10 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
Fifty-one years ago Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. This week the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 was awarded to two journalists, Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia, ‘for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.’ The Nobel Committee described Novaya gazeta under Dmitry Muratov’s leadership as ‘the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power. The newspaper’s fact-based journalism and professional integrity have made it an important source of information on censurable aspects of Russian society rarely mentioned by other media.’ The award fell in the week that marked 15 years since the murder of Novaya gazeta’s leading investigative journalist, Anna Politkovskaya. Migrant rights defender Valentina Chupik, an Uzbek citizen living in Moscow since 2006, was finally released from detention at Sheremetevo airport in Moscow and allowed to leave Russia. However she was informed by FSB officers that she had been stripped of her refugee status and banned from reentering Russia for 30 years. The whereabouts of Yakut shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev finally became known: he has been transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Novosibirsk, nearly 3,000 kilometres from his home, where he is detained and being treated against his will. The Gulagu.net project announced it had obtained a number of videos apparently showing the torture of prison inmates by agents of the FSB and the Federal Penitentiary Service. The ‘foreign agent’ law was used to brand three organisations and nine individuals as ‘foreign agents’. The organisations include the Bellingcat investigative group and the media outlet Caucasian Knot. The individuals include Russia’s leading media rights lawyer, Galina Arapova. The European Court of Human Rights handed down four rulings in relation to Russia, finding violations of Convention articles 2 (right to life), 3 (prohibition on torture), 5 (right to liberty and security) 6 (right to fair trial) and 8 (right to respect for private and family life).
It has become a commonplace to say that writing matters less in Russia today than it did in the past. However, this week that does not seem to hold good. In a moment of fitting symbolism on the day (8 October) that saw Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn receive the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970, and a week in which the murder of Anna Politkovskaya was commemorated, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Dmitry Muratov, chief editor of Novaya gazeta. Novaya gazeta has established a special place in the hearts and minds of readers in post-Soviet Russia since its establishment in 1993. Journalism clearly matters also a greate deal to the Russian authorities. This week they used the repressive ‘foreign agent’ law to brand two media organisations and an investigations group, along with eight journalists and a leading media lawyer, as ‘foreign agents’. Surely the Russian authorities will not hold back from branding Novaya gazeta itself as a foreign agent now that it has, to international acclaim, received foreign money, one might ask? But freedom of expression is not all that concerns the Russian authorities. This week their targets have included migrant rights defender Valentina Chupik and Yakut shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev. The return of the punitive use of psychiatry to the country (the case of Gabyshev) is an appalling development. So too is the horrific video evidence of torture in Russian prisons that came to light this week. If the right of Russian citizens to apply to the European Court of Human Rights remains essential in the face such barbarity, one may add that it is no means enough.