27 November 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 the latest legislative initiatives restricting right of association have continued to provoke criticism and dismay. Oleg Orlov, a board member at Memorial Human Rights Centre, has pointed out that the new bill would give the Ministry of Justice powers to ‘prohibit any type of our activity.’ Human Rights Watch criticised the bill as ‘a potentially very dangerous addition to a growing body of oppressive “foreign agents” laws.’ Appropriately enough, this week also marked the eighth anniversary of the entering into force of the original ‘foreign agents’ legislation. Meanwhile the refusal of a court to release Konstantin Kotov – designated a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International – on parole emphasises restrictions on right of assembly. The arrests of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the accompanying searches of their properties in 20 Russian regions this week has been a blatant attack on freedom of conscience. And Aleksei Navalny, who is widely considered the victim of state-sponsored poisoning, has again been in the news this week as German authorities announced they had found Novichok on other items that belonged to him (Navalny himself, thankfully recovered, spoke to the European Parliament urging sanctions on certain Russian oligarchs). Meanwhile the European Court of Human Rights continued its vital work, handing down five judgments with regard to Russia. Finally, it is perhaps significant to note that as 15 countries marked the anniversary of the Holodomor on 28 January 2020, there was no official recognition in Russia of the Stalinist-era Soviet famine of 1932-33 of which the Holodomor was part.
Despite the repressive impact of the original ‘foreign agent’ law on civil society in Russia, neither domestic nor international criticisism of the new bill further enlarging the scope of ‘foreign agent’ legislation is likely to prevent it passing into law. This week there were further significant reminders of violations of basic human rights by the authorities, whether this is, for example, the right of assembly or freedom of conscience, the rights to fair trial or liberty and security of person, or perhaps even the most fundamental right to life. Given this situation, it is perhaps not surprising that an opportunity to remember the tragic mistakes of the past was passed over this week in Russia.