16 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’s domestic events this week highlighted Russia’s departure from the Council of Europe and the politicisation of the criminal justice system. Russian protesters will not be given just compensation for arrests and prosecutions because the Russian authorities refuse to execute judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. A woman faces up to five years in prison for criticising the country’s president, and Aleksei Navalny, that president’s main public opponent remains in prison on trumped up charges where he is the victim of a range of abuses. In St. Petersburg the Vesna [Spring] movement is being closed down as ‘extremist’ for organising anti-war protests and the authorities are seeking to intimidate users of Facebook, a popular resource for Russian opponents of the war, by also labelling Meta as extremist. Meanwhile the fate of another opposition activist who returned to Russia to be placed almost immediate in detention, Vladimir Kara-Murza, who now faces prosecution on a number of charges including most recently treason, was highlighted by his receipt of the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, awarded by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. As Russia’s brutal and illegal war against Ukraine continues, Amnesty International condemned the latest attack by Russian missiles that apparently targeted civilian infrastructure and residential districts in a number of Ukrainian cities.
OVD-Info reported, the European Court of Human Rights awarded 222,000 euros in compensation for Russian protestors who were detained and prosecuted in response to a total of 88 applications. OVD-Info notes, however, that the applicants will not receive any payments under the current government of Vladimir Putin which refuses to execute ECtHR judgments issued after 15 March 2022.
OVD-Info reported that Irina Tsybaneva, a resident of St. Petersburg, is being prosecuted for leaving a note on the grave of Putin’s parents in that city. She is suspected of desecrating a burial place ‘for political or ideological reasons’ and faces a sentence of up to five years if convicted. Her note, OVD-Info reports, read: ‘Parents of a lunatic, take him with you, he has caused so much pain and trouble, the whole world is praying for his death […] Death to Putin, you raised a monster and a murderer.’
The pensioner’s goal was hardly to desecrate a grave; her gesture was clearly political. According to Tsybaneva, she had gone to the cemetery after she had “watched the news” and “realised that everything is very bad, everything is very sad, a lot of people have died”. The Sova Information and Analysis Centre considers the woman’s actions to have been incorrectly categorised: the object of the crime under this article of the Criminal Code is a burial place, but in this case it was not harmed.OVD-Info
OVD-Info also reported that Vesna [Spring], a civil society movement in St. Petersburg whose members have been active in organising anti-war protests and whose activities have currently been suspended pending a decision to ban it on grounds of ‘extremism,’ has been designated a ‘foreign agent’ organisation; and the Meta corporation (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) has been designated as ‘extremist.’ OVD-Info notes that, in the case of Meta, persons may now face criminal liability for making payments to the corporation and its subsidiaries.
Ordinary users of social media will not be affected [by the designation of Meta and its outlets as extremist], but bloggers who buy ads might be. It’s entirely possible that this will become a new way of harassing those who speak out against the war or criticise the current government.OVD-Info
OVD-Info also reported that Aleksei Navalny has been sent to a punishment cell for the sixth time, on this occasion for refusing to clean a fence. On 11 August Navalny announced he had founded Promzone, a trade union for prisoners and prison officers. Since then he has been regularly placed in a punishment cell for periods of 3 to 15 days on various grounds. OVD-Info quotes the human rights activist Pavel Chikov as saying that the authorities have incarcerated Navalny several times in a punishment cell so that he can be categorised as a ‘persistent offender’ and then moved to a solitary cell with even stricter conditions for up to one year or transferred from the penal colony to a prison for up to three years.
Well, I know painting a fence and feeling like Tom Sawyer is fun. But washing a fence is complete nonsense in my opinion.Aleksei Navalny
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg awarded the tenth Václav Havel Human Rights Prize to imprisoned Russian opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza who has been detained in Russia shortly after his return to that country in April 2022 for his anti-war views. Initially charged with disseminating ‘fake news’ about the actions of the Russian military in Ukraine (and serving arbitrarily 15 days’ in jail on the arbitrary charge of ‘disobeying a police officer’), Kara-Murza was subsequently charged wtih ‘organizing the activities of an undesirable organization’ and most recently, on 6 October, with ‘high treason.’ The Václav Havel Human Rights Prize is awarded each year by PACE, in partnership with the Václav Havel Library and the Charta 77 Foundation, “to honour outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights in Europe and beyond”. It consists of a sum of 60,000 euros, a trophy and a diploma. PACE reported that, in accepting the award on behalf of her husband, Evgeniya Kara-Murza said she “couldn’t be prouder” of her husband. She read out a statement by him in which he dedicated his win to the thousands of Russians who had voiced their opposition to the war in Ukraine, and pledged that “a peaceful, democratic and Putin-free Russia” would one day return to the Council of Europe.
Despite the risks, Vladimir Kara-Murza had the courage to return to his country to continue his fight, even while having the possibility to stay safe. […] It takes incredible courage in today’s Russia to stand against the power in place. Today, Mr Kara-Murza is showing this courage, from his prison cell.PACE President Tiny Kox
Amnesty International welcomed the award of the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize to Vladimir Kara-Murza.
Vladimir Kara-Murza is a man of courage and conviction who believes that human rights and dignity should prevail over fear. His brave, tireless work has ensured that more people in Russia share these values. Yet in fighting this just cause, he has paid the price of his own freedom. Following the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian authorities enacted a witch-hunt against politicians, activists and journalists who dared to condemn the Kremlin and its war of aggression. Vladimir Kara-Murza was among the first state critics targeted under this vicious campaign. Vladimir Kara-Murza should be immediately and unconditionally released, as should all those who have been prosecuted and convicted for peacefully criticizing the Russian armed forces.Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia
Article 19 welcomed last week’s news news that the Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to the jailed Belarusian human rights activist and head of Viasna Ales Bialiatski, Russian human rights organisation Memorial, and Ukrainian human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties. The organisation said the award ‘reflect[s] the immense courage of civil society across the region in the face of unrelenting repression and violence.’
The Nobel Committee’s decision recognises the persistent and long-standing plight of the recipients to strengthen the sense of unity among the people and ensure their democratic rights in the face of unabated repression launched by autocrats residing in Moscow and Minsk. ARTICLE 19 is humbled to have had an unique opportunity to support the work of these courageous and trailblazing human rights advocates and hopes that the international community will step up their efforts to assist civil society communities in Eastern Europe.Article 19
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Amnesty International condemned the Russian mass missile strikes on Kyiv and several other Ukrainian cities, including Dnipro, Zaporizhzhya, and Zhytomyr, that took place on the morning of 10 October 2022. The orgnisation reported that ‘Critical infrastructure facilities like power plants and power substations in eight regions of Ukraine and in Kyiv seem to be the main targets of the attacks, which led to mass power shortages across the country and many train delays. According to Ukraine’s national police, out of 117 buildings damaged throughout the country 29 were critical infrastructure facilities, four were multi-storey buildings and 35 private residential houses.’ The organisation cited the State Service of Emergency Situations as saying that the attacks killed 11 people (five in Kyiv) and injured 89 across the country. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin welcomed the attacks.
This is yet another day of petrifying news from Ukraine, with Russia launching multiple strikes that hit residential areas, city centres and civilian infrastructure. The crater left by a Russian missile in the middle of children’s playground in central Kyiv is a stark symbol of the complete disregard for human life that has characterized Russia’s invasion. The ultimate goal of today’s attacks is to spread terror among the entire civilian population. Russia must immediately stop its war of aggression. All those responsible for the aggression and war crimes, including commanders and civilian leaders, such as ministers, and heads of state should be held criminally responsible for their actions.’Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General
Few people have the courage of Vladimir Kara-Murza, although in Russia the number of such people is far from negligible and includes such individuals as Aleksei Navalny, Aleksei Gorinov, Aleksandra Skochilenko and Ilya Yashin, as well as those who were victims of persecution by the regime before the current war began, such as Yury Dmitriev. The voices of Russians opposed to the war who are prepared to stand up for the truth are of undiminished importance, particularly as the general public in Russia become ever more aware of the reality of the war and its human cost, through casualties at the front, mobilisation and the failure of the Russian military to achieve their objectives. Here too the reach of organisations such as Amnesty International, who this week condemned the latest shocking missile attacks on Ukraine, within Russia remains vital. Meanwhile, Russia’s departure from the Council of Europe means, among other things, that miscarriages of justice will now be less known outside the country and will attract less international attention. This makes all the more important events such as the awarding of the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to Vladimir Kara-Murza. In sum, it is as important today to work to inform people outside Russia about the true conditions within the country as it does to do our utmost to inform Russians about the reality of what is happening beyond their borders.