7 November 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
Russia’s failure to abide by international human rights standards was evident in a number of events this week. On the one hand, this was shown in judgments handed down by the European Court of Human Rights finding violations of the right to life, the prohibition of torture, the right to fair trial, respect for private and family life), freedom of assembly and association and the right to an effective remedy. On the other hand, they can be seen in five particular instances outlined below that concerned, variously, the right to freedom of expression and assembly, the requirement for transparency of court proceedings, and the need for law enforcement agencies to investigate crimes impartially.
What might be called the ‘good’ news was the release this week of prisoners of conscience Yan Sidorov and Vladislav Mordasov. Both had served four years on charges of ‘attempted organization of mass disturbances.’ They had done nothing more than peacefully exercise their right to expression and assembly. The prison authorities had called for Yan Sidorov to be subjected to a further three years of probation. Amnesty International welcomed the court’s decision to reject this request. However, as Amnesty said in a statement: ‘Yan Sidorov should never have been imprisoned in the first place. He is a prisoner of conscience who has endured years of punishment simply for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and assembly.’
Another example of infringement of the right to freedom of assembly is the blanket ban imposed since 2019 on the so-called ‘Russian march’ held by Russian nationalists on 4 November each year. The civil society organisation OVD-Info, winner of this year’s Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award and now designated a ‘foreign agent’ NGO, continued to prove its value – and impartiality – by observing the ‘Russian March’ and recording the arrests of dozens of nationalist demonstrators.
A further example of the restriction on freedom of expression was the second expulsion by Russia of a foreign correspondent in a matter of weeks. On this occasion the journalist Tom Vennink of the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant was expelled and banned from re-entering the country until January 2025.
The lack of transparency of the courts was illustrated by the case of Ivan Safronov, held on remand on charges of high treason. It became known this week that he has been additionally charged with passing classified information to a university in Switzerland and to Germany’s intelligence service. According to Ivan Pavlov , Safronov’s lawyer (now effectively forced to live outside Russia), the new charges only became known after the final indictment had been submitted. Ivan Safronov was also placed in solitary confinement for three days this week for attaching a TV antenna to his cell wall.
The failure of Russian law enforcement agencies to investigate alleged crimes impartially is shown by their total failure to investigate the attempted assassination of Aleksei Navalny last summer. However, this week the authorities detained three men whom they suspected of having illegally assisted an independent investigation into Navalny’s attempted murder, an investigation supported by Navalny himself, along with The Insider and Bellingcat. Three men believed to be associated with the identification of FSB officers involved in the assassination attempt were arrested and charged with forgery and violation of privacy laws. Indeed, the Russian government has tightened privacy and other related laws recently with the specific aim of protecting the personal data of government officials, such as those of the Federal Security Service (FSB) agents identified by the independent investigation as complicit in the attempt to poison Navalny.
So once again it seems on the evidence of this week that in Russia today the law and the agencies of law enforcement are not viewed by those in power as a means to protect and defend the rights of individual citizens and their independent associations, but rather as tools for their own protection and to advance their own corporate goals. It seems that this is what President Putin probably had in mind when he advocated a ‘dictatorship of the law’ on coming to power in 2000.