31 March 2023
by Leonid Nikitinsky, PhD in law, journalist, laureate of a Moscow Helsinki Group award.
The clearly selective use of coercion by the Russian state against civil society is most evident in the recent increase in the number of prosecutions under administrative and criminal law for statements that do not coincide with the official propaganda, one of which has been the administrative prosecution of Evgeny Roizman. However, this same policy, which goes back at least ten years (since the introduction of the legislation on ‘foreign agents’) is also reflected in the fact that civil society institutions that used to exist and work more or less effectively are being undermined and turned into mere surrogates.
Mass media, independent bar associations, public oversight commissions (which only a few years ago were effectively protecting the civil rights of prisoners), and other institutions that appeared rooted in civil society are all becoming simulations. The Presidential Human Rights Council is no stranger to this trend, as its membership has been significantly renewed in order to remove some members and co-opt others.
Many human rights activists and civic activists who used to actively work in the Council, where they enjoyed no privileges other than the chance to speak to government officials in a slightly more convincing tone, have been left out of the Council, but have not ceased to hold the same views or do the same work. While retaining our former ties, we naturally discuss current events and the Human Rights Council’s reaction to them, or, more precisely, the lack thereof. Of course, we may have different opinions from most of those who continue to be members of the Council as to what human rights are and their protection, but there are cases where it is simply impossible not to take one or the other public position.
The court decisions on the jailing, under administrative law, of Evgeny Roizman fall into this category. And the point is not that he is a good acquaintance of many people who decided to ‘sign up for him’ in the letter that follows in full, but that his case signifies a transition to an altogether different level of state and judicial arbitrariness.
All of the arguments and our common position are clearly set out in the letter. It was edited collectively, including by those who for various reasons did not consider it possible to sign it. We also know that a number of those who remain as members of the Human Rights Council intend to continue to push for the Council to adopt a common and official position.
It remains for me to add that I sent the following collective open letter regarding the prosecution of Evgeny Roizman at 5 pm on 30 March via email to the official address of Valery Fadeev, chair of the Human Rights Council. I took advantage of the fact that I was had not been excluded from the Council by last year’s presidential decree on the changing of the membership of the Council, although already on 24 February2022 I announced I would no longer take part in the Council’s work.
Open Letter to the Advisor to the President of the Russian Federation, Chair of the Human Rights Council Mr. Fadeev
Dear Valery Aleksandrovich,
For two weeks, during which former mayor of Ekaterinburg Evgeny Roizman was serving a jail term for an administrative offence, we, past and present members of the Human Rights Council, tried to get both the Council’s reaction and your own reaction to what we view as unlawful court decisions in this case. Suggestions and arguments were sent by our comrades who are still Council members to you and Mr. Ashmanov, who leads the Council’s working group on protecting human rights in digital spaces and should understand better than others what procedural actions the courts did not follow when they issued their decision on Roizman’s jail term.
Of course we respect court decisions, but judges cannot disregard facts in criminal and administrative cases.
At the President’s annual meetings with the Human Rights Council, as well as during status updates, Council members have attempted to draw the President’s attention to instances of violations of the law that could create dangerous precedents in law enforcement practice. The violation of Evgeny Roizman’s rights is unprecedented, and the fact that he is a well-known regional politician who actively participated in Human Rights Council sessions in the Sverdlovsk region only makes his case more heinous.
The investigative agencies charged Roizman with writing a post containing a banned symbol on the social network VKontakte. Meanwhile, Roizman claims he has never had an account on this network. His lawyer, V. Idamzhapov, told first the district court and then the Sverdlovsk Regional Court that he went to the police back in January and asked them to clarify with Vkontakte management who posted this information. Article 5.1 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences (‘Presumption of innocence’) states: ‘A person shall be held administratively liable only for those administrative offences for which his guilt has been established.’ This places the burden of proof on the investigative agencies, but they did not take the steps that would have been basic on a technical level to prove that the accused was guilty.
We, human rights defenders and civic activists who have successfully protected the rights of individuals in certain cases, in particular with the assistance of the Human Rights Council, do not like the manner in which judges today ‘approximate’ their actions with the dispositions of the Russian Criminal Code and the Russian Code of Administrative Offences. But thus far they have adhered to the facts and have not charged Russian citizens with infractions or crimes that, by all appearances, they have not committed at all.
Therefore, the ‘Roizman precedent’ turns over a new leaf for law enforcement practice in terms of political — by the very essence of Article 20.3 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences — repression. This practice, if it is not stopped, will threaten mass violations of citizens’ rights, including when it comes to the criminal law.
Now that Evgeny Roizman has served his term in jail, we ask you to take the following actions, albeit belatedly:
— As an advisor to the President, alert him of the position of these past and present members of the Human Rights Council, who were appointed by presidential decrees;
— As chair of the Human Rights Council, petition the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, Mr. Krasnov, to use the supervisory authority held by the prosecutor’s office to remove the violations of the law in Roizman’s case;
— As chair of the Human Rights Council, ask the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation, Ms. Moskalkova, who has the right to bring before the Russian Supreme Court the question related to violations of the rights by the ‘Roizman precedent’ of an unspecified number of people.
- Aleksandr Verkhovsky
- Ekaterina Vinokurova
- Nataliya Evdokimova
- Igor Kalyapin
- Leonid Nikitinsky
- Dmitry Oreshkin
- Elena Panfilova
- Mara Polyakova
- Igor Pastukhov
- Vladimir Ryakhovsky
- Ilya Shablinsky
- Ekaterina Shulman
- Svetlana Gannushkina