29 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
On 23 January 2021 more than 3,700 peaceful protesters and 50 journalists were arrested in peaceful protests that took place across Russia’s 11 time zones and in at least 109 cities against the jailing of Aleksei Navalny. Amnesty International, which has designated Navalny a prisoner of conscience, and Memorial Human Rights Centre, which has said Navalny is a political prisoner, were among human rights organisations that condemned the authorities’ ongoing brutal crackdown against dissent in Russia. Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, said: “The authorities appear shamelessly bent on violating human rights by silencing their critics.” However, it is not only critics of the regime who are falling victim to the current crackdown. One lawyer, Mansur Gilmanov, was jailed for five days for ‘failing to obey police instructions’ after he had been assaulted in a police station where he had gone to see his client the previous evening; another lawyer, Mikhail Benyash, was jailed for five days for allegedly organising an ‘unauthorised protest’ on account of a Facebook post urging lawyers to provide legal support to protesters. On 27 January 2021 a court fined several of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian-language projects and its general director a total of 1.1 million roubles ($14,500) for failing to comply with labelling requirements under the country’s ‘foreign agent’ law. Journalists have been subjected to ‘preventive visits,’ searches of their homes and even criminal proceedings ahead of a second round of demonstrations in support of Navalny scheduled for 31 January. Seven social media companies are to be fined for not removing pro-Navalny videos ahead of the 23 January protests. This week fell International Holocaust day: 27 January 1945 was the day Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau. There were no judgments concerning Russia published by the European Court of Human Rights.
The treatment of Aleksei Navalny symbolises the endemic nature of human rights violations in Russia today. As Amnesty International’s Natalia Zviagina said, Russian authorities today perceive criticism itself as a crime. Victims of the current clampdown include lawyers, such as Mansur Gilmanov and Mikhail Benyash, who seek to give those arrested the legal support to which they are entitled, and journalists and media outlets who aim to give ‘glasnost’ [publicity] to what is happening. This week International Holocaust day reminds us all of the ultimate tragedies to which a failure to uphold the most fundamental human rights can lead.