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Amnesty International: “Recognition as a prisoner of conscience is not a prize or a magic key”

Source: (info), 25/05/12

· Human rights defenders  · Persecution of activists  · Public protests  · Moscow city & Moscow region

The international human rights organisation Amnesty International has recognised the opposition leaders Sergei Udaltsov and Aleksei Navalny as “prisoners of conscience” for a second time. Udaltsov and Navalny were released on 24 May 2012 after serving a 15-day term in prison for disobeying police. Amnesty International's Russia experts Friederike Behr and John Dalhuisen commented on Amnesty International’s decision.

Friederike Behr: “The growing civic activity and protest movement in Russia have been predominantly peaceful so far, and as a result no one has been seriously injured. But unfortunately the latest protest on 6 May cannot be counted among the peaceful demonstrations. We closely observed how arrests were carried out and how court hearings proceeded, as well as analysing evidence from eyewitnesses and recordings from the event venue. On the basis of this, Amnesty International has concluded that the majority of those detained can be considered prisoners of conscience, insofar as they peacefully asserted their point of view and their right to peaceful assembly. Unfortunately, too often the authorities' response to similar protests has indicated a failure to understand their citizens' fundamental right to freedom of assembly...”

Experts from the international human rights organisation Amnesty International, presenting their annual report on human rights in Moscow, drew attention to the numerous arrests of social activists in the course of mass protests, notes Radio Svoboda correspondent Dinara Setdikova.

How does being recognized as “prisoners of conscience” help those who have been arrested? Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia Programme Director, John Dalhuisen, spoke to Radio Svoboda.

“From the point of view of Amnesty International, recognition as a prisoner of conscience is not a prize or a magic key that can open all doors. Rather, it is done in order to draw attention to the person and the situation they are in. We hope that this pressure on the government will ultimately lead to the release of those imprisoned. By recognising a person as a prisoner of conscience, we are making a promise to monitor the fate of this person. Amnesty International is not alone in this struggle; many people and international structures are monitoring the fate of those who have been arrested, who could possibly be helped if their cases were submitted to international courts, which are capable of making independent rulings.”

The blogger Aleksei Navalny and Left Front coordinator Sergei Udaltsov received 15-day sentences for disobeying police on the night of 9 May during the “people's strolls” at Kudrinskaya Square in the centre of Moscow, where they were later detained. Udaltsov emerged from prison on the night of 23 May and immediately made his way to the Old Arbat, where he addressed those participating in the “strolls”. He urged supporters not to stop the protest. “We must work out several possible places where we can hold mass demonstrations and then present this to the authorities,” Udaltsov is quoted as saying by