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

19 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 eight leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights, issued a joint statement to the UN Human Rights Council which called on the Russian Federation to “immediately release Aleksei Navalny and all those arbitrarily arrested in connection with the peaceful protests, ensure their right to life and freedom from torture [while still in custody], to end their unfounded prosecution and to put an end to intimidation and harassment against the political opposition and civil society activists.” Meanwhile, it became known that Aleksei Navalny, far from being released, had been moved to Penal Colony No. 2 in Pokrov, Vladimir region, to begin his sentence and the Russian authorities continued to detain his supporters. Pussy Riot members Maria Alekhina and Liudmila Shtein, along with eight others under house arrest for the past two months, face up to two years in prison for Instagram posts demanding the release of Navalny and other political prisoners.  Novaya gazeta, an independent newspaper founded in 1993, said it believes the entrance to its Moscow offices was subject to a chemical attack. The same day the newspaper had published the eyewitness account by a former police officer from Chechnya of 13 extra-judicial killings in the republic in 2017. In response, Chechen officials called for the newspaper to be banned. In Moscow police raided and broke up the first federal forum of municipal deputies, arresting nearly 200 people and charging them with the administrative offence of taking part in the activities of an ‘undesirable organization.’ The European Court of Human Rights issued three judgments with regard to Russia, all finding violations of the right to property (Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention). The week saw the seventh anniversary of the formal annexation on 18 March 2014 by the Russian Federation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

End note

Seven years ago, on 18 March 2014, Russia took the path of international isolation when it formally annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in violation of international law. The years since have seen an unprecedented clamp down on civil society in Russia. This week, in a joint statement to the UN Human Rights Council, eight leading human rights organisations called attention to the current repressive domestic violations of civil and political rights. The most high profile victim of this arbitrariness, Aleksei Navalny, has now begun serving a term in prison, while a number of his better known associates and supporters face the same. The authorities would not even allow the first federal forum of municipal deputies to take place, arresting nearly 200 participants on the charge of taking part in the activities of an ‘undesirable foreign organization.’ Meanwhile the independent newspaper Novaya gazeta faced attacks and threats as a result of exposing extra-judicial killings in one of the Russian Federation’s own regions (that of Chechnya). Nor, evidently, are the property rights of Russian citizens protected, as three judgments handed down by the European Court of Human Rights showed, all finding violations of citizens’ property rights by government authorities.

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