Simon Cosgrove: A look back at the past week in Russia [week-ending 17 December 2021]

19 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

This week the European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Aleksei Navalny and in so doing recognised his ‘immense personal bravery’ and reiterated its call for his immediate release. The prize was received on Navalny’s behalf by his daughter, Daria Navalnya. The European Parliament also adopted a resolution calling on Russia to abandon its moves to shut down the International Memorial Society and Memorial Human Rights Centre. These moves are based largely on the ‘foreign agent’ law that continue to be used energetically by the courts against independent media and civil society organisations. Large fines were imposed this week on The Insider, a media outlet, and on Memorial Human Rights Centre, in both cases for allegedly failing to label publications with the ‘foreign agent’ label. While the authorities are busy with these repressive measures, there is much for them to do to bring the country’s legislative framework and law enforcement practice into line with human rights standards. This week European Court of Human Rights handed down a raft of eleven rulings with regard to Russia finding violations of nine Convention articles. The ruling in the case of Tunikova and Others v. Russia has particular importance, highlighting the failure of Russian law to provide adequate protection for the victims of domestic violence. The Court found Russian practice in this area discriminatory against women.

Freedom of expression and rights of assembly have also been under attack in other guises this week. Seven Ingush protest leaders were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment of between seven and a half and nine years for taking part in peaceful protest on charges which Amnesty International called ‘baseless,’ condemning the imprisoning of the individuals ‘simply for practising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.’ The organisation saw the convictions as intended to ‘punish and intimidate activists’ while sending ‘a chilling message to civil society leaders in Ingushetia and beyond.’ Back in Moscow, in an evidently similarly politically-inspired prosecution, the authorities imprisoned Pussy Riot activists Maria Alekhina and Liusya Shtein for 15 and 14 days respectively for offences dating back to 2015 (in the case of Alekhina) and 2018 (Liusya Shtein). The alleged offences had to do with social media posts that included Nazi symbols – Alekhina’s was criticism of Aleksandr Lukashenko, Shtein’s was a post of a screenshot of a fan’s artwork.

Meanwhile the Russian authorities continue to ramp up their threats of military invasion against Ukraine. It can perhaps only be concluded with dismay that the current domestic repression requires an external threat to justify itself, and once in motion both internal repression and external aggression feed off each other in a vicious cycle whose victims are inevitably ordinary citizens and their rights.

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