12 June 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 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe expressed ‘grave concern’ that Aleksei Navalny ‘remains in detention and his conviction in the “Yves Rocher” case still stands.’ The Committee ‘strongly urged the authorities to immediately release Mr Aleksey Navalnyy, to quash his conviction and that of his brother, Oleg Navalnyy, in this case and to reimburse the fine and the civil damages they have paid.’ Opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov fled Russia for Ukraine following his arrest and detention for 48 hours. Andrei Pivovarov, former executive director of the pro-democracy Open Russia movement, was charged with an offence under the ‘foreign agent’ legislation and remanded in custody for two months. Meanwhile three civil society organisations associated with jailed prisoner of conscience Aleksei Navalny – of which the best known is the Anti-Corruption Foundation – were branded as ‘extremist’, effectively banning them and exposing supporters or associates to criminal prosecution, as well as banning them from any role in public life. The State Duma adopteda bill that further criminalising contacts between Russian citizens and ‘undesirable’ foreign organisations. The European Court of Human Rights handed down a slew of 13 judgments finding Russia guilty of violations of Convention Articles 3 (prohibition on torture), 5 (liberty and security). 8 (private life), 11 (freedom of assembly and association) and 13 (effective remedy).
The clampdown on civil society and political activity in Russia proceeds apace, with leading opposition politician Aleksei Navalny in prison and organisations associated with him declared extremist and banned. Two further examples of this clampdown are the cases of Open Russia activist Andrei Pivovarov, who was remanded in custody for two months, and opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov, effectively forced out of the country after being threatened with prosecution. While domestic civil society groups now face being branded as ‘extremist’, criminal sanctions for Russian citizens having any kind of contact with foreign ‘undesirable’ organisations have also been further tightened. Such a situation gives scant grounds for optimism about human rights in Russia at the present time. Indeed, those who value the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, that continue to highlight critical deficiencies in the Russian judicial, law enforcement and penitentiary systems, must needs resort to looking to a possible future when a Russian government will have the political will to actively remedy these ills. Meanwhile, such steps as the call by the Committee of Ministers for the release of Aleksei Navalny, based on the European Court of Human Rights’ indication of 16 February 2021 under Rule 39, made ‘with regard to the nature and extent of risk to the applicant’s life’, challenges the Russian government to abide by the very minimum of human rights standards in the most egregious of cases, yet to no effect.