Simon Cosgrove: A look back at the past week in Russia

28 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.

This week there has been continuing concern for the well-being of the politician and civil soicety activist Aleksei Navalny following his poisoning, and what it means for the future of already restricted civic freedoms in Russia. Not long after his arrival at a hospital in Berlin, doctors there confirmed he had been poisoned; at the same time, top officials in Russia expressed scepticism that Navalny had been poisoned at all and some even suggested he may have been poisoned by foreign powers.

Restrictions on freedom of expression and political campaigning were also evident in the conviction this week of Airat Dilmukhametov, sentenced to nine years in a penal colony for a 2018 video in which he called for the creation of a ‘real’ federation in Russia with greater autonomy for ethnic republics and regions. Despite the fact that he does not advocate violence, Dilmukhametov was prosecuted under Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (Public calls for actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation).

Right of assembly is also a key focus for civil liberties campaigners and this week 14 people in Rostov were charged with offences under administrative law for violating the regulations governing public assemblies when they held peaceful pickets and laid flowers in support of protesters in Belarus. We highlight a women’s group from Rostov, FEM IZBA, who the week before had held a flash-mob in support of Belarus protesters.

An important legal case concerning the right of assembly and, furthermore, the status of international human rights law in Russia following the summer’s constitutional amendements, also made news this week. It was reported that on 16 September 2020 the Presidium of the Supreme Court will consider a request to vacate the convictions of two political activists, Sergei Uldaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhaev, who were both sentenced to four and a half years for conspiracy to cause mass disorder in connection with the 6 May 2012 Bolotnaya Square rally. This follows last November’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that found numerous violations in their convictions.

Finally, the fate of Chechens extradited to Russia was highlighted when earlier this month Khusen Gadamauri, extradited from Germany in 2017 under Russia’s guarantees, was killed in a counter-terrorism operation. According to Ekkehard Maas, head of the German-Caucasian Friendship Society, Gadamauri had not engaged in terrorist activity but had avoided joining the ranks of Kadyrov’s forces.

End Note

Some would argue that the bizarre reaction by Russian political leaders and spokespersons to the poisoning of Aleksei Navalny is best explained in terms of their adherence to a world view that gives little value to individual human lives in the context of their perception of the country’s geopolitical interests. This may also explain the draconian legislation and its implementation concerning the ‘integrity of the Russian Federation.’ Commentators noted that the summer’s constitutional amendments pointed the way for Russia to move further away from observance of international human rights norms; events in Belarus may lead to a yet further raft of repressive legislation – and some would argue possibly even extra-judicial measures – against those viewed as political opponents. Nevertheless, there remains a strong and courageous community of activists in Russia determined to maintain and protect human rights. It may be that a future collision between the Russian authorities and the European Court of Human Rights will see these activists become increasingly isolated from the international community. Yet, as the example of Belarus might show, on their own terms these activists may find a growing support among public opinion that will not only challenge the geopolitical views of those in power, but also generate a new and powerful commitment to human rights.

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