Site Archive‎ > ‎Ombudsmen‎ > ‎

Rights Defenders Demand that Lukin be Left Alone

Source: (author), 25/06/10

· Ombudsmen · Human Rights Defenders

Russia’s human rights defenders have expressed concern about the unfolding campaign against Vladimir Lukin, the country’s human rights Ombudsman

“We find the smear campaign against Lukin disgusting, and consider that underhand and improper tactics are being used against him,” says a statement signed by Ludmila Alekseeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Sergei Kovalev, co-chair of the Ombudsman’s Expert Council, Lev Ponomarev, leader of the movement “For Human Rights” and others. The Gazeta daily newspaper quotes the statement authors as saying, “We believe it important to express our moral support for the civic and professional position taken by Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s Ombudsman for human rights”.

Lukin “adopted a clear and absolutely lawful position” towards the events surrounding the 31 May demonstration on Triumphal Square in Moscow, the joint statement continues. (The event was in support of the Article 31 campaign.) This has already been confirmed by the Moscow prosecutor’s office, say the authors, which has established that police records of the detention of protestors that day were falsified. Russia’s human rights defenders are calling on the authorities to assure the independence and dignity of the institution of human rights ombudsman.

Earlier there were reports that several of Russia’s regional ombudsmen had written to President Medvedev, claiming that Mr Lukin was guilty of “a selective approach to the application of human rights” and had “spoken out in favour the opposition, turning the work of a human rights defender into a political campaign”.

The letter was signed by the ombudsmen and ombudswomen for the Penza Region (Svetlana Pinishina), Bryansk Region (Pyotr Rozhkov), North Ossetia (Valery Tsomartov), Oryol Region (Yury Vasyutin), Kalmykia (Vladislav Savisko) and Chechnya (Nurdi Nukhazhiev). The ombudsman for Karachaevo-Cherkessk (Vladimir Titarenko) and the head of the Mari El president’s human rights commission (Mikhail Vasyutin) also supported the letter.

In an interview with radio station Echo of Moscow, Tsomartov of North Ossetia later said he had signed no such declaration about Lukin and his activities. Pyotr Rozhkov from Bryansk issued a similar rebuttal.

On 10 June Lukin presented a report to the Russian leadership on the dispersal of the 31 May rally in Moscow in support of Article 31 (the constitutional right to assembly). The police had broken the law in many respects, he said, detaining opposition supporters without good cause and using wholly unjustified physical force against them. For the most part the protestors had not been obstructing the road but were standing on the pavement.

“I saw it for myself and am prepared to testify anywhere, in court if necessary,” said the Ombudsman.

The lack of permission from the city authorities did not constitute a good reason for banning the rally, he added. “If an organisation informs the authorities that it will hold a rally in one place or another, permission is issued on a first come, first served basis – that’s what the law says.”

If another organisation wants to hold an event in exactly the same place, said the Ombudsman, the time or venue of one of the conflicting requests can be changed. “If the organisation which submitted its request later, in other words, is agreeable then it is offered another place to gather,” explained Lukin. “If the place itself is of intrinsic importance then it is given permission to hold its rally there, at a later moment in time.”

After the 31 May rally was dispersed more than one hundred and fifty people were detained and taken to Moscow police stations. Eyewitnesses testify that many were charged under Article 19.3 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation with “Failing to obey a policeman”, an offence that carries up to 15 days imprisonment. Many detained were also charged under Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code (“Violation of rules for holding a public meeting”). In all cases the permissible 3-hour period for detention was exceeded. Detainees were not allowed to see a lawyer or receive a copy of the record of their arrest; neither were others allowed to bring them water.

There were also reports that many detainees were the victims of vicious beatings. Police officers beat several of the protestors who were being driven to the Arbat police station. At the Zamoskvoreche police station young women were even among the beaten. Aleksandra Artemeva, a journalist with was taken to hospital from this police station with a broken arm. The 31 May demonstration in Moscow was the largest since the Strategy 31 protests began. Estimates of the numbers who gathered there range from one to two thousand.