Russian Media

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Radio Svoboda: Lev Shlosberg reports threats made against him

posted 22 Feb 2019, 06:31 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 Feb 2019, 06:34 ]

21 February 2019

Oppositionist and member of Pskov region legislative assembly Lev Shlosberg has said, in a video posted on the the YouTube channel ‘Grazhdanin-TV’ , his personal safety has been threatened. Shlosberg said that on 20 February an unidentified person stuck a sheet of paper on the door of the Pskov branch of Yabloko with the words:

"We don’t need your democracy
Don’t go stirring up the people, Lev
Better calm down, that’s our advice,
Or you’ll get a punch on the nose again"*

Public Committee For Torture

Speaking to a Radio Svoboda correspondent, Lev Shlosberg said:

“We probably should have expected this against the background of the obviously unlawful criminal case opened against Pskov Yabloko, an investigation which is politically-motivated. People of this kind, forces of this kind, come alive almost always when matters of politics are at issue.

“I have reported the crime today to the Pskov region branch of the Investigative Committee requesting that a criminal investigation into the incident be opened under Article 119, Section 2, of the Criminal Code (Preparation of a crime). But at the same time, I want to say that we know very well where this person came from and where this threat came from. The governor of Pskov region, Mikhail Yurevich Vedernikov, bears full political responsibility for the safety of people who work every day in this office. He knows how the criminal case against Yabloko was started. It’s not at all difficult for him to find out who the person is who came here yesterday in the morning and who sent that person here. Mikhail Yurevich, you are responsible for the safety of every person working here in this building.”

Lev Shlosberg emphasised that under no circumstances would be forced to give up his political work.

On 29 August 2014 Shlosberg was hospitalised as a result of an attack following his investigation into the role of Pskov paratroopers in the war in the east of Ukraine. On 4 February 2019 Shlosberg presented his new book Russia and Ukraine. Dark days ["Россия и Украина. Дни затмения"] at the Sakharov Centre in Moscow. The book contained investigative journalism by the newspaper Pskovsksaya guberniya (in which Shlosberg publishes) and opinion pieces describing the events of the Euromaidan and the subsequent war in the Donbass. 

* "Не нужна нам твоя демократия нет
Зря Лева народ баламутишь
Так что лучше уймись наш совет
А то снова по носу получишь" (sic).

Pictures: Radio Liberty

‘Stamping out all new shoots.’ Pavel Litvinov on the USSR and contemporary Russia [Radio Svoboda]

posted 26 Jun 2018, 05:43 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Jun 2018, 05:50 ]

8 June 2018

An interview with Pavel Litvinov

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

Pavel Litvinov, Viktor Fainberg, and Tatyana Bayeva – who took part in the demonstration on Red Square on 25th August 1968 in protest against the sending of Warsaw Pact troops into Czechoslovakia – are laureates of the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ prize, Gratias Agit, awarded for advancing the Czech Republic’s reputation abroad. The prize has been awarded annually since 1997 and, during its nearly twenty years' existence, almost 300 individuals and organizations have received the award, including seven from Russia.

This year the events of the Prague Spring and the reaction of the USSR and its allies to them, 50 years ago, are being remembered. Hence the awarding of Gratias Agit prize to the three participants of the so-called ‘demonstration of the seven’. Fifty years ago Pavel Litvinov protested in Moscow against the Soviet Union’s actions and, as a consequence, was sent into exile.

When you decided to demonstrate on Red Square on 25 August 1968, you certainly never imagined that one day you would receive a prize from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs for your actions. What does the prize mean to you?

It’s very touching that we have been given it, and that it is thought that we did something important for the Czech people. I thought that we had, but it’s also very nice that it has been remembered, and that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wanted to refer to our contribution to the development of Czech culture. Although it’s more than just culture, it’s also politics and human rights. It’s great because, in fact, our little demonstration, almost unnoticed at the time, and for many years, has left its traces, and we can see that it had some moral significance. So the award is much-valued.

Doesn’t it disappoint you that - despite the long struggle of the movement for rights and freedoms in the USSR – a large part of today’s Russian society is indifferent to the existence of civil freedoms, and there is an almost resigned return to the kind of situation in which society found itself in at the time when you demonstrated in 1968?

There are several things here, some of which seem obvious to me, but they are not that obvious. First, let’s begin with the fact that in the Soviet period the population was absolutely indifferent and, if not indifferent, supported Soviet ideology, and thought that anyone who did not wholeheartedly and in all respects support the Soviet authorities was an enemy. But that wasn’t true of everyone. People were indifferent. And today there’s the same indifference, but it’s a different time and many more people say what they think, regardless of the consequences. A new generation of young people, who now are 16-18, is going out to demonstrate. I’ve met them. I taught for many years in America. And those young kids in Moscow are today more like my American students, whom I taught in America, than they are like those Russians, one of whom I once was. So there is some progress. I don’t think that I shall live to see a good outcome but I can’t say that everything is going down the drain, and is useless, although it’s pretty bad.

If one reads today the “Appeal to World Public Opinion” that you and Larisa Bogoraz wrote in connection with the “Trial of the Four,” you can find things in it that are present in current Russian court cases.

Of course.

And in spite of that, you say that the situation is different, that a lot has changed.

Russia nowadays is nevertheless an open country in the sense that people may come and go. That is already a huge difference. At the time we wrote our appeal, we all lived in a Soviet prison that was impossible to leave, as if we all were in a trap. All the same, it’s not like that now. The majority of people may travel freely. I come every year to Russia and meet with whomever I wish. They don’t show me, of course, on television’s Channel One, but, nevertheless, you can find Radio Liberty on the internet, and in Soviet times it was jammed, you had to travel pretty far from Moscow in order to listen to Radio Liberty. This is a colossal difference. It’s something else that all around the world, including in Russia, we see a great indifference to human rights. This is a problem. But it is not a problem that is directly connected with Russia. In Russia everything is developing, now we simply have the Putin regime, which tries to stamp out all young shoots of freedom, but I don’t think it is capable of getting that far. They have occupied the Crimea, control the Donbass, threatened other countries, all of which the Soviet Union did, but nevertheless, on each of these questions there is some sort of opinion. The West has introduced sanctions. It’s just not a comparable situation. In Soviet times the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which allowed for Jewish emigration, was the most important event. And today, sanctions are being introduced against all of Putin’s friends, and in general there is a reaction. The question is whether the glass is half-empty or half-full. I think it is half-full, but many think that it is half-empty. Perhaps I am an optimist. But in general the situation is very bad. Sentsov could die either today or tomorrow. The situation with my Crimean Tatar friends in the Crimea is horrible. There are political prisoners in the jails. All of this is very bad. But to say that nothing is happening is wrong. The very fact that protests occur means something.

When we see how an energetic person like Navalny appears…I don’t always support him, but it’s striking how many people help him work. They persecute him, they put his brother in prison, they regularly jail him for 15 days at a time, but nevertheless they can’t do anything with him, millions of people support him. All these phenomena are relative. That they worried about the presence of an intelligent and strong man like Nemtsov and murdered him also shows that, at a certain point, all that is left for them to do is to murder. It’s horrifying, but the very fact that it happens shows the presence of internal opposition in the country.

Your close friend Anatoly Marchenko wrote an open letter about the threat of a Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. At the time he went on a hunger strike and died. Today they often recall Anatoly Marchenko in connection with Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike.

I do too, every day. There are definite parallels. It is our job to force Putin to let him, and others, go.

The sacrifice, the death of Oleg Sentsov, could it somehow have as strong an effect as Marchenko’s sacrifice?

No one knows what will happen. I hope that he does not die. I simply don’t want to predict his death, but the threat is very real.

What do you think, can one human life be worth the liberation of others?

Only one's own. I won’t speak for others.

Many believe that the hunger strike impacted upon Gorbachev’s subsequent decision to free political prisoners.

That is a fact. He freed Sakharov and Sakharov gave him a list of political prisoners. This didn’t happen as a result of Tolya Marchenko's hunger strike itself but because of his death. His death caused a scandal. Gorbachev looked for a way to improve relations with the West and starting to release political prisoners was a way for him to do this. Maybe he intended to do this anyway but it goes without saying that the sacrifice that Tolya Marchenko made helped.

What do you think? Was he ready to die?

He was.

When he started his hunger strike?

He was always ready to die. He was an utterly strong, audacious and determined person. He didn’t want to die. He had a happy family life: he really loved his wife Lara, his son, Pavel, named after me by the way, but these are already irrelevant details. Nevertheless his main purpose in life was freedom, the freedom of political prisoners. He was in prison and read Lenin. Sitting in prison, reading Lenin, that’s what made Tolya Marchenko . Then he matured, and wrote his memoirs which were published throughout the world. Then he was sent down again, and then again. The hunger strike was like his last act but he was like a faultless knight and was willing to die. And life became increasingly unbearable. It was clear they were not going to release him. Of course he hoped he wouldn’t die. And they didn’t want his death either, they just didn’t want to give into him. Then Lara came and spoke with the powers that be. They said: “Well, we didn’t think he would die. There was just no order to release him. We prepared reports, but we thought he was in a good condition.” But these are just, how shall I say it, excuses, maybe. This was his sort of game, for which he was actually willing to die and for which he died.

At the time of the demonstration on Red Square you had a young son. In the past, and today, they say that only those who don’t have families or anyone to worry about can fight against injustice. Did you think about your children? Why didn’t your family circumstances stop you?

Well they might have stopped me, that's what my character is like. Of course I’m not saying everyone should act the way I did. One of the Russian poet-satirists of the nineteenth century said: “A wife and children, my friend, is a great evil.” I mean that a person may be silent and not protest precisely because of their wife and children. But this is a question of priorities. I felt that I had to go out, that I wouldn’t respect myself if I didn’t go out because this is my honour, it was my fault that my country had attacked its little neighbour. I also answer for that. That was my first motivation and the second motivation were those reforms that had taken place in Czechoslovakia. The very modest reforms of the Czechoslovak spring were a hope and example for us. Some reforms could take place even though communists ruled the country. Of course, that is if communists such as Dubchek, who were ready to make the first steps – reforms - appeared in the Soviet Union…. And they did appear. Only twenty years later, together with Gorbachev. And from these attempts came the end of communism and the fall of the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev and Mlynář, a young activist of the Czech spring lived together in a flat in the student halls of the Higher Party School. They were from different countries, but nonetheless, these were people who conversed with one another. They considered themselves friends. Mlynář put the Prague Spring into action. Gorbachev at that time was against this and would sit quietly doing something. After 20 years he was suddenly ready for what Dubček wanted. 20 years, of course, is a long time in the private life of a person. But for a country, at least a country like Russia, big and unwieldly - a giant which is incredibly hard to make change direction - 20 years is almost nothing. One must live measuring time in centuries, live in history. Of course, one wants personal success in one’s private life and for one’s children etc… But here there needs to be a compromise. We came out to show that we are for these reforms and these reforms will potentially find supporters and participants in Russia. And the second reason - we were simply ashamed that we occupied a neighbouring country. This triumphed over the personal.

As a consequence of this you found yourself in exile.


Was it difficult there for you and your family?

I worked. The work was hard. Once I had terrible inflammation of the lungs after they moved me to rolling carts in the mines. I almost died but survived and am still alive. It was a difficult life but my daughter was born there. That alone showed that life was possible. Of course, those five years we were cut out of our lives, although not completely.

But didn’t you ever regret going out on the square in August 1968?

No, absolutely not! Of course, had I ended up in a camp for many years, especially in a prison camp, it would maybe have changed my attitude. But that didn’t happen. And therefore I was psychologically ready for worse trials. That is why everything that happened was a pleasant disappointment because it all turned out better.

You are the grandson of someone closely linked to the Soviet authorities and you became a dissident. Does this not seem unusual to you?

Of course, there is a contradiction. The KGB asked me about this, they said that my grandfather would be ashamed of me. But they didn’t know my grandfather. My grandfather was one of the old Bolsheviks. He was an ascetic person, not a thief. He believed in the communist idea: for this idea in his time he was sent into exile, he was jailed, escaped from prison and then lived abroad. Then Stalin almost arrested him but in the end didn’t, although he dismissed him when he decided to make friends with Hitler. Litvinov didn’t fit in, not because he was a Jew but because he had independent ideas. Nevertheless, he survived. I even know that at the end of his life he didn’t completely change his views. He remained a communist, but the communists also had positive social-democratic ideas. They stayed with him, but he felt negatively toward the communist regime in his last years.

Did this influence you? Where did your ideas come from?

From Russian literature of the 19th century: from Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov. Empathising with the small man against the big state, like Evgeny in The Bronze Horseman, or like the small man from whom they took the overcoat in Gogol’s The Overcoat. Chekhov - the force of the Russian intelligentsia. He was my main influence. But then, of course, came Solzhenitsyn and people returned from the camps. But the basis of my world-view remained the Russian culture of the 19th century.

Translated by John Tokolish, Mary McAuley, Matthew Quigley and Tatjana Duff

Historians discover secret order to destroy data relating to those imprisoned in the Gulag [TV Rain]

posted 25 Jun 2018, 12:56 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 25 Jun 2018, 12:59 ]

8 June 

Source: TV Rain 

Director of the Museum of the History of the GULAG, Roman Romanov, has informed Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, that, on the basis of a secret instruction of 2014, archive documents containing information on those repressed in the USSR are being destroyed, Kommersant reports.

A letter from Romanov to Fedotov, to which Kommersant gained access, states that people who were trying to find out the fate of their relatives have received replies from the Ministry of Internal Affairs that their individual records have been destroyed.

‘In those cases where a prisoner died or was killed in a camp, their personal details were forwarded for permanent filing. But if an individual was freed, the case notes were destroyed, but a record was preserved in the archive which indicated name, year, and place of birth, transfer between camps, and transfer camps, and also the date of release,’ Romanov told Kommersant. It was Sergei Prudovsky who, this spring, when he was looking for information about an imprisoned peasant, Fedor Chazov, learnt about the destruction of the record cards.

‘I made an enquiry with the Magadan office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. They replied that the personal file of the prisoner had been destroyed as early as 1955 in accordance with an order of that time. However, it also became clear that the record card in the archive had been destroyed too,’ Prudovsky told Kommersant. Mikhail Seregin, head of the information centre of the Magadan Ministry of Internal Affairs, in answer to Prudovsky’s query, stated that on 12 February 2014 an instruction, marked ‘for official use only’, was circulated. The document was signed by the FSB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign Intelligence Service, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and other departments. It states that record cards of prisoners should be kept ‘until they (the convicted) reach the age of 80’, according to Seregin. According to his information, Fedor Chazov’s record card was destroyed in September 2014.

Prudovsky explained that information about where a prisoner was sent, or about a prisoner’s transfer from one camp to another, is only recorded in the archives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on individual record cards. It is these cards, according to the order, that should be destroyed.

The chair of the Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, told Kommersant that he is looking into the matter. According to him, the preservation of archive materials is ‘of principal significance because it is a means of countering the falsification of history.’ ‘When a document exists it is practically impossible to falsify the details. And where no document exists, then anything can be thought up. So, it’s necessary to preserve, wherever possible, all the documents that relate to that period’, he concluded.

Translated by Mary McAuley

Anton Chivchalov: Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison? [Radio Svoboda]

posted 18 Jun 2018, 13:33 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 18 Jun 2018, 13:37 ]

3 June 2018 

by Anton Chivchalov, journalist and blogger 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group  [original source: Radio Svoboda

The international human rights website Forum 18 has reported that in Russia seven Jehovah’s Witnesses are already behind bars, on remand, at least one other is under house arrest, and more than a dozen are under travel restrictions. Criminal prosecutions against the believers have been brought under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code for extremism, which provides for up to 10 years in prison, and are taking place in Orel, Perm, Orenburg, Birobidzhan, Murmansk, Vladivostok and Ufa. Riot police in masks and with automatic rifles burst into peaceful people, throw them onto the ground, handcuff them, and seize personal items, documents, photos and money. Why? As the magazine Newsweek recently commented, they neither killed nor robbed anyone. All their “guilt” was just that they had preached a certain religion. In Europe. In the 21st century.

Some might object: they are not being imprisoned for their faith but for setting up prohibited organisations. Believe what you like, but don’t set up prohibited organisations, and you will be fine! This is a logical argument, it seems. But look at the materials of any of these criminal cases: believers are arrested not for setting up organisations, but for reading the Bible with friends. There is a direct link: they read the Bible with friends – therefore arrest! In all such instances, the charges are brought based on the law on extremism. In law enforcement agencies, it seems, they are convinced: they can automatically, without a second thought, arrest any Jehovah’s Witness they like. Only then do the prosecutors ask the question as to whether the believer set up an illegal organisation, or not. Of course, it always turns out that they did create such an organisation.

Some who are a bit more informed will object to me once again: Jehovah’s Witnesses not only read the Bible, but also collect donations, correspond with one another on the internet, etc., and this amounts to setting up a prohibited organisation. Let’s assume that this is so (although legally it’s a big question). Then let’s clarify, why are these organisations in particular banned? If we put this question to a passer-by on the street, he – depending on which TV channel he watches – could say that the Jehovah’s Witnesses destroy families, don’t serve in the army, are opposed to blood transfusions and generally appear to be godless heretics. But the decision of the Supreme Court of 20 April 2017 banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia mentions none of these things. The decision of the court is publicly available.

The whole case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses is based on a single fact – possessing forbidden literature. I emphasise: not just the dissemination, but the simple possession. In a few towns in the premises where the Jehovah’s Witnesses gathered, they found some booklets or other (which were often planted by the FSB as proven by CCTV, but the court was not interested in this). That was the sum total of the charge. On that basis a number of local religious organisations were closed down, and the next stage was the banning of the central religious organisation, and already on that basis they started persecuting thousands of people throughout the country. And all of this merely because they had found a few books somewhere. In not one criminal case was there even a single victim.

Someone is going to say they shouldn’t have printed banned literature. The main question that was heard was this: Why, actually, has this literature been banned? Here is an example of a quotation that resulted in one of the magazines being deemed extremist: “Priests of the Greek Orthodox Church and their supporters attempted to come to the construction site and prevent work, but Jehovah heard our prayer and gave us protection.” The court expert’s conclusion: “A negative image of clergymen is created … All the information about them is negative, which speaks to the presence in the text of intent to create a negative image for all clergymen as a social group.”

You can familiarize yourself with a collection of analogous quotations that resulted in the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses being deemed extremist. (Is it any coincidence that such expert opinions began to appear immediately following the beginning of Kirill’s patriarchate, in 2009?) If this is extremism, then it is purely virtual, expressed in disagreement with other religions on theological issues, which is a matter of faith and cannot be considered in secular courts. After all, the experts recognized as extremist quotations in which evangelical Pharisees — the first Christians’ persecutors — were condemned. One magazine was deemed extremist for a sentence about how the true God is one.

This is the real reason why Anatoly Vilitkevich, Roman Markin, Viktor Trofimov, Valentin Osadchuk, Vladimir Kochnev, Aleksandr Suvorov, and Dennis Kristensen are in prison. This is what 70-year-old Arkady Akopyan has been convicted for in Prokhladnoye, and 80-year-old grandmothers have been tried for in other cases. This is what another 16 people were convicted for in Taganrog. This is why people are being fired from their jobs and their children are being harassed in school, and this is why in one instance a shop refused to allow a woman to buy what it was selling. Even if we allow that they had created certain organizations, their persecution on the basis of a ban on those organizations is tantamount to religious persecution because at the basis of the ban lie purely religious postulates. Almost no one knows about this other than the believers themselves and their lawyers.

One can have various feelings toward Jehovah’s Witnesses and any other religion, but all of us should be seriously concerned that Russia has begun putting people in prison for “creating a negative image of clergymen.” The media are cynically presenting these imprisonments as the fight against extremism. The situation is especially absurd given that, according to a decision by the Supreme Court on 28 June 2011, criticism of other religions cannot be considered extremism. On the other hand, this same Supreme Court has uncovered criticism of other religions and declared it to be extremism. When lawyers drew the court’s attention to its violation of its own ruling, the court simply ignored it. The entire trial last year was a mockery of justice. The result was not only a wave of absurd criminal trials but also the largest nationalization of private property in the history of the Council of Europe: right now property worth tens of millions of euros is systematically being confiscated.

It is very important to understand that the mass persecutions over religion are unfolding in Russia in classic form. Of course, these persecutions have been obscured by the derisive formulation “extremist activity,” in order to disinform the public. The disinformation mission, as always, has been assigned to the media. Journalists cheerfully talk about how brave policemen all over the country are catching the “leaders of extremist cells.” Exactly as in the Soviet era they told stories about how full freedom of speech and confession reigned in the country and people were imprisoned exclusively for “anti-Soviet propaganda.”

Translated by Frances Robson and Marian Schwartz

Sergei Kovalev: Questions for Putin on 7 June [Ekho Moskvy]

posted 18 Jun 2018, 12:05 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 18 Jun 2018, 12:14 ]

5 June 2018

By Sergei Kovalev, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source:  Ekho Moskvy]

Dear friends!

Below are the questions I sent to Mr Putin for the Direct Line TV broadcast to take place on 7 June.

As you see, the questions are sharp ones, and certainly inconvenient for the President. Of course, his office will screen them out. But if there are a lot of them, and we know how many, then it will be easy to find the presidential office guilty of cheating. Or if he does answer them (the chances of which are about zero), well, let him answer. That would be interesting too. If you want to support my idea, send these questions to the President (via the website with an addendum that says something like: “I agree with the questions sent you by S. Kovalev” and then give the text. If you can, spread my request as widely as you can.

Questions to Putin for 7 June 2018

I've decided to publish these questions. I don't want them to get lost in the President's office.

1. Do you agree that a mechanism allowing for the replacement of those in power is an indispensable condition for democracy? If so, then why do you call our present state system a democracy? After all, by 2024, the end of your presidential term, you will have stayed in the Kremlin longer not only than Brezhnev but, terrible as it is to say, even Stalin?

If you think that the absence of such a mechanism is completely compatible with democracy, then please explain why major academics, famous journalists and writers, authoritative politicians and, finally, hundreds of millions of citizens of civilised countries, hold a contrary opinion? Is it a mass delusion? Such things happen, of course. So the idea must be firmly refuted as quickly as possible. This is not a small matter; it concerns us all.

As I see it, the murder of Kirov in 1934 was undoubtedly the start of Stalinist one-man rule. However, the defining of historical periods is a matter for professional historians. It’s not that important for my question.

2. In December 2011, you, the leader of the country, allowed yourself to offend the citizens of this country. You referred to those who disagreed with your policy and held large-scale peaceful demonstrations as Bandar-logs, referring to your “favourite” writer Rudyard Kipling. And you indelicately referred to the white ribbons on the chests of demonstrators as condoms. Well, there’s no point demanding a basic understanding of literature and decency from a man who owes his upbringing first to street gangs and then to the KGB. But the guarantor of the Constitution (Article 80, item 2) could still look into that document's second chapter and realise that one of his duties is to ensure freedom of speech, assembly, rallies and demonstrations.

What do you say about this, Mr President? Do you really think that the shields, batons and jackboots of the rapidly multiplying police will ensure these freedoms?

3. And something else more on “freedom of speech”. At the start of your first presidential term, on the night of 13-14 April 2001, NTV was taken over by force and nationalised. Then TV-6 was nationalised, and well, censorship set in. How is it possible to imagine that state media will become independent?

This campaign of nationalisation, i.e. the transformation of journalists into government officials, coincided very closely with the broadcasts about the tragedy of the Kursk submarine. Remember how long you took before you broke off your vacation? But there were still people alive in the submarine!

And the “Ryazan sugar” incident – maybe it was sugar, or maybe it was explosives, that KGB officers put in the cellar of a 16-storey apartment block in Ryazan.

And the satirical programme Dolls on NTV. And the Little Zaches sketch, that’s you, Mr President!

Well, Viktor Stepanovich Chernomyrdin laughed, seeing himself on Dolls, but Vladimir Vladimirovich tolerates neither criticism nor jokes – it’s a matter of state prestige, you understand.

Well, what exactly is my third question, you ask? What will calm this situation down, Vladimir Vladimirovich? The guilty are always punished in the end. Will we start to lie that we are surrounded by enemies, when it is us who snatch pieces of land, now from Georgia, and now Crimea? And we will scare everyone with our inordinate force, and lie shamelessly. And what about you? Maybe you will now increase the presidential term to 10 years – and why stop at that? How about a lifetime presidency? There are examples, and anyway people are buying it. It’s not a question of fortune telling. If you’ll forgive the slang, it’s pretty obvious that people are buying it. And how do you think a country will live whose people whose people are overconfident, but have forgotten to think for themselves?

Translated by Anna Bowles

Sergei Pashin: Extending jury trials, particularly to district courts, is long overdue [Ekho Moskvy]

posted 18 Jun 2018, 11:31 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 18 Jun 2018, 11:37 ]

1 June 2018

By Sergei Pashin

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskv]

This view was expressed on air, on Ekho Moskvy radio, by Sergei Pashin, a retired federal judge. Pashin is a professor in the department of the judiciary at the law faculty of the Higher School of Economics, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights; and a pioneer in the introduction of trial by jury in the 1990s.

"People who stand accused of murder and causing grievous bodily harm, where this resulted in death, may expect to be tried in a court where the verdict will be delivered by a jury of six – a verdict that determines their culpability without the involvement of a professional judge in the deliberation room. This is a good move – a step forward. We have around 2,180 district courts, and it means that many judges will gain experience of working with jurors, and not just handle proceedings by means of formal documents", he said.

However, Pashin emphasised that this move by the government should be viewed not in terms of expanding the powers of jurors, but rather as an expansion following a sharp reduction in their jurisdiction.

"Until now, the jurisdiction of the jury trial has been diminishing all the time: since 1993, it has been curtailed by roughly 50%. Our constitutional right to trial by jury and participation in the delivery of justice has been practically done away with. The vast majority of cases, over 99% of criminal cases, are heard by a judge sitting alone. Over the past year, 224 cases were heard by juries, while the total number of defendants was 730,000. The fact that jury trials will now take place in district courts is a step forward," he said.

Pashin added that according to the new legislation, the hearing of cases with the participation of jurors in district and garrison courts will begin on 1 June, although the first trials are not expected to start until August. 

Translated by Lindsay Munford

Dmitry Bykov: Let's Not Be Silent About Oleg Sentsov! [Ekho Moskvy]

posted 18 Jun 2018, 11:14 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 18 Jun 2018, 11:17 ]

5 June 2018

By Dmitry Bykov, writer, poet, journalist 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]

Oleg Sentsov's fate will be determined in the near future. Either he will survive, or he will die.

Some people have already written that he is not a film director, or that, at least, it is unimportant when we speak about his hunger strike: now he is, first and foremost, a victim of arbitrariness and defends ordinary human rights. But he has proved his professionalism as a director: the situation is perfectly arranged. He went on a hunger strike 30 days before the FIFA World Cup, so by the start of the tournament the matter of his life and death will be a very live issue. He resorted to using his life as his finalweapon. He has no other possible variant in the struggle that he has to become a part of. Sentsov has achieved his goal: he is the one who is now laying down conditions. But Sentsov may lose his life, and Russia may lose its reputation, a reputation that already leaves much to be desired. To mark the beginning of the World Cup with news of the death of a Ukrainian citizen, who was "annexed" to Russia along with Crimea would not be very far from the best start. And this is the most that can be achieved by a single person today.

There are not many variants as to what will happen to Oleg Sentsov: either he will be force-fed (which is equivalent to torture), or he will die, or he will be exchanged. And in either variant, Sentsov's main demand - that all Ukrainian political prisoners be either released or exchanged - will remain unfulfilled, and indeed it is hardly achievable. It is not yet clear whether he will agrees to change his demands. Evidently, he has taken the decision to die because his life for the last three years has not been much better than death (and some would say, it has been even worse). There is not much we can do. We must speak up about his case as loudly as possible. And as often as possible. To remind people of Sentsov in the face of all the reports of successes, of all the triumphant announcements about the World Cup, about bridges built and about popular support. And I am almost sure that Russia will indeed play host to this championship at the highest level. It is the kind of thing the country can do . The problem is just that from now on all significant internal political events must be timed to coincide with championships and festivals, so that human rights defenders or political prisoners will die before the very eyes of foreign guests. Of course, it is humiliating and unpatriotic. It would be more patriotic if all the dissenters commit suicide, having left all their worldly wealth to the treasury. But it somehow seems to me that nowadays there are so many of them that it won't be possible to persuade them all.

Translated by Anna Dvoryanchikova

Lev Shlosberg: When the authorities are in retreat [Ekho Moskvy]

posted 4 Jun 2018, 11:57 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Jun 2018, 12:21 ]

19 May 2018

By Lev Schlosberg, human rights defender and civil society activist; member of the Pskov Regional Legislative Assembly, journalist, recipient of the Moscow Helsinki Group human rights award 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]

Why defending people under any­ circumstances matters

In recent weeks we have witnessed a number of unexpected events affecting both human rights and politics. They all have one thing in common: the government authorities, as well as the courts and law enforcement agencies that protect them, have backed down on their initially atrocious position. This has happened for one reason only: committed social protests in defence of those who have already suffered, or who could suffer in future, if the authorities were to take certain decisions. Society did not back down. The authorities did.

On 5 April, the Petrozavodsk city court acquitted Yury Dmitriev, historian and head of the branch of Memorial in Karelia. Dmitriev had been arrested back in late 2016 on scandalous and grotesque charges of “paedophilia” in a case that even included falsified “expert” opinions. His acquittal is highly unusualin Russian court practice: according to official court statistics, only 0.36% of cases are acquittals. Thousands of ordinary citizens signed a petition in his defence.

On 14 May, the Investigative Committee released Aleksei Malobrodsky from pretrial detention on condition that he not leave Moscow. Malobrodsky, who was arrested in June 2017, had formerly been the lead producer at the independent, non-profit theatre group Seventh Studio and director of the Gogol Centre. He was released “giving due consideration to his age and health as well as to the fact that the process of evidence-gathering in his criminal case is complete and therefore that, on his release, the accused can in no way influence the results of the investigation.”

Before this, on 10 May, Aleksei Malobrodsky fell ill in the courtroom of Moscow's Basmanny district court. The court initially refused to call a doctor, but later agreed and Malobrodsky was taken to the emergency department of the 20th Moscow hospital, where he was handcuffed to his bed(!). This story made headlines with a number of independent media outlets. By morning, the scandal had grown so much as to threaten the authorities’ reputation, and the handcuffs were removed. Three days later, the investigator suddenly issued a decision to release Malobrodsky from detention and instead imposed a travel ban on him.

On 15 May, the atrocious federal bill “On measures of reaction (counteraction) against unfriendly actions of the United States of America and (or) other foreign states”, better known as the “counter-sanctions” bill, was passed in first reading. The bill, which included a ban on imports of American medicines and high-tech equipment, threatened the lives of thousands of people. However, substantial amendments were suddenly made to the bill before its second reading: gone were all 16 previously listed groups of goods that could have been subject to bans or import restrictions. This included all references to the proposed ban on imports of medicines from the USA, the nuclear sector, aviation and rare metals. Bans on possible labour imports – that is, on attracting foreign specialists – have also been removed.

In effect, the bill, which was introduced personally by chair of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin and by leaders of all parliamentary factions, has been decisively hollowed out and will provide the government with no greater restrictive powers than those it already has. In other words, the government’s power to threaten its foes will stay exactly as it was.

What do these three seemingly unconnected events have in common?

A powerful social protest. The open, highly public stance taken by thousands of people who used social media to express their opinions about the actions of the government and of the courts and investigators under its control. Undivided attention from the independent press. Attention and support from the global community.

In short: civic solidarity.

Judicial reprisals based on trumped up charges and the legislative plan of a crazed parliament to murder thousands of ill people appeared to be a fait accompli, an inevitable fact, but were brought to a halt by the actions of civil society. This wasn’t a miracle, but the result of the persistent public work of thousands of people, acting in solidarity.

It seems at the moment like the Russian authorities can do whatever they like. Crown an Emperor. Begin whatever war they like wherever they like. Sack the public purse. Arrest, humiliate, strip of their legal rights, liquidate other people's property, and ruin anyone's life plans. But, it turns out, they can’t quite do everything.

The strength of the public remains the main fear of the Russian authorities. Open civil protest scares them more than political opposition. They know very well how to organise dishonest elections and snatch power, and they know that they’ll get away with it. But they have no idea what to do about the civil resentment of citizens not paralysed by fear. This resentment and protest are beyond their power and beyond their control. It’s possible something greater than a civil movement may grow out of this protest.

Faced with a wave of public anger, the authorities retreat. They recognise the strength of society and their own weakness.

But what will they manage to do before then?

And how do people live with such a dangerous state?

The authorities have never known, or learnt, how to talk with people on a human level. And when society begins to talk to them using the language of real indignation and protest, the authorities retreat. They don’t change at all, don’t become humane, they make concessions only out of fear of serious reputational and political losses. That said, they do make concessions.

One might think the Russian authorities are very far from caring about reputation, and yet this mechanism works. Out of fear, but it works.

They acquitted Dmitriev. They released Malobrodsky from prison. They abandoned plans that threatened thousands of ill people. And of course they did all this for their own benefit, not for the people it saved. But still, they did it.

Russia now finds itself in the kind of situation when civil protest is more serious for the authorities and more dangerous than any political menace.

The most serious weapon against the inhumanity of the authorities is human solidarity with those that the authorities threaten. Defence of human rights has become the main function of civil society in Russia today.

In the twentieth century, it was the human rights movement that produced the most powerful politicians, those who went on to establish democratic reforms in their countries. Their work was based on human rights values and principles. And that’s why democratic reforms were lasting and successful in those countries.

Human rights work is the best school for democratic politics. So, citizens, don’t give up, don’t remain silent, don’t be afraid, always defend people when you hear about lawlessness and injustice.

By defending one man, we save ourselves, and the whole country, from the pitch darkness of inhumanity. Not only today, but tomorrow as well.

Translated by Judith Fagelson and Mercedes Malcomson

Evgeny Yasin: Democracy Foundation shuts down [Ekho Moskvy]

posted 4 Jun 2018, 11:02 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Jun 2018, 11:09 ]

21 May 2018

Evgeny Yasin, director of research at the Higher School of Economics, former minister of economics

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]

The Democracy Foundation was set up in 1993 by Aleksandr Nikolaevich Yakovlev, a prominent outstanding comrade-in-arms of Mikhail Gorbachev and a staunch supporter of the democratic transformation of Russia. While he was still alive and supported the Democracy Foundation, the Foundation, you could say, flowered, concentrating its efforts on researching the history of repression in Soviet Russia. It also attracted foreign support, working with foreign universities and NGOs. However, in 2017, when it was threatened with the status of a foreign agent, the Foundation ceased accepting funds from abroad. After that, the Foundation received help from the Yeltsin Centre and, very recently, from the Kudrin Foundation. But the 25-year lease agreement for its premises that Yeltsin gave it ran out recently. Finally, last week, the Democracy Foundation announced its closure.

I admit, until then I didn’t know anything about the Democracy Foundation. I learned about it only when its closure was announced. But honestly, I was extremely upset by this development. Can it really be the case that we no longer need this Foundation?

Some time ago, while working on the problem of market transformations in the 1990s, I was sincerely convinced that the success of this transformation depended on two things: 1) the transition from a planned to a market economy; 2) the transition from an administrative-command political system to democracy. I considered a market economy was more important and should be first. I admit I still think that. But I also recognized the importance of democracy and its necessity for the effective development of a market economy.

Now there is a market economy, although not a very effective one. With democracy it turned out we had a more or less functioning one from 1991 until 1993, when there was a battle between, on the one hand, President Yeltsin and the democratic minority of the Congress of People’s Deputies, and on the other the Congress' not very democratic majority. As is well-known, this battle ended after the dissolution of the Congress by President Yeltsin in September 1993, the clashes of 3-4 October, the referendum on the new constitution of 1993 (which is still in force although with a number of changes), and elections to the State Duma under the new constitution.

After that, a political regime established itself in Russia until 2000 that I would call, in a term coined by Wolfgang Merkel and Aurel S. Croissant, a “defective democracy.”

Then a regime became established, under almost the same constitution, that was closer to authoritarianism. Its development up to the present day - especially after 2012-2014, when economic growth fell - bears witness to the necessity of changes. In my opinion, most of all - even if only gradual - democratic reforms, the increase of economic and political competition.

And at this time the Democracy Foundation, the brainchild of one of the most prominent Russian democrats of the 20th century, A. N. Yakovlev, is closing. There is an analogy here.

I would like to see the rebirth of the Democracy Foundation, perhaps in a different form, but as a public institution that continues to build on its previous experience and develops new ways of working toward the development of democracy, providing for the co-existence of various points of view and their application in the government of the country. Let there be a small membership fee, but many members of the organization founded by A.N. Yakovlev. Let’s think about it.

Until we meet again,

Evgeny Yasin

Translated by John Tokolish

Leonid Nikitinsky: "In an acting capacity. On meetings of committees of the Human Rights Council on 11 May" [Novaya gazeta]

posted 28 May 2018, 06:21 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 May 2018, 06:36 ]

13 May 2018

By Leonid Nikitinsky, columnist for Novaya gazeta, member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group prize for protecting human rights

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Novaya gazeta]

On 11 May, a joint meeting was held by three of the committees of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights: the Committee on Civic Engagement in Legal Reform, the Committee on Civic Engagement in Anti-Corruption Measures and in Oversight of Law-Enforcement Agencies and the Committee on Scientific and Technical Expertise. The Presidential Council in its current composition adheres to the principle of transparency, and both the agendas of its meetings and the general thrust of its decisions (which are not always drawn up in a formal document) are publicly available.

Most of the meeting held on 11 May was given over to a review of "precedent-setting” legal cases, in other words cases which reveal not just problems specific to the individuals in question, but aspects of the work of law-enforcement agencies and courts which are problematic in a more general sense. These included the case of Oyub Titiev, which has been investigated in the Chechen Republic. The Council and its chair expressed their dissatisfaction at the action taken in response to Titiev’s claims that drugs had been planted in his car by police officers. Despite the Council’s requests, the disciplinary department of the Ministry of the Interior, the Investigative Committee and the Public Prosecutor’s Office had failed to make use of all the available opportunities to examine the case.

This case also points to a wider problem which can be observed in a number of other cases in Chechnya and elsewhere, namely that individuals who allege similar frame-ups by law-enforcement agencies are not granted any status in the legal proceedings, but are instead regarded merely as “whistleblowers.” This makes it possible to drag out investigations into the allegations (which are artificially declared to be prejudicial in nature) until a sentence has been handed down on the main charges. The Council believes that questions should be asked about the permissibility of evidence concerning the commission of an offence by Titiev, and that the investigation into Titiev’s own statement on the planting of the drugs should not have to wait until charges have been lodged.

If God wills (more on this later), the Council plans to hold a special meeting with representatives of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee on this and other matters, including “pre-investigation checks.” Mikhail Fedotov also repeated his requests for the Prosecutor General and the representative of the Investigative Committee to carry out the proper checks into Titiev’s statement. The Council will ask for a body outside Chechnya to be tasked with performing these checks, and for the Titiev case to be made subject to the jurisdiction of another subject of the Russian Federation. The members of the Council agreed to take it in turns to travel to the court sittings in Grozny if the case were to be heard there, despite the Council’s opposition.

Attendees at the meeting also discussed the cases of the Penza and St Petersburg members of the “Network [Set’] terrorist organisation” and also the New Greatness [Novoe velichie] case. Since both cases are currently at the investigation stage, the only questions which can currently be asked relate to whether the confessions in the first of these cases were obtained using torture, as claimed by members of the Public Monitoring Commission and the lawyers acting on behalf of the suspects. The information available on these cases suggests that it would be at best an exaggeration to describe the alleged offences committed by the young people involved as “terrorist activities” or “extremism.” The Council intends to monitor developments in these cases and to insist that the proceedings take place in an open court, at least at the judicial enquiry stage.

The Council members present also discussed the need to respond rapidly to the events of 5 May on Pushkinskaya Square. The chair of the Presidential Council said that as early as the day after the events he had forwarded requests to this effect to the law-enforcement agencies, including the National Guard. Documents had already started to arrive, and it would be sensible to discuss all related matters together with the leaders of these bodies after examining the information in these documents. A number of Council members suggested that a discussion of this kind could provide an opportunity for drafting a declaration to the effect that police functions had essentially been performed by unidentified officers using non-firearm weapons, and that the authorised law-enforcement agencies on the scene had stood by and done nothing. Some members of the Council expressed their belief that the risk of similar clashes occurring in future was so great that an immediate response was essential. At the same time, however, it is unlikely that a draft of this kind would gain the necessary number of votes to qualify as an official announcement (over half of Council members would need to vote in favour).

It goes without saying that all of these plans are still very much up in the air, since the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and its chair are carrying out their duties in an acting capacity between 7 May and the date on which the Russian President issues a decree appointing the Council’s new members.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

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