых программ (Санкт Петербург)
The seminar ‘Working with offenders in the community. Alternative forms of justice’ is the second in a series of seminars held in St. Petersburg in a collaboration between Citizens’ Watch International (London) and Legal Training Centre (St. Petersburg). The seminar was attended by over 50 defence lawyers from St Petersburg and the Northwest Region of Russia. 

The three speakers from the UK all have rich experience, both of working in the justice system in the UK and in contributing to international projects. Judge Nick Crichton CBE, a solicitor for 15 years and a District Judge for 27 years, is a passionate advocate for children’s rights who has chaired the Voice of the Child subcommittee of the Family Justice Council for many years. He has been instrumental in setting up the Family Drug and Alcohol Court and is also a trustee of Lumos, a charity set up by JK Rowling to enable provision of care for children outside institutions. Andrew Bernhardt has worked for 22 years as a probation officer and specialises in the management and assessment of high risk offenders. He is a senior lecturer at the UK’s Hertfordshire University where he teaches on a Masters program in child protection. Keith Davies is Associate Professor at the School of Social Work, Kingston University, and currently leads the BA in Social Work programme. He has extensive experience as a probation officer and a Senior Lecturer in criminal justice in higher education. He has also worked as a trainer for Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons in the UK. 

11 November 2016
The first session led by Andrew Bernhardt began with a look at what probation is and how it works. He set the seminar off with an unusual brainstorming session. He proposed participants imagine a world without crime and consider the resultant pluses and minuses. The ‘pluses’ that participants ascribed to this ‘golden era’ were varied, including: universal happiness, well-being, positive human relations, a reduction in spending on law enforcement, and an increase in the population. [Read more

Legal Training Centre (St Petersburg): Legal Seminars in St Petersburg and Tver, 10-13 October 2016

posted 7 Dec 2016, 11:02 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 7 Dec 2016, 11:14 ]

Центр правовых программ (Санкт Петербург)
There are not many things of greater interest to a lawyer than an opportunity to compare notes with legal practitioners from another jurisdiction. Early in October 2016 jurists in St Petersburg and Tver had opportunities to do precisely this when two prominent lawyers from the UK – Lionel Blackman and David Osborne – came to Russia to share their perspectives on key legal issues. 

UK lawyers 
Lionel Blackman is an English solicitor advocate and senior partner in a criminal litigation practice, with a long-standing interest in human rights, and is currently chair of Solicitors' International Human Rights Group, which he co-founded in 2005. David Osborne worked for many years as a solicitor, providing advice in the police station and representation in the magistrates’ court, before taking up practice as an advocate in the crown court. He has taught advocacy, both in the UK and abroad and provided training to lawyers on a variety of legal issues; he also sits as a Recorder (part time judge) in the crown court. Coordinating the training programme were Maria Razumovskaya, Legal Training Centre, and Arkady Gutnikov, director of the Prince Oldenburgsky St. Petersburg Institute of Law. 

The seminars are part of a project, entitled ‘Raising the professional standards of defence lawyers in Russia,’ which is a second phase of the long-term educational programme Magna Carta International run by Citizens’ Watch International (London). The seminars, organised jointly by Citizens’ Watch International, Legal Training Centre (St.Petersburg) and Solicitors International Human Rights Group (London), attracted 50 lawyers in St. Petersburg (10-11 October), and a further 30 in Tver (13 October).1 Those attending the St Petersburg event came from the city itself and Leningrad region, although a number had travelled from the cities and regions of the North West Federal District, including Pskov, Vologda and Novgorod. The seminar in the Venice of the North was opened by Keith Allan, the UK’s Consul General to St Petersburg. The current project is funded by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office via its Russia Civil Society Fund. [Read more]

International Memorial Society: Database on chekists of period of Great Terror now accessible online

posted 1 Dec 2016, 08:16 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 Dec 2016, 08:19 ]

23 November 2016

Source: International Memorial Society

On 23 November 2016 International Memorial Society made available on its website the database of A. N. Zhukov, ‘The personnel of the state security services of the USSR 1935-1939’.

The database gives brief details about 39,950 staff of the NKVD appointed to a particular rank in the state security organs from the time of their introduction in 1935 until the beginning of 1941. The period from the autumn of 1935 to the middle of 1939 receives special attention – almost all who were awarded such a rank during this time appear in the database.

A preliminary version of the database came out as a CD in May 2016. Amendments and additions to approximately 4,500 entries have been made to the Internet version.

The main source for the information in the database are the staff records of the USSR NKVD. The database contains the number and date for the orders making the appointment to the post in question and date of dismissal from the NKVD, information about the post occupied at the time of dismissal, and also information about any state awards received, including that of ‘Honoured Employee of the VChK-GPU’. Further information on biographical details comes from other sources, in particular records of those reported dead or missing in action during the Great Patriotic War, and also of subsequent repressions.

The database will be useful to those interested in Soviet history. For example, the database makes it possible to identify very many of the state security personnel, active during the Great Terror, of whom until now only a surname has been known (without first name or patronymic) from their signatures in cases under investigation or from mentions in the memoir literature.

The appearance of the database is a significant step towards a deeper and more accurate understanding of the tragic history of our country in the thirties of the twentieth century.

Ya. Z. Rachinsky, aided by O. A. Gorplanov, N. V. Petrov and A.B. Roginsky, prepared the database for publication. S. Z. Rachinsky is responsible for the programming.

Memorial Human Rights Centre: The number of political prisoners in Russia has more than doubled

posted 26 Oct 2016, 07:55 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Oct 2016, 23:55 ]

28 October 2016

Memorial publishes a list of current political prisoners in Russia 

On the eve of 30 October, Memorial Day for victims of political repression, Memorial Human Rights Centre by tradition publishes a list of current political prisoners in Russia.

Under the term ‘political prisoner’ we consider both those serving prison terms and those remanded in custody or under house arrest. The full criteria for defining political prisoners can be read on our website.

In a change from past years, today we publish not one, but two lists. A list of those imprisoned for exercising the right to freedom of religious belief, and a list of all other political prisoners.

We have introduced this distinction so that people in Russia and around the world will be better able to perceive the problem of politically-motivated and unlawful imprisonment in our country. We also wish by this means to raise the level of public solidarity with political prisoners.

It is obvious that neither list is complete. The lists include only those individuals about whom we have managed to gather and analyse sufficient materials to come to a considered opinion about the political motivation and unlawful character of the criminal prosecution in their cases. The lists do not contain the names of many who have been deprived of liberty whose prosecution bore signs of illegality and political motivation, either because we have not yet received the necessary materials on these cases, or because we are still in the process of analysing the materials. The lists do not contain the names of anyone who has used violence against the person or who have called for the use of violence on grounds of religion, ethnicity, race, and so on.

If one year ago our list of political prisoners contained 50 names, today both lists taken together contain 104. The number of political prisoners, even in our lists that do not pretend to comprehensiveness, has therefore significantly increased.

We urge you to support political prisoners by disseminating information about them, writing letters and making donations. Donations can be made via the electronic wallets of the Fund to Assist Political Prisoners:

- Yandex. Dengi [Яндекс. Деньги] 410011205892134 
- PayPal helppoliticalprisoners@gmail.com 

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 political prisoners in Russia, visit the website of Memorial Human Rights Centre

Memorial recognizes former Kostroma police officer Aleksei Nikonorov as a political prisoner

posted 26 Oct 2016, 07:35 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Oct 2016, 07:37 ]

19 October 2016

Source: Memorial Human Right Centre

Aleksei Nikonorov, at the time of his arrest a former police captain and head of the criminal investigative department of the Kostroma police department, has been sentenced to three years seven months in a general regime prison colony and fined 150,000 roubles under Article 272, Section 3 (unlawful access to protected computer information, if the action resulted in the modification or copying of computer information, committed by a group of people by prior agreement), Article 286, Section 1 (exceeding official powers) and Article 290, Section 3 (receipt of a bribe by an official for knowing commission of unlawful acts) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Nikonorov has been held in custody or under house arrest since 28 July 2015.

The deprivation of Nikonorov of his liberty is linked exclusively with the fact that he figured in the criminal case of opposition politician Andrei Pivovarov, who was responsible for checking the signatures gathered by the PARNAS political party. The criminal investigation into ‘unlawful access to information’ was a part of the campaign directed against the opposition Democratic Coalition and the PARNAS party, which was a member of that Coalition. Regional election commissions refused to register the lists of candidates of this political group at elections to the legislative assemblies of Novosibirsk and Magadan regions, as well as for the municipal elections in the capital cities of the Republic of Udmurtiya and Perm Region, in other words, everywhere where PARNAS put up its candidates in 2015.

The official investigation did not produce any material evidence that the police officer Nikonorov acted out of self-interest or that Pivovarov forced him to commit allegedly unlawful actions ‘by persuasion or other means’, as stated in the charges brought against Pivovarov. In this connection, we consider the charges brought against Pivovarov of ‘giving bribes to a public official’ and against Nikonorov, correspondingly, of ‘receiving’ a bribe to be absurd and unlawful.

The actual circumstances of the case allow it to be stated with confidence that Pivovarov is completely innocent and Nikonorov is guilty only in relation to a violation of Article 286, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code, the provisions of which concern a minor crime and do not provide for a prison term as punishment for a person with no criminal record. It is important to note that for unknown reasons in the summer of 2015 the data bases of the Federal Migration Service were not accessible to visitors to the agency’s websites. From the point of view of a number of opposition politicians, this was direct sabotage aimed at preventing candidates and electoral associations, who were gathering the signatures required for registration in the elections, from checking the personal data of those voters who gave their signatures with the information contained in these data bases. Once the period of time during which it was possible to gather signatures was over, the data bases of the Federal Migration Service again began to function. Those public officials, who evidently violated the rights of participants in the electoral process, were not held responsible for their actions, unlike Nikonorov.

We demand the immediate release of Aleksei Nikonorov and the review of the criminal case against him. 

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 this case, see here.

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