Russian Helsinki Group: Free Russia’s prisoners of conscience!

12 December 2023

Statement by the Russian Helsinki Group

Source: Russian Helsinki Group

Free Russia’s Prisoners of Conscience!

No to persecution for beliefs and non-violent actions

Today, 12 December 2023 is the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. 10 December marked the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In connection with these landmark dates, the Russian Helsinki Group reaffirms its unwavering demand of the current political authorities: respect the Russian Constitution! 

The Russian Constitution contains the most important provision that proclaims human rights as the supreme value. Article 82 also contains the presidential oath, the main significance of which is the promise to respect and protect human and civil rights and freedoms.

Strict observance of constitutional norms at the present time means, above all, the release of all prisoners of conscience – people who did not resort to violence or call for violence and who were convicted for their beliefs: pacifist, religious, political. The number of those imprisoned on politically motivated charges today has already surpassed the number of political prisoners in the last years of the Soviet regime.

One of the most unjust and cruel sentences handed down in recent times is that of Aleksandra Skochilenko, a young woman of pacifist convictions, sentenced to seven years for replacing price tags in a shop and condemned to conditions incompatible with her state of health. We believe it necessary to pay attention to the conditions of detention of those convicted. In particular, Aleksei Gorinov, a Moscow municipal deputy and one of the first to be convicted in 2022 for making a pacifist statement, is seriously ill but does not receive the necessary treatment.

People are being charged with serious crimes for a few words or phrases that do not incite either hostility or violence but, for one reason or another, irritate the authorities. Charges of “justification of terrorism” or “extremism” in this regard become completely arbitrary. Indicative in this sense are the prosecutions of Yevgenia Berkovich and Svetlana Petriichuk, and of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, its affiliated organizations, participants and supporters, as well as its lawyers, and of members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community. On 30 November 2023, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation extended this logic to the so-called ‘LGBT movement’, hiding the reasoning for this completely unlawful decision in a legal proceeding closed to the public.

The persecution of people for their beliefs and identity contradicts the fundamental provisions of the Constitution of the Russian Federation (see the Statement by the Russian Helsinki Group of October this year).

Life, dignity, human rights and freedoms, and justice are among the basic values that form the foundation of Russian society (see Decree of the President of the Russian Federation of 9 November 2022 No. 809). Prosecution for beliefs, heavy sentences for words and non-violent actions catastrophically destroy this foundation. In a society striving for justice, in a State based on the rule of law, there should be no prisoners of conscience at all.

We also consider it necessary to recall the strategic principle of the inseparable link between international security, peace and respect for human rights, first clearly formulated in the Nobel Lecture by Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, who also repeatedly called for the release of prisoners of conscience. 

Russian Helsinki Group

Translation by Boris Altshuler

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