13 May 2021
by Leonid Nikitinsky, a columnist at Novaya gazeta, member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, and winner of the Moscow-Helsinki Group prize
The Moscow Helsinki Group has presented its annual awards for human rights activism. This year’s winners were: Akhmed Barakhoev, one of the leading figures in the Ingush protests of 2019, currently held in custody; former head of the Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov; author Liudmila Ulitskaya; and chief editor of Arsenevskie Vesti Irina Grebneva. Additionally, awards were presented to constitutional scholar Anita Soboleva, the lawyer Maria Eismont, the head of the Institute for Law and Public Policy Olga Sidorovich, the chair of the NGO Workers initiatives Albert Speransky, human rights defender Yury Dzhibladze and also consultant to the Centre for the Promotion of Criminal Justice Valentina Fridman.
During the intervals between nominations, the auditorium was wholly enraptured by performances from Teatr.doc, who acted out internal monologues of and dialogues between the prosecutors and judges of landmark political trials. The actors were met with applause from the audience. Among them were human rights activist Marina Litvinovich and also the lawyer Ivan Pavlov, who has been prohibited from using a mobile phone or the internet because of an investigation opened against him for “disclosing investigative secrets”. He is, however, not prohibited from attending public events. Akhmed Barakhoev sent a letter from his detention facility, read by his son Ilez, who accepted the award on his behalf.
The letter read: “When the news that we have not been forgotten makes it here, it’s a sign, a sign that there are good people out there fighting for us. All of my comrades are being met with severe hardships, but they continue to carry themselves with dignity. However, the most terrible thing of all is that there are thousands of people facing injustice and tyranny which they are forced to accept, and they dare not voice their opinion. This has become a pan-Russian catastrophe. It is our duty as the people of Russia to put a stop to this plight, otherwise we will lose ourselves as individuals and will not be able to save Russia.”
The Moscow Helsinki Group, the oldest human rights organisation in Russia, was created in 1976 after the Soviet government signed, in 1975, the Final Act of the OSCE Conference in Helsinki and the USSR took on itself obligations to comply with international human rights standards.
The person who initiated the creation of the Moscow Helsinki Group was the physicist Yury Orlov. Soon, ten of the group’s founders were subjected to repressive measures of varying severity. In 1996 Liudmila Alekseeva, who had returned from emigration, became head of the re-established Moscow Helsinki Group, remaining its leader until her death in 2018. Recently, because of the rising number of political prosecutions, the Moscow Helsinki Group has become more active and young people are becoming increasingly involved in its work.
Translated by Friedrich Berg