This section features occasional translations by Rights in Russia of materials published in the Russian-language media on human rights issues and featured here with due acknowledgement to the original sources.
For translations of items about human rights in Russia from HRO.org, see our special website HRO.org in English
5 April 2017
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]
By Arkady Babchenko, journalist
Photo: Moscow Helsinki Group
Over the years, journalists in Russia have developed a keen sense of smell for finding Mamleev- and Kafka-esque stories. I knew that this particular story was far from over from the very start, from the moment that I saw the man’s photograph. In line with the genre’s conventions and the state of things today, this story would inevitably have a surreal denouement. Life is the finest screenwriter.
You are Andrei Nikitin, a captain of the Russian Airborne Troops and a graduate of the Ryazan Higher Airborne Command School. You serve in Chechnya before retiring and converting to Islam. You work as a truck driver, and, ending up at the wrong place at the wrong time, you enter the St Petersburg metro.
Some investigator, reviewing CCTV footage, points his finger at you: “Here he is,” he remarks, simply because you’re a perfect fit for the role of a Wahhabi. Voila – your life goes to the dogs.
Under pressure from the regional Investigative Committee office, you are swiftly sacked and then kept from boarding a flight, all because its passengers refuse to share a plane with you. The Life News’es of the world turn your life into a living hell and yet you’re still incredibly lucky. You manage to get to the police yourself, doing so a few hours before the FSB could hype your case and make you into an extremist and a terrorist, as it has many times with others before, imposing heavy Stalin-like sentences on them, including life terms. Just like in the case of Zara Murtazalieva, who spent 8 years in prison. Or you could have become simply another “suspected terrorist killed mid-arrest in his apartment, where extremist literature was found.”
The motherland will abandon you, son. Every time.
Translated by Lincoln Pigman
7 April 2017
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Novaya gazeta]
An interview with Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, by Leonid Nikitinsky, columnist for Novaya gazeta and a member of the Presidential Council
The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights has suggested a re-examination of its previous proposals for amendments to the regulations under which participants in mass protests are charged, for example by allowing the use of video footage
While visiting police stations and special detention centres where those detained during the mass protests in Moscow on 26 March were held, Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, commented to the journalists who were with him that, “We must change the regulations which apply to the examination of cases involving administrative offences of this kind – the main evidence should be video footage”. Novaya gazeta asked Professor Fedotov to provide a more detailed explanation of this and other initiatives by the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights in relation to the mass protests.
Mikhail Fedotov: I should start by saying that the idea of using video footage when examining charges relating to violations of the regulations on the organisation of mass protests is an initiative suggested by the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights rather than by myself as an individual. It was proposed on 1 February 2011 at a meeting of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights held in Ekaterinburg, which Dmitry Medvedev (the then President of the Russian Federation) also attended. Back then Liudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva and Mara Fedorovna Polyakova commented that reports about administrative offences were sometimes produced by police officers not at the scene of the offence, but later and on the basis of their colleagues’ version of events; these reports were liable to contain inaccuracies, and came dangerously close to false evidence (Article 307 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). The police officers who detained the offenders merely brought them to the police station and left them there with the on-duty officers before going away again to continue their work, and the authors of the reports (that would later go to the courts by the dozen) found themselves in a very questionable position.
President Medvedev agreed that, “perjury is a crime under any circumstances”, and that wider use should be made of audio recordings and video footage. I will quote what he said next (the minutes of the meeting of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights of 1 February 2011 can be found on the Council’s website); “I am thinking not of eyewitness reports, which are of a highly specific nature for both parties, but of audio recordings and video footage, so that it becomes established practice for courts to allow such evidence to be included in the file for the case.”
On 26-28 March 2016, together with Andrei Babushkin, a member of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, I visited Moscow police stations where the detainees had been taken, and we discovered that the reports were all carbon copies of each other, stating that the offender in each case had “…participated…”, “…chanted protest slogans…”, “…walked out onto the roadway…”, “…prevented the movement of traffic and pedestrians.” We could not help but ask ourselves whether these reports reflected what had really happened. At every single police station, I asked the police officers whether they had used their own or third-party video footage. All of them replied that no one within the police force had ever given them any video footage, and they had never heard of third-party video footage being used.
One can only assume that the police has significantly improved its technical capacities for recording video footage over the six-year period since the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights first asked this question, and that the footage itself has increased in both quality and quantity. Why should this footage of protesters and witnesses not be used?
— What prevents the use of video footage?
Mikhail Fedotov: Nothing prevents its use, and there are no laws prohibiting it. It merely differs from the established practice enshrined in Article 26.2 of the Code on Administrative Offences, which defines the term “evidence” and which was criticised by the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights six years ago. According to Article 26.2, the factual information which can be used by a judge or another body as a basis for a decision (and I quote) “is established by means of the report on the administrative offence or other reports… statements by person against whom the administrative offence charge has been filed, testimonies by the victim or witnesses, expert findings, other documents, and also evidence obtained by special technical means and material evidence.”
Video footage does not qualify as “material evidence”, because the latter is defined by the Code as “implements for committing an administrative offence or the object of an administrative offence, including implements for committing an administrative offence or the object of an administrative offence showing evidence of said offence.” Video footage also does not qualify as evidence obtained by special technical means, since the Code defines the latter as measuring apparatus. What all of this means is that there is no direct prohibition, but an obvious gap exists.
There is of course no law prohibiting a request for video footage to be included in the file for an administrative law case. In practice, however, the judges are more likely to accept evidence of this kind if it is submitted by the police than if it is submitted by the defence. If video footage submitted by the defence is included in the file for the case, a note is usually made to the effect that it, “contains information on the detention of the offender and his removal to a police vehicle, but does not contain any information which refutes the event or circumstances constituting an administrative offence.” The Council for Civil Society and Human Rights believes that this practice must be changed by amending Article 26.2 of the Code on Administrative Offences to allow video footage as evidence, and also by the issuance of corresponding clarifications by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.
It is very revealing that the Code has already been amended by addition of a passage stating that video footage can be used not only as evidence, but as “supreme evidence” which removes the presumption of innocence in the case of traffic offences. An explanatory statement for Article 1.5 of the Code eliminates the presumption of innocence for vehicle owners by stating that the owner of the car must prove his innocence if a traffic offence is recorded by technical means “involving photography, filming or videoing”; this saves money and reduces police workloads. Why should all citizens not have the option of using video footage as evidence to refute the charges brought against them? What are we afraid of? Justice and the rule of law? […]
Translated by Joanne Reynolds
12 April 2017
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda]
By Zoya Svetova, journalist, human rights defender, laureate of the Human Rights Award of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and a former member of the Public Oversight Commission of Moscow
The practice of sending ‘open letters’ to the authorities, of turning to Russian and international organizations with demands for the release of an individual or of a whole category of political prisoners has become a well-established feature of our life. Recently a large group of scholars and public figures came out in defence of the academician Yury Pivovarov, who has been charged with a criminal offence for fraud. Is there any sense in sending such letters and to whom should one turn when reacting against actions which have no grounds in law.
Today’s ‘open letters’ are in the tradition of the dissident letters which began with the Sinyavsky and Daniel case. In November 1966, following their conviction, a letter signed by 62 literary figures who included Bulat Okhudzhava, Ilya Ehrenburg, and Pavel Antokolsky, was published in Literaturnaya gazeta. They appealled to the praesidium of the 23rd Congress of the CPSU and to the praesidia of the Supreme Soviets of the USSR and of the RSFSR with the request that the convicted persons be let out on probation. Today the letter makes for odd reading, it seems too loyal although it was clear that all the signatories could lose their jobs for the simple act of speaking out for their persecuted colleagues.
‘Sinyavsky and Daniel are talented individuals who should have the opportunity to correct their political errors and tactlessness. If released on probation, Sinyavsky and Daniel would all the sooner recognize the mistakes they have made and, as part of the Soviet community, would be able to produce new works whose artistic and ideological quality would atone for the harm cause by their blunders’ – this was the way the Soviet ‘signatories’ tried to get their colleagues released from prison. ‘For all these reasons we ask that Andrei Synyavsky and Yuly Daniel be allowed out on probation. It is in our country’s interests. It is the interests of the world. It is in the interests of the world communist movement’. It is clear that the mention of ‘our country’s interests’ and those of the world communist movement was made in the hope that the letter’s recipients would respond to the request, change the fate of the prisoners, and that the signatories themselves would not suffer repression.
Today in Russia there’s only one addressee for such letters and appeals – President Vladimir Putin. And, when turning to him, it is unlikely that letter-writers will express any sharp criticism of today’s political system. The tone of today’s letters is very reminiscent of that letter of ‘1966’. And some people today respond to such letters with reproaches and surprise, expressing disbelief in their effectiveness. Some think that President Putin views any such letters as a form of pressure which he considers as categorically unacceptable.
Writer and journalist Ivan Davydov has reproached Aleksandr Sokurov for standing up for Oleg Sentsov by asking Putin to free the Ukrainian film director – when Putin himself is the architect of the law enforcement and judicial system that made possible Sentsov’s arrest and sentencing to 20 years in a strict regime penal colony for activities that had nothing to do with terrorism. But it seems to me that surely Sokurov the director is no less aware than Davydov the writer of the role Putin plays in the system of state repression, so why have a go at him?
Any appeal like this, made to the head of an authoritarian regime, be it Sokurov’s speech or Ksenia Sobchak’s recent appeal to Putin relating to the terror attack in St Petersburg, is primarily carried out under the banner of “I cannot remain silent.” Secondly, it’s an effort to reach to the very top. And thirdly (and this seems to me more important than the first and second considerations) any appeal of this kind is the same moral protest that made dissidents so strong in Soviet times.
Moral protest is the cement that quietly bonds apathetic, depressed Russian society so that brick by brick a civil society forms. It cannot be said that a great number of people engage in moral protest, but still, sometimes when you read letters in defence of some new persecuted individual you spot a new signature – suddenly someone who previously preferred to “keep their head down” is speaking out.
“But what does this achieve?” you ask. Do these open letters themselves have any effect? What happens when, for example, Mr Putin watches a video message from Ksenia Sobchak where she agitatedly informs the president that his security services, instead of averting terrorist attacks, are catching supporters of opposition blogger Aleksei Navalny on social media? Will he go off and fire all the bad agents and replace them with new, good ones? Hardly.
But the essence of moral protest is this – it doesn’t presuppose immediate action. It’s a kind of signal both for the authorities and for society: look, here’s a different opinion, and at some point it will have to be reckoned with. Cynics will say that all decisions taken in and around the Kremlin operate according to different rules and laws, without taking into account the appeals of “urban crazies”.
However, the significance of both open letters and individual appeals is that the writers are not just “urban crazies”. As a rule, they are well-known in the West as well as in Russia. And their names carry weight. I’m sure that Aleksandr Sokurov’s stubborn pleading for Oleg Sentsov will not pass unnoticed: Sokurov’s colleages and public figures in the West will pick it up. The name of the Ukrainian film director will come up in international negotiations – as happened when the names of Soviet dissidents came up in talks between Soviet and Western leaders.
We never know how far “our words will resound”. In recent years there has been an example of a successful letter-writing campaign – the letter from cultural figures to President Dmitry Medvedev concerning the release of YUKOS lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina, which was published in October 2008. Six months later, Svetlana left her penal colony on a conditional early release. Substantial public interest also contributed to the release of Vasily Aleksanyan, and to the release of Pussy Riot and several people accused of participation in alleged riots on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square in May 2012 under the amnesty to mark the 20th anniversary of the Constitution. The names of those released had appeared in many letters and appeals.
There is a hope that open letters – both those with many signatures, and individual appeals – might be the pebble that turns the balance between “for” and “against”. Maybe it will happen for purely pragmatic reasons that benefit the authorities at a particular moment and that have nothing to do with humanitarian concerns. But that’s not the point. A moral protest is not a pipe dream. It’s one more tool of civic resistance.
Translated by Anna Bowles and Mary McAuley
5 April 2017
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Sol]
Igor Kitsenko: Hello, radio listeners. At the microphone is Igor Kitsenko, and this is “Zoom” on radio SOL. The topic of today’s programme is “The court through citizens’ eyes: Russian courts being inspected for openness and accessibility.” This is the name of the project. As of this moment, the courts of Moscow and Ulyanovsk have been inspected. In other cities, the courts are being actively inspected for accessibility to citizens.
What is “The court through citizens’ eyes”? The campaign has two goals. First, to look at the real situation with regard to access to justice - specifically, to evaluate court websites, the feasibility of access to the courthouse, the comprehensibility of information, and also the feasibility of getting into the sessions themselves. This project’s second goal is to find and bring together people in Russia’s different regions who are interested in civic oversight - whether or not they have experience, it doesn’t matter. The desire alone is important. […]
Igor Kitsenko: […] Dmityi Makarov, co-coordinator of “The court through citizens’ eyes” campaign. Good afternoon, Dmitry.
Dmitry Makarov: Good afternoon.
Igor Kitsenko: I’d like to move on to infrastructure. I looked at the photographs Vasily Rybakov has published in his reports. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry looking at the infrastructure in courthouses and the approaches to them. When are you collecting and consolidating the information on those courthouses that are going to be inspected? What happens next? Will suggestions be sent, requests written?
Dmitry Makarov: Naturally, we would like the problems brought to light during the campaign to later become the subject of discussion and dialogue with those authorities responsible for the court and the court’s functioning as a system. I think it is just these kinds of minor details - how officers greet you at the entrance, whether or not they're rude to you, can you get into the courtroom at all if you don't have your passport with you, whether or not the toilet is available to visitors . . .
Igor Kitsenko: By the way, can you get into a court if you don’t have your passport with you?
Dmitry Makarov: In my opinion, yes. In my opinion, there are other ways to verify identify if it’s a question of security. In this sense, I see no formal obstacles; we know of none. But it’s understandable that practices will vary from court to court. This is also an indicator of problems with the openness of courts because different courts have different rules. Sometimes the officers that visitors come in contact with can’t clearly explain the reason for restrictions or what restrictions are in force in general. As frequently happens when dealing with government agencies, citizens don’t understand what to expect and don’t understand the meaning of the restrictions placed on them; no one explains this to them clearly. Of course, one would wish that these points, too, were the subject of discussion. […]
In this sense, it is no accident that the United Public Oversight Group [OGON] is one of this campaign’s key organizers. Standing behind the OGON abbreviation is a community of observers who are attempting to make civic oversight universally accessible and more or less mass in nature. In a certain sense, this campaign continues that effort. Before this, there were inspections of police departments, and we attempted to observe how police officers fulfilled the legal requirement to wear badges. Currently, monitoring is under way of how security is ensured at public events. But this campaign on the courts is largely a pilot project. We really would like to see what kind of response there is. Right now we’re seeing that there is interest, that the regions are actively joining in. In my understanding, of course, this should also be a subject of discussion, but I think this kind of campaign should, of course, be ongoing. Every citizen should have the opportunity to ascertain how the court in their hometown is functioning in general and what problems there are with the functioning of the judicial system.
Igor Kitsenko: […] You have listed the regions where there is an active inspection of courthouses under way and where this kind of oversight is only in the early planning stages. As I understand it, the initiative from these specific cities comes to you, right?
Dmitry Makarov: It happens in different ways. In several cities, there are already participants in the Youth Human Rights Movement or partners of the Moscow Helsinki Group, or participants in OGON, which is responding to these kinds of appeals. But in several situations, we are being contacted by people we don’t know.
Igor Kitsenko: Are these nonprofit organizations or are these citizens as individuals?
Dmitry Makarov: One of the goals of our campaign is for groups to develop around individual active citizens who are interested in the development of civic oversight as an institution. In this sense, we are calling on people not to conduct inspections on their own. It is not so much the specific results they yield that are important to us, although, naturally, this is an important element of the campaign, but so is what kind of public discussion there is going to be around this, how many people are going to take part in it, and so on. Therefore, yes, above all we are focused on civil society groups. But we also welcome individual civic activists and are prepared to assist so that groups arise around them. […]
Translated by Marian Schwartz
Valerii Borshchev: “The Public Chamber is making it even harder for human-rights defenders to serve on Public Oversight Commissions” [Business FM]
10 April 2017
By Valerii Borshchev
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Business FM]
Elections to Public Monitoring Commissions (POC) in 13 Russian regions were held at the beginning of April. Over the next three years, the newly elected members of these commissions will monitor the observance of human rights in Russia’s prisons, corrective labour colonies, and pre-trial detention centres.
As in earlier elections, only a minority of places on the commissions were won by human-rights defenders, and many of the human-rights advocates who ran failed to be elected. This is provoking concern that the POCs may turn into organisations whose activities are managed top-down by the state authorities. Most of the newly elected members of the commissions are former employees of law-enforcement agencies or the prison service. As a result, commentators warn, prisoners’ rights will be protected by former siloviki [members of the military or state security services].
In a related development, the State Duma on 7 April 2017 approved in the first reading a draft law that would allow Russia’s Public Chamber [which is responsible for the election of POC members], to choose additional POC members.
The question of additional elections emerged after the presidential Human Rights Council criticised the way in which commissions had been elected in 42 Russian regions in October 2016. At that time, a number of well-known human-rights advocates failed to win election.
Commenting on the proposed change, Valerii Borshchev, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and of the Moscow Region POC, said, “The Public Chamber is not coping well with its role in forming the POCs. And what will change [if the new law is enacted]? Again there will be the same situation, again there will be candidates, again there will be a working group, again we will put up human-rights defenders to serve on this working group. And then there will be the same situation as at present. Nothing will change, because the Public Chamber has twice demonstrated [in the elections of October 2016 and April 2017] that it will put up a rigid barrier against human-rights defenders. I think that, even if additional members are added to the POCs, the situation will remain the same. In accordance with the established procedure, the Commission of the Public Chamber will, on the recommendations of the working group, make its recommendations to the members of the Council of the Public Chamber, and the members of the Council, who know few human-rights defenders, will vote on these recommendations. And those candidates who were recommended by the human-rights defenders in the working group will be rejected, because being recommended by human-rights defenders is the virtual equivalent of an anti-recommendation. In my opinion, the Public Chamber is not fulfilling its responsibilities in forming the POCs and it should be stripped of its monopoly [to determine the composition of the POCs]. We propose either that this right be transferred to the Human Rights Ombudsman, or that a commission be set up consisting of representatives of the Ombudsman, the presidential Human Rights Council and the Public Chamber, all serving on an equal footing." «
"There were not enough of us before, and now [following the elections of April 2017] we are even fewer,” Eva Merkacheva, deputy chair of the Moscow POC, said in an interview with Business FM radio station. "I often cite Mordovia as an example," she said. "Only nine members were elected to the POC there. Mordovia covers a huge territory, and it takes more than a week to go round all the prison colonies. Clearly, a commission with only nine members cannot cover all of this ground, because they all have other jobs to do, and their human-rights work is just an additional social responsibility, nothing more. That is why we called for further elections, so that there would be more POC members. The same goes for Moscow: there we asked for more than 30 people, in fact we asked for as many as 40 — in our opinion, that is the minimum for Moscow, because Moscow has a huge number of police cells. Even when there were 40 of us on the POC, we could not always visit all the police stations. I recall how I travelled to several police stations with Andrei Babushkin, a member of the Human Rights Council, when he was a member of the POC, and we discovered to our horror that, until our visit, no one had visited for two or three years, and that there was a mass of problems. We saw that people were being kept there without water, without food, that they had no bedding, that people were kept locked up for as much as 42 hours longer than allowed by law. In general, there were all kinds of violations connected with the protection of the rights of detainees and prisoners. We were unable then to carry out a comprehensive check, because we did not have enough members of the POC. And now we have even fewer."
Translation and notes by Elizabeth Teague
 POCs (in Russian, Obshchestvennye nablyudatel’nye komissii [ONK]) were established in 2008, when a new law on public oversight was passed by the Russian parliament. It enabled independent, non-governmental rights advocates to be elected to new monitoring bodies charged with inspecting the treatment of detainees in prisons, penal colonies, pre-trial detention centres and police stations.
 The Public Chamber (in Russian, Obshchestvennaya Palata, also translated as the Civic Chamber), is a consultative body set up in 2004 by President Putin at federal and regional level. As a surrogate for civil society, it is tasked with overseeing the activities of the state authorities.
31 March 2017
By Sergei Kovalev, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Grani.ru]
It was a pleasure to read a recent declaration by several members of the Presidential Human Rights Council. It is proof of their personal dignity, personal determination, and personal sense of responsibility.
I disagree, however, with those who see in this declaration a sign of a schism within the Council. After all, it is a unique governmental body. If you will, it is an important division of a special department tasked with creating a public image for our managed (and sovereign) democracy. This department, just like the ministry itself (the crude Orwell called it a ministry of truth), appears not to exist, but does, like the smile of a Cheshire cat. These ostensibly non-existent governmental bodies are quite effective, both inside and outside the country.
What they are doing is not television; it is a very delicate, specialized kind of work. In the Council, for instance, it is necessary to have decent people with untarnished reputations. Otherwise, how would this governmental body accumulate authority? But decent people in the right proportion, of course. Here you have a diversity of opinion, discussion (genuine, not incentivised). And voting without cheating: why cheat when the proportions are the right ones?
How do the presidential ‘representatives of decency’ feel? Dejected. We toil to no avail, they say, but we must at least try. There seems to a miserable minority alongside the loyal 86 per cent [of Putin supporters].
Alas, that ‘extra-systemic’ minority is an enemy of the fatherland, hired by the CIA, at best supporters of Ukrainian nationalists. Meanwhile, the ‘systemic’ ones are a vital part of the veil, covering up the aristocratic excesses. For this, the likes of NTV do not dare criticize them. After all, it’s not their fault, it’s a departmental privilege – a privilege they asked for themselves, I stress.
Mikhail Aleksandrovich Fedotov has come under fire. So Mikhail Aleksandrovich blundered. He should have visited those beaten up by the police first, and only then moved on to those state employees made victims of “street disorder.” And promising someone an apartment is somewhat indecent and badly timed. Yet, it’s a governmental body. How do you expect the head of an important governmental body to support anti-government activity? One would hope that Mikhail Aleksandrovich’s shamelessly open loyalty does not stand in the way of his good intentions. Within the limits of the possible, of course.
Fedotov’s resignation, demanded by some, would not do any good. His replacement would be far worse. Another matter entirely is placing an informal ban on decent people joining the Council. That would immediately rob it of any prestige. What a paradox it is: decent people serving this president.
There’s not really anything to be done. Thank you to those 24 signatories. As we say, at least there’s that.
Translated by Lincoln Pigman
3 April 2017
Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda]
Extract from: 'Репрессии как традиция. О масштабах преследования геев в Чечне,' Moscow Helsinki Group, 3 April 2017
Photo of Oleg Orlov: Novaya gazeta
[…] In an interview with Radio Svoboda, Oleg Orlov, a member of the board of the Memorial Human Rights Organisation, discusses the reaction of the Chechen leadership to information about the persecution of people in the LGBT community:
"We at Memorial don’t have concrete information on this topic yet. Based on what I know about Kadyrov’s regime, it’s entirely possible; very likely. We’ve seen how campaigns of mass repression are mounted against one or other group of people the regime finds distasteful: first it’s young men who wear the wrong kind of beards, then it’s people who follow this or that religion and who have to simply be wiped out. We must not forget that Ramzan Kadyrov has more than once appeared publicly, on television, inciting the actual murder of people because of their religious affiliation. For example, the people he calls Wahhabis. So to rule out something similar with regard to LGBT people is clearly impossible. It seems entirely plausible.
"Of course, people rarely turn for assistance to human rights defenders in Chechnya nowadays, for fear that this will result in the persecution of their families. But this is a special situation. In traditional Chechen society, such problems are viewed differently than in other regions of Russia, and even more differently than in Europe. Why this particular attitude towards this group? The regime in the Chechen Republic is not merely authoritarian, but blatantly totalitarian. We can remember how totalitarian regimes before now behaved towards people with nontraditional sexual orientations. We remember the oppression in the Soviet Union, and what Hitler’s regime did. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if the same happened in totalitarian Chechnya." […]
Translated by Anna Bowles
3 April 2017
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda]
Extract from: 'Репрессии как традиция. О масштабах преследования геев в Чечне,' Moscow Helsinki Group, 3 April 2017
Photo of Elena Milashina: Radio Svoboda
The Russian LGBT network has already received five statements from representatives of sexual minorities with requests for assistance in leaving Chechnya, the organization told Radio Svoboda. A few days ago Novaya gazeta published an article on mass round ups of presumed LGBT activists in Chechnya. According to the information received by Radio Svoboda, more than a hundred were detained, and three were killed. The Chechen leadership denies the truth of the reports, and states that if ‘such people’ did exist in the region, their own relatives ‘would have sent them to a place from where there is no return’.
According to Novaya gazeta, news of the detention in Chechnya of men of a ‘non-traditional’ sexual orientation began to circulate about a week ago. As of now the newspaper knows of a hundred detained, and three dead. However, according to information it has received, the numbers may be considerably larger. The newspaper reports that several men left the region when they were released, others after they had heard of the detention of friends and acquaintances.
Elena Milashina, the author of the article and a Novaya gazeta journalist, spoke in an interview with Radio Svoboda about the extent of the persecution of gays in Chechnya and of the sources which had given the newspaper information relating to the round ups.
‘As we wrote in Novaya gazeta, my sources, and according to information from those who are also working on Chechnya (a not insignificant number – including Russian human rights activists and members of the European diaspora), we are talking of more than 150 detained and held in different secret prisons. We know the details of one of these. Its address and a short account of how many are held there will be in our next issue. It seems that it all started in that locality or, at least, it was in that town that the mass arrests in Chechnya first took place. Our sources suggest that the number of those killed could be more than fifty, but we only have verified the personal details – name, address, place of work – of three individuals. These personal details we shall reveal only to the Investigative Committee of Russia. And, based on this, we shall demand an investigation and the opening of a criminal case in order to establish the cause of death or, at the very least, to discover whether the three are dead or alive.
In fact, the Investigative Committee will have a difficult task. Relatives won’t be anxious to cooperate with the investigation because it will compromise them. For this very reason we shall not, on our own initiative, be releasing any personal details of those who are alive and may escape, still alive, from current detention, or of those who were detained and have been released. We recognize how strong Caucasian conventions are, and we shall take this into account so as not, in any way, to worsen the situation. From my experience, the figures that are available may hide a considerably larger number of victims.' […]
Translated by Mary McAuley
22 March 2017
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Open Russia]
By Zoya Svetova, journalist, human rights activist, holder of the Moscow Helsinki Group’s award for human rights, former member of the Moscow Public Oversight Commission
Letter to Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Lebedev, Chair of the Supreme Court of Russia
Dear Vyacheslav Mikhailovich!
I have decided to turn to you because you once played an important role in the life of my family. In January 1986 , as deputy chair of the Moscow city court, you sentenced my father, the writer Felix Svetov, under article 190-1 (“ the distribution of false information, damaging to the Soviet government and the social system”).
You sentenced my father to five years in exile. You included in the sentence the time he had spent in pre-trial detention since 23 January 1985 until his arrival at place of exile, calculating one day of pre-trial detention as the equivalent of three in exile.
I bear you no ill will for that sentence, although I think that it could have been reduced to the one year’s detention which my father spent in the overcrowded cells of the Moscow ‘Matrosskaya Tishina’ remand centre. But you were a judge at Moscow city court, making a career and passing sentences in line with the laws that prevailed at the time.
In the 1990s the sentence was annulled by the Supreme Court and my father was rehabilitated. As were rehabilitated other dissidents whom you had previously sentenced. Probably you prefer not to remember that period of your life, just as none of us like to remember the mistakes we made in our youth.
Fate gave you a rare opportunity : you were elected chair of the Supreme Court , and for 28 years you have been answerable for all that happens in the Russian court system because the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. It has so happened that I, as a journalist, have been reporting on court cases for more than 15 years. There have been many Supreme Court decisions that have disturbed me, decisions which in my view were taken for tactical reasons and had little relation to justice.
I have long become used to the independence of the Russian court being nothing more than a myth and a fairy tale, told to first year law students or the correspondents of pro-government publications. But there are court decisions which are so punitive and unjust that one cannot ignore them. It is impossible to explain them even on the grounds of political expediency or political tactics. These decisions are not only damaging to their victims but they are damaging to the courts, to laws and to law itself. I am referring to today’s decision by the Military collegium of the Supreme Court of Russia to leave in force the decision of the Moscow district military court regarding the Moscow University student Varvara Karaulova.
Despite the clearly unjust sentence, which was remarked upon in court by the defendant’s advocates, who are well known in Russia, the judges of the Military collegium of the Supreme Court did not shorten by a single day the sentence earlier pronounced by the Moscow military court although, as a rule, when there is any doubt in the justice of a decision, the higher court reduces the length of sentence.
The demonstrably senseless severity of the sentence has compelled me to turn to you. [Read more in Russian]
Translated by Mary McAuley
16 March 2017
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Voice of America]
A survey published by the Public Opinion Foundation on 13 March 2017 showed what Russians think about corruption in the country’s judicial system. The survey was conducted in January and the results would oblige the judges in any country to think seriously about how they are perceived: 56% of Russian believe that most judges in their country take bribes, and only 21% of those questioned believe that Russian judges are in the main not affected by corruption. […] Why is it that in Russia people consider judges to be bribe takers and what influences this perception? Sergei Pashin, federal judge emeritus, professor of law at the Higher School of Economics, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and member of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, who initiated the introduction of trial by jury in Russia in the 1990s, gives his answer to this question.
Sergei Pashin is convinced that the negative opinion about judges derives from the negative view Russians have regarding the whole state mechanism in general:
“Here is the reason – people extrapolate from experiences they have with other officials. People run up against law breaking and corrupt practices when they go to an official, then they think that judges are bound to be just the same. It’s unlikely that all these 56% are acquainted with the justice system personally and have been involved in a trial. In fact it seems to me that the justice system is less corrupt than other branches of the state.”
But, Sergei Pashin continues, the Russian justice system is doing nothing to destroy this bias: “Judges are responsible for miscarriages of justice, albeit not for money, but from fear for their own fate. Because if a judge acquits a defendant and shows mercy, then prosecutors will begin to think he is a bribe taker, there’s an FSB investigation and he is blacklisted and that’s the end of his career.”
But what about the lively conversations in the corridors of Russian courts that many lawyers (in court slang they are called “messengers”) are carrying envelopes with money to judges for a favourable decision for defendants?
Sergei Pashin says that this is largely a myth: “In a typical case a lawyer ‘resolves the case,’ not with the judge but with the investigator – look at the ratio of dropped criminal cases at the investigatory stage and you will see that it invariably exceeds the number of not guilty verdicts or lenient sentences. But sometimes it happens that these ‘messengers’ take money ‘in the name of the judge’, but don’t share it with the judge. There are stories told with some relish about cases where the accused has demanded the return of the money because a guilty verdict was handed down.”
Moreover, there is a general presumption of guilt in the Russian judicial system and the career paths of most people before they become judges come also cause Russians, in the opinion of Sergei Pashin, to think badly of judges: “Since most people become judges either after having worked as court secretaries or in law enforcement – police officers, investigators – then naturally these people having put on the judge’s mantle, take the point of view that people would only be acquitted because the justice system hasn’t worked properly. This is corruption of a different kind, distinct from bribe taking, the corrupt practice of a corporate solidarity with those who work on the side of the prosecution.”
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