12 February 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, on 10 February 2021, 85 human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, issued a statement calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council to ‘respond robustly to the recent crackdown by the Russian authorities on independent civil society and dissenting voices in the country.’ The statement said the ‘Russian authorities are systematically using the tools of the state to arbitrarily deprive citizens of liberty and curtail the exercise of the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.’ Meanwhile, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, issued a call for urgent intervention in the case of seven members of the Committee Against Torture who had been victims of arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment while acting as observers of the peaceful protests. On 9 February, in a Joint Statement, eight leading human rights organisations expressed grave concern about the fates of two men abducted from Nizhny Novgorod and taken to Chechnya by FSB operatives and whose plight had been highlighted by the Russian LGBT Network. On 10 February Aleksandr Ivshin, a 63-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison by a court in Krasnodar region. Human Rights Watch called attention to the case of Mikhail Iosilevich, the first person remanded in custody on charges of violating the law on ‘undesirable’ foreign organisations. Anastasiya Shevchenko, the first person to be charged with a criminal offence under this law, may face a prison term of up to five years if found guilty at the conclusion of her trial next week. The European Court of Human Rights found a violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights [the right to life] in the case of Sergei Laptev who died in police custody in Mari El in 2011. Thirty-eight years ago this week, on 8 February 1983, the World Psychiatric Association received a letter from the Soviet All-Union Society of Neurologists and Psychiatrists resigning from the Association.
This week, as human rights organisations appealed to the United Nations over the current crackdown, a series of events illustrated the impact of the deteriorating human rights situation in Russia on individual lives: impartial observers of the peaceful protests were victims of arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment; the repressive law on ‘undesirable’ foreign organisations is being used to criminalise what should be legal civic activities; the impunity of law enforcement agencies is rarely challenged; in Chechnya what amounts to a reign of terror against LGBT people pertains; and individuals face severe criminal penalities for exercising freedom of conscience. The thirty-eighth anniversary that fell this week of the Soviet Union’s departure from the World Psychiatric Association gives great poignancy to a recent remark by Vyacheslav Bakhmin, one of the leading activists who exposed the abuses of Soviet punitive psychiatry, that Russia nowadays is not the Soviet Union, but is in some respects worse.