6 November 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 the UN Human Rights Committee published its concluding observations on the state of human rights in Russia, calling for, among other things, the repeal of repressive legislation on ‘fake news’, discrediting the Russian army, ‘foreign agents’ and ‘undesirable organisations.’ At the same time, the human rights groups monitored for this review produced no new reports on the ongoing war and the situation in UKraine. The weekly report by OVD-Info on domestic developments in Russia highlighted the cases of a number of activists and journalists who were variously deprived of citizenship, harassed while abroad and on hungerstrike in detention. The Russian authorities also used charges of alleged involvement in an extremist organisation to arrest Muslims. Some argue that the organisation in question – At-Takfir wal-Hijra – does not exist. Among international organisations the Committee to Protect Journalists published its 2022 Global Impunity Index, Civil Rights Defenders published an article on feminist anti-war resistance in Russia and in a briefing on climate change before Cop27 Amnesty International pointed out the damaging impact of climate change on Yakutia.
OVD-Info reported the UN Human Rights Committee published its concluding observations on the state of human rights in Russia. The organisation called for the repeal of laws on “fake news’, discrediting the Russian army, “foreign agents” and “undesirable organisations”; as well as [for the Russian state] not to use facial recognition systems.
The 10 pages of Concluding Observations on the eighth periodic report of the Russian Federation  are a consolidated list of the major human rights problems in Russia. Here you can find the constitutional reform of 2020, problems with the independence of the courts, violations of the right to life during armed conflicts, torture, and domestic violence.Pavel Chikov, head of Agora international human rights group
OVD-Info also reported a court took the step of depriving environmental activist Arshak Makichyan, his father and two brothers of their Russian citizenship on the grounds that false information was provided 18 years ago. Makichyan believes the reason is his anti-war views and activist activities.
First Department lawyer Maksim Olenichev […] thinks the state might use this precedent to strip other activists of citizenship, if they do not hold it by right of birth. The possibility cannot be ruled out that this may become another instrument of repression – after all, in this way it is possible to force dissenters to leave the country.OVD-Info
The jailed activist Grigory Saksonov, OVD-Info reported, has been hunger strike for almost a month in a special detention centre in Moscow in protest against the war in Ukraine. Saksonov was detained on 7 October for holding a picket with a poster depicting Vladimir Putin and a swastika. The next day, a court jailed him for repeated violation of the rules of participation in public rallies.
- Grigory Saksonov’s hunger strike went almost unnoticed – it only became known towards the end of his detention. In Russia, such actions are often fruitless, and the demands of prisoners, if they don’t relate to the conditions of detention, remain unfulfilled. In 2018, for example, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov held a hunger strike for 145 days, seeking the release of Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia, but ended it under threat of force-feeding.
Evgenia Baltatarova, a Buryat journalist who has been charged with disseminating ‘fake news’ in Russia, was arrested, OVD-Info reported, on arrival in Kazakhstan. She was subsequently searched, her personal equipment confiscated and subjected to a medical examination before being released.
Pressure on journalists and activists may not end even after they leave Russia. A person who is prosecuted for “fake news” about the Russian army cannot be deported from Kazakhstan, as there is no relevant article in the local criminal code. However, a political case may be opened under another charge, for example, one concerning terrorism.OVD-Info
According to OVD-Info, six people were detained on suspicion of involvement in At-Takfir wal-Hijra, a group which is designated an ‘extremist organisation’ in Russia. According to the Investigative Committee, the individuals ‘conducted meetings and disseminated doctrines’ as well as ‘recruited to and involved new adherents’ in Al-Takfir Wal-Hijra.
“There is no convincing evidence confirming the existence of Al-Takfir wal-Hijra, either in Russia or elsewhere in the world,” human rights activist and researcher Vitaly Ponomarev stressed. Despite this, the Supreme Court declared the organisation extremist in 2010 and banned its activities on Russian territory. Muslims continue to be prosecuted and sentenced to prison on related charges.OVD-Info
The Committee to Protect Journalists published its 2022 Global Impunity Index in which it noted that for the first time since CPJ started the index in 2008 Russia ‘dropped off’ the index because it had three unsolved murders, which is less than the minimum of five required for inclusion in the report. However, CPJ noted that ‘Russia has long ranked among the worst countries in the world for journalist murders, with reporters covering beats such as official corruption and human rights violations routinely targeted for their work.’
In Russia, the genocide of media has come to its conclusion. Russian citizens are left alone in the face of government propaganda.Nobel Prize laureate and Novaya gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov
Civil Rights Defenders published interviews with two coordinators of the Feminist Anti-War Resistance, one of the oganisations formed by a group of feminist activists the day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to oppose the war. The two are no longer in Russia.
For many men and women who are now doing guerrilla work inside the country every sticker they put out there is a big step, a big act. This war, although it sounds paradoxical and horrible, forms a whole group of people who are ready to actively defend their right to freedom, even in the circumstances of total un-freedom that we have now.Liliya Vyzhivatova, coordinator, Feminist Anti-War Resistance
In a briefing to mark the start of COP27, Amnesty International said that ‘the world is hurtling toward global warming levels of at least 2.5°C’ and urged all state parties to the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to update their 2030 emissions targets to ensure they are aligned with keeping the average global temperature increase below 1.5°C. The organisation noted indigenous peoples in Yakutia are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change
The Indigenous peoples of the Arctic region of Yakutia live in the far north-east of Russia, where the average temperature has risen by 2-3°C in recent years. This has caused permafrost to thaw, intensifying wildfires, and leading to biodiversity loss. […] C The impacts of climate change in Yakutia are compounded by the Russian government’s plans to maximize extraction and production of oil and gas in the region.Amnesty International
As this week has shown, activists and journalists can be subject to arbitrary unlawful treatment by the authorities. While such instances fail to provoke widespread protests among the general population, the bravery of individuals in Russia’s hostile domestic environment – such as Grigory Saksonov and activists of the Feminist Anti-War Resistance – is outstanding. The report by CPJ on the global state of journalism showed how the repression of journalism as a profession has seen a decline in the number of killings of individual journalists in Russia. Amnesty International focused on the negative impact of climate change in a country whose government seems to have obtusely set its face against mitigating any impact. Meanwhile the UN’s Human Rights Committee gave Russia until November 2025 to respond to its quite devastating report pointing out the country’s human rights failings. It is to be hoped that one day reports such as this, along with the back catalogue of jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, will provide a new generation of Russian leaderswith a blueprint on how to reform the country. And who knows, perhaps by 2025?