10 June 2021
In the photo: Boris Altshuler, director of Right of the Child, a civic organisation to promote children’s rights, and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group
Open letter to the President of the Russian Federation
10 June 2021
To the President of the Russian Federation
Esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich!
Recently, on 21 May of this year, Russia and the world celebrated the centenary of Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov. The congratulations from you and U.S. President Joseph Biden on this significant date were signal events of the times.
Sakharov’s Main Legacy
A.D. Sakharov’s main legacy, as reflected in the title of his Nobel lecture, ‘Peace, Progress, and Human Rights,’ is the thesis which says that there is an indissoluble link between international security and the observance of human rights. I express the hope that this classic thesis will not be forgotten during the upcoming summit in Geneva between you and the U.S. president.
In a speech at a session of the First USSR Congress of People’s Deputies on 27 May 1989, critiquing the amendments passed in April 1989 to the USSR Law ‘On Criminal Responsibility for State Crimes,’ amendments which provide, among other things, for imprisonment for ‘Insulting or discrediting state organs (…) or official persons,’ A.D. Sakharov reminded us of a foundational, internationally recognized legal principle: ‘No actions stemming from personal convictions, if they do not involve violence or a call to violence, may serve as the object of criminal prosecution.’
Esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich, freedom of personal conviction, including the freedom to criticize the authorities, is a very important component of a state’s immune system, ensuring its stable existence and development.
I am asking you, the guarantor of the observance of the rights and freedoms of citizens of the Russian Federation, to order a thoroughgoing reexamination of the present-day practice of criminal prosecutions for criticism of the authorities and for opposition activities, including participation in unsanctioned peaceful rallies, and to order as well a reexamination of the cases and release of political prisoners and other victims of political repressions (the Memorial Human Rights Centre has a list).
I am also asking you, in light of your special relationship with the leadership of the Republic of Belarus, to do everything in your power to halt the brutal political repressions in that neighbuoring country so friendly to Russia.
A.D. Sakharov’s speeches in 1989, the last year of his life, make it evident how clearly he understood the catastrophic nature of the repressive approach, as he proposed concrete measures to overcome such destructive phenomena as monopolism in politics, monopolism in economics, lack of oversight in law enforcement, and the absence of effective local self-government. All this is relevant today as well. A selection from these speeches of his is provided in the epilogue to my book, Sakharov and Political Power: ‘On the Other Side of the Window’: Lessons for the Present and the Future.
As director of Right of the Child, a regional civic organisation, I am obliged to stress that the absence of effective judicial and prosecutorial oversight over the legality of an investigation gives rise to sadism, the victims of which are now also minors who have fallen under law enforcement’s steamroller. In addition, the grave, in fact extraordinary problems of poverty and housing for millions of Russian families with children cannot be resolved given the suppression of criticism of the executive branch of government and the pathological, cynical inaction in this sphere that has been characteristic of the legislature, with its membership unchanged over many years.
Once again, I am asking you to do everything in your power to halt criminal prosecutions for nonviolent acts in our country and the fraternal Republic of Belarus.
Member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, chair of Right of the Child, Chief Researcher in the Theoretical Physics Department of the P.N. Lebedev Physics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Translated by Marian Schwartz