26 March 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 Amnesty International continued to deal with the fall out of its decision to revoke the status of Aleksei Navalny, whose health is reportedly deteriorating in prison, as a prisoner of conscience. The organisation’s new Secretary General, Agnès Callamard, in response to questions, said: “What he [Aleksei Navalny] uttered in 2011 has no bearing on the fact that he should not be detained where he is, he should not have been charged, and certainly not have been [poisoned].” Violations against journalists in Russia, meanwhile, have been a particlar focus of attention and Amnesty International was one of seven Russian and international human rights organisations who issued a joint appeal to the PACE and the OSCE, urging steps to be taken with regard to death threats and intimidation against Elena Milashina, a journalist who works for Novaya gazeta and who has published an article exposing judicial killings in Chechnya. Reporters Without Borders called for the release of Ukrainian journalist Vladislav Yesypenko, the Crimea correspondent of Krym.Realii (the local branch of US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) and the dropping of all charges against him following his ‘confession’, that may have been obtained through torture and was broadcast on television in Russia-controlled Crimea, that he was a spy for the Ukraine Security Service. The independent election monitor Golos, founded in 2002, expressed concern when its expert Vasily Weissenberg, an independent Russian journalist and elections expert, reported receiving threats toward his family after he published an article about possible electoral corruption on the Golos website. In other developments, the State Duma approved in its third and final reading a bill making it possible for President Putin to stand for election as president in both 2024 and 2030 (under current law, Vladimir Putin would not be able to stand for election again in 2024 since that would be his third consecutive term in office). The European Court of Human Rights issued four rulings with regard to Russia, finding violations of Article 2 (right to life), Article 6 (fair trial) and Article 8 (right to private and family life) and issued a ruling under Article 46 (binding force and execution of judgments).
This week the deterioration of the health of the imprisoned Aleksei Navalny, who recently survived an assassination attempt apparently perpetrated by Russian government agents (that the authorities refuse to investigate), has been cause for great concern. Navalny’s plight symbolises the aspirations of those many people who wish to see democratic, free and fair elections in Russia. Similarly, the courageous journalist Elena Milashina, who has received death threats for writing about extra-judicial torture in Chechnya, symbolises the plight of independent journalists in the country, as the threats against the NGO Golos‘ expert Vasily Weissenberg and the apparent torture of Ukrainian journalist Vladislav Yesypenko show. Such is the situation of lawlessness in the week that the State Duma adopted a bill to allow President Putin, who may fairly be considered the prime author of the current state of affairs, to remain in power at least until 2036. The question is often asked, should Russia, a country whose authorities increasingly seem to have turned their back on the rule of law, remain – or be allowed to remain – a member of the Council of Europe? The scrupulous legal work of the European Court of Human Rights establishing violations of human rights in the Council’s member states provides one answer: Russia’s citizens must not be denied access to justice, least of all when it is so difficult for justice to be obtained in their own country.