Simon Cosgrove: A look back at the past week in Russia [week-ending 10 December 2021]

Week-ending 10 December 2021

12 December 2021

By Simon Cosgrove

Simon is chair of Rights in Russia but writes these comments in a personal capacity and they may not necessarily represent the views of the organisation

Much attention this week has again been focused on a number of repressive laws that are characteristically vaguely defined and permit almost arbitrary implementation by the authorities: the ‘foreign agent’ law, the law on ‘undesirable foreign organisations’ and the law on extremism.

Currently the law on ‘foreign agents’ is being used in an effort to close down the two main legal entities of Memorial. This week on Human Rights Day 11 Russian and international human rights organisations (including Rights in Russia) issued a joint statement deploring the moves by the Russian authorities to close down Memorial Human Rights Centre and International Memorial Society, calling on the Russian authorities to ‘end their harassment of and threats to these and other civil society organisations’ and to ‘abide by their international obligations to respect human rights and immediately repeal the “foreign agents” legislation.’

Also on Human Rights Day, Dmitry Muratov in his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize (awarded jointly to him along with the Philippines journalist Maria Ressa) deplored, among other things, the impact of the ‘foreign agent’ law on journalists in Russia: ‘Over a hundred journalists, media outlets, human rights defenders and NGOs have recently been branded as “foreign agents”,’ he said. ‘In Russia, this means “enemies of the people.” Many of our colleagues have lost their jobs. Some have to leave the country. Some are deprived of the opportunity to live a normal life for an unknown period of time. Maybe forever… ‘

Meanwhile under another iniquitous law, that on ‘undesirable foreign organisations’, an appeal court upheld the fine imposed on human rights defender Igor Kalyapin for allegedly violating that law – despite the fact that the alleged offence took place before the organisation in question – the Czech NGO People in Need (Člověk v tísni o.p.s.) – was designated as ‘undesirable.’

The third law in question – that on extremism – was at issue in a district court hearing on 9 December in Vladimir region at which prisoner of conscience Aleksei Navalny by video link contested his designation as an inmate ‘prone to commit crimes of an extremist orientation’ and therefore subject to intrusive ‘preventive supervision.’ In connection with Aleksei Navalny it should be noted that in recent months considerable evidence has emerged of the abuses to which he is being subjected in prison. In the light of these abuses, it is a disturbing thought that, given the political nature of the case, Navalny’s national and international renown and the centralisation of power in Russia, it can be conjectured with some certainty that nothing happens to Navalny in prison without the explicit say-so of President Putin.

Finally, it should be noted that on 8 December 2021 the Supreme Court quashed the convictions of Nikita Tikhonov and Evgenia Khasis for the killing of Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer, and Anastasia Baburova, a journalist, in Moscow in 2009. Somewhat paradoxically, these convictions have often been held up as an example of the fact that, at least sometimes, the Russian justice system can deliver a fair result. However, in a February 2021 ruling the European Court of Human Rights found that the 2011 trial of the two persons had not been not fair. It is interesting that no such similar action by the Supreme Court has been taken, for example, in relation to Aleksei Pichugin, whose trial has also been found unfair by the European Court of Human Rights. Meanwhile that Court continues its routine work of finding violations by the Russian authorities, this week handing down rulings in 14 cases, in 13 of which the court found at least one violation.

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