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Since its inception, Rights in Russia has by agreement translated materials first published in Russian on HRO.org.

In memory of Semen Vilensky

posted by Rights in Russia   [ updated ]

25 April 2016

Source: HRO.org (info)
Semen Samuilovich Vilensky, poet, memoirist, publisher, founder and head of the Vozvrashchenie Historical and Literary Society and of Volya, a journal about prisoners in totalitarian systems, has died in Moscow.

Semen Vilensky was born in Moscow in 1928. In 1945 he became a student in the philological faculty of Moscow State University, and later went on to study at Lvov university.

In 1948 he was arrested on charges of anti-Soviet agitation and intended terrorism, based on verses he wrote critical of Stalin.

In 1949 he was convicted under Article 58 of ‘counter-revolutionary activity’ and sent to the camps for ten years. The greater part of his sentence he served in Kolyma.

In 1955 Semen Vilensky was released, Radio Svoboda reports, citing his son, the human rights defender Lev Levinson.

After his time in the camps, Semen Vilensky took up literary work. From the second half of the 1950s he gathered together an archive of recollections of GULAG prisoners.

In 1963 together with fellow ex-inmates of the camps, Semen Vilensky set up the Kolyma Collective, bringing together writers who had served time in the camps, an association that subsequently became the Moscow Vozvrashchenie Historical and Literary Society.

The archive that Semen Vilensky collected for over more than 50 years was donated by its creator to the Museum of the History of the GULAG.

Photos of Semen Vilensky: philologist.livejournal.com

Karinna Moskalenko: "Russia and the European Court of Human Rights: From Kalashnikov to Ananiev"

posted 26 Apr 2016, 10:11 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Apr 2016, 10:38 ]

18 April 2016

By Vera Vasilieva

Source: HRO.org 
In February 1998 Russia ratified the European Convention on Human Rights. What path has the country taken since then?

Karinna Moskalenko, lawyer and project director of the International Protection Centre, addressed this question and others at the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre in Moscow on April 15th 2016. She delivered a lecture in the framework of the Moscow Human Rights School at the Sakharov Centre. The Human Rights School is an educational initiative designed to give participants a basic theoretical and practical grounding in human rights protection systems and mechanisms, and to familiarise them with several existing human rights and civil society initiatives.

Moskalenko’s lecture was titled “The right to a fair trial”. This right is enshrined in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and at present most applications to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) concern alleged violations of this Article. This is true of all countries, including Russia. “Whatever right is violated, one way or another the case will pass through the national courts, and quite often this is linked to a violation of Article 6”, explained the lawyer.

Moskalenko went on to stress that one cannot go to international human rights bodies with a complaint regarding a sentence or judgment. It is completely unacceptable to question whether a Russian, Finnish, Italian or any other court delivered the right decision, and to ask the ECtHR to reconsider it. The Court reacts to this very harshly. It is no coincidence that 94-97% of complaints, especially from Russia, are declared inadmissible.

On a related note, Moskalenko described as unfounded the dissatisfaction of several official representatives of Russia who have expressed the belief that the ECtHR interferes in the jurisdiction of Russian courts and undermines the credibility of the judiciary in Russia.

“Some representatives of the Russian authorities have proposed not complying with international court decisions or recognising them as non-binding to protect against such interference. This has ended up, for example, in formal requests submitted to Russia’s Constitutional Court, which stirred up the entire legal community in Russia in 2015. One might have the impression that the sovereignty of the state is absolute. No. There are fundamental rights which have been recognised as absolute by all civilised societies. For this reason we enter into international agreements, in order that all states fulfill their obligations on these most basic, important and fundamental questions.

In addition to Article 6 of the European Convention, complaints from Russian applicants also frequently concern violations of Article 3 (the prohibition on torture) and Article 5 (the right to liberty and security of person). These are also systemic problems in our country, says Moskalenko.

“In 2000 I had the opportunity to speak at the ECtHR at the very first public hearing of a case against the Russian Federation. It was Kalashnikov v. Russia.

Unfortunately, this is a very typical case for Russia. There I described detention conditions, the length of stay in a detention centre while awaiting sentencing, and the violation of the right to a fair trial.

Almost 20 years have passed since then. Unfortunately, complaints regarding Articles 3, 5 and 6 are just as pertinent today as they were in Kalashnikov’s time.

Of course, we should not say that nothing has changed. Today I can give positive examples of cases from a whole range of categories where the authorities have taken into account the jurisprudence of the European Court, thereby setting precedents and seeking to avoid such violations.

The use of pre-trial detention should be an exceptional measure, while in our country it is used almost at the drop of a hat. For example, the court writes that so-and-so committed a very serious crime and therefore they must be remanded in custody. In this way the court violates the presumption of innocence. We are forced to conclude that the judicial authorities are very keen to satisfy the motions of the prosecution when it comes to using pre-trial detention.

The court says: "If they are not remanded in custody, they will run away.” Of course, they will run away, or else they will get the same treatment as the applicants in the case Ananyev and Others v Russia [in which the judgment of the ECtHR was adopted in January 2012, and among those representing the applicants was a lawyer from the International Protection Centre, Oksana Preobrazhenskaya].

As a matter of fact what we see is that Russia has travelled the road from Kalashnikov to Ananiev, and all the same it’s a very bad situation in the pre-trial detention centres. It’s better even in the penal colonies. But in the penal colonies people are serving their terms of imprisonment after having been found guilty. In pre-trial detention facilities we shall never allow a person to be treated in such a way that there are 80 people held in 24 square metres, with bunks on three levels and people forced to sleep in three shifts. One person sleeps, another works on his case, while a third is performing their natural functions in the very same space. You can imagine what the food is like for yourselves. There is an hour’s exercise a day, and sometimes less, indeed sometimes they don’t get out for a walk for a whole week because each day they are being taken to the courthouse. When they are taken to the court they are woken at 5 or 6 in the morning for assembly, and then follow several hours sitting and waiting around, no one cares where or how. Then they are transported around Moscow and get caught up in traffic jams. And sometimes they don’t get back to the cells until after midnight. There’s human rights for you. And the presumption of innocence".

According to information gathered by Karinna Moskalenko, in one out of every two criminal prosecutions in Russia case the lawyer, rights defender or defendant themselves argue that there has been a violation of Article 5 of the European Convention.

Instances of beatings and torture, prohibited under Article 3, are also common. At the same time our courts often pay no attention to complaints of this nature, as happened in the case of Idalov v Russia. This is also a systemic problem.

In her lecture Karinna Moskalenko also talked about the hearing in the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights to take place on 20 April in which she and other lawyers from the International Protection Centre will participate. The applicants are prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment who believe that they have been victims of discrimination.

"It is a very complicated question. Is there discrimination in a situation when women are never sentenced to life imprisonment, nor are those aged under 18, which is certainly just, based on any of the existing criteria upheld by the Council of Europe, and nor are those older than 65. This means that in practice only people who had the luck to be born a male and who are between the ages of 18 and 65 can be sentenced to life imprisonment. Our applicants say that this is discrimination,” Karinna Moskalenko explained.

The lawyer emphasised in particular that the applicants in no way wished that women should also be sentenced to life imprisonment.

"The only criterion according to which the Russian government believes that someone should be freed from that form of punishment, in other words from a life without hope, is humanism. However, we believe that humanism must be used as a criterion applicable to all groups. We don’t want anyone to suffer discrimination", Karinna Moskalenko said.

According to Karinna Moskalenko, bringing law enforcement practice in Russian into line with the norms of the European Convention and the practice of the European Court of Human Rights is neither offensive or humiliating for Russia, but a process that is very useful for our country. It allows us to improve our domestic legislation and law enforcement practice.

Photo by Vera Vasilieva for HRO.org

Translated by Beatrice Blythe and Simon Cosgrove

Karinna Moskalenko: 'Russia has come face-to-face with the fact that it must abide by the decisions of the European Court, but there's no desire to do so'

posted 25 Apr 2016, 04:39 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 25 Apr 2016, 04:54 ]

8 April 2016


Source: HRO.org [extract]
At the Bogoraz Readings Karinna Moskalenko, project director at the International Protection Centre, analyzed the question of whether or not Russia is bound by decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and whether these decisions violate the sovereignty of the Russian State:

Russia has come face-to-face with the fact that it must abide by the decisions of the European Court, that it’s bound by them; but there’s no desire to do so. As a result, a critical question has arisen over the past year: Were those who made the decision regarding our entry into the Council of Europe authorized to make this concession of sovereignty? Does this not violate the Russian Constitution? Is it legal from a constitutional perspective to cede jurisdiction of serious and important matters to some practically ‘foreign,’ international court?

But the European Court is not a 'foreign' court. It is as Swedish as it is Russian, as Spanish as it is Lithuanian. It is common and mandatory for all. The ECtHR never goes beyond its jurisdiction. It only considers cases which have at their core the universal law that all countries have agreed upon.

And last year, when deputies of the State Duma appealed to the Constitutional Court of Russia with the question of the concession of sovereignty and the disregard for the country’s sovereignty, the Court felt pressured. Having carefully looked over the Federal law from March 30, 1998, ‘On the ratification of the Convention on the defence of human rights and basic freedoms and protocols,’ the Court declared that the Constitution had not been violated.

It is not true that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland refused to abide by the decisions of the ECtHR. Two weeks ago, I was at the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, in the department for the enforcement of decisions, and I asked the official who tracks this practice how many States as of today have refused to implement decisions of the European Court. None, he told me.

Russia is not telling the truth when it tries to assert that, supposedly, the Constitutional Court of Germany decided not to abide by the decisions of ECtHR. Yes, at the national level in some countries there are disputes going on. Yes, extreme statements have been made. But so far no one has changed the Constitution of Russia. The Constitution says that if regulations other than those outlined by law are specified in an international agreement, then the regulations of the international agreement apply.

In reality, the cases that are causing the irritation are not at all those about which Russian bureaucrats usually complain. These are the cases concerning the monstrous, laughable but nonetheless terrible voting violations established in the course of the 2011 elections. These are the cases where you have to pay the billions that were seized in the past, when you really don’t want to pay. These are the cases where many incidents related to peaceful protest are given a fundamental assessment.

Russia does not want to comply with the decisions in the case of Aleksei Pichugin. The European Court says that if the right to fair trial was violated, if the right to a balanced and adversarial procedure was violated, if the right to a fairly selected jury was violated, or the make-up of the court was unlawful, and so on, then in such cases the defendant has been the victim of an unfair trial. And in very rare and exceptional cases, the European Court says: In this case the trial procedures were violated to such an extent that only a retrial of the case would be adequate compensation for the violation. In other words, only a reexamination of the case can restore the right that has been violated. That was what happened in the case of Pichugin.

Sociologists’ NGO obtains revocation of 'foreign agent' fine

posted 25 Apr 2016, 03:39 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 25 Apr 2016, 03:56 ]

14 April 2016

Source: HRO.org (info)
The Centre for Independent Social Research (CISR), an NGO based in St Petersburg, has succeeded in having a fine revoked by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. The Centre was represented by the lawyers’ association, the Club of Third Sector [i.e. Non-Profit - trans.] Lawyers, and its case was argued by the defence lawyer, Dmitry Bartenev, Article 20 reports, citing the Club of Third Sector Lawyers.

In June 2015 the Russian Ministry of Justice compulsorily include the Centre in the register of NGOs acting as “foreign agents”. This followed an inspection carried out by the justice department which had come to the conclusion that the Centre was engaged in “political activity” in publishing books and putting information relating to sociological and political science research materials on its website.

In the organization’s opinion, its activities belong to the world of social science and not to politics, and hence it cannot be put on the register.

However, the Ministry of Justice concluded that the “organization’s political activity consisted of:
  • The publication on the Centre’s website of a book “Training in impartial judgements as a key element in the professionalization of justices of the peace, and setting up rooms for the justices to unwind from psychological stress” 
  • The putting of a video up on the site of a presentation by Irina Olimpieva “Russian trade unions in search of instruments of political influence: the evolution of political strategies and new political ambitions”, given at the Centre’s annual Readings, held on 24 January 2014. 
  • The organizing of a presentation of a book The Politics of the Apolitical: Civic Movements in Russia in 2011-2013

Based on the results of its inspection, on 6 March 2015 the Ministry of Justice department in St Petersburg issued the CISR with a warning which obligated the Centre to include itself, voluntarily, in the register of ‘foreign agent’ NGOs. The organization refused to do this, for which it was fined 15,000 r [£150].

On 5 June 2015, still prior to the Centre’s being included in the register, the sadly well-known justice of the peace from court district 206 in St Petersburg, O. N. Kamaldinov, whose reputation is, sadly, well-known, imposed a fine of 300,000 roubles on the organization for not having applied to be listed in the register.

The justice of the peace’s decision was upheld by all the higher bodies.

On 11 April 2016 a judge of the Russian Supreme Court overturned the ruling on the fining of the organization and closed the case. Now the Centre has the right to claim the reimbursement of the fine that was previously paid.

In its appeal the Centre listed significant procedural infringements associated with the justice’s ruling, which included:
  • The adoption of a ruling on the imposition of a fine within a 3-month time period following an organization’s being held responsible for administrative infringements under Article 19.34 (Section 1) of the Russian Federation Administrative Code, but the preparation of this decision in its final form only after the time period had elapsed; 
  • The judge’s taking into account, in the decision, of the political-science expertise which the St Petersburg justice department had commissioned from the Higher School of Peoples’ Art, and which supported the description of the organization’s activities as ‘political’, but a refusal to consider the political-science based conclusion by Professor A. Yu. Sungurov, of the Higher School of Economics, Ph. D. in political science, that none of the activities could be called ‘political.’ 
  • The classifying by the department of justice and the judge of the Centre’s academic research activities as ‘political’ in nature. 
As of now the full text of the Russian Supreme Court’s decision has not been published, however the Court’s office has confirmed that the case against the CISR has been closed.

In November 2015 the Russian Supreme Court had, for the first time, revoked a decision relating to administrative infringements under the ‘foreign agent’ law of the same justice, O. N. Kamaldinov. This had involved the imposition of a fine of 400,000 roubles on the Institute for the Regional Press. In March 2016 the Institute was reimbursed, out of the budget, the previously paid fine.

At the present time a positive judicial practice by the Russian Supreme Court of cases concerning NGOs that did not apply for registration as ‘foreign agents’ and have been held responsible for administrative infringements, has come about as a result of the cases of St Petersburg NGOs brought by Petersburg lawyers and legal experts. And it has been the decisions of one and the same justice of the peace that have been revoked.

Once the CISR has received the full text of the Supreme Court’s decision it intends to seek the reimbursement of the earlier fine of 300,000 roubles.

The Club of Third Sector Lawyers continues to provide legal support to CISR on the case.

Translated by Mary McAuley

Monitoring Discrimination and Violations Against the LGBTQ Community

posted 25 Apr 2016, 02:23 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 25 Apr 2016, 02:26 ]

21 April 2016

Source: HRO.org (info)
Following one year of monitoring discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ community, a presentation was given in St. Petersburg.

The event took place in an open format, with representatives gathered from civil society, consulates, the media, and the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman in St. Petersburg, as well as representatives of the LGBTQ community.

Comingoutspb reports that the program coordinators from the LGBTQ group Exit (Vyhod), Johnny Dzhibladze and Kseniya Kirichenko, presented a detailed review of the situation, speaking about the basic types of violations: homophobic attacks, hate speech and insults, violations of the right to the freedom of assembly, discrimination in the workplace, discrimination of transgender people, and violations of family rights.

At the heart of the report were 122 instances in St. Petersburg in 2015, which the advocacy group documented.

The publication also contained a variety of recommendations to the Human Rights Ombudsman in St. Petersburg; the Committee on Matters of Law, Order, and Safety of St. Petersburg’s government; law-enforcement agencies; courts; educational authorities; the Committee on Registry; medical specialists; those who work with transgender people; NGOs; and labour unions.

“The monitoring and the resulting analysis from the information gathered, which characterizes the position of LGBTQ community in St. Petersburg, suggests that the members of this social group are extremely unprotected--both in terms of current legislation and also from the point of view of law enforcement,” the authors of the report conclude. 

Click here to read Full text of report in Russian

Scandal: Head of Investigative Committee speaks out against “pseudo-democracy”

posted 22 Apr 2016, 12:31 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 Apr 2016, 12:43 ]

18 April 2016

Source: HRO.org (info)

Original source: Meduza
Head of the Russian Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin: “We’ve had enough of playing at pseudo-democracy, following pseudo-liberal values…”
* * *
Head of the Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin,has published an article in the magazine Kommersant-Vlast which justifies a tightening of legislation and also emphasises that “Russia’s problems are connected to the hybrid war”.

This is a programmatic statement, and the Investigative Committee is clearly very keen that it attract attention: usually articles by Bastrykin are published in the Rossiiskaya gazeta, and not in Vlast. Meduza picked out four themes from the article which seemed to them strangest of all, and explained just what about them raised questions.

The main idea behind Aleksandr Bastrykin's article is as follows: all the most important events of the past decades – including the shift in oil prices, the unrest in the Middle East, the rise of new states following the demise of the USSR, the decisions of international courts, and the activity of NGOs are all a result of US aggression against Russia. The head of the Investigative Committee does not suggest any other explanations for what happens in the world.

“The number of extremists in Russia has increased”

Quote: In 2015 in the Russian Federation a negative tendency in the growth of extremist crime and terrorism. 1329 crimes of an extremist nature were registered, that is 28.5% higher than in 2014 (1034). A growth in the number of crimes of this type was registered in 56 regions of the Russian Federation.

What’s odd about this? The number of registered crimes is not the best indicator for gauging the level of extremism in Russia.

According to experts and human rights activists, there are a large number of abuses linked to cases brought under the articles regarding “public incitement of extremist activities” and “incitement of hatred or enmity”.

A report by the Sova Centre for 2015 sets out a whole selection of dubious incidents. “Anti-extremist” legislation is often used to pressurise political opponents.

A few incidents look absurd, for example, criminal cases brought over a repost or even a like on social media. We do not know whether the level of extremism has really grown in the country, but the law enforcement agencies have certainly started using these articles of the Criminal Code more often.

<...>

Quote: The creation of a strategy for the political ideology of the state is exceptionally important. Its fundamental element could be a national idea, which effectively would bring together the single multiethnic people of Russia .

[…] The proposed strategy should define the boundaries of censorship in Russia of the global Internet, since this problem nowadays generates heated debates as a result of the active work of those defending the right to receive and disseminate information.

What's odd about this? The head of the Investigative Committee is in fact suggesting that the Russian Constitution be revised. The Constitution directly lays down that censorship is inadmissible (Article 29) and bans the introduction of a state ideology (Article 13).

<...>

It is impossible to change these articles – it is only possible if a new constitution is adopted.

Punishment for denial of the referendum results on Crimea etc.

Quote: The establishment of criminal liability for denial or falsification of historical events with particular meaning for the state and society is a common practice. For example, in many countries in the world, including Russia, there is a criminal penalty for the propaganda of fascism. […] Taking this into account, it is necessary to update the federal law “On combating extremist activity” the notion of extremist activity (extremism) as the denial of the results of a national referendum (judging by the context, this refers exclusively to the entry of Crimea into the Russian state – Meduza).

What’s odd about this? It is a very vague statement. It’s not very clear what Bastrykin wants to prohibit. For example, will there be criminal liablity for stating the fact that a majority of countries of the world have not recognised the results of the referendum?

Is it possible to make mention of the UN resolution which states that the referendum has no legal force? Is a recognition that are different points of view on this question extremism?

And what about calls to hold talks with Ukraine on the status of Crimea?

There is a sense that this new initiative (if it were to be accepted) would make any sort of public discussion about the peninsula a crime and open the way to other bans – for example banning doubts about the legitimacy of any election results.

Moreover, Bastrykin compares the ban on denying the referendum results on Crimea with the ban on fascist ideology, and similarly with the criminal liability, as it exists in some countries, for denying the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust.

This is an irrelevant comparison. It is one thing when what we are talking about is the deaths of millions of people and attempts to make certain that nothing of the sort ever happens again; and it is something quite different when we are talking about adjusting state borders.Translated by Frances Robson

Translation by Frances Robson

Moscow Helsinki Group publishes report on human rights in Russia in 2015

posted 20 Apr 2016, 12:20 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Apr 2016, 12:26 ]

20 April 2016

Source: HRO.org (info)
The collection of materials, published as part of the important project 'Moscow Helsinki Goup: 40 years protecting human rights,' contains thematic reports written by well-known experts illuminating the situation in one or other area of human rights in Russia in 2015.
To read the report, click HERE

Damir Gainutdinov (Agora): A new wave of repressions has begun

posted 20 Apr 2016, 03:48 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Apr 2016, 04:09 ]

12 April 2016

Source: HRO.org (info)
Damir Gainutdinov, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Association, believes that today a new wave of repressions are beginning in Russia, Rosbalt reports, citing an interview with Damir Gainutdinov by RFI.

"It did not begin today. I’d say that it began after the events of 2011—2012,” Damir Gainutdinov told RFI.

“After the mass protests, after the Bolotnaya Square prosecutions, the authorities are trying to squash any independent activity in the widest range of areas - they are trying to control the Internet, the media, NGOs, civil society activists.

“The Bolotnaya Square prosecutions, for example, have been providing an income to several dozen investigators for many years now. Literally yesterday it became known that one more suspect in the case has been detained in Astrakhan. So yes, this is a new and probably one of the most serious waves of repression against freedom in Russia.”

Damir Gainutdinov also said that many people in Europe underestimate the significance of what is happening in Russia, “not only in the sense that this can influence human rights in Russia, but also influence the situation in Europe, including the human rights situation.”

"Let’s say people know about what’s happening with the so-called ‘foreign agent’ NGOs, people know about what’s happening with regard to the rights of the LGBT community. But they do not know about many other things that represent a serious threat. They don't know about the further development of the Bolotnaya Square prosecutions, about new laws and regulations, for example those that are being adopted in relation to the Internet. Literally in the last few days it became known that amendments have been introduced to the State Duma that will oblige communications operators to keep all information about users’ conversations and messages – oral and written – for a period of three years, and provide them on request to the security organs. In other words for three years all your correspondence and conversations will be kept and may be given to the security services. Many people don’t know about these kinds of laws."

According to Damir Gainutdinov, Agora is itself also under threat.

“On 10 February this year Agora Human Rights Association was liquidated as an NGO in Russia by the Supreme Court of Tatarstan on the basis of completely unclear grounds. Agora was accused of continuing to be engaged in political activity and trying to get removed from the register of ‘foreign agents’. It’s true we made an application to be taken off the 'foreign agent' list, but we never expected that that would be grounds for closing down the organization.”

“Our lawyers have also received threats in connection with their defence of activists, including LGBT activists, by e-mail and by text. And there is the case of Vitaly Cherkasov, for example, who was assaulted in St Petersburg by some pro-government activists as he left the court house. All this makes for a very uncomfortable situation.”

Aleksei Simonov: "I have the feeling I am in the graveyard of civic freedoms"

posted 20 Apr 2016, 02:19 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 25 Apr 2016, 04:54 ]

8 April 2016


Source: HRO.org [extract]
In the final session of the Bogoraz Readings, Aleksei Simonov, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and president of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, spoke about something very important for Larisa Bogoraz and her closest associates : freedom of expression and freedom of thought.

"I always seem to have the feeling that I am in the graveyard of civic freedoms," Aleksei Simonov said.

Simonov talked about the hearing on 28 March at the Gagarin district court in Moscow of the suit brought by the Glasnost Defence Foundation against the Ministry of Justice, which had added the Foundation to the list of ‘foreign agent’ NGOs against its will.

"As agreed with our lawyers, I spoke as a witness. And suddenly, when I went up on to the little platform in the tiny court room (where it’s true there were three journalists who had finally been allowed in), I realized that half the words I knew I wanted to say I could not pronounce. Because, if I want my organization to continue doing anything of the things we have been doing for the past 25 years, I must cut out half of my own vocabulary. And this is because almost everything I say might be evaluated as political activity, and my main task was to show the court that we are not engaged in what the Justice Ministry calls political activity. Although it is impossible to prove that, just as it is impossible to prove the opposite. Because the language of the law is so vague, is so lacking in the most basic definitions, that everything can be classified as political activity, and nothing can be called political activity -  unless we are talking about direct participation in elections.

“The court decided that the Justice Ministry had not proven that the Glasnost Defence Foundation was engaged in political activity. The Ministry of Justice was told to present more convincing proof at the next hearing.

“If you think that this eased my feeling that my vocabulary is contracting like the tightening skin in the story, then I must tell you no, it did not have that effect. I felt humiliated and I had the feeling that I had stopped being the person I really am.”

The issue of freedom of expression was also touched on at the Bogoraz Readings by Aleksandr Verkhovsky, director of the Sova Centre, in his paper ‘Punishment for propaganda of xenophobia – lowering the level of social conflict or violating freedom of expression?"

Among those who also spoke at the Bogoraz Readings in response to presentations  were Nina Tagankina, executive director of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Aleksandr Daniel, research director at the Memorial Research and Information Centre in St Petersburg and the son of Larisa Bogoraz, and, via Skype, the lawyer Oksana Preobrazhenskaya who coordinates the work of the International Protection Centre in Strasbourg.

Sergei Pashin: ‘The bill which the President has submitted to the Duma undermines the basis of the jury system'

posted 18 Apr 2016, 09:27 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 25 Apr 2016, 04:55 ]

8 April 2016


Source: HRO.org [extract]
At the Bogoraz Readings, federal judge emeritus, and Distinguished Jurist of the Russian Federation, Sergei Pashin, who initiated the introduction of the jury system in Russia, spoke about its history, the present situation, and its proposed future.

‘When preparing for today’s presentation, I reread “A Defence Lawyer’s Notes” by Dina Isaakovna Kaminskaya. She was Larisa Iosifovna Bogoraz’ defence lawyer during preparation for the trial, and she defended Pavel Litvinov at the celebrated event itself in 1968. Bogoraz took on her own defence. It’s interesting what she writes about the court. For example, she writes of the unsuccessful attempt to make the verdict look at least superficially just and proper, and of her feelings of despondency and shame when it was pronounced. “That was all that I felt then. They are not taking a decision” – she writes of the judges –“ they are implementing a decision.”

'And further there’s a truly great passage by Kaminskaya where she writes about their leaving the court after the verdict and, there, on the street were people waiting to give them flowers for acting for the defence. She writes that these people had not been allowed into the court room and had frozen on the street for three days, expecting just such a verdict.' 

'It seems to me,' Sergei Pashin commented, 'that in many ways it is the same today, less and less often are people allowed into the court room, and when you read the verdicts, you experience the same feelings of despondency and shame.’

He cited the quite tell-tale statistics which characterize jury trials in Russia today.

‘In 1994 juries dealt with 173 cases; in 1999 422 cases, involving 867 individuals. Acquittals peaked in 1997 – 22.2%.

'In 1999 the system came under attack. In 1996 17% of the acquittals were overturned. In 1999 it was 51%. This means there was a full-frontal attack. Only 11% of the guilty verdicts, five times fewer, were overturned. In 2003 24% of the acquittals were overturned, and 5% of the indictments. Now the relationship is 1: 2. Twelve percent of the acquittals and 6 percent of the indictments, are overturned.

'It is worth noting that a miniscule number of cases come before a jury. And with each year, fewer and fewer.’

Pashin also referred to the manipulation of jurors, for example, ‘the selection of jurors from among outstanding workers, the including in the list of tried and tested candidates, the copying of names into the list as though they had been computer generated.’

He has a whole number of criticisms of Vladimir Putin’s proposed reform of the jury system. ‘The bill which the President has submitted to the Duma undermines the basis of the jury system. There is a proposal to reduce the number of jurors to 8. Why? It’s expensive. In the year before last there were 308 trials, and last year there were 270. Did they break the bank? Or, let’s ask, was Sverdlovsk oblast’s budget threaten by 1% of cases being jury trials? And in Makhachkala there was not a single one.

'It is said – 12 jurors don’t turn up. And will 8?

'I find quite endearing the absolutely clueless statement that no one has shown that the larger the number of jurors the more just the decision. Of course, no one has shown that the more salt you add, the tastier the soup. It’s the proportions that matter.

'The fewer the jurors, according to those who have done the research, the greater the risk of arbitrary decisions. The fewer they are, the less they remember of the evidence. The fewer they are, the more likely they are to believe an authoritarian figure – the prosecutor, those who have wormed their way into their group. That way it is easier to influence them. In this way, cutting the number of jurors increases the number of indictments.

'Just consider that from 2018 a life sentence could be handed down by a district court, as the Supreme Court plans, on the basis of a 4:2 majority [the Supreme Court has reportedly proposed cutting the number of jurors by half, from 12 to six - ed.]. That means that there is a reasonable doubt as to a defendant’s guilt. One more person in favour of acquittal, and the person would be found innocent. That means that the risk of an unlawful conviction becomes very high.’

Translated by Mary McAuley

1-10 of 1967