15 January 2021
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 Aleksei Navalny announced he would return to Russia on 17 January 2021. As though to confirm suspicions that State actors were behind the assassination attempt, meanwhile, Russia formally refused to examine allegations FSB officers were involved in the attempt on Navalny’s life and the Federal Penitentiary Service said it would arrest Navalny on arrival. In Rostov-on-Don, three Crimean Tatars were sentenced to terms ranging from 13 to 18 years in prison for membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organisation Memorial Human Rights Centre says has been unjustly designated as terrorist. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Russian authorities to repeal the ’foreign agent’ law and ensure the country’s media regulator is not used to censure journalists and harass and threaten media organizations.
In a powerful open letter, figures from public life and the arts in Russia called on President Putin to take action to ‘repay the debt owing to the “children of the Gulag,” enabling them at last to return home.’ The letter states that, because of the age of those who fell victim to the Gulag, ‘ If this is not done now, it will be too late.’ In a rare success for environmental activism in Russia, the Chistaya Urdoma group said they would end protests over the construction of a landfill site at Shiyes, Arkhangelsk region, because the atuhorities have abandoned the harmful project. The European Court of Human Rights published three judgments concerning Russia, establishing violations of Articles 2 (right to life), 5 (right to liberty and security) and 8 (right to respect for private and family life). The Court also issued an important ruling on admissibility that an application by Ukraine against Russia, alleging human rights violations in Crimea in 2014, is admissible in part. This week also marked the 30th anniversary of the attempt by Soviet troops to crush the Lithuanian independence movement when, on 13 January 1991, 14 died and hundreds were injured in Vilnius.
That Aleksei Navalny’s planned return to Russia is an extraordinarily courageous act was only highlighted this week by the unjust sentencing of three Crimean Tatars to extremely long prison terms in the absence of evidence of any acts of violence and for belonging to an organisation that operates legally in Ukraine. These sentences also focus attention on the issue of Crimea in a week that saw the European Court of Human Rights, while continuing to find Russia guilty of human rights violations domestically, set the scene for a later judgment with regard to Russian aggression against Ukraine by finding Ukraine’s application against Russia in part admissible. Russia’s current troubled relations with Ukraine also found an echo this week in the 30th anniversary of the Soviet attempt to crush Lithuanian independence. That not everyone in Russia has forgotten the past with which the country’s authorities have failed to come to terms is shown by the open letter to President Putin on the ‘children of the Gulag.’ Yet the future remains bleak while the country continues to adopt repressive legislation epitomised by the ever- expanding ‘foreign agent’ laws.