2 October 2022
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, in a violent assault on freedom of expression and a brutal disregard for the prohibition on torture, activist and poet Artem Kamardin was one of a number arrested for reading anti-war poems. He was viciously tortured and subjected to sexual abuse by police. Also this week the rights of association and assembly were violated with the designation of the Vesna movement as ‘extremist’ for organising peaceful anti-war rallies. Meanwhile, participants in peaceful protests against the war were arrested as well as journalists covering these events, the authorities thereby violating rights of assembly and expression in multiple ways. In a politicised perversion of the justice system, suspects in cases of alleged arson attacks on enlistment centres that caused little damage were charged with terrorism offences instead of with hooliganism, as previously would have been the case. Meanwhile, at the 51st session of the UN’s Human Rights Council there were calls for the UN to establish a Special Rapporteur mandate on human rights in Russia, given what the Human Rights House Foundation called the ‘dire and deteriorating human rights situation’ in the country. Also addressing the Human Rights Council, HRHF also condemned Russia’s human rights violations in Ukraine, in particular with regard to enforced disappearances, while Human Rights Watch condemned the sham ‘referendums’ organised by Russia on Ukrainian territory, ‘referendums’ which, the organisation said, had ‘no legal value.’
Domestic repression in Russia
OVD-Info reported that Moscow police detained and charged activists for alleged incitement of hatred with threat of violence by reading anti-war poems. They face up to six years in prison if convicted. Police beat one activist Artem Kamardin and raped him with a barbell handle. They also tortured his girlfriend Aleksandra Popova. All the defendants were remanded in custody.
Torture after criminal detention seems to have long since become the norm in Russia – one may recall the Network case, or the recent detentions of anti-fascists in the Urals.OVD-Info
Amnesty International condemned the detention and torture of poet and activist Artem Kamardin by law enforcement officers after posting his recital of an anti-war poem online.
The details of Artyom Kamardin’s arrest and torture are horrific even against the abysmal human rights standards of today’s Russia. It seems that Russian law enforcement officers believe they have complete impunity for all sorts of human rights violations against people who oppose Russia’s war in Ukraine. The world must not look away but rather remind the Russian leadership: those responsible will be brought to justice for all crimes under international law, including war crimes committed in Ukraine and human rights violations committed in Russia.Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Russia Director
OVD-Info reported that the prosecutor’s office has demanded that the Spring [Vesna] movement be declared extremist. Since February, Spring has regularly called for protest rallies against the war.
The system can label as extremist anyone who is disloyal, regardless of whether that person uses or calls for violent forms of protest. Navalny’s organisations are considered extremist, even though they tried for years to fight the government on various levels in a constitutional, legal way, through elections and campaigning.OVD-Info
OVD-Info reported that about thirty people were charged with criminal offences in Dagestan after anti-mobilisation rallies on 25 and 26 September during which police arrested around 200 people. Lawyers said their clients all had bodily injuries: bruises, concussions and, allegedly, even fractures. Several journalists covering the protests are being prosecuted. OVD-Info also reported that across Russia people who were arrested at anti-mobilisation rallies were served with draft summonses at police stations.
Reporters Without Borders reported that at least eight journalists were arrested on 21 September during protests in 42 Russian cities against Vladimir Putin’s ‘partial mobilisation.’ Reporters Without Borders condemned the crackdown which it described as ‘designed to suppress domestic news coverage that is essential for the Russian public.’
By forcibly obstructing the work of Russian journalists, the Kremlin seeks to impose its version of events both within Russia and abroad. The increasingly systematic arrests of journalists and the growing impunity of the police are symptomatic of the information war being waged by Vladimir Putin. We reaffirm our support for independent Russian journalists who, by still daring to do their job, are courageously resisting the government’s desire to silence them.Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
In another report, Reporters Without Borders condemned the subjection of dozens of journalists throughout Russia to police harassment ranging from intimidation to violence for covering protests against the ‘partial’ mobilisation announced on 21 September. The organisation urged the Russian authorities to stop hounding the media.
As the elimination of such emblematic media outlets as Novaya Gazeta has shown, the independent press is one of the main targets of a government that seeks to stifle any voice that would provide a version of events other than the one Vladimir Putin wants to impose,”. “We salute the courage of independent journalists in the face of this violent war on information and we call on the authorities to end their attacks on the media.RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk
The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Russian authorities to ‘allow the media to report freely on protests against the country’s call-up of reservists to bolster its forces in Ukraine and stop using the threat of conscription against journalists.’ The organisation noted that ‘at least three journalists were arrested, at least 16 more were detained, at least three face various charges, and at least two were served military summonses while covering protests spreading across Russia since President Vladimir Putin announced a ‘partial mobilization’ of military reservists on Wednesday, September 21.’
Russia’s latest crackdown on independent journalists is another step in its efforts to silence dissenting voices on its war in Ukraine. It is especially egregious that authorities are wielding the threat of conscription against reporters who are doing their jobs covering the protests. The government must stop issuing these summonses, immediately release journalists detained while covering anti-mobilization protests, and drop all charges against them.Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator
OVD-Info reported that across Russia, criminal charges are being filed against suspects following arson attacks on military recruitment centres, including in Kaliningrad, Uryupinsk, Novosibirsk and St Petersburg.
Russians have been setting fire to military recruitment offices since the start of the war. […] in the majority of cases the actions of the arsonists do not result in serious damage. At first such cases were regarded by authorities as hooliganism or the intentional destruction of property; they later began to be treated as terrorism – a charge that provides for much harsher punishment.OVD-Info
Amnesty international published a poster, urging the public to join in its Write for Rights campaign in defence of Aleksandra Skochilenko.
Aleksandra (or Sasha for short) fills her life with art and music, playing all sorts of musical instruments. On 31 March 2022, Aleksandra peacefully protested against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She replaced price tags in a local supermarket in Saint Petersburg with little paper labels containing facts about the invasion. Aleksandra was arrested and charged for her peaceful action. She has been held in detention ever since, in terrible conditions.Amnesty international
Human Rights House Foundation at the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council called on that body to formally address the dire and deteriorating human rights situation in Russia by establishing a Special Rapporteur mandate.
We join Russian and international human rights organisations in calling on the Council to formally address the human rights situation in Russia and mandate a special rapporteur on the situation. This month Russia has formally ceased to be a member of the Council of Europe, thus depriving victims of Russian human violations of protections under the European Convention for Human Rights. Moreover, the Russian Federation has failed twice in a row to appear at its review by the UN Human Rights Committee in March and July this year. The Human Rights Council must not fail victims of human rights violations in Russia – they have nowhere to turn but to this Council.Human Rights House
In a separate statement, Human Rights House also condemned Russia’s ‘foreign agent’ legislation.
We ask the Assistant Secretary-General what more could be done by the Human Rights Council to support Russian human rights defenders and organisations seeking to engage with international mechanisms in the face of tightening domestic legislation that increasingly prevents such cooperation?Human Rights House
Human Rights Watch also addressing the UN Human Rights Council called on the international community not to forget Russia’s ongoing repression within its own territory and its dire impact on Russian citizens.
In the days following the full scale invasion in February, Russian authorities adopted unprecedented censorship laws that de facto criminalized criticism of the armed conflict in Ukraine. Reporting on the war became the exclusive prerogative of government outlets and those that echo them. Independent media only faced one alternative: leave the country or face harsh sanctions. Following a decade-long repressive spiral in Russia, hundreds of criminal and administrative cases have been opened against journalists, activists and people who simply spoke up against the war. Thousands of others spent days or weeks in prison for joining anti-war protests. New administrative and criminal cases are being opened every day.Human Rights Watch
Russia’s war against Ukraine
Human Rights House Foundation delivered a statement at the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council highlighting the human rights situation in Ukraine following the full-scale Russian invasion, with a particular focus on the situation for enforced disappearances as reported by network of Human Rights Houses member, ZMINA’
ZMINA, one of our partner organizations and a member of Ukraine’s 5 a.m. coalition has documented at least 311 cases of enforced disappearances of Ukrainians in the newly occupied territories with victims, including local officials, journalists, volunteers, teachers, religious and cultural figures, activists who did not agree with the occupation and members of their families. Of those 181 people have been released, but 118 are currently missing or held in Russian captivity. In reality, the actual numbers are likely to be far larger, ZMINA has also documented at least 12 cases of people who have suffered enforced disappearance and died as a result of torture at the hands of Russia, either in captivity or shortly after release as a result of their treatment.Human Rights House Foundation
Human Rights Watch condemned the announcement by Russia that it had ‘annexed’ four Russia-occupied Ukrainian territories in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. The organisation described the ‘referendums’ held in these areas – like the so-called ‘referendum’ held in Crimea in 2014 – as having ‘no legal value’ and not providing any ‘basis for annexation or transfer of sovereignty.’
These sham votes have no legal value but have grave consequences for civilians. The United Nations and numerous governments have rightly condemned Russia’s actions, and it is vital they continue to make all efforts to secure civilian’s protection and ensure those responsible for war crimes are held to account.Human Rights Watch
The Russian authorities persist with their ‘Potemkin villages’ at home and abroad. Within Russia there is the myth of near unanimous support for the military aggression against Ukraine, while in reality the State’s powerful machine of repression steamrollers dissent and the fundamental rights of expression, assembly and association. In Ukraine, the Russian State proclaims ‘annexation’ of territories it does not fully control on the basis of sham ‘referendums’ that make a mockery of the idea of free and fair voting. At some point, these ‘Potemkin villages,’ at home and abroad, will surely collapse. But until then each day the horrific cost in terms of deaths, the damage to lives and properties, and the abuse of fundamental rights continues to mount. One must hope that any post-Putin Russia, in full knowledge of the truth and reality of what happened and what was done, will look back on these years in shame and horror as something never to be repeated.