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

4 April 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 Russian human rights groups issued a report on Russian involvement in Syria. In the report constitutes a powerful indictment of Russian actions in that country. ‘Given Russia’s key role in keeping the Assad regime in power,’ the report notes, ‘we urge the Russian government to use its influence on Syrian authorities to end arbitrary arrests, torture and degrading treatment in prisons, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.’ However, the report notes, ‘Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of our interviewees do not see Russia as a saviour, but as a destructive foreign force whose military and political intervention helped bolster the war criminal heading their country.’ Meanwhile in Russia Aleksei Navalny went on hunger strike over the refusal to provide him with appropriate medical treatment in penal colony No. 2 in Vladimir region. Hundreds of Russian doctors signed a petition calling for Navalny to be given medical treatment. The continuing severe repressive measures against Jehovah’s Witnesses were evident in the jailing for six and a half years of Viktor Stashevsky, a Jehovah’s Witness in Crimea, and the charging of four Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tomsk. At the beginning of March Lev Ponomarev had announced the closure of the NGO For Human Rights, among other reasons to protect activists from the so-called ‘foreign agent’ law. However, this week nonetheless Grigory Vinter, the head of the branch of For Human Rights in Cherepovets, was sentenced to two years of “limited freedom” under parole-like conditions on a charge of distributing false information about the coronavirus and ‘insulting a police officer.’ Restrictions on freedom of information were evident in the issuing a Order No. 591, issued by Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu, that according to reports, blocks access to Russian military archives concerning the period of the Second World War. This week there were three rulings by the European Court of Human Rights with regard to Russia finding violations of Article 2 (right to life), Article 6 (fair trial), Article 8 (right to private and family life) and issued a ruling under Article 46 (binding force and execution of judgments).

End note

This week key members of Russia’s human rights community issued a timely and powerful report highly critical of Russia’s involvement in Syria. The report is a particularly significant step by Russian rights activists, given the close relationship between Russia’s domestic and foreign policies and the continuing moves by the Russian state to distance itself from international and European human rights standards, The authorities’ disregard for international rights standards can be seen in several key events this week. First, concern within Russia is growing, not least among the medical community, that the Russian authorities’ reckless treatment of Aleksei Navalny is endangering his health and life. Second, freedom of conscience remains severely restricted, in contravention of Russia’s international obligations: witness this week’s jailing of one Jehovah’s Witness and charges laid against four others. Third, it is also clear the restrictions on the right of association are only one aspect of the clamp down on civil society activists. Even though the NGO For Human Rights has been closed down, its activists remain subject to repressive measures as the conviction of Grigory Vintner, former head of For Human Rights in Cherepovets shows. Fifth, freedom of information is also being further curtailed, as shown by the steps taken to block access to military archives about the Second World War. On the human rights front, then, there is little change, given that, week by week, further deterioration seems to be the norm.

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