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Dmitriev’s defence demand new assessment of the photographic evidence (7X7)

posted 14 Sep 2017, 13:18 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 14 Sep 2017, 13:25 ]

7 September 2017  


By Gleb Yarovoi 

Source: 7 x 7 

The defence team of Karelian historian Yury Dmitriev will petition the court for a new or repeat expert assessment of the photographs of his daughter that the specialists of the Centre for Sociocultural Expert Assessments considered to be pornographic. This was made known on 7 September, writes 7x7’s correspondent, at the latest hearing of the case against the historian at the Petrozavodsk City Court.

As Victor Anufriev, Dmitriev’s defence attorney, told those outside the court building, the head of the Centre Natalya Kryukova was cross-examined on Thursday, 7 September. The conclusions reached by her organisation formed the basis for the charges against the historian. (An assessment as to whether the photographs were pornographic was made by the Centre for Sociocultural Expert Assessments, drawing on the views of an art specialist, a teacher of mathematics and a paediatrician.)

Victor Anufriev asked the experts to present documents confirming that they had the right to carry out such examinations. They did not possess such documents, he said.

“Kryukova announced that they were specialists, not experts, and were conducting a scientific investigation. That was why the conduct of forensic examinations was not among their main activities. Kryukova said although she was trained as a mathematician, she was a psychologist,” said Anufriev, “she had taken a course in General Psychology at college.”

During the day’s hearing, the defence and the prosecution discussed whether to conduct a repeat examination of the photographs that the first assessment had judged to be pornographic. The prosecutor insisted that the Centre which he had proposed do the work: the defence attorney wanted the work done by a State licensed organisation. This issue will be resolved at the next hearing on Friday, 15 September. By that date Dmitriev’s defence team will prepare a written petition, demanding that a new or repeat examination of the photographs be conducted.

At Thursday’s hearing, the policeman who summoned Yury Dmitriev on 29 November 2016 [to the police station] and spoke with him for four hours was also cross-examined. It was then, in the historian’s opinion, that someone entered his apartment and investigated his computer where the photographs of his daughter were found. According to Anufriev, the young man could recall almost nothing about those events.

“He was very forgetful,” said Anufriev. “he did not remember that he had visited Dmitriev three times. For example, he said that Dmitriev, supposedly, spent about 40 minutes with him [at the police station].”

About thirty people came to Karelia to support Yury Dmitriev: his friends and colleagues from other cities, the rights activist Zoya Svetova, independent investigator Nikolai Epple, and the US vice consul Demitra M. Pappas. None of them could enter the courtroom since the trial is being held in closed session.

Translated by John Crowfoot

Zoya Svetova: Right to interview. How I took the Federal Prison Service to court [Open Russia]

posted 7 Jul 2017, 00:09 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 7 Jul 2017, 00:16 ]

23 June 2017

By Zoya Svetova, journalist, human rights activist, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group human rights prize, and a former member of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Otkrytaya Rossiya]
On 21 June Moscow's Zamoskvoretsky district court heard the case I had brought against the Federal Prison Service for refusing to allow me to interview Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov who is serving a twenty-year sentence in Yakutiya.

The judge, Nelli Rubtsova, sided with the Federal Prison Service and refused to grant my plea. The Zamoskvoretsky court deals with all cases brought against the Federal Prison Service, and, usually, sides with the prison authorities.

But I have no regrets that I brought the case. For a start, as Mariya Sernovets, the defence lawyer who represented me in court said, mine was what can be called a strategic plea. Strategic pleas may influence the application of a law in a specific case, but they can also bring about a change in legislation.

In this case the aim was to influence the law, and in particular to effect amendments to Article 24 of the Criminal Execution Code. This article permits representatives of the media and other persons to visit facilities within the prison system with the special permission of the institution's administration or that of higher authorities. But the Article says nothing relating to circumstances in which a journalist can be refused permission to visit a prison colony or a detention centre. The silence regarding the grounds for a refusal gives a prison authority great scope for arbitrary decisions. In other words: ‘If I want to, I’ll let the journalist in, if I don’t want to, I won’t.’

I was very interested to hear the explanation offered by the Prison Service’s representative. I wanted to understand why, after all, I had been refused, and who in fact had taken the decision. I’ll begin with the objections raised by the representatives of the Prison Service. Translated from legal language into Russian: 'We haven’t broken any laws, we have our law – the Criminal Execution Code - and if Article 24 contains no reference to giving reasons for a refusal, it follows that we are not required to provide any. You say that we have infringed a Constitutional right but, heavens above, the Constitution is the highest law of the land and all laws are checked for accordance with it; since Article 24 of the Criminal Execution Code has been adopted, this means that it passed the test. If you don’t agree, take it to the Constitutional Court and test its constitutional status. You say that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘each has the right to express their opinion’) is being infringed but you haven’t produced a single precedent that supports this.'

In other words, the other party in the first place refers us to the Constitutional Court, to which we do indeed plan to turn to lodge a complaint against the law. Thank you for that! And its second objection is a bow of obeisance in the direction of the European Court of Human Rights. It turns out that the Federal Prison Service, in contrast to the Russian courts where one can often hear jokes at the expense of the European Court in Strasbourg, recognizes that institution and pays attention to its precedents. 

But my suit, it turns out, has no grounds. The Federal Prison Service breaks no laws. But what about the federal law on appeals by citizens which specifically states that grounds must be given for a refusal? This law doesn't exist for the Prison Service. For the Prison Service only the Criminal Execution Code exists. 

But these are, so to speak, legal niceties, important for the observance of the formalities of legal procedures.

As for the nub of the matter, judging by everything the decision to refuse an interview was taken in Moscow. The head of prison colony No. 1 in the city of Yakutsk, where Oleg Sentsov is imprisoned, was most likely left out of the picture. In answer to my question as to who took the decision, a representative of the Federal Prison Service responded that it was taken by the person who signed the refusal. And the refusal was signed by the deputy head of the press service of the Federal Prison Service. In other words by the official within the Federal Prison Service whose job it should be to assist journalists in their work. But no. This official is not helping.

And the most interesting thing is that the representative of the Federal Prison Service, it turns out, genuinely does not understand why I need an interview with Oleg Sentsov at all. Why I could not send him these harmless questions in a letter, and then, after I have received the answers, publish them as if they had been the outcome of a real interview? I had to explain in court that an interview and a letter are not the same thing. And, by the way, at the same time to tell him that the letters from Sentsov very often do not reach either me or his other correspondents. 

In this story with the refusal what also amazed me was that in all the years of my journalistic work I have requested interviews with prisoners on a number of occasions and have received a number of refusals. As a rule, no explanations were given, but sometimes I was told that the prisoner himself did not want to talk with me, only later to find out that this was not true. This time the Federal Prison Service did not even begin to make up a reason. They simply refused and that was it.

One thing that was strange was that only two correspondents attended the court hearing, one from TASS, the other from Radio Svoboda. The issue was not sufficiently interesting. Although it would seem to be an issue that should concern many. After all I am not the only one to be refused interviews with prisoners. Almost everyone who asks is refused. Exceptions where permission is given are extremely rare and only confirm the rule. 

Prisons and prison colonies as before remain institutions that are closed to society. Journalists envy members of Public Monitoring Commissions who can visit prisoners, talk with them, and then publish what they have said. Sometimes this can save a prisoner from bad treatment or even from death. 

I shall definitely be challenging the article of the Criminal Execution Code in question at the Constitutional Court. And I shall probably send Oleg Sentsov the questions I had wanted to ask him in the interview by post. Just possibly, after my suit has been heard by the court, the letter he sends in reply will reach me. 

Translated by Mary McAuley and Simon Cosgrove

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Genri Reznik on quitting the Moscow State Law Academy: "They lied to me" [Kommersant-FM]

posted 3 Jul 2017, 00:49 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 3 Jul 2017, 06:14 ]

28 June 2017 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Коммеrsant FM

Genri Reznik, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, vice-president of the Federal Bar Association, vice-president of the International Union of Lawyers, Honoured Lawyer of Russia, PhD in Law, and professor at the Kutafin Moscow State Law Academy has announced that he is leaving the MSLA because of the installation of a memorial plaque to Joseph Stalin in the central auditorium. In an interview with the Kommersant FM radio station, Genri Reznik said that he would not resume working with the academy even if the plaque was removed. 

- Please explain why you decided to leave the Moscow State Law Academy?

I saw a Facebook notification [saying that the plaque had been installed], and decided that the following Monday I would definitely check whether the report was fake. If it was really there, and remained there for a while, I would resign my professorship at the academy. I spoke to the rector, honestly expecting to get an explanation of some kind – that this was a misunderstanding, they would sort things out and take some kind of measures, and we’d discuss it. But instead I was told that the plaque had been put up in accordance with a 1960 resolution by the Council of Ministers of the RSFSR [Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic] regarding the preservation of monuments to our cultural heritage, which includes this plaque.

They had somehow forgotten that I’m a lawyer. I didn’t just lie back, I found this resolution and discovered that they were simply lying to me. There really is such a resolution – adopted on 30 August 1960, it remains valid, and it’s periodically amended. The last changes, I saw, were made in 2001, the only time Stalin’s name was mentioned there, in connection with the one thing that the resolution covered: the Lenin-Stalin Mausoleum. On the night of 1 November 1961, Stalin’s body was taken from the mausoleum, and mentions of him mostly disappeared from the resolution. I should mention that even Stalin’s grave is not protected by the state. Imagine: the graves of Dzerzhinsky, Kalinin, Frunze and Lunacharsky are still listed as objects under state protection, but not that of Stalin, because after the 22nd Congress, when Stalin’s body was taken from the mausoleum, all the towns and villages [that had been named after him] were renamed, all the monuments to him were taken down, along with all the memorial plaques, et cetera.

I found out that my colleagues had simply lied to me. And I had no way out, all I could do was react to it this way. Now, by the way, the leadership of the academy continues to feed people the same thing. It was even featured on a TV programme, some talk show. But I can now say that there was absolutely no legal basis for putting up the plaque, neither then or now. They fool around with people’s heads, counting on the fact that they aren’t lawyers. But the deception is now revealed, so perhaps we can make them blush.

- Have you talked about this matter with other professors? Have you discussed it?

- I have talked with two professors who are, let’s say, ashamed. I teach at the Academy on the side, and my primary profession is that of an attorney, but I have been working as a professor for more than 40 years. This all happened quickly. As far as I can see, the reactions of professors at the Academy will vary. But reportedly professors from the Higher School of Economics who teach courses have stated that if the plaque isn’t removed, they will cease teaching at the Academy.

- Yes, by the way, professors from the Constitutional and Administrative Rights Departments have stated that they are ending their work with the Moscow State Law Academy until the plaque is taken down. At the same time, Levada Center recently conducted a poll, the results of which showed that 38% of Russians believe Stalin to be the most significant individual in history. In your opinion, can the united position of the intelligentsia influence public opinion?

- It’s difficult for me to say, because, as you know, the intelligentsia are always too far from the people. But this is a result of propagandistic games and agitation that the authorities are playing with the figure of Stalin, taking into account that he is popular among a certain portion of the population due to a number of factors. This is all explained by the fight for the electorate, nothing more. I don’t believe that there are any decidedly diehard Stalinists in the country’s leadership. First and foremost, what Stalin did was frighten, and, mind you, he frightened everyone. Equality existed in society, which the nowadays-unpopular Marx wrote about. Marx said that equality also exists under despotism: all are equal before the despot; namely, everyone is equal to zero. No one wants to feel like a zero.

Stalin is of little interest to anyone. Stalin is a personified form of public criticism and discontent with the country’s current state of affairs. And for this reason, there is no Stalin as a real figure. There’s a myth about Stalin, which has existed in this form for at least the past three generations - that he is some strong, wise ruler who ensured order and justice in society. The authorities should, by all means, take notice of this, because it is a reaction to the disgraceful things that go on in this country; in particular to the rampant corruption, the violations of the principles of justice that people observe when matters that concern them are being resolved.

- If the plaque is taken down, would you be willing to return to work at the Academy?

- No, I won’t be returning, because I was lied to, you know. Now they are lying to the whole world that the resolution of 1960 is being carried out. I repeat, there is such a resolution, it is just that Stalin’s name is not there. After my colleagues decided to treat me like a fool, I don’t believe that even if they offer an apology it would be possible for me to resume further teaching at the Moscow Law Academy.

Thanks to Anna Bowles for assistance with this translation

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Olga Romanova: Crutches, nappies and a store of courage. What they looked for and what they found during the search of Russia Behind Bars [Novaya gazeta]

posted 30 Jun 2017, 08:45 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 30 Jun 2017, 12:41 ]

14 June 2017 

By Olga Romanova, founder and head of the movement ‘Russia Behind Bars’ [Русь сидящая - Rus' sidyashchaya], winner of a Moscow Helsinki Group human rights award 

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

So in this story there is a boss living the good life. Let's say a minister for medium-sized industry, for example. And as often happens, he’s not amazingly bright. He’s of medium intelligence, medium - like the industrial sector he heads. But he shows his fighting character, keeps his people on a tight rein, doesn’t let them read newspapers, or go home at the end of their shifts. He's stopped all vacations and sick leave. And so that they don't waste time and gossip, he's locked the doors to the corridors and kept the key under his pillow. The usual kind of thing. 

But now this minister of medium-sized industry is meeting his senior colleague – the minister for heavy industry. And that minister says to him: “Petrovich, don’t be too harsh. There’re a lot of complaints about you, you know. You’re stealing more than you ought to at your level.’ 

Who had dared? He began to put everything in order, in his own way. He got rid of the public observers from his medium-sized industry, put his security guards in their place, he shook up the advisory councils, he banned contacts between citizens from parallel industries with those labouring away in his own. He held a press conference to say ‘we’re working effectively, there are no complaints.’ And at that press conference some awkward types start asking him questions and saying loudly: ’You’re lying, Petrovich. Here is a document about theft, here is a document about the murdered and the martyred, and here is a draft order about the liquidation of the ministry of medium-sized industry, because there isn’t any such.’ Petrovich was extremely disappointed, and in his sorrows he ordered those who had asked the questions to be caught and sent to his stables for a flogging. 

And that's when the police came to Russia Behind Bars to conduct searches. 

And it has to be said that the guys who came to our office in the morning of 8 June were completely OK. They were from the police department for combating corruption and economic crimes, and they laid a special stress on corruption, that was the issue, they said, that they had with us. Of course in our offices we are engaged in corruption as often as we're pouring out the tea. 

In fact the investigating officers came not only to the office, they also called on the accountant who is not in our office. We outsource our accountancy – an outside auditing company does our accounts on a contract. We would not be able to cope with the amount of work. 

First of all they came in masks and with automatic weapons, but seeing our great wealth (the crutches, the jars and cans of food, the nappies) they left, all except for two young cadets from the academy of the Investigative Committee, our investigating officers who were perfectly polite and willing to understand the things we had to say. Give us the documents, they said. What documents? Well, some documents or other. There you are. Well, they were a bit confused. They asked to see the accountants’ room when all they saw in our office was nappies. While in the accountants’ room there were all kinds of videos we have made, photographs and that kind of thing. 

Of course we understood everything immediately. Our 'Petrovich' - the boss in the sphere we have chosen for our work - became extremely angry. In the Federal Penitentiary Service they’d read the issue of Novaya gazeta from 24th May, which was a joint issue with Russia Behind Bards about what is happening in our prison system and what should be done about it. And in response they sent us the guys from the anti-corruption and economic crimes police department. There is no doubt that behind this stood the Federal Penitentiary Service. 

In order to understand Petrovich’s logic, we have to say how Russia Behind Bars is organized. Our organization is very simple and effective, and, for the way we organize our work, Russia Behind Bards was awarded a prize by the Moscow Helsinki Group in May. 

Just look where we are. In two small rooms in Moscow’s Taganka district there are not just two organizations spreading themselves out liberally, but three. And I am the one who has legal responsibility for all of them. I sign off on everything for all of them. 

The first organization is the Russia Behind Bars movement. It is is not registered, it works without a bank account and without a legal entity, and does all kinds of things – for example observing how elections are carried out in pre-trial detention centres. 

The second is the Russia Behind Bards Charitable Foundation for Assistance to Prisoners and their Families. This organization does have a bank account, it is registered with the Ministry of Justice, we publish our financial reports, and so on. 

And the third is a limited company, ErEs (in other words, once again Russia Behind Bars [in Russian the initials of the name of the organization - Rus sidyashchaya - are RS - trans.]). This is an old company. It also has accounts and accountants and other staff who work on all kinds of practical matters: for example they carry out detailed sociological surveys about inter-ethnic relations in the prison system. Or provide training in financial knowledge to the vulnerable people we work with – relatives of prisoners, the prisoners themselves, the staff of the Federal Penitentiary System. In other words, ErEs, under contract, does intellectual work related to our area of specialization. 

The company ErEs earns money from this – money that is used to support the Russia Behind Bars Charitable Foundation and the Russian Behind Bars movement. Because Russian Behind Bars has no grants. This is not because we are too proud or because we are afraid of becoming “foreign agents”. We have submitted grant application after grant application, but so far we have not been awarded a single one. Our activities continue to be necessary, and so we must earn our own money and raise funds. Donations from within Russia are now a much greater source of income than our intellectual endeavours – the average donation is 974 roubles. 

How do we manage to do our work in the prisons without asking the Federal Penitentiary Service for permission? How do we carry out in-depth surveys, for example? How do we give talks and distribute free brochures? 

We don’t hide how we do it. It is obviously easy enough to establish contacts with former prisoners and the relatives of those who are currently in prison. It is also easy enough for us to talk to employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service, to ask about their lives and to attempt to provide them with useful information, for example about pensions, support payments and all kinds of other allowances. It is also possible and necessary to give talks to prisoners since we work with boards of trustees, religious organisations and members of the Public Monitoring Commissions. We enter into proper agreements with them – stamped, signed, invoiced, all accounts correctly produced. And all taxes paid. 

Do we need to ask the Federal Penitentiary Service’s permission to do this work? I’m sure the Federal Penitentiary Service would like us to ask for permission, but we do not at present and we shall not in the future. Do we need to ask the Federal Penitentiary Service what kind of plan for its own reforms it would like, so that we could draw it up? I think not. 

Do we need to ask the Federal Penitentiary Service for permission to look at the public procurement website and to wonder why the directors of strict-regime and special-regime prisons are buying wheat seed and sprinkling it over half the area of their sites, according to the reports they submit? Do we need to ask permission to look at cash flows within the Federal Penitentiary Service or the work of the prisons? No, we do not. 

One of our favourite pastimes is to scrutinise public procurement and all kinds of tax evasion and fraud. We do this for free and without any kinds of agreements, simply for our own satisfaction. We forward all the bizarre discoveries we make to Novaya gazeta, and it makes us very happy when other people start to take a close interest in the theft that is going on. 

It was therefore no great surprise when officials came to search the two small rooms which we call our office, and which are stuffed to the rafters with a random assortment of items such as crutches, nappies and the jars and cans of food. 

We are of course familiar with the name of our very own Petrovich – Anatoly Rudy, the deputy director of the Federal Penitentiary Service and an expert racketeer. We have seen the documents he has drawn up about us, and he is very much mistaken in his belief that it is impossible to work with the system, and in particular against it, without him knowing. This type of work is both possible and necessary, and I believe that everyone should get involved in it. Or we will end up with a beast which is “enormous, disgusting, a-hundred-maws and barking”. As many citizens of our country as possible must know what is happening within the Russian prison system, and how it is happening, so that changes can be made. Now that we are free, we must reform from the bottom up this legacy we have inherited from way back - from the Civil War and War Communism. And if we haven’t been successful yet, don’t despair. That is what Russia Behind Bars is for. 

Our main goal, however, is to render ourselves unnecessary, thanks to the complete disappearance of the problems experienced today by prisoners and their families. When they have stopped putting innocent people in prison and finally started rehabilitating prisoners, we will board up our headquarters, pack up our bags, retrain as museum workers and teach schoolchildren about the horrors of the accursed past. 

Translated by Joanne Reynolds and Simon Cosgrove 

We are delighted you have been reading Rights in Russia. As a non-for-profit organization that does not carry advertising, we rely on our readers and well-wishers to support our work. If you share our belief in the importance of our mission, in the need to publicize the human rights situation in Russia, please consider making a donation to help keep 
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Zoya Svetova: Time for the Brave [Radio Svoboda]

posted 28 Jun 2017, 09:23 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Jun 2017, 10:49 ]

20 June 2017

By Zoya Svetova, a journalist and human-rights defender, whose human rights work has been recognised by a prize awarded by the Moscow Helsinki Group

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

In Bonn on 12 June, the Boris Nemtsov Foundation presented its award "For Bravery" for the second time. This time it was awarded to Ildar Dadin [for background, see here]. It is probably not necessary to explain why Dadin has this year been deemed worthy of such a prize. The story of Dadin’s "miraculous" liberation has been recounted many times, and there is no need to repeat it again. Even so, it seems that his story, more than any other, exemplifies the clash between the delusional nature of the charges brought against him, the inhumanity of the "correctional" system, the bravery of a man caught in the grip of the authorities, the strength and solidarity of the friends and relations who publicised his case, and the force of political expediency. Let us admit it that someone in power required as a matter of urgency that the Constitutional Court annuled the article of the law under which Dadin was sentenced to prison, and the Supreme Court to free him. None of this would have happened, however, had it not been for Ildar himself, with his desperate and utterly reckless courage.

Boris Nemtsov's daughter Zhanna, founder of the Nemtsov Foundation, explained why the prize is so named in the following words: "My father was a brave man, no one will can deny that." It is now clear how appropriate the name is. Especially since this year’s anti-corruption rallies of 26 March and 12 June it’s become clear that the tasks we face involve more than overcoming the fear that we all feel when we join a street protest, even one that has supposedly been sanctioned by the authorities. Now what is required is a deliberate act, an act of bravery. Do you remember how, at the very first rallies on Pushkin Square, before 2011, when just a few hundred people would gather, one of the speakers would always say, “Do not be afraid!" “There is nothing to fear!" It was like being hypnotised: We somehow convinced ourselves that we were not afraid, even though the situation was frightening.

The hypnosis worked. Protest demonstrations were held in 2011 and 2012, and politics seemed to be making a comeback. Hope re-appeared and for a while fear was reduced. But then came the brutal repression of the Bolotnaya movement, prosecutions, custody, prison sentences, mass emigration and the sense that the new stagnation was here to stay. The protests on 26 March 2017 showed that we are on the threshold of something new, frightening and yet at the same time inspiring hope. I was not in Moscow on 12 June, and I could not go to Tverskaya. But thanks to the videos, eyewitness-reports and text messages, I can imagine what happened there. What impressed me most were the dozens of young people chanting, "We here are power! We here are power!" You could see in their eyes the same desperate bravery that Boris Nemtsov showed when he climbed onto the stage at the protests on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue in 2011 and 2012, the same confidence that his cause was just, and the same fearlessness that now is shown by Aleksei Navalny.

These are young people who five years ago could not take part in protest rallies because they were too young, age, who had heard almost nothing about the protest movement. So why are they now chanting the same slogans? Why are they not afraid of anything? Because they do not know what prison is? Or because they believe that they have the right to walk round their city and shout anti-government slogans, as people in all democratic countries do? At school they are told that Russia is a democracy. So why are they met with truncheons, why are they beaten and dragged into police vans, why are charges drawn up against them and why are they accused of offences they did not commit? The authorities intimidate, threaten, beat and punish then. And yet they are not afraid.

It’s also repulsive that the authorities discredit themselves with lies. The police write up false reports, pulling pedestrians out of the crowd, and then they write that these people were shouting “Putin is a thief!” The cruelty of the police towards citizens who are out peacefully walking around is a crime that demands punishment. I’m surprised by activists from the Human Rights Council, who stated again: the police acted correctly. Did these people out on Tverskaya with Russian flags really pose a threat? Were they smashing storefronts? Did they disturb public order?

Yes, I’ve heard of the criminal case against the young man who supposedly sprayed a member of the National Guard with pepper spray. But the other 999 prisoners? What did they do? Here is the testimony of a person arrested on Tverskaya, posted on the site OVD Info: “I wrote a declaration in which I said that I did not take part in the protest. The declaration exists. I was just in the crowd. When I asked the youth liaison officer if I could refuse to give further explanations, I didn’t hear an answer. The interview took place in the presence of my mother. There were nine people in the room: four minors, one policeman, and parents. My parents wrote a note of receipt, or whatever that is called. This note was taken away to the juvenile affairs commission. After a month they will speak with my mom and decide if I’ll be placed under a regular reporting system or not. The police said that I shouldn’t do this anymore, that it will affect my future, but I believe that all of this is nonsense and they are just intimidating us.”

Take note of the phrase “I believe that all of this is nonsense and they are just intimidating us.” The teenager does not understand why the fact that he went out for a walk on a public holiday along the main street in the country’s capital city could “affect his future.” He probably wouldn’t understand me either if I were to say to him that going out on Tverskaya on June 12, 2017, was a bold move, like it was for many of those who stood in front of Eliseevsky store and chanted, “Russia will be free!”

Their time to go out on the square has now come. So that’s what they did. The majority of them saw for the first time, probably, those who are almost their peers, wearing camouflage uniforms and sweaty helmets, ready to launch themselves at the first command at people walking by, to drag them into police vans. The wanton cruelty probably scared some, and next time around those people won’t even go near the square. But there will be others, simply because the fight against injustice can’t be driven inside.

It’s the time for brave people. Who awoke them - Putin or Navalny? Or both at once? This isn’t the main point; we’re just confronting a new reality. And the authorities have to take this reality into consideration. The Bolotnaya case scenario isn’t going to work anymore. Then, it was a matter of several dozen demonstrators being arrested, trials held, sentences handed out, and that’s that, no one else is going to go out on the square. But as it turns out, people still go out. They’re not afraid.

Fifteen-year-old Maksim Losev from Bryansk made it to the last five finalists for the Boris Nemtsov Foundation’s Award. He was taken out of class and brought to the police for re-posting information about the March 26 protests on his Vkontakte page. The young child was unable to go to Bonn for the award ceremony, but he sent a video message. Maksim says he does not regret his actions and he is not afraid: the authorities, he believes, are capable of intimidating, but nothing more. Maksim is certain that “within a year or two everything will change.”

Thanks to Elizabeth Teague for assistance with this translation

We are delighted you have been reading Rights in Russia. As a non-for-profit organization that does not carry advertising, we rely on our readers and well-wishers to support our work. If you share our belief in the importance of our mission, in the need to publicize the human rights situation in Russia, please consider making a donation to help keep 
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Igor Kochetkov: Human rights through the prism of the LGBT movement [Cogita]

posted 27 Jun 2017, 06:52 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 27 Jun 2017, 07:49 ]

15 June 2017

By Igor Kochetkov, PhD, a human rights activist, director of the Sphere Foundation for Social and Legal Aid, board member of the Russian LGBT Network, member of the Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Cogita]

When the media started to pay attention to the mass kidnappings, torture, and murder of gays in Chechnya, one well-known human rights activist, an expert on the Caucasus and on Chechnya in particular, said that he did not understand why so much attention was being paid to gays. After all, in Chechnya everyone was being murdered. We, understandably, may react emotionally to such a statement. But it’s worth thinking about it.

After all the same could be said about the Holocaust. Why focus on the Jews? Questions of this kind are voiced. Why should so much attention be paid to the torture and mass murder of Jews? After all, everyone suffered. All the Germans were victims of Nazism, and the Jews were not the first to be sent to concentration camps. The first were the dissenters and, incidentally, also the homosexuals.

I realized that we, including activists, researchers, and publicists often have no convincing answer to such a question. And, truly, why, since the time of World War II has the theme of equal rights for the LGBT community had greater resonance in the international human rights movement than anything else?

We cannot answer that question if we approach it in the traditional way, comparing the history of the LGBT movement with that of other social movements. Usually, when we are thinking of the LGBT movement we start by making comparisons with the movement for equal rights for Afro-Americans in the mid- and second-half of the last century, and the movement of equal rights for women, beginning with the suffragettes and continuing. Here, it seems to me, we fall into a very deep trap. Because these are absolutely different movements. My thesis rests on the argument that it is much more appropriate to compare the LGBT movement with the holocaust or with the Soviet dissident movement than with those of Afro-Americans or women. They were based on the existence of a particular identity, race or gender, and on the recognition that people with that identity did not have equal rights with the majority. Theirs was a movement for equal civil rights.

It’s a little different as regards the LGBT movement because it’s a movement for sexual self-expression. It’s not seeking the freedom that all the others have. The vaunted heterosexual majority also does not have the freedom of sexual self-expression, it too is subject to limitations, sufficiently restrictive ones.

Homosexuals are always the ones who shouldn't exist. It was the same for the Jews during the Second World War. They were the ones who shouldn't have existed. In the minds of the majority, they didn't serve any kind of useful function in society. It was a very particular situation, and this concept of situation reveals itself here. I think that when we talk about homosexuality and sexuality in general, it would be more appropriate to apply this concept of situation, rather than the concept of identity. Identity is someone categorising himself or categorising me as belonging to a certain tradition, a certain history, to ancestors, to certain norms, a certain culture and so on. I think Hannah Arendt put it very well when she said that Auschwitz cannot be explained by either German or Jewish history. It was not a social phenomenon, but an existential one.

So the concept of identity does not work here, but the concept of situation does. Following Jaspers, we can take situation to mean a clash between the subject and his intentions and objective reality. A situation comes into being when this clash generates a certain resistance. And in this particular case it is possible to talk about the situation of Jewry or of homosexuals, which have defined the role of both the Holocaust and the LGBT movement in the modern world. What kind of “situation” is this? Here we can talk about a category of situation called a limiting situation. These are situations that force us to fight, to resist, to survive or to die. Or to take the blame for something, to take sole responsibility.

The difference that unites Jews of the 20th century and LGBT people today is that they are people who create themselves. The Jews created a state that had actually never existed before. Even the legendary, mythical state of Israel that we know from the Old Testament has little in common with modern Israel, to put it mildly. It is the same with LGBT people. Homosexuals are philosophers because they have to invent themselves every day. They also have to prove that they exist, because only gays and lesbians are ever asked: "Are you sure that you're gay or a lesbian?" They also need to prove it, to construct themselves completely. They need to identify themselves as people. And there are no examples for them to follow. This is why I have included the concept of 'human rights' in the title of my paper, because this is exactly what human rights are about. It is an attempt to create a normative framework for those people who are choosing a real human existence, for those people who want to create themselves.

The vaunted majority can only offer gays kinds of assimilation, but this does not protect their identity. And this explains the uniqueness of the LGBT movement. In fact, the success of the LGBT movement is that it represents a movement of individuals whose common cause is trying, first and foremost, to save their own lives.

In the West there was the history of AIDS: "the gay plague" as it was then called. But that was their story. It is clear that LGBT history has a certain kind of mythology. For example, Stonewall, Harvey Milk and so on. But if we look at it critically, as it seems to me, as we will see, that, in fact, it has proved quite fruitless to attempt to follow in their footsteps. Stonewall and all the movements that we saw emerge in the 1960s were in imitation of the US black and the women’s movements. Striving to struggle for some kind of civil rights has led absolutely nowhere.

When HIV arrived on the scene, it became clear that this did not lead to anything at all. Because the American government said: "You are dying? Well, die then, you don't have any rights, not even the right to life". And then individuals came together in this struggle for their very survival. They united not because they were gay, they came together because they wanted to live. They wanted to live, while preserving their identity. It was their position of principle, that we are not prepared to live at any price. And it was also the emergence of a movement, and it was a movement for the survival of their otherness, not for their integration into society.

Today we can see both in the post-Soviet space and in other non-Western parts of the world that something similar is happening. The same thing is happening, but not because of HIV since HIV was the story of American gays. Now HIV is no longer terrifying as people don’t die of it any more. But now when we see what happens in Chechnya, for example, we realize what could happen to us.

But what’s to stop it? And then the individual people who are part of the community understand that the issue is about choosing between death and preserving their own identity, individuality, that they can only survive by retaining their individual identity. This is not the same as the struggle for civil rights. It is a struggle for universal human rights, the fight for the right to be oneself, to be a true human, someone who determines one’s own identity.

On 18 May 2017 at the seminar "The right to gender" Igor Kochetkov read a paper "Human rights philosophy through the prism of the LGBT movement". This summary of the paper has been prepared by Andrei Tiukhtyaev

Translated by Graham Jones, Mary McAuley and Nicky Brown

We are delighted you have been reading Rights in Russia. As a non-for-profit organization that does not carry advertising, we rely on our readers and well-wishers to support our work. If you share our belief in the importance of our mission, in the need to publicize the human rights situation in Russia, please consider making a donation to help keep Rights in Russia alive. To donate, see HERE

Ilya Novikov on what you should do if you are detained at a demonstration [Ekho Moskvy]

posted 26 Jun 2017, 07:51 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Jun 2017, 14:31 ]

12 June 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy

Photo of Ilya Novikov: Moscow Helsinki Group

O. Bychkova: We’re now going to talk to the lawyer Ilya Novikov about how to stay safe if you attend a protest, or if you decide to stroll along Tverskaya Street with the intention of taking part in an event organised by Aleksey Navalny – who did indeed refer to it as a pleasant stroll – rather than to visit the re-enactments of historical scenes, for example. Good morning, Ilya!

I. Novikov: Good morning!

O. Bychkova: ― We’d like to know more about how to behave and what to do in order to avoid getting into hot water if trouble breaks out, which after all often happens in the quietest and most peaceful of places.

I. Novikov: I’m going to start off by saying that there’s no guaranteed formula for success, because the one thing we learned from the events of 26 March is that the police were working to some kind of targets, and were aiming to detain somewhere in the region of 1,000 people. They detained the appropriate number of people, and the way they did this made it clear that they weren’t particularly bothered whether each individual had done something to make him or her stand out from the crowd. There were noticeably more young men detained than middle-aged men or women and school-aged children, but that’s a general trend rather than a hard-and-fast rule.

Now we come to a vital point for anyone who is detained – which article of the Administrative Code they have been detained under and which procedure is followed as a result. In all likelihood they will use Article 20.2, which relates to infringements of the rules on the organisation of public events, or Article 19.3 which covers failure to follow lawful demands by police officers.

A. Naryshkin: Infringements under Article 20.2 are generally given large fines, is that correct?

I. Novikov: Yes – although each case is different in terms of sentencing and the possibility of jail, as a general rule detentions under Article 19.3 end in jail terms and those under Article 20.2 lead to a fine of 10,000 roubles or more.

There is something else we should remember, however. Fines are unpleasant and a fortnight in jail is even more so, but they’re not going to kill anyone. Yet the Investigative Committee has also been busy in the aftermath of 26 March – criminal cases have already been opened against seven people who have been detained or arrested…

A. Naryshkin: And two have already been sent to prison.

I. Novikov:  Yes, they’ve already succeeded in handing down two sentences because the individuals in question agreed to the special simplified procedure.

O. Bychkova: Were these people who were picked up the second time round, so to speak?

I. Novikov: Yes. From what we can see, the procedure they follow does not depend in the slightest on whether action has already been taken under administrative law. Some of the individuals in question were detained immediately on the spot and were handed straight over to the criminal investigation team, but many of those who returned home and who perhaps paid a fine or perhaps had no punishments imposed by the police at all, after a week or two or three weeks or a month were arrested on the basis of old video recordings of the events which apparently indicated that they had beaten up police officers.

The most important thing is therefore not to avoid getting into trouble in any way at all, because anyone who goes for a simple stroll in Russia – and not just Navalny – may find that happening to them.

What is most important is to avoid having a criminal case opened against you, and there’s a very simple way to prevent this – if the police take you by the arm, act like a corpse and do not put up any resistance either verbally or physically, because if you try to escape their clutches you are entering a lottery which may land you with three or four years in prison.

O. Bychkova: And this lottery isn't usually in our favour.

I. Novikov: Not for everyone. But even if you are unlucky and you have pressure put on you, the only advice a lawyer can give is: don't sign anything or make any statements until your own lawyer has arrived, someone who has been invited to come by your family or friends…

O. Bychkova: Article 51 of the Russian constitution [the right to keep silent].

I. Novikov: That's not exactly it. Article 51 concerns relatives, in fact. But a defendant or suspect can refuse to make a statement without explaining why. You can simply refuse to speak and that's that.

A. Naryshkin: You're listening to the lawyer Ilya Novikov on Ekho Moskvy.

Let's imagine you're already in a police van and you're taken to the police station. What rights does a detainee have? At what stage can you ask to make a phone call or at what stage can you refuse to comply if some of your personal effects are being confiscated? What's the right way to behave?

I. Novikov: As I've already said, it's better not to resist, because that could be written up afterwards as a criminal offence. That doesn't often happen, but it does happen sometimes. You can use your phone, if only because phones aren't confiscated from people who are being detained for administrative offences. As long as the battery in your phone is not dead – and incidentally, this is a reason to check that your phone is fully charged before you go anywhere – you are able to photograph any documents which you are issued. Because there's very often an error in the initial report, and then it's quietly replaced with another report.

O. Bychkova: There's been more than one case like that.

I. Novikov: Yes, that has happened, and on a large scale. As soon as you are given a sheet of paper, take a photo of it. You won't be able to take a photo of police officers openly, but sometimes people manage to photograph them surreptitiously… I never suggest that people do that, but when that happens it does give the lawyer who is going to deal with your case, whether for an administrative or criminal offence, some interesting new material, because a photo of police officers is a treasure trove. When you can see in the video that a certain person is carrying out the detention, and then the report says that it was another person who looks nothing like the first…

O. Bychkova: But it should be the same police officer.

I. Novikov: Yes, it should be the same one. If you do end up in a police van, one thing that's essential is taking the opportunity to get to know the interesting people who are in the van with you …

A. Naryshkin: Future witnesses, I suppose.

I. Novikov: Yes, so don't ignore each other, take each other's phone numbers, set up a Telegram channel which…

A. Naryshkin: … will come in handy.

I. Novikov: Don't lose sight of each other.

A. Naryshkin: Who's the first person you should phone if you're detained?

I. Novikov: Your relatives, definitely.

O. Bychkova: While you're still in the police van.

I. Novikov: Who else is going to help you out?

O. Bychkova:  Phone your relatives from the police van, someone who is going to be able to work out quickly what to do and who to phone.

I. Novikov: Yes. There are various phone numbers – OVD-Info and other organisations. But usually there is someone experienced in the van with you, someone who knows their number, and everyone should ring their own relatives, of course.

O. Bychkova: Yes, they will already sort things out themselves once they are out of the police van, once they are no longer being detained. It will of course be easier for them to do that.

Ilya, many people are writing in to say that Navalny is inviting his supporters to take part in coordinated activities on Tverskaya Street today, for example. Or perhaps all it boils down to is that there’s going to be a walk along Tverskaya. All kinds of public celebrations and events are due to take place there today. So, what’s your take on all of this? There’s always some kind of dispute happening between us and Aleksei, and among our listeners.

I. Novikov: As a lawyer, I don’t have an opinion since, as I said at the very start, I see that people who are out for a walk are being detained without so much as a second thought, and they write in their official reports that they were holding up placards, chanting, and so on. And if the question is about how any kind of trouble can be avoided, then I have no useful advice to give.

From a purely technical standpoint, if there is already some kind of action agreed with the authorities going on somewhere, then as a rule, initially the police will have been given orders not to carry out a wave of mass arrests but rather to ensure some sort of decent order. And in that sense, of course, it’s likely that there will be fewer arrests on Tverskaya today than on Sakharov Prospect where Aleksei had originally planned to hold the event. It’s all an experiment, essentially, of which you will be the object, like a guinea pig, so, it’s only natural that if you feel strongly about being there, then you should go.

A. Naryshkin: One more question – probably the last. If I, for instance, am taking part in the action and I happen to witness some kind of injustice and want to protect and come to the aid of any woman, young girl or old lady who is being dragged along the ground… I want to put an end to – as I see it – this police rampage…Is it worth getting involved in the situation, to intervene to try to influence what these people in helmets are doing?

A. Novikov: Firstly, it’s likely that the more they are filmed, the less comfortable about it they’ll be. Hence, a phone can be your greatest weapon. People who physically assaulted someone – they are at the main contingent of those tried in the Bolotnaya Square cases, and in this ‘New Bolotnaya case’.

O. Bychkova: Yes, that’s true. It’s those very people, as was later established, who tore off people’s buttons and epaulets.

A. Novikov: The most non-threatening thing you can do is not take the police who are grabbing hold of someone to task, but instead hug the person they are trying to drag away and detain with both hands. This would be the least risky thing to do.

O. Bychkova: Best to either reach for the guy who isn’t a police officer, or get hold of your mobile phone and record it all.

A. Novikov: Yes, exactly.

O. Bychkova:  I see. Many thanks.

A. Naryshkin: – The lawyer Ilya Novikov has been talking on Echo Moscow, sharing his advice and ‘lifehacks’ on how to conduct oneself today - and in principle, at other public events - so as to avoid ending up in the back of a police van or then face administrative or, in the worst-case scenario, criminal proceedings.

And now we continue our discussion on this theme with you, our listeners, and other of our guests.

Translated by Nathalie Wilson and Suzanne Eade Roberts

We are delighted you have been reading Rights in Russia. As a non-for-profit organization that does not carry advertising, we rely on our readers and well-wishers to support our work. If you share our belief in the importance of our mission, in the need to publicize the human rights situation in Russia, please consider making a donation to help keep Rights in Russia alive. To donate, see HERE

Valentina Cherevatenko: We have been labelled a “foreign agent” for our peacekeeping activities [Don News]

posted 20 Jun 2017, 06:10 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Jun 2017, 08:47 ]

13 June 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Don News]

For the first time in Russia, a criminal investigation has been opened into an allegation of malicious evasion of the law on Foreign Agents under Article 330.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation [“Malicious evasion of the duty to file the documents required for inclusion in the register of NGOs performing the functions of a foreign agent" - trans.]. The case has been brought against Valentina Cherevatenko, laureate of a Moscow Helsinki Group, in her capacity as coordinator of the regional human-rights NGO, Women of the Don Union and chair of the board of the Foundation that goes under the same name [see Human Rights Watch; if found guilty, Cherevatenko faces up to two years in prison - trans.]. The charges against her have surprised not only the Russian and foreign public, but also Cherevatenko herself. Here, the human rights defender discusses the reasons behind the investigation, which has been under way for several years.

Interviewer Kseniya Yegorova: As a regional human rights NGO, Women of the Don Union has been active since 1993 and is well known both in Russia and overseas for its human rights, peacemaking and rehabilitation activities. What is the reason for the current prosecution of the organisation and of you personally?

Valentina Cherevatenko: Up until 2013, Women of the Don Union worked actively, without any serious attention being paid [by the authorities] to its activity. Then a whole number of people from different inspection agencies came to our office, and a series of checks was launched. The first did not lead to any allegations against us, but then representatives of the Prosecutor's office came for a second, and then a third time. Finally, we received a prosecutor's notice that there were signs of political activity in our work.

Kseniya Yegorova: Did you agree with this?

Valentina Cherevatenko: I did not agree. However, I am only the coordinating chairperson of the organization, so I had to convene a meeting of the organisation’s coordinating board. Members of the board also disagreed with the views of the Prosecutor's office and called an extraordinary conference of the organization, which was held on 20 July 2013. The conference considered a notice by the Novocherkassk prosecutor containing a number of assertions, such as the accusation that Women of the Don Union had, as a regional NGO, violated the law by working not only in its native Rostov region, but also in other regions and republics of Russia. The conference issued a statement in support of the decision of the Constitutional Court to permit the creation of organisations whose work would not be subject to geographical restrictions. That is why we set up the Women of the Don Foundation for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights. As for political activity, the conference did not agree with the opinion of the Prosecutor and considered the allegations to be unfounded.

Kseniya Yegorova: The decision to launch a criminal case against you states that you “registered the Foundation because you were acting out of criminal intent to evade observing the Law on Foreign Agents.”

Valentina Cherevatenko: I had no malicious intentions either when setting up the Foundation nor when managing its activities. And the decision to establish the Foundation was, as I have already said, not made by me, it was a collective decision. On the contrary, the Foundation was created in order not to violate the law. Women of the Don continued to work in Rostov region, while the Foundation worked outside the region. Our aims and objectives overlap, because we did not plan to engage in other kinds of activity. And we kept the name Women of the Don because it is a name that we have earned honestly, it is our reputation.

Kseniya Yegorova: In 2014, the Justice Ministry included Women of the Don on the register of foreign agents. Why did you not agree with this classification?

Valentina Cherevatenko: We do not engage in political activity. The law on Foreign Agents has two components—foreign finance and political activity. But in reality, it turns out that, if there is foreign financing, then it doesn't matter what you do. Whether you pick up litter, help the poor, or work with people infected with HIV, it will all be recognised as political activity and you will be included in the register of foreign agents. Just look at the register, and you will see which organisations are included there. 

Kseniya Yegorova: Has the Union now been removed from the register of foreign agents?

Valentina Cherevatenko: On the basis of our statement the Women of the Don Union was taken off the register of “foreign agents,” since we haven’t had foreign financing for a long time and do not now. We consider as unacceptable the very fact that it used to be on the list. Therefore, we have begun to prove our case in the courts and have exhausted all national legal mechanisms. Today the case is before the European Court of Human Rights. When the label “foreign agent” is hung on an organization, in the first place, practically all doors to domestic cooperation are closed. Secondly, the very word “agent” carries certain connotations in our conditions, and that influences our work. That’s why we will continue to defend ourselves.

Kseniya Yegorova: And how did the Women of the Don Foundation for Civil Society Development get on the register?

Valentina Cherevatenko: After the Union was removed from the register, they began an inspection of the Women of the Don Foundation. At that moment, the Foundation was involved in a brief project with the support of the German Heinrich Böll Foundation. Part of the role of the Foundation was to run a competition among micro-projects. The Foundation ran the competition. As a result, the Foundation supported five micro-projects of women’s organizations or of organizations dealing with the issue of women’s rights in the North Caucasus. I emphasize that the Women of the Don Foundation didn’t implement the projects, but only supported them. It would never have entered our minds that a project of the type “Happiness must be built” (sociological research on courting traditions in Chechen society) or the project “Culture of international communication for senior high school students” would turn out to be political activity. But the Ministry of Justice, after examining the project, regarded it as political activity and entered the Foundation into the registry of foreign agents. But we could not and cannot agree with such an approach, we are engaged in activities that are useful to society and do not consent to the entering of the Foundation into that register. We are taking our defence all the way, and now it’s before the European Court of Human Rights.

Kseniya Yegorova: Why did all this take the form of a criminal prosecution?

Valentina Cherevatenko: In 2016 a statement by an FSB officer turned up at the Investigative Committee, and on that basis a criminal case was initiated on the failure to comply with the foreign agent law. The investigation proceeded through the year. I was interrogated, as were other members of the Union, and also members of the Foundation’s board and members of our advisory council. And on 2 June 2017 I was informed of the “decision to designate [me] as a defendant” under Article 330.1. There is no case law under that Article. Indeed, after the Justice Ministry was itself given the power to enter nonprofits into the registry, the Article lost its legal meaning, it should have been removed from the Criminal Code. But it was kept there. Now it is a form of intimidation: if I am pronounced guilty, then for other organizations that refuse to be placed in the registry it will mean that similar criminal cases can be initiated against them. Additionally, I am convinced that the case itself, and the Article that was used to prosecute me, is only the tip of the iceberg. The real reason is something else, most probably it is the peacemaking work in which my organization is engaged. I personally, and all of us, are against war, any war, against any justification for armed actions and aggressions. We are for peace and solving all issues and problems by peaceful means.

Kseniya Yegorova: What kind of "peacekeeping activity" are we talking about here exactly? What did you and your organization do to cross various entities?

Valentina Cherevatenko: It's a pretty strange situation. You would think that "peacekeeping activity", directed towards achieving reconciliation, peace and consent, ought to be socially approved of. But in reality it's not like that. As a rule, on both sides of a conflict there are people who belong to the war party - and in that case, and this is always the situation, things are awkward for those who are set on peace. This kind of situation with peacekeeping reminds me of the film "At home amongst strangers".

Kseniya Yegorova: Again, there's nothing specific in your answer.

Valentina Cherevatenko: That's all that I can say at this stage. Every word I say on air is being monitored and will end up on my file - so don't force me to talk about that.

Kseniya Yegorova: In connection with the criminal prosecution, are you not planning to halt the activity of Women of the Don, or flee the country?

Valentina Cherevatenko: Our mission is the defence of human rights and we will not give up on that under any circumstances. I'm grateful to my team, the townspeople, the inhabitants of Rostov region, many journalists and activists who have supported us and remember us. Women of the Don will continue its work in spite of everything. And I'll answer straightaway that I'm not planning on going anywhere. This is our country, and we want people to live here with innate dignity and with human rights. For the sake of that, we're prepared to live even with things like criminal prosecutions, but not to reconcile ourselves to them. We will argue our case, stand our ground until the last, and fight this absurd charge.

Kseniya Yegorova: The article of the Criminal Code under which you're being charged provides for a maximum sentence of two years in prison. Are you prepared to go to prison?

Valentina Cherevatenko: Your question about my readiness to go to prison is not only impolite, but also unusual. I can only repeat that I will fight to the last by all legal means, including proving my innocence in all domestic courts, and if necessary going to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Federal Law "On the introduction of changes to separate legislative acts of the Russian Federation with regard to the regulation of the activity of non-profit organizations, performing the role of a foreign agent" was signed into force by the President on the 20th July 2012. The federal law was aimed at regulating the activity of non-profit organizations which receive funding or other goods from foreign sources and which take part in political activity.

The law specifies that "political activity" does not include activity in the fields of science, culture, art, health - prevention and healthcare of citizens, social support and the protection of citizens, maternity care and childhood care, social support for the disabled, encouraging a healthy lifestyle, physical culture and sport, protection of the vegetable and animal world, charitable activity, and also activity in the realm of charitable and voluntary support work.

On the 4th June 2014 the President of the Russian Federation signed a law which gives the Ministry of Justice itself the right to include non-profit organizations in the list of "foreign agents". In the same law it was provided for that the decision on the inclusion of NGOs in the list of "foreign agents" can be appealed in court.

Translated by Elizabeth Teague, Mark Nuckols and Will Dudley

We are delighted you have been reading Rights in Russia. As a non-for-profit organization that does not carry advertising, we rely on our readers and well-wishers to support our work. If you share our belief in the importance of our mission, in the need to publicize the human rights situation in Russia, please consider making a donation to help keep Rights in Russia alive. To donate, see HERE

Karinna Moskalenko: Aleksei Pichugin’s Sentence Has Zero Legitimacy

posted 12 Jun 2017, 06:52 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Jun 2017, 06:56 ]

6 June 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Оpen Russia]

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has upheld Aleksei Pichugin’s application. The former employee of the Yukos security service filed a complaint with the ECtHR regarding a violation of his right to a fair trial. Lawyer Karinna Moskalenko, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a founder of the International Protection Centre, talked about the Strasbourg court’s decision and about the prospects for its implementation by Russia.

What are the key points the European Court has looked at in its decision?

The European Court’s decision is fairly brief, and there’s an explanation for this. The Court analyzed violations of the most fundamental rights and indicated that there was no need to analyze the rest. The same thing happened with the first case, where they uncovered the one paramount violation, which devalued the entire legal procedure.

Does the decision require that Russia revisit the sentence against Pichugin?

Usually, the Russian authorities refuse to revisit a case when articles of the European Convention have been violated other than Article 6 — the right to a fair trial. But in instances when a violation of that article of the European Convention has been declared, there is a general opinion that a new trial needs to be held. The Russian UPK [Criminal Procedure Code] says quite categorically in Articles 413 and 415 that given a declaration of a violation of the right of a person convicted to a fair trial, he has the right to a review of the case under new circumstances. In the Pichugin case, violations were declared of paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 of Article 6. Even if a violation had been declared of only one paragraph of Article 6, he would without question have the right to a review of the case. But we have not had a very positive practice when it comes to this defendant, who has now for a second time been deemed a victim of a violation and an unfair trial. The first time, the Supreme Court committed a strange and inexplicable act: they agreed that the hearing on the case had to be renewed. The very same Supreme Court plenum so resolved, itself did the examining, and itself made the decision as the court of original jurisdiction. But if this is the court of original jurisdiction, then where is the direct investigation of the evidence? Where are the interrogations? Where is the investigation of case materials?

I think the authorities have badly politicized this case, and they are looking for any possible means not to restore Pichugin’s violated rights via a correct or legal path, knowing the attitude of the top echelons of power toward this particular Russian citizen.

What is the likelihood the sentence will be reconsidered?

If we’re talking about Articles 413 and 415 of the UPK, then the likelihood the case will be reconsidered is one hundred percent. If we're talking about how the Russian authorities sometimes behave, then here I wouldn’t even try to estimate the likelihood because this is a political question. If we examine the purely legal question, of course, the sentence should be vacated, and the case should get a new review that ensures the protection of all the rights guaranteed both by national law and by international standards, including the criteria of the ECtHR.

Notice that the ECtHR is not addressing the topic of his sentence, his conviction; it is studying whether there was opportunity to defend Pichugin in the trial. Lawyer Ksenia Kostromina argued this question brilliantly, demonstrating these violations, when the defence was denied access to justice under the same terms the prosecution had. I support Ksenia Kostromina’s position on this matter. She was able to prove this, and it was based on this evidence that the ECtHR issued its decision.

In a rule-of-law state, judges implement the laws of their state, Constitution, and UPK and the decisions of the ECtHR. When it ratified the convention, Russia recognized a binding obligation to implement the European Court’s decisions. This is recognized by all the states that recognize the European Court’s jurisdiction, virtually all the European countries, with the exception of Belarus, which is not a member of the Council of Europe.

What does failure to implement the ECtHR decision mean for Russia?

There is a special body that tracks implementation of European Court decisions. Since the Convention’s protocol 14 went into effect, it has kept careful track of cases and has urged countries to implement ECtHR decisions. How can it compel? By all kinds of moral influence—diplomatically or by extreme measures — by passing a resolution on the failure to implement decisions. In general, no single country has yet reached the point of such a resolution. Russia has had that possibility, that negative chance, ever since the Constitutional Court was entrusted with the obligation, utterly alien to it, of resolving issues involving failure to implement ECtHR decisions. The Constitutional Court cannot decide these questions; the Court was put in a situation that violated the Russian Constitution. This is an amazing phenomenon, when the supreme representative organ of the legislative branch and the Constitutional Court, which is the main upholder of the Constitution, jointly violate the Russian Constitution. And it is a very dangerous precedent.

People say you have to live a long time in Russia. I think all this will pass, too. There are the Constitution’s positions, and they are unshakable, and there are postulates recognized by all the member countries of the Council of Europe, and if they no longer exist, the world will become unpredictable. This is undesirable for every single country not only in the Council of Europe but in the world. Unpredictable behavior by one’s neighbors and their refusal to carry out the obligations they have taken on — these are very dangerous symptoms, and they must be immediately eliminated by the reasonable elements of our regime.

With regard to Pichugin’s fate, if he was sentenced to life imprisonment but at the same time the decision was made as a result of an unfair trial, then that sentence has zero legitimacy today. Therefore, either three months will pass and the decision of the ECtHR will become final, whereupon Russia is required to reopen the case under new circumstances, or else Russia becomes a violator of its obligations, an unpredictable member of the commonwealth of states, which are beginning to beware of their neighbor, because this neighbor that does not carry out the obligations it has taken on is dangerous. I think the Russian authorities should not let it come to that.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

Zoya Svetova: The Case of Yury Dmitriev and the Dragon from the Great Terror [Open Russia]

posted 12 Jun 2017, 03:41 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Jun 2017, 03:52 ]

1 June 2017

By Zoya Svetova

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Оpen Russia]

The trial of Yury Dmitriev, director of the branch of Memorial human rights organization in Karelia, begins on 1 June in Petroazvodsk City Court in a closed hearing. He is accused of making pornographic pictures of his adopted daughter. “Committing acts of debauchery” and “illegal possession of basic firearm parts” were later added to that charge.

Yury Dmitriev was arrested 13 December 2016. The case against him was initiated on the basis of an anonymous complaint. Dmitriev himself stated that not long before his arrest, strangers got into his flat and rummaged through his computer. Photographs of his adopted daughter in a naked state were found on his computer during the subsequent police search.

The story, “What the Memorial Society is Hiding” was broadcast on the Russia-24 TV channel on 10 January 2017. Journalist Zoya Svetova spoke with Dmitriev’s attorney and his colleagues at the International Memorial Society in Moscow.

Attorney Viktor Anufriev: “If the verdict is to comply with the law, then Yury Dmitriev should be acquitted”

How does Yury Dmitriev himself explain his criminal prosecution?

His position is unchanged. All the photographs, on which the charges are based, were part of a so-called “daily health journal”. The photographs were made in order to record the physical development of his adoptive daughter, because she had fallen behind in physical development. There isn’t a hint of what he’s accused of in those photographs. My opinion, as defence attorney, is that his actions do not constitute a crime. And why has this case emerged? It’s worth looking beyond the scope of this case for the answer.

An expert opinion on the photographs was filed as the basis of the charges [of 140 photographs, experts found signs of pornography in nine — Open Russia]. We call into question its conclusion. There is a dispute over the analysis. We requested a repeat analysis; we cited reasons why the expert opinion did not inspire our trust and is not substantiated evidence. The investigators refused our request. We challenged this denial at the Petrozavodsk City Court, but the court also refused our request. This was strange, because our request had strong legal grounds. We appealed against that court's refusal at the Supreme Court of Karelia, and on 5 June our appeal will be considered. The court of first instance that is hearing the case can also appoint its own expert evaluation, but we would like to get the decision of the Karelian Supreme Court and see how it assesses the actions of the investigators. For us, that is important.

Will many defence witnesses appear in court?

Nine Photographs, which supposedly contain elements of pornography, are being used as evidence against Yury Dmitriev; i.e. he clicked the shutter nine times on his telephone or camera, then saved the photographs to his computer, and archived them. But he didn’t touch them anymore, didn’t distribute them, didn’t print them, didn’t look at them himself. He has explained why these photographs were necessary, and these explanations are entirely reasonable and well grounded. Therefore there are no witnesses for the prosecution in this case, just as there are no full-fledged witnesses for the defence. For example, his older daughter Katerina will speak in court. Just think for yourself: what kind of witness would she make for the prosecution? So, there are no witnesses as such. And that’s why there are no witnesses for the defence who would be able to say something about the circumstances of the case. Yes, we will have witnesses for the defence. We will enter a request for their examination in court. But in principle they will be people who know him from work, from his social activism, from his work on the excavation of Soviet mass burials.

Will his adoptive daughter appear in court?

Yes, she will be examined in the presence of her legal representative. She doesn’t say anything bad about Yury Dmitriev. She wants to live with him. She writes text messages to his older daughter Ekaterina. She asks when Papa will be released, she wants to be with him. So there are no witnesses who would accuse Dmitriev of anything.

And the Child Protection Services? Surely they can corroborate that they gave Dmitriev instructions to record the child’s development in photographs?

No, they didn’t give him such instructions. There are circumstances which forced him to make those photographs.

Do you hope that the case will fall apart in court?

If the verdict is to comply with the law, it must be an acquittal. It can’t be otherwise. But unfortunately application of the law can be something different, and that's why I cannot and will not make any predictions. There are two possible outcomes: a judgment in compliance with the law, in which case Dmitriev should be acquitted; or a judgment on the basis of other circumstances that have no relation to this criminal case. In the latter case, the outcome may be quite the opposite.


Sergei Krivenko, member of the Human Rights Council, board member of the International Memorial Society, and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group: “The prosecution of Dmitriev is politically motivated.”

Yury Dmitriev is a very well-known person. He is an independent historian, the creator of Books of Remembrance, and instrumental in the finding and commemoration of Sandarmokh [one of the largest burial sites of victims of the Stalinist repressions in NorthWest Russia – Open Russia]. He located Krasny Bor, another burial site near Petrozavodsk, and many places in Karelia where people were shot. This is a man who works to preserve the historical memory of the Great Terror. And the situation is very nuanced: on the one hand, his activities are supported by the Karelian government. In 1997, when Sandarmokh was found, the region's government supported all the independent initiatives and speedily made the area accessible. In the course of the past twenty years a tradition has grown up: on August 4, the day the Great Terror began, a Day of Remembrance is marked in Sandarmokh. This tradition has carried on uninterrupted for the past 20 years, and Yury Dmitriev is one of the organisers and a leading participant in the events. On the occasion of his 60th birthday last year, the regional government presented him with a diploma and official recognition. But after 2014, in connection with well-known events [in Ukraine – ed], Yury Dmitriev’s activity in organising international days of remembrance in Sandarmokh began to irritate certain forces in Karelia and the law enforcement agencies.

He actively invited delegations from Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic States. Sandarmokh is a place of international remembrance, where people of many nationalities, many foreigners, and the flower of the Ukrainian intelligentsia were shot. It was probably the trend in Russia towards self-isolation that led some influential people to become uncomfortable with delegations from other countries coming and taking part in these events alongside the Karelian authorities.

This is most likely the only reason that led to an instruction being given, in slang terms, to “shut Yury Dmitriev up." Why do I say that? This criminal prosecution against him does not stand up to criticism. And a closer look at the indictment, and at the way things are going, shows that the charge is absolutely fantastical and groundless.

He is accused of making pornographic photographs of a naked girl – his adopted daughter – that are taken from a family album. This is a contemptible trick that kills two birds with one stone: it discredits both Memorial and Dmitriev. And it’s entirely unfounded. I’ve known Dmitriev personally for 20 years, and went on an expedition to Solovki with him and his adopted daughter. Their relationship is not unusual in any way. Social services observed this family for the eight years the girl spent living with Dmitriev, and there were no instances of assault or any other kind of incident. The girl gave good testimony during about Dmitriev during the investigation, and Dmitriev himself pleaded not guilty. When there is no basis for the charges, you can see how they tried to build the case against him: at first they tried to find evidence that he had been distributing pornography.

No evidence was found that these photographs had ever been shared either online or via file transfer; they were kept on Dmitriev’s home computer. His only aim in photographing his adopted daughter was to monitor her health: when he took her from the children’s home she was suffering from dystrophy. None of the photographs used to incriminate him featured unusual objects or strangers. They were purely for the purpose of monitoring her health. This fits with Dmitriev’s character. He unearths burial sites, ranges across Karelia, and he is “fixated” on the idea of recording things, he records everything: the bones he finds at burial sites, all the remains. And so he easily took to the idea that he should record this girl’s health. And so the 140 photographs found on his computer are mostly taken face-on, in profile, from the side and from the back.

The girl stands before the camera, and he takes photos of her from various different angles and in various years of her life. Last year, after she had recovered her strength, there was no longer any need for recording and he stopped taking these photos. As far as I remember, the last photo dates from 2015.

From my point of view, this is a completely contrived prosecution, with a political motive.

There is his interview and the testimony of his friends and colleagues to show that during the last year before his arrest he felt that he was the object of particular attention - he was the object of some kind of surveillance, and there were weird phone calls. And this all got worse in the last few months, when the discussion about executioners and victims began. Especially after they declared Memorial a foreign agent NGO. Most likely, all these circumstances untied the hands of certain groups of people who thought: now that it's permitted to persecute and discredit Memorial on a federal level, we'll go and do it on a local level as well.

Members of the Presidential Council on Human Rights came to Karelia, we went to the child protection services, to the prosecutor's office. We'll follow the course of the trial through our lawyer. We'll follow this matter as it develops, and give our own evaluations.

Right now one of the basic features of the case that further shows how the matter was "made to order" is that the investigator never gave permission for an independent review to be conducted. The Centre which conducted the review is currently facing, an enormous number of questions. It was this same Centre which provided the evaluation in the Jehovah’s Witnesses case, in the case of Pussy Riot. In fact, they have carried out reviews in many political trials.

In order to strengthen the prosecution, the investigators brought forward a further two counts: "depraved activity", which consisted of "Dmitriev being aroused during the photographing of a child" and, as an appendage, "illegal possession of weapons".

At his home he kept an old popgun, which is not a weapon, with a drilled-through barrel. Dmitriev either found it somewhere, or took it from the boys who used to play with it. Upon his arrest the popgun was handed over to the inquiry, which determined that it was not a firearm. Nevertheless, the investigators left this charge in place. I think that it will fall away in court if the judge shows objectivity, but the charge on the other counts will remain. Basically, it is games of this kind being played by the investigation that demonstrate how the case is "made to order".


Aleksandr Daniel, International Memorial Society: "Dmitriev dug up those graves, and a dragon from the Great Terror crawled out and devoured him"

Over the years of his work Yury Dmitriev became not only a splendid field researcher. He also became unique and unsurpassed as a kind of harvester of archives. This led to entirely unique results: You know that phrase that everyone always quotes, that line of Akhmatov - "I'd like to call you all by name", well - he alone actually did it! Dmitriev gave the St Petersburg Memorial a database of archive materials he had compiled for one of our projects, a virtual tour of Sandarmokh - and we used only a fragment of this database for the project. So you see, he turned Akhmatov's poetic metaphor into a precise characterisation of the outcome of his research. Here were 13,411 individuals condemned during the time of the Great Terror. Here were their family names, their patronymics, the years of their birth, their place of residence, professions, place of work, occupations, the date of their arrests and their they all were. All this biographical data, each person by name. And if you want, you can find out exactly the same about the 8,338 people condemned by the Karelian “Troika” [a three-person tribunal that ruled in the cases]; you can find out about the 2,091 people condemned by the Moscow “Dvoika” [a two-person tribunal that ruled in the cases], through Karelian records. If you want, you can find out about the 1,828 of those condemned by the "Dvoika" who were shot?

I spent two absolutely remarkable months last summer going through the whole of this database. I examined it from every angle and could not tear myself away. There is no other Russian region where the Great Terror has been studied to such an extent, right down to the very last person. We all know a lot about the Great Terror at the national level – there are databases of orders, memoranda, decrees – but we know virtually nothing at the regional level. All we have are encrypted telegrams between the regions and the Lubyanka. And even then not all the telegrams, just a select few. These encrypted telegrams mostly contain statistics rather than specific names. There are no people, just numbers. Only in Karelia do we have everything at the level of individual people, and that is all thanks to Dmitriev. The database shows how these orders and decrees from Moscow were put into effect in Karelia, in the BelBaltLag (the White Sea–Baltic Camp). Everything can be traced day by day, month by month. The database could be used to create a new branch of historical knowledge, a sociology of the Great Terror. Without mincing words, what Dmitriev has managed to do is a monumental feat of research.

He is a terribly, monstrously ‘inconvenient’ person who has no respect for rank. We are all rather afraid of our superiors, even if just a little, but he is afraid of nothing. He is as fearless as a fox terrier and can step on people’s toes and get in their way. It was he who drove the human rights work in Karelia.

Of course, I didn’t believe for a second that there was anything bad in those photographs they charged him with, but I was initially afraid that other people who don’t know Yury might believe it. That danger has passed now though, thank goodness, and it passed thanks to the overzealousness of the investigators. The charges immediately began to multiply. Suddenly he was not just being charged with pornography but also ‘lewd acts’, that is the photographs themselves were found to be ‘lewd acts’. This was still not enough, however, so he was then charged with possessing a rusty old gun. The moment I found out about the rusty gun, I started to relax. Now no one will believe a single word of the charges. Everyone in Russia knows that when the accusations are being piled up, it means the investigators haven’t been able to sew a case together. That’s why they’re running around like headless chickens.

Unfortunately, however, this does not mean that Dmitriev will be acquitted, because it has also made clear that there is considerable interest in convicting him, whatever the initial reasons, to shut him up. But now they are all terribly interested in convicting him to defend the honour of their department. For this reason, I am not very optimistic.

But then I know Yury and the most important thing for him is what his friends and regular people think of him. There is not a single normal person now who will believe a word of the charges against him.

Shura Burtin made a very good observation in his article. He said we can look at the case against Dmitriev not so much in terms of a handful of simple reasons. We need to have certain 'mystical' reasons in mind. Dmitriev dug up all those graves of the victims of the Great Terror, and a dragon crawled out of them and devoured him. A dragon from the Great Terror. Even the charges are typical of the years of the Great Terror – how many people were charged in 1937 and 1938 with possessing guns! A huge number.

I remember my grandmother, Alla Grigorievna, once told me about how she was found to be in possession of a ‘Monte Cristo’ air gun and they accused her of wanting to use the gun to shoot Comrade Stalin. It wasn’t even a gun, just the barrel – the breechblock and stock were missing. I should say that at that time, the investigator eventually cleared my grandmother of this charge, replacing it with the more straightforward charge of “Anti-Soviet agitation”. These days, however, the investigators seem to be of a standard lower than those of 1937. 

Letter sent by Yury Dmitriev from his detention centre

Anna Yarovaya was one of the first journalists to report in depth on the case brought against Yury Dmitriev; her article appeared on the website 7×7. It concludes with a letter sent to her by Dmitriev from the detention centre (SIZO) in Petrozavodsk, where he is being held, and reads in part:

Dear Anna

Thank you for your warm words of support!

I had no idea that such a banal event as the arrest of a “Khottabych” [a reference to a genie who figures in several films based on a children’s story - trans.would attract so much public attention. [For me], the reaction of ordinary people to the destruction of my family is very important. The family is crucial: it shapes the personailty and prompts the individual to action. Any encroachment by the state on the family provokes indignation among normal people. The enormity and presumptuousness of the accusations that have been made against me only underline the “humanity” of our current government. 

I do not fear the future. The worst thing that could happen has already happened: [our adopted daughter] Sveta [not her real name – AY] has been taken away from us. She has lost her family for the second time and, at the whim of the state, has been tossed back into the situation from which, with considerable difficulty, I rescued her eight years ago.

During the eight years she lived with our family, Sveta grew from a small, sick little girl into an independent-minded young lady with a well-developed view of the world, a wide range of interests, the ability to help others, and full health. Sveta on her own initiative chose the Orthodox faith as her main pillar of support in life. She independently decided to take part in sports. That too was a very successful decision. In a single academic year, she won three medals and our city’s champion’s cup for her grade. Sveta became so organically integrated into our family that we forgot that she had not been with us since birth, and Sveta gave us the same love back. [...]

How can we return Sveta to our family? How can she be raised and given a good education? These are the questions that now concern me far more than how many years the state is preparing to give for me as punishment for my civic position. I don't see any other explanation for my "sudden" prosecution. [...] Whose path did I cross? I have not yet found an answer. But I do understand that everything happens according to God’s will.

So far, I do not understand what role the Lord will give me for the next few years of my life. Whether He has chosen me to be a martyr, or a preacher, or to play some kind of unifying role—the time will come when I will find out for sure. And then He will show me my way. In the meantime, I and my lawyer are fighting for our rights, we are fighting against the bias of the investigation and the blatant lies of the charges brought against me.

Meeting with Katyushhka helps me to stay sane and rational, as do the warm letters of support that I receive from all over the country, and my daily conversations with God.

I am following with great concern the events taking place in the country. Unfortunately, the worst predictions come true, and I fear that big trouble awaits not just me but everyone.

I am concerned for you. I am praying for you.

Yury Dmitriev
11 February 2017. Pre-Trial Detention Centre No. 1 Petrozavodsk

Translation by Anna Bowles, Elizabeth Teague, Mark Nuckols, Nicky Brown and Will Dudley

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