Rights in Russia was delighted to host, in partnership with the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, an event in London on Tuesday, 4th October 2016, at which three of Russia’s leading civil society activists spoke: Valentina Cherevatenko, chair of Women of the Don, a human rights NGO based in Novocherkassk, Rostov region; Grigory Melkonyants, co-chair of the independent election monitor Golos, based in Moscow; and Dmitry Bartenev,a human rights lawyer based in St. Petersburg.
The event was held at the Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London, EC1R 3GA.
VALENTINA CHEREVATENKO is the chair of the “Women of the Don” Union and of the “Women of the Don” Foundation for Civil Society Development, two NGOs based in Novocherkassk in the Rostov Region (South Russia). The “Women of the Don” Union, originally established in 1993, has worked for more than twenty years in different areas of human rights, with a special emphasis on the rights of women: in particular, it has focused on gender discrimination, violence against women, and peace-building initiatives in the North Caucasus region. “Women of the Don” also provides free legal advice to the public, promotes dialogue and tolerance, and has worked to improve relations between the police and members of society. The Justice Ministry designated both “Women of the Don” Union (in 2014) and the “Women of the Don” Foundation (in 2015) as ‘foreign agent’ NGOs. In February 2016 the Ministry of Justice officially removed the “Women of the Don” Union from its list of foreign agents. In June 2016, however, Valentina Cherevatenko became the first individual to face criminal prosecution under the ‘foreign agent’ law for the alleged ‘malicious evasion of duties imposed by the law on non-profit organisations performing the functions of a foreign agent,’ a move condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch,Frontline Defenders and other human rights organizations.
GRIGORY MELKONYANTS is co-chair of Russia’s preeminent independent election monitor Golos, the Movement for the Defence of Voters’ Rights. Golos was originally founded in 2000. Since 2005 Golos has been a member of the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO). Together with leading Russian experts in 2008- 2010 Golos worked on creating an Electoral Code. In 2012 Golos was awarded the Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. In 2013 the Ministry of Justice designated Golos as a ‘foreign agent’ on the grounds that it had received foreign funding (this was a reference to the 7,700 EUR Sakharov Prize – despite the fact that Golos had declined to accept the money) and that in creating the Electoral Code the organization had engaged in ‘political activities’. In 2013, Golos re-established itself as a ‘Movement’, bringing together all those who engaged in independent election monitoring in Russia since 2000. More recently, in 2014 and 2015, Golos has received two grants of state-funding – the so-called ‘Presidential Grants’ - for its work on election monitoring.
DMITRY BARTENEV has been working as attorney at law in Russia since 2001 and is based in St. Petersburg. In cooperation with Russian and international human rights organisations, Dmitri has represented clients in many high-profile anti-discrimination cases in the fields of mental disability field, LGBT rights, freedom of speech and association. Dmitri graduated from Petrozavodsk State University as a lawyer in 1999. He has received post-graduate training in medical law, mental disability law and bioethics at Michigan State University (USA), Central European University (Hungary), and the Council of Europe. He holds a Ph.D. in international law from St. Petersburg State University where he also teaches international law and human rights as an associate professor.