30 October 2020
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, on 30 October 2020, fell the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression. By tradition, the day before, on 29 October, International Memorial Society organises an annual event at which people read out, beside the Solovetsky Stone on Lubyanka Square, the names of those killed in Soviet-era repression. However, this year the event took place online. As Russian citizens remembered past wrongs, Amnesty International called for the release of a young Perm resident, Aleksandr Shabarchin, imprisoned for two years for nothing more than publishing on YouTube a satirical video that featured a peaceful protest with a mannequin of President Putin in prisoner’s uniform. Amnesty’s Russia researcher Natalia Prilutskaya said: “Aleksandr Shabarchin is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for the exercise of his right to freedom of expression, and he must be immediately and unconditionally released.” On 29 October a Moscow court found Pavel Rebrovsky guilty of creating an extremist organisation with the intention of overthrowing President Putin and sentenced him the same day to six years’ imprisonment in the so-called New Greatness case. Memorial Human Rights Centre considers all the defendants in the New Greatness case political prisoners (none of them advocated violence). Previously sentenced to 29 months in prison for being a member of the group, Rebrovsky withdrew his testimony saying it had been made under duress and has now been sentenced to six years.
The Russian authorities, meanwhile, have shown no interest in investigating and bringing to justice those responsible for the kidnapping and torture of Salman Tepsurkaev, moderator of the 1Adat Telegram channel that has been critical of the Chechen authorities. On 27 October the Investigative Committee refused to initiate a criminal investigation in the case. Earlier in September the Committee Against Torture had requested the European Court of Human Rights to apply interim measures to ensure the safety of Salman Tepsurkaev. On 22 October the Russian Ministry of Justice announced the European Court of Human Rights had rejected this application by the Committee Against Torture. The Committee Against Torture is yet itself to receive notification of this decision.
This week pressure on civil society organisations continued with the addition of the League of Voters, an NGO set up in 2012 to monitor elections, to the Ministry of Justice’s list of so-called ‘foreign agent’ NGOs. There are currently 69 civil society organisations on the list. This week also the Committee for the Protection of Journalists called for the return of equipment confiscated by law enforcement authorities from journalist Yana Toporkova and for members of the press not to be harassed by law enforcement after police seized Toporkova’s laptop, phone, router, and notes on 2 October 2020 in the course of a search conducted on suspicion of a violation of the so-called ‘law on fake news’ – Article 13.15 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences.
In a week that Russia’s citizens recalled the victims of the Soviet-era repression, the country’s justice system demonstrated how it remains subject to political influence and manipulation. A young peaceful protester against Putin is given two years in prison and an individual who had no connection with political violence is given a six-year sentence. Meanwhile authorities in Chechnya refuse to investigate the torture and enforced disappearance of an individual critical of the local authorities and the federal authorities backed them up, claiming to have successfully convinced the European Court of Human Rights there was no need to apply interim measures on his behalf. The right of association continues to be unduly restricted by application of the discriminatory and punitive ‘foreign agent’ law; and freedom of speech has faced new unreasonable restrictions this year under the recently adopted ‘fake news’ law.