5 March 2020
The American NGO Freedom House has once again named the Russian Federation as “Not Free” and an authoritarian state, as Ekho Moskvy has reported. Freedom House’s yearly report states that in our country a genuine opposition is not allowed to enter elections, and participants in public protests are prosecuted.
Sergei Lukashevsky, director of the Sakharov Centre and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, agrees that Russia is indeed an authoritarian state. “One cannot deny that in our country the opposition is not allowed to freely participate in elections, that authorities prosecute people for the free expression of their opinions in the form of peaceful protest, that the right to freedom of self-expression is de facto violated, and that there is no free mass media. In that sense, nothing surprises me, and it is thoroughly obvious that there has not been the least bit of movement toward improvement in Russia in the past year,” said the rights activist in an interview with Voice of America’s Russian service.
Lukashevsky also emphasized his personal dissatisfaction that in similar ratings Russia usually turns up very close to North Korea and other pariah countries.
I have looked especially carefully at ratings over the past year, and have found that, in part, they use a concept like quality of government. On that principle, Russia compares with, say, China, and in terms of political freedom is behind of the People’s Republic of China. In my view, in purely methodological terms that’s not entirely appropriate. Because as far as I can judge, the practice of real life in Russia – not concretely in terms of political freedoms – of course, is not on that level, and thus far there is nothing in Russia that compares with what is happening in certain regions of China,” Lukashevsky summarized.
The chair of the national civic organization For Human Rights and Moscow Helsinki Group member Lev Ponomarev is not surprised at Freedom House’s formulations vis-à-vis Russia. In his opinion the situation in the country is actually worse.
“I’ve not had time to familiarize myself with the report in detail,” he noted in commentary for VOA’s Russian Service. “But I think it was correct to point out the emergence of totalitarian practices in Russia. At least, I’m trying to introduce precisely that term into usage right now.”
In the words of the rights activist, totalitarian practices manifest themselves in various areas of the Russian Federation’s social and political life: “In addition to politically-motivated prosecutions, there are prosecutions motivated by religion. And so you have the Jehovah’s Witness – that’s a new story – and Hizb ut-Tahrir [note: both organizations are prohibited in Russia] – that’s also a relatively new story – especially in the sense of the extremely long prison terms to which they are now being sentenced. But on the whole, I agree with the summary (of Freedom House’s report).”
Putin is now using all available means to destroy non-parliamentary opposition, no matter what he might claim about that, Ponomarev stressed.
“In just the same way, ‘inconvenient’ human rights organizations are being destroyed. And what’s being done with Navalny and his supporters now is downright thuggery at the level of the state,” concluded the head of For Human Rights.
Translated by Mark Nuckols