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Winners of the 2012 Moscow Helsinki Group Human Rights Awards

11 December 2012 

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The Moscow Helsinki Group has chosen the winners of its 2012 Human Rights Awards. At a general meeting of the organization, members reviewed all the candidates nominated for the awards over the course of the year. Altogether, 31 candidates were nominated in ten categories. The winners were chosen on the basis of open debate and a majority vote by members attending the meeting. A gala awards ceremony for the winners of the Moscow Helsinki Group human rights awards took place on 10 December, International Human Rights Day, at the Central House of Architects in Moscow.

Photographs courtesy of Yury Timofeev

The awards ceremony was followed by a charity concert by Yury Shevchuk and the band DDT. All money raised will be used to fund the future human rights activities of the Moscow Helsinki Group.

Winner of the Category “Courage in the Defence of Human Rights” 

Sergei Evgenevich Mokhnatkin

Sergei Mokhnatkin was a political prisoner. He was arrested on Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow on 31 December 2009 during a Strategy-31 protest. An accusation of assault on a police officer was fabricated against him and he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on 9 July 2010.

During his incarceration in a prison colony, he worked actively to promote the human rights of prisoners, for which he was subjected to reprisals.

Sergei was eventually pardoned by President Medvedev – the first time in the history of modern Russia that a president has exercised his constitutional right to pardon a prisoner who continues to deny his guilt. 

Following his release, Sergei Evgenevich has continued to promote human rights and intends to open a branch of the For Human Rights charity in the Tver Region. He is particularly committed to fighting for the rights of prisoners. 

Winner of the Category for “A Historic Contribution to Human Rights and the Human Rights Movement”

Oleg Petrovich Orlov

Oleg Orlov is a human rights activist who serves on the management board of the International Memorial Society and is a member of the Board of the Memorial Human Rights Centre. By 1979, he was already distributing leaflets against the war in Afghanistan and in support of the Polish Solidarity movement. He played a critical role in the foundation of Memorial. He is also one of the founders of the Memorial Human Rights Centre and has been chair of the Centre's board for many years. He currently heads the Centre's “Hot Spots” programme and has co-authored many of its published reports.

As a leading expert on the Human Rights Committee of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation, he helped draft a law on humanization of the penitentiary system and rehabilitation of the victims of repression. 

In 2004, Orlov became a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights under the chairmanship of Ella Pamfilova. He exited the council in 2006, however, in protest at comments made by President Vladimir Putin about the murder of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

In 2007, a spate of kidnappings and murders of civilians took place in Ingushetia, where Murat Zyazikov was then President. Memorial's report on the incidents, “Ingushetia: 2007. What is Coming Next?”, characterized the situation in the North Caucasus republic as close to catastrophic. On 23 November 2007, Orlov was kidnapped from a hotel in Nazran together with the members of a REN-TV film crew who happened to be working on a project there. The next morning, they were found badly beaten outside the village of Nesterovskaya.

On 15 July 2009, Memorial worker Natalya Estemirova was murdered in Grozny. Orlov accused the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov of being behind the killing: in his words, Kadyrov considered Estremova a personal enemy and had made threats against her. The Chechen leader refuted the accusation and even called Orlov personally to persuade him to retract his statements. He then launched a court case against the human rights activist, accusing him of insulting his honour and dignity, as well as requesting that the police authorities in Moscow launch a criminal case of slander against him. At the time, Oleg Orlov commented that Memorial had been threatened with slander lawsuits many times before, but these cases had been closed because police investigations could not disprove the Human Rights Centre's claims.

However, a criminal case against Orlov was opened on charges of slandering Kadyrov. On 9 June 2011, the procurator's office sought the imposition of a 150,000 rouble fine on Orlov, while Kadyrov's lawyers argued that the human rights activist should be sentenced to 3 years in a prison colony. On 14 July 2011, a court acquitted Orlov of the charges on the grounds that he had not committed a crime.

Oleg Orlov and the Memorial Human Rights Centre continue to monitor the human rights situation in the North Caucasus, focusing on disappearances of civilians in violent circumstances, fabricated criminal cases and rehabilitation of people affected by armed conflict in the region.

Winner in the Category for “Defending Human Rights through Culture and Art” 

Vladimir Lvovich Sinelnikov

Vladimir Sinelnikov is a renowned screenplay writer, who is also the founder and artistic director of the Kloto television studio, which specializes in producing documentaries and TV series on social and political themes. He was a founder of one of Russia's first independent TV companies, Channel 31. One of the channel's vanguard projects was “Our Hyde Park”, a programme that invited Russian and foreign politicians to debate Russia's emerging democracy with a particular focus on human rights issues.

As a screenplay writer, he has authored scripts for around 100 films and garnered 20 awards from Russian and international film festivals, including the Berlin, New York and Nyon (Switzerland) film festivals. His films include “The Bells of Chernobyl” (1986), the two-part drama “Oh, Russia, My Russia” (“People and Government”, “Artist and Government”) and “The Last Myth” (an eighteen part series, nominated for a TEFI award.

Vladimir Sinelnikov has always placed human rights at the heart of his creative work. “Academic Sakharov – A Man for All Time” (1990) was his first film and told the life-story of the eminent scientist and champion of human rights. Most of Sinelnikov's films were shot before the Soviet media were allowed to freely cover the political and human rights views of A.D. Sakharov and other opponents of the regime.

"Reminiscences of the Present” (2001) is a three-part film that deals with the historic and contemporary human rights movement in the Soviet Union and Russia. The chief interviewees in the film were Larisa Bogoraz (her last interview before her death) and Anatoly Marchenko, Vladimir Bukovsky and Aleksandr Esenin-Volpin, Kirill Podrabinek and Vasily Aksenov, Sergei Kovalev and Vasily Melnichenko, Anatoly Pristavkin and Aleksei Simonov among others. The film offers unique footage of Andrei Sakharov, Mikhail Gorbachev and Bois Yeltsin. The trilogy became a flagship film of the post-Soviet era. It was shown on television channels across the world, but has still yet to be shown in Russia.

In the films in the cycle “Third World War Has Begun”, Vladimir Sinelnikov gets to the roots of international terrorism, the reasons for its emergence, as well as raising questions about the authorities' responsibility for the lives of people who have died in terrorist attacks or botched operations to free hostages.

In 2012, Vladimir Sinelnikov directed a feature length documentary publicity film “Islanders” about the international civic forum Pilorama, which is held in a former GULAG prison camp and Russia's only Museum of Political Repression, Perm-36. Pilorama is an annual “traditional gathering” for those interested in human rights, and indeed for all free-thinking people. The forum is often nick-named “island of freedom” and its participants “islanders”.

Vladimir Sinelnikov is currently working on a new full-length film under the working title “Reminiscences of the Present 2”. The main purpose of this project is to examine the current state of human rights in Russia and to explore how Russian society could achieve real democracy, freedom of speech and respect for civic and human rights. Commentaries are provided by Ludmila Alekseeva, Sergei Kovalev, Aleksei Simonov, Garry Kasparov and other human rights defenders from across the generations, who discuss the role and place of civic movements in today's Russia.

Winner of the Category for “Journalism Promoting Human Rights Values”

Kristina Aleksandrovna Gorelik

Kristina Gorelik is a well-known journalist. She has worked for Avtorskoe Televidenie. Her articles have been published in such newspapers as Kommersant, Inostranets and Golos, as well as in contemporary art magazines. She has authored radio programmes on GULAGs, dissidents in the USSR, Soviet underground art and underground publishing. She also produced joint projects with Anna Politkovskaya. She has been a correspondent at Radio Svoboda since 1999. Kristina has also hosted programmes on human rights themes “A Person Has the Right” (from 2002) and “Dear Freedom” (since 2004), as well being writer and host of the programme “Third Sector” (from 2010). She writes for the Society section of the radio station’s website, as well as producing short films on social and rights-related issues. In December 2011, she hosted a live online transmission from the Moscow protests.

Winner in the Category for “Contribution to Human Rights Education”

Olga Nikolaevna Zimenkova

Olga Zimenkova is a professor of civil law at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. She also sits on the Independent Expert Legal Council and specializes in civil law, international rights and the legal position of foreign citizens.

She is founder and President of the E.M. Ametistov Centre for Human Rights (dealing with theory and practice). The Centre's main aim is to facilitate the development of the rule of law in Russia and civil society by fostering specialized legal knowledge and expertise in human rights at the international and national levels. The Centre conducts training programmes on international and constitutional human rights. The target audience is mainly undergraduate and postgraduate students, graduates of law schools, students of journalism, political experts, sociologists and workers in human rights organizations. Lectures are given by leading Russian and foreign university lecturers and practising legal experts, including judges of the Russian Constitutional Court and courts of general jurisdiction.

Winner of the Category for “Asserting Human Rights in Court” 

Ernest Aleksandrovich Mezak

Ernest Mezak is a human rights defender and a member of the management board of Memorial's Komi Human Rights Commission. He has successfully brought key litigation on the most urgent issues related to the individual and the authorities. Over the last two years, he has achieved four notable successes: the Syktyvkar City Court now refers directly to decisions by the European Court on Human Rights and recognizes violations of the European Convention on Human Rights; Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service has changed its approach to transportation of prisoners; the police detention centre in Syktyvkar has made core changes to its procedures and significantly improved conditions for detainees. Finally, the Federal Penitentiary Service in the Republic of Komi changed its policies on prisoners living with HIV.

Winner of the Category for “Successes in the Development and Management of Human Rights Organizations”

Lyubov Ignatova Garlivanova

Lyubov Garlivanova is a human rights defender and heads the local Astrakhan NGO Committee of Soldiers' Mothers. She has been involved in public work for more than twenty years and has proven a highly talented manager. Lyubov Ignatova is always eager to share with other NGOs her experiences of human rights work and successful management of organizations. Under her guidance, the Astrakhan branch of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers has become one of the most influential NGOs in the Russian South. Her courage, conviction in the justice of her cause, keen sense of justice and commitment to helping others have driven her many years of human rights work and helped her stay firm in the face of the inevitable resistance from officialdom.

Winner of the Category for “Activities in Defence of Social Rights and the Interests of Local Communities” 

Emma Zakharovna Feldstein

Emma Zakharovna Feldstein is director of the Dzerzhinsk Human Rights Centre in the Nizhny Novgorod region and chair of the Democratic Initiative voters’ club. She has been named one of the 50 most influential people in the city.

Emma Zakharovna's reputation is founded on her enormous experience accrued over many long years of human rights work and the gratitude of those whom she has helped.

The Dzerzhinsk Human Rights Centre is always open to all. People turn to it for advice on army conscription, alternatives to military service, violations of labour or pension rights and the rights of foster children and families. In recent years, most complaints have been centred on housing services. The Centre's lawyers and employees do their best to help each individual establish their rights.

Winner of the Category for “Expert and Academic Activity in the Field of Human Rights” 

Bela Khasanovna Koval

Bela Khasanovna Koval has numbered among her close friends both Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov and Elena Georgievna Bonner. She assisted and supported them through the hard years of their internal exile. Several times she even secretly visited Andrei Dmitrievich's and Elena Georgievna's apartment in the city of Gorky.

From 1994, Bela Khasanovna has headed the Sakharov Archive in Moscow. The archive is located in the very house where Andrei Dmitrievich lived and contains a unique collection of publications, books, photographs, videos and recordings from the personal libraries of Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner. The Archive is both an academic resource and a museum. Andrei Sakharov's name has become legendary in human rights circles and it is impossible to understand human rights without knowing Sakharov's story.

Bela Koval and her friendly close-knit team at the Archive have undertaken an enormous task in cataloguing, researching and promoting Sakharov's legacy: their achievements include a website, publications, permanent exhibition and tours. The Archive can be considered the “premier authority” on Sakharov at the Sakharov Centre, providing scientific accuracy and verifying the authenticity of the Centre's materials. After all, scientific accuracy and veracity are the qualities that Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov himself valued very highly.

Winner of the Category for “Fostering Human Rights Traditions Among Young People”

Yury Ivanovich Blokhin

Yury Blokhin is the First Deputy Chair of the Public Oversight Commission in Rostov region, a Professor of Legal Sciences and a lecturer with 16 years’ teaching experience. He provides academic guidance to students conducting research in the field of human rights.

In 2012, three degree dissertations were produced on the theme “Public Monitoring of the System of Guarantees of the Legality of the Penitentiary System's Work” under Yury Ivanovich's supervision. Academic work produced by a student of the Russian Customs Academy on the theme “Problems in Effecting Public Monitoring” was recognized with an award by an inter-university research conference.

In his teaching of criminal law and the law governing the penitentiary system, Yury Ivanovich has worked consistently and systematically to develop a core respect for the fundamentals of human rights among future law enforcers. Each year, around 500 students attend Yury Blokhin's course of lectures. Students and graduates are encouraged to participate in volunteer work and assist the Public Oversight Commission in Rostov, which has become a core practice venue for students of the Rostov Social Economics University.

Yury Ivanovich has organized many events aimed at encouraging active engagement in social issues and done much to attract law students and graduates to them. He has set up and coordinates a social network group with more than 1,200 participants for discussing current human rights issues in Russia.

Yury Ivanovich also acts as an expert in educational seminars for junior members of the Public Oversight Commission on civil rights in places of detention.