Karinna Moskalenko et al: Prevent a constitutional crisis and an anti-constitutional coup. Appeal from lawyers, scholars, and journalists to Russia’s citizens

15 March 2020

In the photo: Karinna Moskalenko, attorney, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, founder of the International Protection Centre, and specialist in international law

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group (original source: Ekho Moskvy)

We, citizens of Russia, professional jurists, scholars, journalists, and writers, appeal to our fellow citizens, deputies of all levels, politicians, public figures, and, of course, the judges of the Constitutional Court, who have sworn an oath on the text of the effective Constitution.

We believe that the country has hanging over it the threat of a profound constitutional crisis and an illegal anticonstitutional coup forced into a pseudolegal form. Three main circumstances convince us of this.

We believe the introduction of point 31 to Article 81 of the Constitution, which zeroes out the terms of the current and past presidents, to be at root illegal and politically and ethically unacceptable. This standard is being approved despite the determination by the Constitutional Court of 5 November 1998 indicating the impermissibility of manipulations with the calculation of presidential terms. For all intents and purposes, this entry in the Constitution will assert that the general constitutional standard laid out in point 3, Article 81, does not apply to two specific people: Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev. The presence of this qualification in the Constitution directly contradicts the principles of equality before the law and equality of rights and freedoms established by Article 19 of the Constitution. It contradicts the principle of the succession of power and the principles of democratic, law-based, republican governance declared in point 1, Article 1 of the Constitution and contradicts common sense and the sense of justice.

We are deeply concerned by the fact that other amendments also approved for chapters 3-8 of the Constitution contradict the provisions of its unalterable chapters 1 and 2. These standards violate the principle of equality before the law and the guarantees of the rights and freedoms of the individual and contradict the principles of federalism, the principles of separation of powers, the independence of the judicial system, and the autonomy of local self-government. This kind of contradiction is directly prohibited by Articles 16 and 64 of the Constitution, which defend its fundamental ideals and provisions. It is impermissible to ignore the requirement of these two articles. This creates a situation of internal contradiction between the first and second parts of the Constitution and leads to the paralysis and degradation of constitutional-legal mechanisms.

Finally, we are deeply concerned by the blatant violation of procedure for the passage of amendments to the Constitution. Article 136 of the Constitution enumerates the representative bodies that must express their opinion of an amendment to the Constitution in order for it to be considered approved. And the federal law “On the procedure for the passage and implementation of amendments to the RF [Russian Federation] Constitution” of 4 March 1998 directly indicates that “the one law of the Russian Federation on amending the Constitution of the Russian Federation wholly comprises interconnected alterations to the constitutional text” (point 2, Article 2). It is perfectly obvious that the law passed “On improving the regulation of individual issues of the organization and the functioning of public authority” blatantly and openly violates this requirement by subsuming in itself a set of thematically and substantively noninterconnected alterations to the text. Thus, the organs of representational power did not have an opportunity to express their opinion of these substantively distinct amendments, and this means the procedure for approving amendments to the Constitution laid out in Article 136 of the effective Constitution was not observed. And the amendments to the Constitution enumerated in the law cannot be considered approved and to be going into legal force.

We have no choice but to qualify the entry into force of amendments approved in blatant violation of the procedure defined by the Constitution as a violation of the legal procedure established by the effective Constitution—as an anticonstitutional coup. Such a development of events undermines the possibility of our country’s evolutionary development on the principles of democracy and freedom and threatens to turn into a new tragedy of national strife. Aware of the historical significance of this moment, we call upon all citizens and political and public figures who are not indifferent to undertake all possible efforts to return the situation to legality and constitutional order.

For a list of signatories of this appeal, see here.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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