Simon Cosgrove: A look back at the past week in Russia

5 March 2021

By Simon Cosgrove

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, as Aleksei Navalny was reported held in a pre-trial detention centre in Kolchugino in Vladimir region, two UN human rights special repporteurs – Agnes Callamard and Irene Khan – called for Navalny’s release and for an international investigation into his poisoning. Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group, expressed the dissatisfaction of many Russian human rights activists with Amnesty International’s recent decision to revoke Navalny’s designation as a prisoner of conscience when he wrote: ‘Navalny is a political prisoner and a prisoner of conscience for objective reasons, as a result of political reprisals against him by a demonstrably unfair judicial process. Amnesty International’s opinion is irrelevant here.’ On 1 March 2021 veteran human rights activist Lev Ponomarev announced the closure of the NGO For Human Rights on account of recent amendments to the ‘foreign agent’ law. Other high profile individuals and organisations affected by the new ‘foreign agent’ legislation this week included performance artist Darya Apakhonchich and journalist Denis Kamalyagin, who both filed appeals against inclusion in the ‘foreign agent’ list, and the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, fined more than $500,000 for violating the law. On 4 March 2021 five Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Republic of Komi were charged with organising and participating in the activities of an extremist group. The European Court of Human Rights handed down four judgments in relation to Russia, two of which found violations of Article 6 of the European Convention (fair trial). This week’s aanniversaries included those of the murder of Boris Nemtsov on 27 February 2015, the 90th birthday of Mikhail Gorbachev, born on 2 March 1931, the order of the Soviet Politburo to execute Polish officers and other Polish nationals at Katyn, dated 5 March 1940, and the death of the dictator Joseph Stalin, also on 5 March, in 1953.

End note

The fate of independent politicians in post-Soviet Russia was devastatingly illustrated this week by the anniversary of the killing of Boris Nemtsov and the start of the transfer of Aleksei Navalny out of Moscow to his future place of incarceration. It was also a week to recall the contrasting fates of the Soviet reformer, Mikhail Gorbachev, effectively ousted from power after six years in office, and the dictator Joseph Stalin, who remained in power until his death. The anniversary of one of Stalin’s more egregious crimes, the Katyn massacre, also fell this week. As Amnesty International lost credence in the eyes of many Russian human rights defenders over its stance with regard to Aleksei Navalny, the prevailing political regime brought further repressive measures against fundamental freedoms in Russia, including the enforced closure of the longstanding human rights organisation For Human Rights, the pernicious impact of newly enhanced ‘foreign agent’ legislation and the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For as long as Russia continues on its current path and remains in the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights will surely be hard-pressed to keep up with the resultant workload.

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