1 May 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
Week-ending 30 April 2021
This April, in the words of Human Rights Watch’s Russia researcher Damelya Aitkhozhina, was ‘a terrible month for freedom of expression in Russia.’ Aitkhozhina pointed in particular to the harassment of investigative journalist Roman Anin, the criminal investigation against DOXA and the repressive ‘foreign agent’ law. However, the range of repressive actions by the authorities has not been limited to freedom of expression. On 26 April 2021, the Prosecutor’s office suspended the activities of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, founded and led by Aleksei Navalny. Navalny’s team then announced it would disband its network of regional offices ahead of a court hearing expected to declare the ACF ‘extremist.’ The next day the government’s financial watchdog Rosfinmonitoring blacklisted the ACF as a ‘terrorist-linked’ organisation. That same day FSB officers detained Ivan Pavlov, a human rights lawyer and head of Team 29 currently acting both for the journalist Ivan Safronov and for the ACF, searching his hotel room, home and offices. Pavlov has been charged with disclosing information related to a preliminary investigation. Before Pavlov’s arrest, in a further disturbing violation of fundamental rights, a Moscow court had sentenced human rights defender Sergei Davidis of Memorial Human Rights Centre to ten days in prison for tweeting an announcement about a planned peaceful protest (he had been held at a police station for two days before being sentenced). This week the European Court of Human Rights, along with finding violations by Russia in nine judgments concerning torture, security and liberty of person, fair trial, private and family life and lack of effective remedy, published its questions to the Russian authorities, communicated ten days earlier, with regard to allegations by the imprisoned Aleksei Navalny that his life is under threat and he is being subjected to torture. The questions also asked whether there had been an ‘objective impediment’ preventing the Russian authorities from complying with the Court’s earlier instruction under its Rule 39 to release Navalny.
Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, described the arrest of Ivan Pavlov this week as the Russian authorities ‘crossing another Rubicon.’ The arrest does indeed highlight the degree to which the authorities’ political requirements narrowly defined seem to be ever more defining their actions with regard to a whole range of fundamental rights and freedoms, not least freedom of expression and freedom of association. The case of Sergei Davidis of Memorial Human Rights Centre attracted relatively less attention this week but also serves well to symbolise the current situation. Davidis is a prominent human rights defender and a leading figure at Memorial Human Rights Centre; he was penalised for exercising freedom of expression in a single tweet; the tweet related to nothing more providing information relevant to the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly. And for this he was sentenced to ten days in prison. This week the European Court of Human Rights handed down nine judgments finding violations of fundamental rights against Russia. At the same time, the Court published the questions it had asked the Russian authorities in communicating the application lodged by Aleksei Navalny following his imprisonment in January this year. Navalny’s case more than any other, of course, symbolises the repression of fundamental rights in Russia today. It seems to illustrate the fact that the Russian authorities, both morally and in practice, have already ‘crossed the Rubicon’ in the sense of rejecting compliance with international human rights standards, even though they have yet to formally abrogate their membership of the Council of Europe.