17 July 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
The fifteen of July saw the twelfth anniversary of the brutal killing of human rights defender Natalya Estemirova. She was abducted from her home in Grozny on 15 July 2009 and killed in the neighouring republic of Ingushetia. This week , on 12 July 2021, human rights defender Semyon Simonov was convicted by a court in Sochi under the ‘foreign agent’ law for an unpaid fine imposed on the Southern Human Rights Centre and sentenced to 250 hours of community service. The same day Moscow opposition municipal deputy Ilya Yashin said he was stepping down as chair of the municipal assembly on account of pressure from the authorities. Election officials have already barred him from taking part in September elections to the Moscow City Duma on account of the new law on ‘extremist’ organisations (in Yashin’s case, his association with Aleksei Navalny). Also that day prominent commentator and columnist from Ekaterinburg, Fedor Krasheninnikov, who fled Russia for Lithuania in August 2020 after being fined and then jailed for seven days under the law on ‘disrespecting authority’, announced he was staying in Vilnius. On 14 July Amnesty International issued a statement expressing its ‘deep concern’ about the criminal prosecution of another human rights defender, Ernest Mezak, who lives in Syktyvkar in the Republic of Komi, for contempt of court. If convicted, Mezak may face a heavy fine, compulsory labour or a prison term of up to six months. Mezak had done nothing more than ‘highlight human rights violations, including prosecution of peaceful protesters, unfair trial and lack of independence of the judiciary in Russia.’ On 15 July Russia designated the independent investigative media outlet Proekt, founded in 2018, an ‘undesirable’ organisation and labelled a number of the group’s journalists as ‘foreign agents.’ This week the European Court of Human Rights handed down seven rulings with regard to Russia, finding violations of Articles 3 (prohibition on torture), 5 (liberty and security of person), 6 (fair trial) 8 (respect for private and family life), 10 (freedom of expression), 13 (right to effective remedy) and Article 1 of Protocol 1 (protection of property). In particular, in the case of Fedotova and Others v. Russia the ECtHR ruled Russia must provide same-sex unions with legal recognition.
Prominent victims of repressive measures by the authorities this week cover a wide geographical range: Semyon Simonov, a human rights activist from Sochi in Krasnodar, Ernest Mezak, a human rights lawyer from Syktyvkar in Komi, Ilya Yashin, chair of a Moscow municipal assembly, Fedor Krashenninikov, a blogger and commentator from Ekaterinburg, and journalists from the independent investigative media outlet Proekt, based in Moscow but whose organisation was registered in the US. This illustrates how repression in Russia is nationwide, not merely the initiative of particular officials in a certain locality. Good news, such as it is, comes from abroad this week in the form of seven rulings by the European Court of Human Rights providing albeit belated recognition for the victims of human rights violations, and in one judgment obliging Russia to recognise same-sex unions. Tragically, the Russian authorities apparently not only fail to understand what human rights violations actually are, but are also increasingly responsible for perpetrating such violations against the very citizen-activists – human rights defenders, democratic politicians, journalists – whose purpose is to combat these violations and bring them to the attention of the authorities. This of course is no accident. The authorities are deliberately targeting activists in order to stop them working and to intimidate their colleagues. Alas, this is no news to those who remember recent history, not least the fate of Natalya Estemirova, brutally murdered twelve years ago this week. As is well known, the Russian authorities over these twelve years have failed either to identify or bring to trial those responsible.