9 April 2023
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 two bloggers were prosecuted on charges of LGBTQ propaganda and after serving a jail term, one was ordered to be deported from Russia; Evgeny Bestuzhev, prosecuted on ‘anti-war’ charges, is in ill-health on remand; Georgy Mumrikov has been sentenced to a term of compulsory work for ‘attempted hooliganism’; prosecutors have asked for Vladimir Kara-Murza to be given a 25-year term of imprisonment; the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of applicants unlawfully detained at protest rallies in Russia; and international outrage continues over the detention of US journalist Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges. In relation to Russia’s illegal and brutal invasion of Ukraine, Human Rights House Foundation, which renewed calls at the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council for accountability for severe human rights violations in the course of the war, welcomed the appointment of Mariana Katzarova as the UN’s first Special Rapporteur on human rights in Russia; and Human Rights Watch reported on the launching by the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe of an investigation into the forcible deportation of children to Russia (and their transfer by Russia within Ukraine). Meanwhile, Civil Rights Defenders marked the 10-year anniversary of the launch of its Natalia Project, an assault alarm and community-based security system for human rights defenders, named after Natalia Estemirova, the human rights defender from Chechnya.
OVD-Info reported that the bloggers Khaoyan Suy and Gela Gogishvili are being prosecuted for LGBTQ propaganda. Suy, a Chinese citizen, was jailed for seven days and ordered expelled from Russia. The judge ruled that Suy, by means of his videos, had ‘spread a desire to change their sex among minors.’
Suy, 21, and Gogishvili, 23, make romantic videos: in the clips they sleep in each others’ arms, kiss and talk about their relationship. Many bloggers record such content, but it is same-sex love that is illegal in Russia. Because of the article of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences on ‘LGBTQ propaganda,’ homosexual couples cannot show their lives on social media the way millions of heterosexual people do.OVD-Info
Evgeny Bestuzhev, 62, a defendant in an ‘anti-war’ prosecution held on remand for six months, has recently suffered several heart attacks and needs an operation, OVD-Info reported. Bestuzhev is accused of spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army.
Imprisonment on remand is a terrible ordeal for people with poor health. It is practically impossible to receive quality medical care there, while poor nutrition, damp and musty conditions, stress and lack of movement only contribute to the development of illnesses. […] A petition we launched in support of Evgeny Bestuzhev has been signed so far by almost 35,000 people.OVD-Info
Moscow photographer Grigory Mumrikov has been sentenced to one and a half years of compulsory work, OVD-Info reported. Mumrikov was found guilty of complicity in attempted hooliganism when, according to prosecutors, he had intended to film an anti-war protest on Red Square during the 2022 victory parade. However, the protest did not take place.
Compulsory work is served in correctional centres, where the convicted person has to be almost all the time, it is not possible to just leave them. […] It is difficult to call compulsory work of this kind a mild punishment: convicts complain that the working conditions are similar to slavery and in practice there is no let-up in the strict regime.OVD-Info
Prosecutors have asked for politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, who has been held on remand since April 2022, to be sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment on charges of ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, involvement in the activities of an ‘undesirable organization’ and high treason, OVD-Info reported. Kara-Murza’s health has markedly deteriorated during his time in custody and he has been diagnosed with polyneuropathy, a consequence of the poisonings he suffered in 2015 and 2017.
It is unlikely that the sentence Kara-Murza will eventually receive will be much less than that requested – in prosecutions for such offences the state is not usually inclined to show mercy. It appears that two previous attempts have been made on the opposition politician’s life. In 2021, investigators from Bellingcat, The Insider and Der Spiegel established that before he was poisoned, he had been followed by the FSB.on charges of ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, involvement in the activities of an ‘undesirable organization’ and high treason
OVD-Info reported that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled on 62 applications made by Memorial Human Rights Centre and OVD-Info. Persons unlawfully detained at protest rallies in 2017 and 2019 were awarded compensation ranging from €3,500 to €5,000.
The ECtHR noted that the Russian authorities violated the right to liberty and security of person (Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights) in respect of the applicants. The Court also found a violation of the detainees’ right to a fair trial (Article 6 of the Convention). The ECtHR noted that the Russian courts were not impartial in the consideration of these cases, as the prosecution was not present at the trials.OVD-Info
Article 19 and its partners in the Council of Europe’s Europe’s Safety of Journalists Platform (a ‘Europe-wide system of public alerts to flag and remedy serious threats to media freedom’) issued a statement calling on the Russian authorities to release journalist Evan Gershkovich immediately and drop all charges against him.
The arrest and detention of Evan Gershkovich is reminiscent of practices of hostage-taking from the Soviet era and is wholly contrary to the Russian Federation’s obligations and commitments under international law and as a participating state of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It is the first detention of a US journalist in Russia on spying charges since the end of the Cold War. Journalists must be able to carry out their work without fear of reprisals or persecution. Journalism is a fundamental right and we call on the Russian government to respect it. As international journalists’ organisations and NGOs defending media freedom and fundamental civil and political rights, we condemn the arbitrary and unjustified actions taken against Evan Gershkovich and express our full solidarity with him and his family.Justice for Journalists Foundation, Association of European Journalists, European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, International Federation of Journalists, International Press Institute, Index on Censorship, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), ARTICLE 19, European Broadcasting Union
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in partnership with the Wall Street Journal, reprinted an article in support of American journalist Evan Gershkovich, accused of espionage by the Russian security services and detained since 29 March in Moscow. Following Gershkovich’s arrest, the Journal has withdrawn its Moscow bureau chief, a veteran correspondent who has covered the country since the final years of the Cold War. RSF noted that many Western news agencies that posted reporters to Moscow under Stalin have determined that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is too dangerous for journalism.
Mr. Gershkovich, 31 years old, is the American son of Soviet-born Jewish exiles who had settled in New Jersey. He fell in love with Russia—its language, the people he chatted with for hours in regional capitals, the punk bands he hung out with at Moscow dive bars. Now, espionage charges leave him facing a possible prison sentence of up to 20 years.By Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw, Reporters Without Borders
Russia’s War Against Ukraine
Throughout March, Human Rights House Foundation, alongside members of the network of Human Rights Houses and other civil society partners, renewed calls at the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council urging accountability for severe human rights violations in Eastern Europe, and highlighting the situation for civil society in the wider region. The organisation also welcomed the appointment of Mariana Katzarova as the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Russia.
In the context of the ongoing full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, and following the presentation of the report of the Independent Internatonal Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine at HRC52, HRHF issued a statement paying tribute to Ukrainian civil society on the ground, and calling for the renewal of the mandate of the Commission as well as to ensure it is fully resourced. In another statement focused on Crimea and the newly occupied territories of Ukraine, HRHF highlighted reports from its civil society partners in Ukraine that have witnessed that “the patterns of human rights violations that have occurred in Crimea over the last nine years are now being perpetrated in the newly occupied territories.” HRHF also raised the situation for more than 150 Crimean political prisoners with a particular focus on Iryna Danilovych. On 4 April 2023, Human Rights House Foundation welcomed the appointment of Mariana Katzarova by the Council as the first Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Russia. She is expected to report to the Council at its 54th session and to the General Assembly at its 78th session. The Rapporteur’s mandate will require immediate and on-going support from member States in order to be a bridge to Russian civil society.Human Rights House Foundation
Human Rights Watch reported that the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) initiated an investigation into the forcible transfer of children within parts of Ukraine temporarily controlled by Russia, and deportations to the Russian Federation.
Thousands of Ukrainian children may be in Russian hands, including children from residential institutions that fell under Russian occupation, and children who were sent to Russian children’s camps but not returned. Russian personnel have reportedly lied to some Ukrainian children, telling them, “Your parents have abandoned you.” […] The OSCE expert investigators will use the information collected to formulate recommendations, and make it available for courts and tribunals that may wish to use it in future proceedings. On March 17, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Russian President Putin and the Russian government’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for the war crimes of unlawful transfer and deportation of children. […] Ukrainian authorities have collected nearly 20,000 complaints of missing children, but no system exists to verify and consolidate these cases. Human Rights Watch and dozens of civil society groups have called on the United Nations to ramp up efforts to locate missing children and ensure their return.Bill Van Esveld, Associate Director, MENA, Children’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch
Civil Rights Defenders has marked the 10-year anniversary of the launch of the Natalia Project, the world’s first assault alarm and community-based security system for human rights defenders. In the event of an attack, participants of the project can send out a distress signal so they can be located quickly and get help.
Natalia Project is named after Natalia Estemirova, a human rights defender from Chechnya who was leading the renowned human rights organisation Memorial. She was known as a brave and inspirational activist. In 2009 she was working on very sensitive cases of rights violation in the North Caucasus when she was kidnapped by four unknown men in her city. Later she was found murdered on the outskirts of a nearby region. Her murder shook the entire community and human rights defenders around the world. Natalia Estemirova’s activities documenting the ongoing abuse and abduction of civilians by government backed militias, inspired Civil Rights Defenders’ quest for a safety device that could enhance the protection of human rights defenders working in some of the most repressive and dangerous regions. The Natalia Project has had a clear mission from the start: No human rights defender will be silenced in darkness – the world is watching.Civil Rights Defenders
The project gives me a sense of security, knowing that someone will help me if something happens. Even if something happens in the middle of the night, I know that there is someone on the other side who will answer when I press the alarm button. I really hope I never have to use it, but it makes all the difference to have it.Angela Maldonado, an environmental activist in Colombia who has been a part of the project for many years – Civil Rights Defenders
The arbitrary detention of journalist Evan Gershkovich and the moves to imprison Vladimir Kara-Murza on trumped up charges for 25 years are the week’s most significant events, yet again confirming the almost total politicisation of what still goes by the name of a criminal justice system. Other events also reveal the lack of protection for fundamental human rights in Russia: the jailing of LGBTQ bloggers and the moves to deport one of the two from Russia; the failure to provide Evgeny Bestuzhev, detained on ‘anti-war’ charges in violation of his right to freedom of expression, with medical care; and the sentencing of a photographer – Georgy Mumrikov – who took no photos of an event that his friend did not carry out. It remains to hope that one day the rule of law will have greater meaning for Russia – and to regret that the latest decisions by the European Court of Human Rights will not be implemented in the country. Meanwhile, external moves to investigate Russia’s human rights record continue with the appointment of Mariana Katzarova as the UN’s first Special Rapporteur on human rights in Russia and the launching by the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe of an investigation into forcible transfer and deportation of Ukrainian children by Russian authorities. It is to be hoped that, with these and other initiatives, the time will come when those responsible for Russia’s violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Ukraine will be held to account. This week Civil Rights Defenders, an organisation based in Sweden, marked the 10th anniversary of the launch of its Natalia Project named after Natalia Estemirova, the prominent human rights defender brutally murdered in Chechnya in 2009. It is also to be hoped that the day will come when Russia’s human rights defenders will receive recognition within the country itself.