6 December 2021
by Lev Ponomarev, human rights activist, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and director of the civil society project For Human Rights
THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE (MATERIAL) HAS BEEN CREATED AND PUBLISHED BY A FOREIGN MEDIA OUTLET CLASSED AS A FOREIGN AGENT AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY CLASSED AS A FOREIGN AGENT
In literally three days’ time, Putin will meet with the Human Rights Council.
We all know that the human rights situation in
Ukraine the USA Russia is just peachy, barring a couple of niggling details that the President needs to address.
For instance, the fact that the floors in the Saratov prison hospital were being replaced when human rights activists Kalyapin, Babushkin and Merkacheva came for a visit. This is undoubtedly a good thing – it is unacceptable for the floors of a medical institution (even one administered by a prison) to be stained with blood, sweat and semen.
An inspection was carried out, after all: the scene of the incident was examined, photographed and videoed; samples were taken; witnesses were questioned and interrogated. The staff who had had to walk across this floor were suspended and taken into custody. Of course, this was after they had spent some time lying face down, hands behind their heads, on this floor which bore the footprints of SWAT teams, operative and investigative groups and state journalists.
That’s all it is, you see? We’re certainly not destroying the evidence, Mr President – we’re just completing some planned renovations. That’s what it says in your red folder, right?
Compare this with Sergei Zuyev, rector of Moscow’s Higher School of Social and Economic Sciences (which is also known as Shaninka), who was transferred from house arrest to custody on the grounds that he “could destroy evidence”. There’s nothing new here – this wording features in any petition from the authorities to take an individual into custody, or to extend the duration of their custody. It doesn’t matter who the person being thrown into jail is – be it 17-year-old Anya Palinkova, the ailing 67-year-old Professor Zuyev, or pregnant Liliya Chanysheva. Children, older people, pregnant women – who are we missing from this list? It certainly does not include Sagalakov, the director of the Irkutsk Region Federal Penitentiary Service, or the staff of the Irkutsk jail where around 30 people have officially been recognised as having undergone torture and sexual abuse, and where the torture and abuse of dozens more has not been recognised.
Has this led to any kind of positive outcome? This is a difficult question to answer, in the absence of huge miracles. But should that stop us from speaking out?
I know for sure that, even in the current makeup of the Human Rights Council, there are decent people who will do their utmost to make their work there meaningful and useful for society. But what we don’t know is the level of access they will have to Putin, and who will be allowed to speak, or when.
I am addressing all members of the Human Rights Council. Do not let your colleagues be silenced. If they are barred from speaking, then speak for them. Be brutally honest, and speak up for the thousands of people who are suffering in our country, who are being unjustly prosecuted in Russia, who have survived torture, humiliation and mockery and for those who may be experiencing these things as we speak. The depths of evil know no bounds, and once you have descended into them, there is no turning back.
Talk about the conveyer belt of mass rapes in Irkutsk’s prison system. About the fact that, although Kalashnikov was fired and charges filed in Saratov, all the sadists in Irkutsk, as well as the managers who oversee them, have retained their jobs and all their privileges. Talk about the complete lack of public oversight and the fact that human rights’ activists have simply not been allowed entry there. About the fact that almost everyone who addresses the problem of torture and human rights in Russia has been deemed a foreign agent. Talk about the fact that what this country needs is not superficial repairs to the floors of a TB hospital for prisoners in Saratov, but genuine reform of the penal system and effective checks and balances with functioning safeguards for those under investigation.
Do not allow the President to avoid these topics. Each one of you can bring them up and support your colleagues. Because these issues can only be put to bed if the whole country works together.
And don’t forget about Memorial, of course*.
* Memorial is an NGO classed as a foreign agent.
Translated by Judith Fagelson