3 October 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, in a Joint Statement delivered at the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights House Foundation, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Federation for Human Rights, stated that the Russian authorities ‘have used the laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations” and anti-extremism legislation to demonize and stifle independent groups and media, and to punish and intimidate dissenting and independent voices.’ The organisations urged the Council to ‘press the Russian authorities to reverse the course of the unprecedented human rights crackdown, and take steps to bring Russia more formally onto the Council’s agenda.’ Roman Dobrokhotov, an investigative journalist, founder and editor-in-chief of The Insider website, was announced to be under investigation for allegedly illegally crossing the Russian border into Ukraine. FSB agents searched his parents’ home and questioned his parents and wife. Valentina Chupik, a migrant rights defender based in Moscow, remained in detention at an immigration centre at Sheremetevo airport in Moscow after being held on her arrival from Yerevan on 25 September. Officers confiscated Chupik’s travel document and denied her access to legal support, threatening her with imminent forcible removal to Uzbekistan. The civil rights group OVD-Info, last week awarded Civil Rights Defenders’ Civil Rights Defender of the Year award, was designated a ‘foreign agent’ NGO along with the important independent media outlet Mediazona and a number of individual journalists. The FSB published a 60-item list of information concerning Russia’s military, space agency and security services that, while not classified as state secrets, ‘foreign states, organisations and citizens can use against Russia’s security,’ probably heralding a further expansion of the reach of ‘’foreign agent’ legislation to journalists and those otherwise reporting on and writing about these issues. This week the European Court of Human Rights in 12 judgments found Russia had violated a range of six articles of the European Human Rights Convention and two articles of its Protocol No. 1.
There is no longer any doubt about the severely repressive direction domestic policy has taken in Russia, as noted by four leading international human rights organisations in a Joint Statement to the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council. The enormous pressure building on journalists and civic activists was evident this week in the investigation launched against leading investigative journalist Roman Dobrokhotov, the branding of OVD-Info and Mediazona as ‘foreign agents’ and the detention of migrant rights’ defender Valentina Chupik at a Moscow airport. The new regulations introduced by decree of the FSB, extraordinary in their lack of legal certainty, illustrate the huge power of this organisation. In categorising whole swathes of information that is not officially classified as being capable of ‘use against Russia’s security’ also illustrates the manner in which repression in Russia is taking extra-legal forms as laws and regulations become so vague as to provide the grounds for arbitrary decision-making by the authorities, including the courts. The specifically legal voice of the European Court of Human Rights pointed to the on-going problems in Russia regarding the frequent violations of such fundamental rights as the right to life, the right to liberty and security of person, the right to fair trial, the right to private and family life, freedom of expression, the right to an effective remedy, the protection of property and the right to free elections.