12 September 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 10 September 2021
On 7 September 2021 prominent human rights lawyer Ivan Pavlov stated on his Telegram account that he had left Russia. Announcing, ‘Now I am an émigré,’ he described how the authorities had forbidden him ‘everything a lawyer needs to be effective in their work.’ The only option they chose not to close off was ‘the possibility of leaving the country.’ In the continuing clampdown in the run-up to the elections on 17-19 September the Russian authorities blocked a website that promotes Smart Voting – “умное голосование” – a project organised by those who support the voting strategy advocated by Aleksei Navalny. In St. Petersburg the artist Ilya Pershin was sentenced to three years in a penal colony on charges of assaulting a police officer at a peaceful pro-Navalny rally on 31 January 2021. Pershin denies striking the police officer in question. The use of the repressive ‘foreign agent’ law continued with four more media outlets branded as ‘foreign agents’ by the ministry of justice. These were all organisations founded by Russian journalists previously designated as individual ‘foreign agents.’ On the International Day of Journalists’ Solidarity (8 September), three journalists were arrested for protesting against the ‘foreign agent’ law and a number of media outlets launched a campaign in support of independent journalism in Russia and against the ‘foreign agent’ law. Meanwhile in Crimea Russian security services raided the home of Nariman Dzhelyal, a deputy chair of the Crimean Tatar representative body, the Mejlis, who had just returned from an international summit in Kyiv of the Crimea Platform. According to reports, Dzhelyal was held without water, food, or access to a lawyer, in handcuffs and with a bag over his head, for 24 hours. Subsequently about 50 Crimean Tatars were arrested when they sought to find out what had happened to Dzhelyal and gathered peacefully outside the FSB building in Simferopol.
This week has been full of symbolic events. The departure of Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer who in his person in many ways exemplifies the progress made in Russia towards building a human rights legal community and affirming the rule of law, may be seen as marking the closing of one chapter in that history. The shutting down of the Smart Voting project organised by Aleksei Navalny’s supporters is one more indication the authorities will have no truck with free and fair elections. The conviction of artist Ilya Pershin seems to confirm the authorities intolerance of the right to peaceful protest. And the aggressive use of the ‘foreign agent’ law against journalists and media outlets speaks to the government’s hostility to freedom of expression. Meanwhile, in Crimea, the arrest and remanding in custody of Nariman Dzhelyal exemplifies a situation where those in power, having lost the hearts and minds of individuals and communities, resort to imprisoning their bodies.