11 April 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 President Putin signed into force a law that allows him to stand for re-election two more times – in 2024 and 2030. Aleksei Navalny continued his hunger strike and his health has continued to deteriorate. He was placed in a sick ward in the penal colony with a cough and a high temperature. He is also suffering from pain in his back and is losing the feeling in his legs and hands. Supporters of Navalny, who included doctors, were arrested outside the penal colony as they protested against the fact that Navalny has been prevented from seeing a doctor of his choice. Some of the protesters were jailed for a week. Amnesty International said Navalny is being ill-treated and denied adequate medical assistance and called for his immediate release. In a statement on the impending trial of the artist Yulia Tsvetkova (set to begin on 12 April in Komsomolsk-na-Amure), Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office director, said: “We reiterate our call on the Russian authorities to immediately drop all charges against Yulia Tsvetkova, stop targeting feminist, LGBTI and other activists, and guarantee artistic freedom for all.” FSB agents searched the Moscow home of investigative journalist and chief editor of Istories Roman Anin who was also interrogated by the Investigative Committee in connection with inquiries related to ‘violation of privacy’ believed to be related to a 2016 defamation lawsuit won by Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin over reports linking him to a $100m luxury yacht. Meanwhile, supporters of separatists in eastern Ukraine disrupted a movie screening at the Artdocfest film festival in Moscow, the second major attack this year on Artdocfest, which has been forced to relocate to Riga in recent years. The European Court of Human Rights issued one ruling with regard to Russia, finding violations of Article 6 (fair trial) and Article 10 (freedom of expression) in the 2006 jailing of Olga Kudrina for taking part in a protest that involved hanging a poster on the exterior wall of the Rossiya Hotel calling for President Putin to resign.
It may be that with the passing of the new law potentially allowing President Putin to remain in office until 2036 the Russian authorities believe they have ensured greater stability for the future. Yet, if it is such, on the evidence of this week, the kind of stability intended seems to be based on restricting the rights of others to take part in political competition and, in particular, the right to freedom of expression. The health of hunger-striking Aleksei Navalny, jailed on politically motivated charges because of his opposition to President Putin, is deteriorating as he has been denied medical care. The authorities continue to jail his supporters for protesting his treatment. The European Court of Human Rights found the 2006 jailing of a protester for hanging up a poster calling for President Putin to resign constituted interference with her right to freedom of expression. The trial of artist Yulia Tsvetkova is set to begin on charges related to her artistic self-expression. At the same time, non-state actors harass and intimidate with apparent impunity the independent Artdocfest documentary film festival. And the FSB and investigative agencies seem to be acting as a private police force for Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin in acting against the journalist and investigative reporter Roman Anin who had written about him. The aim of the authorities in prolonging Putin’s rule, then, if it is greater stability, seems to be a stability based on an absence of real political opposition and very little freedom of expression.