Simon Cosgrove: A look back at the past week in Russia [week-ending 13 May 2022]

15 May 2022

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 Russian authorities domestically continued to ratchet up the pressure on civil society activists, independent journalists and human rights defenders. Victims of repressive measures include Vladimir Kara-Murza, seven journalists from Sota.Vision and Skat Media, seven activists from the Vesna civil society organisation based in St Petersburg, the visual artist Damila Tkachenko, and the activist Dmitry Ivanov. Amnesty International also highlighted the cases of four teachers who have lost their jobs for their anti-war views. The organisation also urged the need for the Council of Europe to support Russian civil society while at the 34th Special Session of the UN’s Human Rights Council it pressed for Russia to be held accountable for violations in Ukraine. Meanwhile Civil Rights Defenders stressed the need for all refugees and asylum seekers globally to be treated on an equal basis and, while welcoming the openness of the EU to refugees from Ukraine, emphasised that these arrangements were only temporary in nature, and that some Roma and students from African countries had experienced discrimination as they sought to flee Ukraine. 

Civil society activists, journalists, human rights defenders

This week Amnesty International issued a statement calling for the immediate and unconditional release of prisoner of conscience Vladimir Kara-Murza, a political activist and journalist who is facing criminal prosecution for “public dissemination of knowingly false information about the use of the Russian Armed Forces’ for which, under Article 207.3, Part 2, Para d, of the Russian Criminal Code, he may face up to 10 years in prison. Amnesty International called for the repeal of Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Russian authorities to drop all charges and stop harassing seven journalists from two independent outlets, namely Sota.Vision and Skat Media, who were targeted in the run up to Victory Day celebrations on 9 May by Russian authorities with home visits, searches and arrests. The journalists concerned are Anna Loiko, Viktoria Arefyeva, Yegor Shatov and Aleksandr Filippov from Sota.Vision, and Angelina Roshchupko, Yevgeny Zateev (also regional coordinator for Vesna [Spring]) and Darya Pak (Pak is currently not in Russia).

OVD-Info reported this week on a criminal case brought against members of the Vesna movement on the grounds of ‘creation of an NGO that infringes on the persons and rights of citizens’ [the charge used earlier to close down Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation]. Searches were carried out in St Peterburg of the homes of the Vesna co-ordinators Yevgeny Zateev and Valentin Khoroshenin and the home of the parents of Vesna member Bogdan Litvin; in Moscow searches  were conducted of the home of the lawyer Timofei Vaskin, ex-Anti-Corruption Foundation employee Ivan Drobotov, Skat Media journalist Angelina Roshchupko and the mother of activist Daria Pak. Zateev and Khoroshenin, along with Roman Maksimov, who is not a member of Vesna and was detained in Veliky Novgorod, were taken to Moscow for questioning. All those whose homes were searched in Moscow were detained, except for Pak who is abroad.

OVD-Info also reported on the charging of photographer and contemporary visual artist Danila Tkachenko with hooliganism. Tkachenko had planted 140 smoke bombs in the colours of the Ukrainian flag near Red Square, planning to activate them during the 9 May parade. However, the protest was prevented by the FSB. Meanwhile, Dmitry Ivanov, the author of the Protest Moscow State University channel, was rearrested immediately on leaving a detention centre where he had served a ten-day sentence for anonymous posts he allegedly made on Telegram channels about planned protests (under Article 20.2 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences for ‘repeated violation of the law on rallies’). Ivanov was then jailed again for a further 25 days under the same article for a repost from the Telegram channel of Alexei Navalny on the war in Ukraine.

Academic freedom and the indoctrination of school children

This week Amnesty International also condemned the Russian authorities’ ‘assault on academic freedom and the right to freedom of expression’ and called for an immediate end to ‘their shameful campaign of indoctrinating children and young people and stop prosecuting educators simply for expressing dissenting views.’ The organisation pointed to the treatment of a number of teachers who have been dismissed because of their opposition to the war against Ukraine, namely Roman Melnichenko, an associate professor at Volgograd State University, Elena Baybekova, a maths teacher from Astrakhan and Marina Dubrova, an English teacher from Korsakov on Sakhalin island. Amnesty also noted that Irina Gen, an English teacher from Penza ‘is facing a prison sentence under the new criminal offence of disseminating “fake news” about the Russian army.’ More generally, Amnesty argued that ‘Schoolchildren have also been subjected to war propaganda, which appears to amount to indoctrination, contrary to the aims of their right to education under international law to which Russia is bound.’

Russia and the international community

Amnesty International also published an article by Nils Muižnieks, director of the organisation’s Europe Regional Office on ‘the challenge that Russia’s relentless crackdown on human rights presents to Europe’s entire human rights system.’ Nils Muižnieks urged the Council of Europe to ‘seek creative ways to support Russian civil society going forward, ensuring for instance that people at immediate risk of prison for their human rights work are able to seek protection in member states.’ Looking ahead, he said that, when Russia ‘re-emerges from this dark chapter of history, the Council of Europe must be ready to welcome it on the path back to justice and human rights.’

Meanwhile, at the 34th Special Session of the UN’s Human Rights Council, the director of Amnesty International Ukraine ‘expressed alarm at the catastrophic human rights crisis in Ukraine, addressed the need for victims to be at the forefront of international and domestic justice responses, and emphasized the importance of a comprehensive and ambitious approach to long-term accountability.’


A lawyer with Civil Rights Defenders, Tilda Pontén, urged the importance of fair and equal treatment for refugees, no matter what part of the world they come from. Pontén noted: ‘The war in Ukraine has led to millions of people seeking protection in their neighbouring area in Europe in a short period of time.’ Pontén pointed out that while, in the context of the war in Ukraine, the EU has for the first time activated the so-called Temporary Protection Directive of 2001, […] ‘the directive does not provide a long-term and humane solution for displaced people.’ She welcomed the fact that, ‘Even in countries that have long been critical of asylum seekers, people have shown a willingness to give many of those fleeing the war in Ukraine a humane reception.’ However, she also noted that, ‘On the other hand, there is information that, for example, Ukrainian Roma and students from African countries have been discriminated against at the border, which is unacceptable.’

 It is to be hoped that, as Nils Muižnieks suggested, Russia will one day ‘re-emerge from this dark chapter of history.’ After the past 11 weeks of catastrophic war, no one knows how long that will take or how it may come about. If and when such a re-emergence does happen, it may not be enough to simply ‘welcome [Russia] on the path back to justice and human rights.’ Certainly the existing European human rights mechanisms would seem to need significant reform if they are to prevent a future similar slide by a European state over twenty years of creeping authoritarian, arbitrary rule to such a fundamental and brutal rejection of human rights.

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