Russian Media

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.

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Evgeniya Chirikova: They will reckon with you only if they sense in you a threat to their power [Facebook]

posted 22 May 2017, 07:19 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 May 2017, 07:32 ]

13 May 2017

By Evgenia Chirikova, public figure, environmental activist, winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group prize for defending human rights 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Facebook

Photo: Moscow Helsinki Group

The decision not to invite politicians to the 14 May demonstration against razing housing in Moscow was wrong, in my opinion, because it reduced the tension, and that’s bad.

Of course, I understand the organizers, who are very worried that politicians will come and start promoting themselves. Ten years ago, I myself was like that. I considered myself above “those political topics” and was afraid of losing my political virginity. Even now, I don’t want you to repeat mistakes already made. Don’t go stepping on rakes, please. Listen to my arguments and think again.

Don’t reject opposition politicians, don’t lower the degree of protest, and don’t turn into toothless pushovers. That’s not appreciated here. Show the authorities your strength and determination to throw them to the dogs if they dare not to listen to you. They will reckon with you only if they sense in you a threat to their power.

Seven years ago, in 2010, when we were organizing a demonstration on Pushkin Square in defense of the Khimki forest, we had an analogous fear. At the time, we were able to organize the first major demonstration in Moscow in a decade. We gave the Kremlin a good scare, and the next day President Medvedev halted the chopping down of the forest. Halted but did not stop it altogether. Why? I don’t think we pinned them down at the time. We were very afraid of becoming politicized.

The demonstration was organized by the entire organizing committee, which amicably decided that there was no place for politicians on our tribune. It was all right for Shevchuk to speak, but we couldn’t give Nemtsov the floor. It’s only now that everyone has so suddenly come to love the dead Nemtsov; alive, he irritated many. Nemtsov paid for the stage and sound out of his own pocket, but he still wasn’t allowed to speak because he was a “politician.” Boris looked on this with considerable calm and dignity, although of course he was hurt and offended.

Now, seven years later, I understand that that was a foolish and shameful decision. Why?

Because a Russian opposition politician has tremendous, years-long experience of standing up to the authorities, and this experience should be put to good use.

Maybe if we had listened to Nemtsov more in 2010, we wouldn’t have believed the false promises of Dimon [Dmitry Medvedev], who was president at the time. Maybe we would have been tougher and achieved more—not only the cancelation of infrastructure construction in the forest but also a change in the highway’s route.

It’s crazy that in Russia a politician only has the right to speak out if he’s pro-regime. If he’s an oppositionist, he can keep his trap shut. An opposition politician is like a leper who can be killed, crippled, and imprisoned with impunity. But as for letting him speak at a demonstration—oh no! What if he taints our topic!

If you think that by not letting politicians speak you’re avoiding politicization—that is a huge mistake. In Russia, any topic, including Pokemon Go, is political.

If you think that politicians are going to “hijack” or “sully” your topic, they can’t do that if you, as the wise Katya Shulman advises, keep your own interest in mind.

It’s unwise not to let worthy people speak. The presence of politicians raises the temperature of the protest and shows the determination of those gathered. In Putin’s Russia, protestors are reckoned with only if they are capable of demonstrating strength and determination.

Navalny’s presence would unquestionably have raised that temperature and added the strength and determination so necessary to the protest. To say nothing of the fact that Aleksei has marvelous media opportunities worth taking advantage of.

And the last and most obvious thing. The more public people you invite, the stronger you'll be. Because each of them is backed up by his own audience and his own media resources.

Don’t weaken yourselves. Don’t refuse help from anyone. Don’t drive away worthy people. Be strong and wise!

See also, in Russian: Is there censorship in the 'Muscovites Against Razing' group?

Translated by Marian Schwartz

Tatyana Moskalkova: “The ombudsperson has no right to 'bury her head in the sand' ” [Rossiiskaya gazeta]

posted 22 May 2017, 05:27 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 May 2017, 05:34 ]

16 May 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Rossiiskaya gazeta

Photo: Wikipedia

The human rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation, Tatyana Moskalkova, has submitted a report on her activities to the President of the Russian Federation. The Ombudsman told Rossiiskaya gazeta about the most important issues covered in her report.

Tatyana Nikolaevna, you have presented your first report to the President. What particularly caught the President’s attention when you were discussing it?

Tatiana Moskalkova: Meeting with the President always presents an opportunity. It is extremely important not to miss this opportunity. So there is no sense in repeating platitudes. My task was to convey the real picture to the President, highlighting human rights and systemic issues, landmark cases and the outcomes for those individuals who have become the victims of blatant injustice.

Yes, some situations, alas, cannot be resolved without the intervention of the Head of State. Probably, it is wrong in terms of a systematic approach, but for me, as human rights ombudsperson, in this instance, it is important, as they say, "to seize the day." If you can save someone's life or achieve justice, then any means are just fine. And all the more so because the President himself is a useful resource.

So for me the most important thing in the report was that we were able to show the human rights situation through a human dimension. Through the fate of people who asked us for protection. And in 2016 more than 42,000 appeals were received.

A strong Russia cannot be lawless. I always remember the words of the poet and journalist Adam Mickiewicz: "For the country to live, rights must live."

For us, in any case, it is never possible to ignore problems. That is why in my report I highlighted our innovation- the interactive "human rights map". It enables us to see the human rights situation in all the regions of the Russian Federation, including drawing on information gathered nationwide by the regional human rights ombudspersons.

The more so now, as all of the 85 regions of the country have ombudspersons. We are coordinated and work on the basis of mutual assistance. Every six months we go to the Coordinating Council to discuss topical issues and share experiences. The State’s human rights cannot be fragmented, it is a system that should work smoothly and efficiently. You can’t resolve the issue at the regional level? That means you should urgently contact the machinery of the federal ombudsperson. Still no answer? You must engage with all possible structures: the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court. And, finally, the President.

You don’t avoid thorny issues - you intervened extensively and effectively in the case of Ildar Dadin, you spoke with Svetlana Del, you tried to maintain a dialogue with Valeriya Lutkovska, the Ukrainian ombudsperson...

Tatiana Moskalkova: The ombudsperson, I think, has no right to “bury her head in the sand.” If you pretend a problem doesn’t exist, it’s still not going to go away. That’s why we always try to face problems “head on” -- we ask for information, understand the problem in detail, meet with people. We did that not only for the cases you mentioned, but also with many others. And not just with high-profile cases, but also with those the media didn’t talk about at all. There are no “small” cases. Almost every one of them relates to a general issue. For me, it was important not just to help a concrete person, but also to understand: why did this person end up in this situation in the first place? And how should we act so that this situation is not repeated in other cases. Or else the same old story will be repeated time and again.

In particular, when we started to address the situation of the removal of Svetlana Del’s children, it turned out that there are no clearly defined mechanisms in place for removing children, the assessment process is regulated in very approximate terms. In Ildar Dadin’s case, it was necessary to look for non-standard decisions, to make compromises for the sake of the main idea -- helping those who found themselves in a difficult, often dead-end situation in their lives, analyzing, formulating recommendations, and trying to ensure that such situations are not repeated.

And regarding the work with Valeriya Lutkovska, ombudsperson from Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, I can say that we were able to arrive at a very efficient model for collaboration. After long discussions, we were able to organize the transfer of Ukrainian prisoners to their home country for the duration of their sentences. They had been tried for crimes committed in Ukraine, the sentence had been handed down in a Ukrainian Court, and the punishment was served in Crimea, which was then part of Ukraine. Then, the peninsula returned to being part of Russia, and the imprisoned Ukrainian citizens found themselves in a peculiar legal entanglement. They couldn’t be set free, and transferring them to Ukraine was impossible: Ukraine believes that they are on Ukrainian territory. People found themselves cut off from their home country and loved ones. Reaching the agreement took almost a year, but my Ukrainian colleague and I managed to establish a kind of “humanitarian corridor.” We could not transfer people by law, but we transferred them on the basis of justice, thereby showing that human rights are of the utmost importance. They are more important than political disagreements, economic or media wars, territorial disputes, and the interpretation of the law. It turns out that if you have a clear certainty in the justice of your mission, then the impossible becomes possible.

The observance of human rights is a priority, and even governments that find themselves in what are not, to put it lightly, the best relations with us, are capable of finding a compromise in terms of this priority. For Russia and Ukraine, this was something of a precedent.

In a similar fashion, I was able to visit our kidnapped soldiers, Aleksandr Baranov and Maksim Odintsov, in a detention facility in the city of Nikolaeva in December of last year, entering Ukraine at the Crimean border. Now we giving them all legal support possible. And again - from one particular problem to a general issue: after these precedents are set, it will be much easier to solve many complex problems of cooperation between our countries.

You actively hold meetings with citizens. Has there been an increase in the number of people coming to see you for help? Is it important to you?

Tatyana Moskalkova: Could a human rights ombudsperson really work any other way?! To be honest, I just could not imagine doing my job differently. It’s the only way to feel what people usually conceal or hide behind official statements: pain, hope for justice, outrage... The only way to hear words of gratitude and know that another day has not been wasted.

We have met with 3,826 people at the Ombudsperson’s office (11% more than in 2015), 159 of whom I met with personally. Explanations have been provided for 27,815 written complaints, 10,109 inspections have been carried out, and 784 complaints have resulted in the violated rights of citizens being restored. All of these figures are included in my report. It is not just important, but necessary. To hear peoples’ opinions is to accurately diagnose the social ills of society.

You have taken part in an international symposium in Turkey and you have spoken in Geneva. How is Russia’s international dialogue shaping up in this regard?

Tatyana Moskalkova: When we use the word “dialogue”, we are implying that partners may disagree with each other’s arguments, but that these arguments must be listened to and mutually acceptable compromises must be found. Despite the fact that the subject of human rights is often used to exert pressure on our country, we have managed to build a model of absolutely equal cooperation.

Whatever anyone says, the effectiveness of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson in Russia is recognised by the international community. It is an ‘A status’ institution, the highest accreditation status available. Last year saw the beginning of a new phase: we joined the European network of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI). It is an international independent organisation that provides its members with a unique negotiating platform. This platform is indispensable should the need arise to protect the rights of one’s own citizens when there is a political confrontation between countries.

In terms of the practical results of the Office of the Ombudsperson’s international activities, agreements have been reached with the ombuds offices of more than ten countries for the first time in the history of cooperation between national human rights bodies. Given the large numbers of Russian tourists who visit Turkish resorts, for example, we have signed a Memorandum on Cooperation with the Ombudsperson of Turkey, Şeref Malkoç, with the aim of assisting Russian citizens in Turkey and Turkish citizens in Russia.

Our goal is to convey truthful information to the international community on the human rights situation in Russia, reinforce the principle of the universality of human rights, and prevent double standards. And we are succeeding in this task.

How are you getting along with the more, let’s say, ‘radical’ – in terms of the politicisation of the issue – wing of Russian human rights activists?

Tatyana Moskalkova: I wouldn’t refer to it as the “radical wing”... It’s true that our views on certain aspects of people’s human rights and freedoms may differ, but we are working together, we regularly keep up to date with each other’s activities and are able to find mutual understanding. Incidentally, Genri Markovich Reznik, the esteemed Liudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva and Mikhail Yakovlevich Gefter are all members of the Ombudsperson’s Expert Council. I largely trust their judgement and am very grateful to them for their work on the council.

The subject of human rights is indeed often politicised, but I believe that it is actually outside of politics. The most important thing is how effectively people’s rights and freedoms are protected, and to achieve this goal we are willing to cooperate with any constructive forces in civil society. The same goes for those we protect. For me, neither the political affiliations nor the religious beliefs of the people whose rights are being violated play any kind of role. And neither does their sexual orientation. Every citizen of the Russian Federation possesses the same rights. It is my job to protect these rights.

Thanks to Graham Jones and Nicky Brown for their contributions to this translation

Zoya Svetova on the case of the vlogger Ruslan Sokolovsky: "A Feeling of Outrage" [Radio Svoboda]

posted 11 May 2017, 01:44 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 11 May 2017, 01:50 ]

3 May 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda]

By Zoya Svetova, journalist, activist, recipient of the Moscow Helsinki Group Award for defending human rights, former member of the Moscow Public Oversight Commission (POC)

On May 11, the Verkh-Isetskii district court in Ekaterinburg will reach a verdict in the case of the 22-year-old vlogger Ruslan Sokolovsky. The prosecuting attorney has already requested three and a half years in prison for Sokolovsky. It seems that for the first time in Russia an accused person could be jailed for “insulting religious believers.” A new version of Article 148 of the Russian Criminal Code was passed by the State Duma after the “Pussy Riot case,” and, according to experts, this was a very timely occurrence. There have not been many court cases under this article, and defendants usually get off with fines or community service, or the cases are closed after the expiry of the period of limitation. Therefore, the term requested by Ekaterina Kalinina, Sverdlovsk region’s best public prosecutor, caused a great shock to many.

The criminal case against the young blogger from the Urals, who calls himself an atheist and a libertarian, began after he uploaded a video in which he catches Pokemon on his smartphone in an empty Orthodox church. He catches them and catches them. He doesn’t disturb the congregation: the church is almost empty during the video. This alone would not have been a big deal, but, when uploading the clip at home, Sokolovsky overlaid the sound of church hymns, changing the words of prayers to foul language. Representatives of the Ekaterinburg Diocese filed a report with the investigative authorities, the blogger was arrested, and he spent some time in a pre-trial detention centre and under house arrest. At the trial, Sokolovsky was charged on nine counts of extremism and seven counts under Article 148. All the counts are related to the content of his videos.

I confess: I too watched this video about catching Pokemon in a church. Did it hurt my feelings, as a faithful Orthodox Christian? I confess: no, it didn’t. I didn’t like the clip, but there was nothing more to it. I did not watch any of Ruslan Sokolovsky’s other videos. But this in no way means that the vlogger should be sent to prison for such works of “art.” Absolutely not!

The government, the investigation, the prosecution, the court, and the Russian Orthodox Church have together made this young guy and his actions famous.

Amnesty International has declared Sokolovsky a “prisoner of conscience.” This is accurate: after all, the young man was detained for a nonviolent crime, for expressing his opinion! Thirty-five years ago in the USSR this same Amnesty International also declared believers who were persecuted by the KGB and given prison terms by the Soviet courts to be “prisoners of conscience.” Only then, believing in God and going to church was a rebellion, whereas now criticizing Church clergy is a rebellion.

It’s surprising that no lawyer has yet challenged this article of the Criminal Code in the Constitutional Court. Why is there an article on offending the feelings of religious people in the Criminal Code but there is no article about offending the feelings of atheists? Generally speaking, how does one offend feelings? And can you be tried for this? The article’s wording is vague, allowing for absurd interpretations and making absurd prosecutions possible.

For example, in February of this year, the Investigative Committee in the Kirov region, following a statement by a local lawyer, inspected the beer factory in Kirov that released the “Trifon” beer with a picture of musician Sergei Shnurov. There is no picture of St. Trifon on the label, but offended believers are supposedly certain that the beer was named after this revered saint. I raise no question about the fact that some competitor has it out for the Kirov beer factory, but this yet again proves the elasticity and plasticity of this article of the Criminal Code. Here’s another example: one month ago, a resident of Ekaterinburg filed a claim with the prosecutor of Sverdlovsk region. She requested that the Nevyansk Icon Museum be inspected concerning offence to believers’ feelings. When visiting the museum, a woman were outraged by one of the exhibits: a chest made in the 1930s from icon panels.

It is unlikely that these two cases will go to court, but as regards Ruslan Sokolovsky the police officers of the Anti-Extremism Centre clearly feel considerable enthusiasm and, like real sleuths, see sedition everywhere. The fact that the blogger called the Russian Constitution a ‘shit hole’ and the President an ‘irreplaceable dictator’ clearly put them in fighting mood. That was the moment, probably, when Ruslan Sokolovky’s fate was sealed. As an aide to the much-loved Article 282 (‘Extremism’), we now have the new Article 148 in the section of the Criminal Code on ‘Crimes against State authorities’, which in itself confirms the fusing of Church and State, criticized by Sokolovsky.

Explaining why Sokolovsky should be isolated from society, the state prosecutor, Kalinina, comes out in defence of the state but not of believers’ feelings: ‘Expressing disrespect of the State is impermissible. If an individual does not approve of it, he can leave, but Sokolovsky does not do that, he simply expresses negative opinions, and does not suggest something in its place.’ Can one imprison someone for simply expressing disrespect for the State? Imprison someone who wants to express his views, which do not cause anyone physical or moral damage? Should we consider as moral damage the words of witnesses for the prosecution who said that they had wept after seeing Sokolovsky’s video? But even so, you don’t imprison the author of a video for bringing people to tears!

The charge and criminal case against Ruslan Sokolovsky is the latest stupid joke bringing to mind what was far from the best time in Russian history. Ruslan Sokolovsky made this point in his final address to the court: ‘There was a time, long long ago, when people were sentenced to the camps for longer than three and a half years, for as long as ten, for telling obscene jokes about Stalin or communism. Today I am to be sentenced to three and a half years for an obscene joke about Russian orthodoxy and Patriarch Kirill. As far as I am concerned, this is simply savage and barbaric, I don’t understand how such a thing is possible. However, as can be seen, it is perfectly possible – a sentence of three and a half years is being asked for’.

This whole story produces a feeling of deep shame as regards the so-called believers. At the court hearing Solovovsky recounted how, in detention, religious prisoners threatened him with rape. On hearing this one of the witnesses for the prosecution, describing himself as Russian Orthodox, happily exclaimed ‘Well, that’s a way to re-educate him!’

If Sokolovsky is hidden away in a prison this will bring no dividends for the Russian Orthodox Church. It will only damage it. It is impossible to offend the genuine faith of genuine believers for – as is well known – ‘God is not mocked.’*

* A reference to The Bible, Galatians 6:7 King James Version: ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’ [ed.]

Thanks for Mary McAuley for assistance with the translation

Natalia Taubina on "life after torture" - the lives of those who have survived violence and torture by police [Radio Svoboda]

posted 1 May 2017, 05:34 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 May 2017, 06:57 ]

19 April 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Rаdio Svoboda]


“Life after torture” is the name of a new project by the Public Verdict Foundation telling the stories of people who have survived violence and come up against the injustices of the state system. Maryana Torocheshnikova talks about these people and the project with guests in the Radio Svoboda studio: director of the Public Verdict Foundation Natalia Taubina and one of the creators of the project “Life after Torture”, film director Ksenia Gagai.

Police detained Mardiros Demerchyan at a construction site on 11th June 2013 when he demanded that his wages be paid. Instead of this he was accused of the theft of two metres of cabling. Beatings, torture and abuse, incompatible with any notion of humanity, followed for nearly two days. Demerchyan’s complaint about the torture was turned into a criminal case against him. He was charged with making a false accusation against the police and the case went to court. [...] The story of Mardiros Demerchyan is quite well known in Russia, thanks to the staff of Public Verdict Foundation. Demerchyan took part in the Olympic construction work in Sochi, where all the events in question took place, and, since the charges were brought in 2013, the case has continued to this day.

Do I properly understand that the heroes of your project, “Life After Torture,” are the people who, having survived suffering and humiliation, have not only failed to find the truth, but continue to be trapped inside the revolving millstones of the Russian justice system?

Natalya Taubina
: Yes, of course! The idea behind the project is that the phenomenon of torture in our country is not just something that happens in police stations or in prisons, it is also how people go on to live with this experience of humiliation, suffering, with the awareness that state bodies that are endowed with authority, live on our taxes and are called to defend and protect public order, exceed their powers and use illegal force.

And what follows such abuses can be quite complicated, and in a number of cases it is practically impossible for victims to achieve justice, restore their good name, and return to the normal life they led before they found themselves in the police station. With this project we want to show that torture – it’s not just the act of torture itself, but it is also the rather complicated and difficult life after torture, which involves not just the victim themselves, but also those closest to them and members of their families. […]

Mariana Torocheshnikova: How willing are journalists, and society, to address this issue?

Natalia Taubina: This is a very difficult question, and it’s always more pleasant to watch something positive: kittens, or maybe a complex story that ends in a victory, in something positive. But watching a tragedy, watching people endure torture day after day, is rather hard. It demands courage to take oneself in hand and start watching, to comprehend and reflect on this subject, and even more to try to do something about it.

With this project we want to initiate a dialogue, some recognition of the problem. After all, we still associate torture with some kind of medieval horror, with the guillotine, with quartering; if we talk about the here and now, then people don’t really understand what torture means, what now constitutes the guillotine. […] 

It’s quite difficult for us to work with official data because until now, in spite of the various international commitments we’ve signed up to, torture has not been criminalised in our Criminal Code. There is a definition, but according to Article 117 torture doesn’t relate to crimes by officials, but to torment inflicted, some crime committed, by one private citizen against another. Therefore it can’t possibly be applied to the police.

As a result, we have no official statistics on torture. In practically all the cases we work on, where there is illegal violence by law enforcement officers, the relevant article of the Criminal Code is Article 286 (Section 3): “Exceeding official powers using violence and special means”, and a number of aggravating circumstances are listed. The Ministry of Justice has statistics for this Article - for example, how many such crimes have been committed by police officers, how many were committed in prisons and isolation cells – but we can’t get hold of them. Teachers in government high schools also fall under this article if they use illegal violence against pupils.

If we only work using official data, then, we can’t talk about the scale of this problem. We can only proceed on the basis of reports and complaints brought to us by the public. We aren’t seeing a decrease in the number of complaints; we don't see, for example, that ‘the little elephant’ [a form of torture where a gas mask is fitted to the victim’s head and access to air is closed off, or liquid poured in -  trans.] or electroshock torture have become things of the past and are no longer used by law enforcement officers.

Unfortunately we continue to receive complaints that people have been tortured in police stations using electroshock devices, or that nodes were attached and electric current passed through a person’s body in an attempt to get testimony out of them.

Perhaps the worst case of this type came at the beginning of last year. Marina Ruzaeva, from Irkutsk, was involved in a case as a witness, and police came and asked her to go to the police station to give testimony. She didn’t refuse, she went voluntarily, ready to tell what she knew. Almost as soon as she arrived at the police station, they began not to talk to her but to torture her. Why use violence if a person is ready to tell everything off their own bat? […]

Translated by Anna Bowles and Frances Robson

Irina Shcherbakova on pressure on participants in Memorial’s history-writing competition for schoolchildren. ‘Parents were told that in Moscow the children would be turned into extremists.’ [Kommersant]

posted 1 May 2017, 04:07 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 May 2017, 10:46 ]

23 April 2017 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Kommersant]


Photo of Irina Shcherbakova: Moscow Helsinki Group

On April 22, Memorial International Society announced unprecedented pressure had been put on schoolchildren who won the history-writing competition called “A Person in History. Russia and the 20th Century.” Last year activists tried to disrupt the awards ceremony, and now unknown people are trying to prevent the children’s arrival Moscow. Irina Shcherbakova, leader of educational programs for Memorial International Society and a winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group Award, spoke about how the contest, which is funded by a presidential grant, was suspected of extremism. […]

— Despite support from such well known people [Ella Pamfilova, Liudmila Alekseeva, Vladimir Lukin, Mikhail Fedotov, Liudmila Ulitskaya - ed.problems still emerged surrounding the competition? 

— In recent years, as soon as the government began its fight for a positive and victorious representation of the past, we noticed some changes in attitudes towards the contest. Indeed, the story of an ordinary Russian family in the 20th century is almost always accompanied by very tragic events — years of war, repressions… However, a large part of our participants lives in small cities, in villages. These are rural families, and you recognize that very often they discover difficult, sad stories about those close to them. And the fact that schoolchildren decide to write about them is not always met with approval from various officials. It seems to many of them that it is unpatriotic to call attention to the difficult and grave pages of Russia’s history. But children write to us saying that only thanks to the contest they found out the kinds of difficulties their great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers dealt with during wartime, for example. In general, in recent years this has already started to cause annoyance, especially against the backdrop of the movement towards a universal history textbook. And last year a sharp deterioration began.

— Do you mean the actions of the National Liberation Movement (NLM)?

— Yes, when they came to disrupt the awards ceremony. They yelled and humiliated the young children and schoolchildren, poured green paint over Liudmila Ulitskaya, Anatoly Golubovsky, some of our other guests… They poured paint over our international guests from the network of historical contests, and they smeared trash on them. And to think that for many of our visitors this was their first time in Russia.

— How did the children react?

— We were amazed that the schoolchildren accepted this as just a prank done by some hooligans, sheer mavericks, and basically homeless people. After all, they have seen plenty out in the Russian sticks — all different types of drunk people and simply squalid people… Of course we tried to lead the children away as quickly as possible so as to not spoil their celebration. But what happened to the guests afterwards was completely abominable. We naturally called the police, we filed a complaint. As a result, one of the attackers received a 500-rouble fine. The NLM has been following us all year. They have picketed all of our teachers’ seminars. When we published our latest collection of the best children’s works, they tried to disrupt the book’s presentation at the Non-Fiction Book Fair. And all of this has been accompanied by a slanderous campaign against us. On REN TV and Russia 24 there were stories about how we use foreign money to teach schoolchildren to slander the history of Russia. That we supposedly indoctrinate the children with sympathy for Hitler. Something completely made-up. We wrote to the commission on journalistic etiquette, and they condemned this fabricated story, but the TV channels ignored this. We filed a lawsuit against REN TV, and the hearing will be held on May 15.

What’s happened now?

About three weeks ago REN TV had a quite lengthy report, with photos, on last year’s award ceremony. And it was said that our competition turns children into extremists, encourages them to take to the streets in protests. But that was only the beginning. Suddenly we were refused access to a building for the award ceremony. Last December we signed a contract with the organization Telegraf for the rent of a large hall in the central Telegraph building. We chose them partly for security reasons – they have reliable security guards and, at the time, Telegraf assured us that all would be all right. They said that they very much like our competition. The contract was signed, the money transferred. But ten days ago they telephoned to say that they were opting out of the contact – ‘on the grounds that agreement could not be reached regarding the event’. That of course put us in a very difficult position – it’s very difficult to find, at short notice, a hall in Moscow for 200 people. And then the Mark Rozovsky theatre at the Nikitskie Gates kindly agreed to provide us with a venue. On 5th April we sent letters to the school children, telling them that they were winners in the Memorial competition, and invited them to come to Moscow for the awards ceremony. All, of course, were delighted, we got the tickets, were getting ready to greet the children – and then it all started. Literally two days before they were due to depart, children and teachers began to ring us, in tears. They all told the same story – the headteacher of the school had summoned them and forbidden them to attend the award ceremony.

How did the headteachers explain this to them?

All the head teachers said that they had received a phone call from higher up – either from the regional ministry of education or from the city administration. The callers, in their turn, stated that they had been rung by the federal Ministry of Education and Science with the message that neither the children nor the teachers should travel to Moscow for the ceremony. Different reasons were given. Some directors were told that there was an increased terrorist threat and therefore children should not travel to Moscow. If parents said that they would go with their children, they were told that only the teachers could accompany the children. And pressure was put on the teachers. Some were told the competition has been organized by a banned organization, hence the children will be turned into extremists in Moscow.

And how many children did they try to prevent coming?

All our winners. We discovered that without exception every child had come under pressure. This year we chose 43 essays, with 58 authors – and effectively all came under pressure. And there’s a further important detail. We only publish the complete list of the winners after the award ceremony. Even the children themselves only know of their ranking at the ceremony itself – it is a surprise. And as we are not a state institution, we don’t give the names of the winners to the Ministry of Education, nor to anyone else. Until the ceremony itself only I and two fellow workers have access to the full list of the children kept in an electronic file. So the question arises: how did people who were authorized to exert pressure on headteachers get access to the list?

— Who were these people?

— I don't know. We began ringing round these regional ministries which supposedly rang the headteachers, but no one replied. We sent an official request to the Russian Federation Ministry of Education and Science, but were told that the minister was on holiday. But her deputy replied, although not in writing, that she didn't know of any such guidance being issued by the federal ministry. We're continuing to look into this. Yesterday the first children arrived and we're trying to clarify the details with them. But as you'll realise, bewildered children are hardly going to ask their headteacher who telephoned him or her — they're not used to asking the teacher questions. For now we've heard that the regional minister of education telephoned a school in Krasnoyarsk personally. In other cases we don't know the names and positions yet of the people who phoned. It's a very Russian affair, downright Gogolesque, although it's not a laughing matter. Everyone mentions some phone call made from Moscow to all districts and regions, then the regional people salute obediently and ring up schools, and then the headteachers admonish the children and teachers. But there are no paper records of it at all, no official decree. Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council, has already sent an official letter to the Russian Federation Ministry of Education, and we'll see how they respond. We would like the mass media to join in too and try to work out what's been going on.

The most surprising thing is things didn't use to be like this. Even just a few years ago, the winners of the competition were praised by their schools, written about in the regional press, and given awards by the heads of local government. Staff from the Moscow offices of some regions used to come to the prize-giving to support young people from their region. But now people want to stop children coming to the prize-giving.

— How many children end up not coming?

— To our surprise, despite all these bans and controversies, the majority of children and teachers have behaved fearlessly. Teachers and parents have dropped everything, taken time off and come to the event. For now, we only know of nine children out of 58 who are not coming. The final figure won't be known until Monday. It's especially sad that some of them are in their final year at school and so this was their last chance to take part in the competition. That's often the way it works with this competition — a child might get third place but enjoy it so much that the next year he or she writes another project and wins again. But this is the last time ever for those in the final year of school. What is even sadder is that they then forfeit the chance to gain a Prokhorov Fund scholarship. To be in with a chance of winning a scholarship, you have to write an essay in Moscow and be interviewed — a face-to-face meeting is part of the application process.

— How did the school pupils themselves react to all these goings-on?

— Although there had been these attempts to spoil the festive atmosphere, we did all we could to make it a special event: to show them around Moscow and make the prize-giving ceremony enjoyable. But for children, of course, this was all very traumatic. Just imagine what it's like for them now. Let's say you live somewhere a very great distance from the capital, write a project, do your best, and actually win. You receive an invitation to Moscow, where you've never been before — remember how much a ticket from Krasnoyarsk region to Moscow costs. You already start imagining what it's going to be like to see the Kremlin and Red Square for the first time in your life — and then you're suddenly summoned by your headteacher. Then, instead of praising you for winning the competition, they put pressure on you, you're intimidated, and they say that you took part in something illegal. Just imagine how that pupil feels at that moment. You'll agree that that's the sort of thing you never forget.

As the Ministry of Education and Science told Kommersant, "the Ministry was not actively involved in the organisation" of the International Memorial Society's school competition "and did not send any letters banning children from participating in it". "Any organisation may hold events intended to encourage learning and research", the Ministry emphasised. Andrei Emel'yanov, press secretary for the head of the Ministry of Education and Science, also confirmed that Valentina Pereverzeva, the deputy minister, had already told the competition organisers that no instructions were issued by the Federal Ministry with regard to this event.

Translated by Mary McAuley and Suzanne Eade Roberts 

Galina Sidorova and Grigory Pasko on latest attack against School of Investigative Journalism in Yoshkar-Ola. "The situation is becoming ever more insane and the level of repression ever harsher."

posted 1 May 2017, 02:13 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 May 2017, 10:47 ]

27 April 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda]

A group of unidentified men carried out a number of provocative acts last night in Yoshkar-Ola against Galina Sidorova, one of the directors of the School of Investigative Journalism, in an attempt to stop a seminar with members of the local press from taking place. Grigory Pasko, another director at the school, wrote about the acts of provocation in Yoshkar-Ola on his Facebook page: “Yet another school of investigation journalism – this time in Yoshkar-Ola – is being threatened with closure."  

The police are looking into the details of the incident. The building that houses the School of Investigative Journalism is equipped with video cameras. There have been previous attempts to disrupt seminars held by the School of Investigative Journalism in Petrozavodsk, Nizhnevartovsk, Tomsk, Moscow region, Moscow, Syktyvkar, and Ulyanovsk. Journalists have been threatened, refused the right to rent premises, and evacuated following anonymous bomb threats. On 27 September 2016, Grigory Pasko was attacked by unidentified persons following a seminar at a school in Barnaul.

Galina Sidorova told Radio Svoboda that at around two in the morning, the ground floor window of the private guest house where the School of Investigative Journalism’s seminars were being held was smashed. A dead rat was later discovered underneath the window. According to Sidorova, a young man threw a plastic jar of green disinfectant at her back the morning before as she made her way into the guest house.

“We have been holding seminars like these in the regions for a few years now. Recently, since being designated as ‘foreign agents,’ we have started coming under all kinds of pressure. Take the latest incident. The Glasnost Defence Foundation and our Community of Investigative Journalists - 19/29 Foundation, were attempting to hold one of our schools of investigative journalism in Yoshkar-Ola. When my colleague Igor Korolkov arrived on the very first day, the electricity was cut off in the building where everything was to take place just as it was all about to begin. As a result, we were unable to turn on our computers and other technical equipment. It also meant that the alarm system at the guest house was switched off. The next day was my turn. The first thing to happen literally took place on the doorstep of the guest house: a young man hiding by the gate poured a jar of green disinfectant over me without saying anything, then ran away. We didn’t call the police at that point because we had a rough idea of what they’d say to us. It was maybe wrong of us not to call them straight away.”

– What happened next?

“The seminars took place yesterday as planned. In the evening we were still at the house – me and a colleague, our partner, who had been helping us organise the seminars. Around two in the morning, we heard a car drive up and then the awful sound of breaking glass. Naturally it wasn’t very nice because the area we were in was sparsely populated. When we went down to see what had happened, we discovered that a triple-glazed window had been smashed and there was a dead rat lying underneath the window. They hadn’t even bothered to catch a wild rat; a poor domestic rat died for investigative journalism. We also found a jar of green antiseptic, a kind of hallmark of these lowlifes.”

– Did you call the police?

“Naturally we called the police after this and they took down all our statements, listened to all our explanations. I’m planning to continue working today, of course. I don’t know what will happen next, but we are not going to give in. And I certainly don’t think that any of it was random. But the problem is not with the lowlifes, who unfortunately think that they’re free to do anything they like because of the way the authorities feel about independent journalism, an independent press. There is absolutely no way that their appearance was a coincidence. I think our intelligence agencies have been keeping a close eye on us for a few years now. In any case, after the aggression began in Ukraine, this kind of pressure was clearly stepped up in various ways. So all these incidents, these forms of intimidation that are going on, they’re all happening with the full knowledge of the Moscow authorities, primarily Russia’s intelligence agencies. Because judging by the fact that these people know where to find us, our telephones are being tapped and we are evidently under surveillance. And this comes as absolutely no surprise to us. It just proves, yet again, what is happening in our country right now to our independent press, to civil society and to the opposition. It’s all just links in the same chain,” Galina Sidorova said.

Grigory Pasko, one of the founders of the School of Investigative Journalism, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment on espionage charges in 2001 and released on parole in 2003. He is now director of the Czech-registered Foundation "Community of Investigative Journalists – Foundation 19/29”, which serves as an umbrella organisation for schools of journalism in Russia. The following is his opinion on the likely success of the investigation into the attack on Galina Sidorova:

– We are not in a position to do anything in the face of the regime which is currently at the helm in the Russian Federation. Even in the unlikely event that we were to set up self-defence groups, they would track us down and put us in prison far more quickly than they have taken action in respect of the criminals all over Russia who have attacked us over the past two years. Not a single one of these criminals has been tried by a court or held criminally liable, notwithstanding all the evidence available in connection with the bomb threats, paint throwing, beatings etc. None of these cases – involving Liudmila Ulitskaya, Aleksei Navalny and Ilya Varlamov, for example – have been investigated properly and in full by the police; the same happened to me and now the same will happen with the attack on Galina Sidorova. This must mean that the police have been told not do so, given that most of these crimes have been witnessed by two or three hundred people and recorded on three or four CCTV cameras, and this evidence could be used to find the criminals in just two or three hours. It is likely that the criminals were thugs from the National Liberation Movement acting on orders from the Federal Security Service.

– This is of course not the first time that teachers and students from the School of Investigative Journalism have been attacked. What makes you so dangerous, and why do the authorities hate you so much?

– The real insult is that we do not do not pose a threat to anyone. I’d find it easier to understand if we presented some kind of risk to the city authorities; if the teachers themselves carried out investigations, for example. To tell the truth we do still dabble in journalism to a very minor extent – op eds, educational projects and so on – but the authorities hate the very genre of “investigative journalism”, and they hate it so much that they attempt to eradicate it in its embryonic stages. It is notable that almost none of Russia’s universities with a journalism department offer courses in investigative journalism – only five or six in the whole country, and these do not include Moscow State University, where I taught for five years, since the specialism was shut down by Vartanova.

– What is the current legal status of your School of Journalism? Where does it get its funding, and what exactly is it? What does it do to make the authorities hate it so much?

– The School has been in existence since 2011, at which point it was known as the Foundation for the Promotion of Investigative Journalism. Within only a few years, we were one of the first organisations to be placed on the list of foreign agents. We went to court ourselves and told them that the Foundation had been shut down, because I had no intention of getting caught up in stupid games with the authorities – never-ending fines every two months, endless fault-finding and so on. We closed the first Foundation and registered a new one in Prague, which is called “Foundation 19/29 – Community of Investigative Journalists”. It has many different sources of funding, including private individuals and journalists themselves, as well as those organisations which have not yet found themselves on Russia’s list of undesirable organisations.

– Can you name any examples?

– No, of course I mustn’t. The Foundation is a Czech organisation, and I’m happy to explain the details of its funding to anyone who cares to ask in the Czech Republic, but not in Russia.

– What future do you see for the School for Journalism in modern-day Russia? Will they ultimately allow you to continue your activities, or will the attacks continue?

– It won’t be an easy task to continue – the situation is becoming ever more insane and the level of repression ever harsher, and it will get worse before it gets better, particularly in the run-up to the 2018 elections. In my opinion, before 2024 there is little chance of improvement for investigative journalism, opposition politics or free politics in general – not to mention censorship on the Internet and so on.

– Even after your prison sentence, and the attacks and beatings you have suffered, you have not left the country and you are still living and working in Russia. Why?

– I met my old friend Arkady Babchenko recently and he asked me the same question – why the hell are you still in Russia? In all honesty, I wasn’t sure what to say.

Translated by Nicky Brown and Joanne Reynolds

Leonid Nikitinsky on why the Human Rights Council didn’t adopt the draft declaration on the Novaya gazeta situation [Open Russia]

posted 24 Apr 2017, 09:20 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 24 Apr 2017, 09:26 ]

17 April 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group  [original source: Оpen Russia

Photo: Moscow Helsinki Group

A declaration on the scandal surrounding Novaya Gazeta’s publications on persecution of gay people in Chechnya was published on the website of the Presidential Council on Development of Civil Society and Human Rights on April 16. In online surveys the draft did not even receive half of the votes it needed. The declaration’s author, Leonid Nikitinsky, discussed with the Open Russia portal why the draft failed to receive sufficient support.

—Why didn’t the document receive full support?

—Some thought we shouldn’t be involved in this. There are people on the council who consider this situation a provocation. Another group thinks it’s not radical enough—that we needed to be tougher, and therefore they didn’t sign it. But 20 votes is quite a lot.

—Does this mean there’s a schism among members of the Human Rights Council?

—No, no schisms of any kind. There are different people on the council, there’s always been different people. It’s an entirely normal situation, there’s nothing particularly unusual here.

—Do you plan to take any actions to somehow advance your declaration?

—I don’t plan on trying to push it through. If it didn’t get the votes—that’s well and good. Maybe it’ll get 27 votes. That’s the number after which the declaration will be accepted for review. Let’s say someone hasn’t looked at their email yet, it all can change.

—Would the result be different if it didn’t concern Chechnya?

— That is the reason why some members of the Council were motivated to refuse - the very difficult situation in the Caucasus. And it’s necessary to understand the region’s specifics. Our declaration could make the situation even worse, as they see it. I fully respect that opinion, but I intentionally thought out the text of this declaration so that it would be specifically about the inviolability of journalists’ rights to carry out their work.

—Suppose your document is accepted. What changes would that lead to?

—None whatsoever, it would simply be the opinion of the Council on Human Rights. It’s a certain form of support, a declaration. We are not deciding on any kind of obligatory actions; after all, we’re neither the government nor the Duma.

—So it would have changed little if it had been adopted?

— In fact, it would have changed everything. Every single word changes something in life. That’s my starting point. It’s a definition of a position, and 20 members of the Council on Human Rights—that’s quite a lot to indicate that such a position exists, and that it’s an important one.

Leonid Nikitinsky is a columnist for Novaya gazeta, a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, and a laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group’s prize for defending human rights.

In the beginning of April, Novaya gazeta published the article “Honour Killing,” which described the authorities’ persecution of homosexuals. According to the newspaper, dozens of people were arrested and several murdered. The Chechen authorities categorically denied such accusations. The mufti of Chechnya declared that Allah’s retribution awaited the journalists. Subsequently, Novaya gazeta expressed fear for the life of its employees due to Chechnya’s reaction. The Prosecutor General of Chechnya commenced verification of the information on harrassment of homosexuals in the region.

Yury Shevchuk: An appeal to the Chechen authorities regarding the threats to Novaya gazeta [Ekho Moskvy]

posted 24 Apr 2017, 01:07 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 24 Apr 2017, 01:08 ]

16 April 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy

Photo: Moscow Helsinki Group

To Dzhambulat Umarov, Minister for nationalities, foreign relations, the press and information in the Republic of Chechnya

Dear Mr Umarov!

I, Yury Shevchuk, a citizen of Russia, a musician, am writing to you. I have lived in the North Caucasus and am well acquainted with the age-old traditions and customs of its peoples.

I know that you, proud mountain people, take any criticism of your domestic ways very much to heart. I understand you, but I respect strength, not violence.

I, as many others in our country, know Dmitry Muratov to be an honest, decent man who does not engage in mocking something that is dear and holy to other people (unless, of course, it is stolen money).

Please recognize that the Novaya gazeta journalists are fighting for the constitutional rights of our citizens, whoever they are, and in whichever regions these rights are infringed. If, God forbid, either you or I suffer an injustice, they will defend us, just as they defend other citizens of Russia. If you do not agree with the recent publications in Novaya, carry out an investigation, and if there is no evidence for the facts, take the matter to court. Incidentally V. V. Putin is always telling us to do that.

By bringing failings to our attention, the media plays a necessary role in helping us to build a bright, enlightened, good, and strong Russia, where every citizen is protected by the law. Otherwise, why have the media? So as to praise the bosses from dawn to dusk?

I was born into an inter-faith family. My great grandfather, Mudaris Akhadeyev, was a practising Muslim, a mullah, and for this was shot in 1937 in Bashkiria. On my father’s side, my grandfather Sosfen Ivanovich, a Christian, a Cossack, was shot near Kansk, also in 1937. I know the Chechen nation suffered a terrible genocide during the time of Stalinist repression…

We must not drag that lawlessness with us into the 21st century - the execution of one another without a court and an investigation.

Be kind-hearted, calm people down! Any problem should be resolved in a civilized fashion.

A Happy Easter to all Christians!

Goodness and peace to the peoples of the North Caucasus!

Yury Shevchuk

Translated by Mary McAuley

Arkady Babchenko: “Kafka’s probably standing to the side, nervously smoking” [Ekho Moskvy]

posted 23 Apr 2017, 08:48 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 23 Apr 2017, 08:50 ]

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

Mikhail Fedotov on the regulations under which protesters are charged [Novaya gazeta]

posted 17 Apr 2017, 23:58 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 18 Apr 2017, 00:02 ]

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

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