7 August 2020
A look back at the week by Simon Cosgrove. Simon is chair of trustees of Rights in Russia, but writes this blog in a personal capacity.
The event of the week in Russia was surely the conviction of seven young defendants in the New Greatness case of ‘organising an extremist group.’ Three of the young people were given long sentences: Ruslan Kostylenkov seven years, Vyacheslav Kryukov six and a half years and Petr Karamzin six years – all as the prosecutor had asked for. As a public appeal in support of the defendants stated before the verdicts were announced: “The truth is obvious to everyone […]: New Greatness is not an organization, it’s not extremist, the defendants were not, were never, involved in those things that are shamelessly attributed to them.” The punitive nature of the Russian justice system was also on display in Perm where a prosecutor asked for jail terms of up to three years for young people who had displayed an effigy of President Putin in the city centre. Meanwhile in Moscow the Justice Ministry sought to get the Moscow Bar Association to discipline four of the five lawyers acting on behalf of Ivan Safronov for their refusal to sign non-disclosure agreements. If these were the ‘details’ of the workings of law in Russia this week, longer term strategy can be seen in legislative initiatives. For example, President Putin signed into force a law aimed at enhancing the secrecy of the operations of the Federal Security Service (FSB) (in this connection it is worth noting that the Prosecutor General’s Office recently succeeded in blocking access by the Memorial Society to information identifying eleven Soviet prosecutors involved in killings during Stalin’s purges). Another legislative initiative criticised by Human Rights Watch this week proposal to ban same-sex marriages and in other ways restrict the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Our civil society organisation of the week is Aborigen Forum, a group representing indigenouse peoples in the Russian North, Siberia and Russian Far East who, in a bold step, called on Elon Musk to boycott Nornickel because of the damage the company is doing to the environment and indigenous communities.
This week continued to see the Russian justice system used as a tool of political repression. In recent weeks the cases of Svetlana Prokopyeva and Yury Dmitriev the courts handed down convictions accompanied by what might be called ‘compromise’ decisions. with relatively mild sentences. And indeed, the evidence suggests, as the appeal by supporters of New Greatness cited above asserted, “There aren’t any acquittals in Russia anymore.” Yet with the New Greatness case we see not only convictions, but a return to harsh sentences. This case, and the harsh sentences demanded in the case of the Putin effigy in Perm, may indicate the authorities are showing a special concern about potential discontent among young people, with consequent violations of their rights.