Moscow Helsinki Group members: We believe it is especially important to protect human rights defenders and journalists

13 April 2022

Public appeal by members of the Moscow Helsinki Group to the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation and the Prosecutor General’s Office

13 Apr 2022

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group

To the Chair of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation A.I. Bastrykin

To the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation I.V. Krasnov

Public appeal

In accordance with the authority granted to you, we ask that you order an investigation in accordance with the procedure established by the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Russian Federation and resolve the question whether there are grounds for initiating criminal proceedings in connection with the following circumstances.

Since the beginning of the military operation of the Russian Armed Forces on the territory of Ukraine, instances of threats and physical violence against journalists covering the events, human rights defenders working on related issues, as well as against public figures advocating an end to hostilities, have become more frequent.

From 24 February 2022 to the present, we have learned from open sources of at least 30 acts of pressure and intimidation of varying severity, from front doors with insults and threats written on them, to actual physical attacks. One of the most recent and widely publicized incidents was the attack on Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya gazeta and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He was doused with red oil paint, which burned his eyes. At the same time, Lev Ponomarev, one of the most prominent Russian human rights defenders, has been the victim of at least five attacks.

Most of these acts of intimidation took place in Moscow (19) and St. Petersburg (5). Of the 30 incidents identified, eight involved physical violence. Acts of intimidation were often accompanied by damage to property. In many cases, especially those that took place in Moscow, a certain degree of interconnection and coordination can be traced.

Article 2 of the Russian Constitution states that the individual, their rights and freedoms are of supreme value and the state has a responsibility to protect human and civil rights and freedoms, in particular, law enforcement agencies have this responsibility. Coercion to renounce beliefs and prosecution for their expression is expressly prohibited by the Constitution, as is propaganda of hatred and enmity.

However, we observe that law enforcement agencies widely use repressive measures against citizens who openly express their disagreement with the policies and decisions of the authorities. According to human rights activists, since 24 February 2022 at least 21 criminal cases have been opened with regard to anti-war statements for ‘discrediting the Russian military’ and there have been at least 20 criminal cases concerning anti-war graffiti on charges of ‘vandalism.’ There have been hundreds of prosecutions under administrative law for ‘discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.’

At the same time we do not know of a single criminal case opened in relation to hooliganism, threats, or attacks on citizens who have expressed an anti-war stance, even when there have been eyewitnesses to these acts and actual victims. Impunity for street violence against dissenters legitimizes violence as such, leading to the radicalization of society and, as a consequence, to destabilization and a threat to the security of citizens and the state.

We believe it is especially important to protect human rights defenders and journalists, whose professional activities are related to the gathering and distribution of socially important information, as well as to protect fundamental rights and freedoms by legal means. These individiuals must be able to carry out their professional activities unhindered and they must be protected from unlawful encroachments intended to put an end to their work, or as retaliation for their work.

Based on the above, we REQUEST that you:

1. review the information provided about attacks on life, health and property, including those where there is evidence of the obstruction of professional activities, and report on criminal investigations and prosecutions with regard to such cases, some of which have been widely covered in the media;

2. instruct the competent authorities to investigate, both with regard to criminal cases already under way and new ones that are about to begin, to find the attackers and bring them to justice in accordance with the requirements of Russian law.

B.L. Altshuler, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

S. N. Astrakhantseva, executive director of the Moscow Helsinki Group

V. V. Borshchev, co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group.

A. I. Golovan, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Yu. A. Kostanov, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, lawyer

S.M. Lukashevsky, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, executive director of the Sakharov Centre

D.A. Makarov, co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group

K.A. Moskalenko, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, lawyer

A. B. Petrov, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

L.A. Ponomarev, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

I. G. Shablinsky, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

E. M. Edelshtein, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

Leave a Reply