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

30 May 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 the Supreme Court upheld the sentences handed down to human rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku and five co-defendants (Muslim Aliyev, Vadim Siruk, Enver Bekirov, Refat Alimov and Arsen Dzhepparov) convicted of ‘organising the activities of a terrorist organisation’ and ‘attempted forcible seizure of power’. The organisation in question – Hizb ut-Tahrir – is an Islamic organisation that is legal in Ukraine. Amnesty International called the charges ‘trumped-up’ and urged Emir-Usein Kuku’s immediate release, saying the ruling demonstrated ‘the Russian state’s disdain for the rule of law and its international human rights obligations, and speaks volumes about its desire to eradicate dissent in annexed Crimea.’

Meanwhile, the authorities brought three more charges against prisoner of conscience Aleksei Navalny and sent Moscow opposition activist Yulia Galyamina to jail for seven days for ‘disobeying police officers’. In other news, Open Russia, a movement founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and based in the UK that has been designated as ‘undesirable’ by the Russian authorities, announced it was ending activities in Russia in order to save its members and supporters from criminal prosecution. The General Prosecutor’s Office announced it was adding three German NGOs to the list of ‘undesirable’ foreign organisations (Forum Russischsprachiger Europäer, Zentrum für die Liberale Moderne and Deutsch-Russischer Austausch).

In a move apparently directed against Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, that is expected to be declared ‘extremist’ shortly, the State Duma approved a bill in second reading banning those associated with ‘extremist’ organisations from standing as candidates to any public office. In its sole judgment this week the European Court of Human Rights found Russia guilty of a violation of Article 8 (respect for private and family life) of the European Convention.

End note

The clamp down on civil rights and the self-organisation of civil society continues. Human rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku and five others lost their appeals against convictions for ‘terrorism’ handed down on the grounds they belonged to an Islamic organisation in Crimea, even though that organisation operates legally in Ukraine and does not advocate violence; more charges were laid against imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, presumably to extend his term behind bars; the Moscow opposition activist Yulia Galyamina‘s seven-day jail term was presumably intended to deter not only her but also others from engaging in peaceful civic activity; the application of the repressive law on ‘undesirable foreign organisations’ has resulted in the criminalisation and the cessation of activities in Russia of Open Russia, along with those of the German NGOs Forum Russischsprachiger Europäer, Zentrum für die Liberale Moderne and Deutsch-Russischer Austausch; and the bill  making its way through the Russian parliament will shortly ban all those associated with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation from taking part in public life. In due course all these matters will be ruled on no doubt by the European Court of Human Rights, yet Russia has already shown itself prepared to ignore the Court’s rulings when it wishes to do so. Political analysts may say that the current clampdown has specific and relatively short-term political goals: to weaken political opposition in the run up to the September election cycle and to ensure the smooth continuance of Vladimir Putin in the presidential office beyond 2024. However, such ‘short-term’ polticial goals have profound and probably long-term consequences for fundamental civil and human rights. The only way to ensure the protection of fundamental rights in the future is to ensure their protection in the present.  

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