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Oleg Orlov: 'In defence of patriotism'

posted 19 Apr 2015, 20:54 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Apr 2015, 22:09 ]

13 April 2015

By Oleg Orlov, member of the board of the Memorial Human Rights Center 

Source: HRO.org (info)
In the Sakharov Centre there was a discussion about the lecture by Sergei Adamovich Kovalev, “Notes on Patriotism”.

Comments on the text of the lecture by Sergei Kovalev were made by political analyst Tatyana Vorozheikina, professor Vladimir Lukin from the Higher School of Economics, human rights defender and president of the American Sakharov Foundation, Aleksei Semenov, member of the political committee of Yabloko, Viktor Sheinis and myself.

Here is the text of my speech.

In defence of patriotism

Sergi Adamovich, it is difficult for me to argue against you. It is difficult because from my point of view your lecture is brilliant. It is also difficult because we are both in agreement over a wide range of questions. Finally it is difficult because for me you always were, and remain, the Teacher. But, nevertheless, I shall try.

To begin with – this is what I agree with.

It would be strange if I did not agree with the fact that questions about international integration in our world today are the most important set of problems demanding solutions. These problems have been raised by many thinkers, including Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov. Globalisation of the economy, globalisation of ecological problems, possession of weapons of mass destruction – all this makes integration a question of the survival of humankind.

I agree that patriotism is a notion drenched with emotions and concerned not in the slightest with legal nuances. I agree with the fact that political speculations flourish abundantly on patriotism.

Thanks to the overflow of conflicting emotions it is difficult at times to discuss the issue of patriotism peacefully and with mutual respect.

I also agree with the fact that patriotism, i.e. “love for one’s country, the homeland” is an irrational feeling and clearly has its roots in biology: defence of one’s tribe and territory is innate behaviour. It is a feeling inherited by man from his pre-human ancestors. Moreover, this also goes for the more general notion - “love”.

What I cannot agree with is the idea that patriotism in the world today is a basic characteristic, that is a characteristic inherited by us from our ancestors, but whose meaning has been lost in the process of evolution.

In my opinion patriotism in today’s world plays a significant role. This role is by no means negative: on the contrary, patriotism now helps fight totalitarianism, protects human societies, prevents whole countries from hopelessly sinking into darkness.

I shall try and give a few examples.

Sergei Adamovich, in presenting your system of conclusions and arguments, you put forward a distinct and unambiguous opposition between “egotistical patriotism” and “the beneficial unity of mankind”

That said, I am certain that in speaking about the unity of mankind, you are automatically thinking of a project of integration based on the principles of modern democracy and meticulous observation of human rights.

Once again I agree: it is basically that real-world process, that vector of movement, following which humankind will be able to survive.

The first stages of this process of integration led to the creation of the UN. This process has manifested itself more consistently in the work of a wide variety of international mechanisms designed to protect human rights.

Moreover, even the UN and the mechanisms of the conventions acting within its parameters, come laden with a handicap resulting from their “birth trauma”.

The problem is that these institutions and mechanisms have been created by governments the absolute majority of which do not want to give up even one iota of their own sovereignty. In short, these institutions and mechanisms are either very weak or act on the principle of deals made among governments.

A more effective process of integration based on the principles of democracy and human rights exists in Europe. Our country was included in it in to some degree, but unfortunately was never seriously prepared to participate in it.

Nonetheless, this vector of movement was marked out.

In the system of coordinates built in this way, your evaluations would be true: “There is a single beaten track for an integration process, but the egotistical interests of governments stand in its way, also including those governments that we call ‘Western’.

The egotistical interests of political and economic elites hinder integration. But these elites very often speculate on the notion of patriotism for the sake of their own interests.”

But as it appears to me, the real picture is significantly more complicated. The integration model, at the basis of which lie the principles of democracy and human rights, is by no means the only one in the world today. There were and are other integration models and even new ones can emerge.

It was only quite recently that the communist integration project disappeared into the past. This was a project in the name of which, although, of course, utopian, many millions of lives were sacrificed.

At the end of the last century, after the collapse of the communist integration project, it seemed to many that humanity had achieved the end point of the socio-cultural evolution of mankind.

It seemed that a long period of ideological confrontation, global revolutions and wars had come to an end.

Francis Fukuyama even declared, in a book of the same title, “The End of History”. If this assertion were true, then it would be possible to say that egotistical patriotism stands in the path of establishing human society as a single unity.

Then and only then would it be possible to pose the question: “Has patriotism now ceased to be a basic characteristic?”

And yet, at the same time, just at the end of the last century, an alternative integration project started to appear even more powerfully: the project of totalitarian fundamental radical Islam.

Supporters of this project view the idea of patriotism with no less hostility than other “integrators” – like the communists in the early years of their project of unification.

The radical Islamist project similarly lays claim to universality, just as the communist and democratic projects. Its final goal is to envelop the entire globe and reconstruct the life of all humanity. This project cannot be underestimated. It manifests itself in many different way.

The visible, threatening appearance of this integration project is the so-called Islamic State in the area of the Middle East which is spreading its influence into ever more regions, also including Russia’s North Caucasus.

But this is just one of the faces of the Islamic integration project. It is clear that in this form the project is unacceptable for the majority of the Muslim world. However, the radical Islamic project will in any case hold huge attractive power for millions of people, just as the communist project years ago was compelling. And if today Islamists are killed in Syria, Iraq, Libya, their cause will re-emerge all the same in another region in one way or another.

We see that, instead of the ‘end of history’, the ‘war of civilizations’ has come to the world.

It is hardly going to be possible to put an end to the radical Islamic project by military force alone. Personally, I would suggest that only a powerful reformist, intellectual impulse, coming from the Islamic world itself, would be able to put a final end to this project. I am certain that this will come about, sooner or later. 

But until that time, it will be necessary to somehow withstand this evil, and evil that is continuing to advance. Withstand, including by means of force. 

External intervention will hardly be able to play a decisive role in this. We can hardly hope for success without the active resistance of those people who themselves live in these countries where this new totalitarianism is trying to put down roots. 

And here we must never undervalue the role to be played by this far from 'rudimentary' feeling of patriotism.

For example, the explosion of patriotism that seized Jordan after the terrible pictures of the execution of the captured Jordanian pilot were published.

Another example is the patriotism of residents of the Kurdish regions of Iraq who, at the expense of great loss of life, halted the advance of radical Islamic radicals.

People do not want to give their fatherland up to the fanatics.  They do not want to change their usual way of life. They do not want to reject those sacred objects that their ancestors worshipped. They do not want people who have come from afar to order their lives. People unite against the invading strangers.

It is possible that this, as you say, is 'primitive patriotism'. But this is far from a rudimentary attribute, since it has not lost its significance for the survival of large communities of people, for saving them from disappearance from the face of the earth.

And here it is necessary to remember another epoch and the role of other patriotisms - of Lithuanian, Polish, Ukrainian, and so on - in the struggle against Soviet totalitarianism in the 20th century.

As we see as well, in the 21st century this role of patriotism in combating totalitarianism has not been exhausted.

Now I shall try to show the meaning  of patriotism in the modern world from one other side. Typically, many think  that for most people freedom is itself perceived as a good.

And that in conditions of free choice a person will typically choose the path to greater freedom. Alas, this statement does not correspond with reality. 

Evidence for this can be seen in the Arab Spring, and in the most recent developments in Russian society.

People, brought up in different cultures, different historical traditions, as a result make different choices. And the choice made can be far from being in favour of freedom and equality of rights. On the contrary, it can be in favour of stability and a hierarchical society.

The feeling that one is a participant in a great force, even if as a mere speck of dust, can turn out to be more valued by people than the possibility of freely choosing one's path in life.

I do not mean to assert that certain cultures or countries innately have a particular attitude to freedom and human rights.

I think that in this respect gradual evolution of views is possible, or even sharp changes as a result of the accumulation of internal mutations against the background conditions favourable for these changes.

I am convinced that, in the final account, societies that have chosen to move in the direction of freedom will win.  

But, unfortunately, the history of our country time and again, in one century after another, goes round in a circle. Short breakthroughs towards freedom and social self-government give way to significantly longer periods of slavery and arbitrary government.

And now the majority of the people of my country prefer, above freedom and the realization of their own rights, something else: 'Crimea is Ours', 'Russia getting up off her knees', 'Back to the glory of the empire'. People call this patriotism, and I have no grounds to doubt this. 

If a majority of my fellow citizens think like that, so be it. It's their patriotism. The authorities not only use, but cultivate these moods. A cycle of positive feedback arises: the authorities by their manipulation of public opinion secure the hysterical support for their mad actions.

But, once having obtained that reaction, the authorities are obliged to act in accordance with it, and can no longer stop. Hysteria increases. The system loses its stability.  

The country one more time takes the path to unfreedom.

What should the minority, that does not like these developments, do in these conditions? 

If we follow your assertion, Sergei Adamovich, that patriotism is a rudimentary attribute, and put in the first place the feeling of belonging to humankind, what then will serve to keep me in this country? 

In that case it would be better that I honestly served humankind in another place. In a place that I choose with the help of rational judgements. If, of course, they will accept me there.

But after all people who put the well-being of humankind, and not their country, in first place also live there. They will try to help all those who want to go there to do so - without taking into account the interests of their own country. And they will help me, among others.  

And that is what happens. People, including those for whom freedom and the right of choice are values, leave those countries where freedom is suppressed .

I do not have the least desire to condemn these people. It is their right, all the more so since some of them are force to leave.  

But what will happen if this process is brought to its logical conclusion? The result will be the further terrible polarization of the world. 

In those countries where freedom is suppressed, none of those who value freedom and are ready to struggle for it will remain. There the gloom will only grow yet darker, and without any hope of the very possibility of change: there will be no one to support those shoots of the new that will, despite everything, always appear in society and culture. Any positive 'mutations' will die. As a result, the evolution of such a society in the direction of freedom will be simply impossible. 

What would be left for us in Russia, in the event of such a course of events, to hope for?

Should we hope for external intervention that would bring democracy and human rights to our country from beyond its borders? I do not believe in the slightest that such a hypothetical intervention would have positive results. It is impossible to implant democracy and human rights in our country from without.

My country needs pressure to be put on it from outside, but only the citizens of Russia themselves can change the country from within. 

But what will happen if everyone who is ready to change something leaves?

Fortunately, there is the absolutely irrational feeling of patriotism.

What, other than patriotism, could force people to remain and try to fight 'for the success of our hopeless cause' - both in Russia and in other countries of the same kind? No logical thinking would do the trick. Only an irrational feeling.  

In speaking of patriotism of this kind, I have in mind the patriotism described by Lermontov, whom you yourself cited in your lecture. He says of  Russia: '...country of slaves, country of lords. / And you, dressed in blue uniforms, / And you, a people obedient to them.'  

While at the same time: 'But I love - for what, I don't know myself - The cold silence of her steppes, / Her forests' boundless motion, / The flooding of her rivers, wide as seas./ [...] And on the holiday, in the dewy evening, / I'm ready to watch until midnight / The dance, the stamping and the whistling/ To the drunken chatter of the peasants.' 

This is the love of the fatherland, and not love of 'your excellency'. An absolutely irrational feeling. But it's our only hope. 

Source: Ekho Moskvy

Translated by Frances Robson

#FreeVitishko: Rights activists to appeal against denial of parole

posted 19 Apr 2015, 20:37 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Apr 2015, 20:44 ]

15 April 2015

Source: HRO.org (info)
On 15 April 2015 the Kirsanovsky district court in Tambov region refused an application for parole submitted by political prisoner and environmental activist Evgeny Vitishko, according to Sergei Loktev, the lawyer representing Vitishko’s interests on behalf of the human rights organisation Zona Prava.

Human rights activists have stressed that an appeal will be submitted against the court's ruling.

In December 2013, the suspended sentence handed down to the environmental activist and member of the NGO North Caucasus Environmental Watch for “damage to the fence surrounding the dacha owned by Aleksandr Tkachev, governor of the Krasnodar region” (the description preferred by bloggers) was amended to three years’ imprisonment in a prison colony.

The activist has completed one third of his sentence behind bars and thus has the right to request parole. Until recently he was held in Tambov Penal Colony No 2.

During the court hearing, officials from the prison colony and the public prosecutor’s office requested that Vitishko’s parole request be refused on the grounds that the prisoner had needed to be disciplined on seven occasions.

In response, Vitishko explained that the punishments had been incurred for asking the director of the institution not to swear, weeding tomatoes incorrectly (which is indeed an offence at the colony), informing journalists about widespread beatings of prisoners in the correctional institution, and giving another prisoner a sweater.

The Memorial Human Rights Centre in Moscow has declared Evgeny Vitishko to be a political prisoner.

Amnesty International believes that Vitishko is a prisoner of conscience and has called for his immediate and unconditional release.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

An Open Letter from the Associates of the Centre for Independent Social Research (CISR, St. Petersburg, Russia)

posted 18 Apr 2015, 21:19 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 18 Apr 2015, 21:28 ]

16 April 2015

Source: HRO.org (info
Original source: Centre for Independent Social Research

An Open Letter


12 April 2015

On March 12, 2015 the autonomous non-commercial organization “The Centre for Independent Social Research” received a Notice from the Chief Office of the Ministry of Justice of Russia in St. Petersburg warning about the breach of Russian Federation (RF) legislation and a notice of intent to file an indictment no later than April 20th to include CISR on the roster of non-commercial organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent.

We, the associates of the Centre for Independent Social Research, believe that this charge is unjustified.

According to Paragraph 6 of article 2 of the Federal Law “On Non-Commercial Organizations,” a non-commercial organization performing the functions of a foreign agent is understood to be a Russian NCO, which receives financing from foreign sources and participates in political activity conducted on the territory of the Russian Federation. “Political Activity” as mentioned in this law is understood as “participation (including through financing) in organizing and conducting political actions with the aim of influencing decision-making by government agencies intended to change their public policy, and also in the formation of public opinion for the above purposes.” Science (along with many other fields) is excluded by law from the concept of political activity (paragraph 6 of article 2 of the law). The Constitutional Court of Russian Federation highlighted that activity in all these fields cannot be viewed as political activity, even if it is “aimed at influencing decision-making by government agencies intended to change their public policy” (para. 3.3 of the Ordinance of April 8, 2014 No. 10-P)

The activities of CISR enumerated in the Ministry of Justice’s Notice do not contradict CISR’s Charter, do meet the definition of “scientific activity”, as determined by the Federal Law “On Science and State Scientific-Technological Politics” No. 127-F3, and also meet the academic standards set forth by the professional community (Federal Educational Standard on Sociology). None of the examples listed in the Warning support the idea that CISR conducts political activity, within the context of Paragraph 6 article 2 of the Federal Law “On Non-Commercial Organizations.”

We believe that the development and publishing of a methodological instruction manual, publishing of a presentation of a scientific paper and its discussion on the organization website, or publishing an annotation for a collective research-based monograph online is part of professional activity of sociologists and cannot be regarded as violation of the law.

In particular, one unfounded accusation contained in the Warning is that a methodological instruction manual for leading impartiality workshops for justices of the court, published with the assistance of a Centre colleague is intended “to create negative public response,” and that “by editing, printing and distributing this work, the Organization [CISR] executed purposeful action to form a negative public opinion” in relation to the judicial system of the Russian Federation. The manual was developed together with the psychologists of the judicial department. The definition of “impartiality” [1] as cited in the methodological instruction manual is consistent with principles of legality of the judicial process and is based on requirements for fair trials, as are established in the Criminal-Procedure Codex of the RF and other procedural laws. In our opinion, this manual is associated with advancing this important value and cannot be considered a political activity aimed at changing existing legislature or forming public opinion for this purpose.

Another accusation, just as unsubstantiated, essentially consists of the fact that during a discussion about a presentation of the paper on political strategies of Russian professional unions at CISR’s Annual Research Session in 2014, “participants […] made statements giving a negative assessment of existing legislature”. We believe that public critical assessment of the existing legislature cannot be regarded as violation, and the statements made by the seminar participants cannot be viewed as “political activity of an organization,” according to Paragraph 6, page 2 of the Federal Law “On Non-Commercial Organizations.” Moreover, a critical approach is a necessary professional requirement for sociological research activity (accorging to Paragraph 4.4 of the Standards). It cannot be excluded from the scientific analysis and discussion, and scientists should not be blamed for it.

The third allegation we believe is no less absurd is about the intentions that the CISR purportedly pursued by providing information about the collective study “The Politics of Apoliticals: Civil Movements in Russia from 2011-2013” on the CISR website. The book provides a sociological analysis of current political processes in Russia, passed through all cycles of preparation required of a scientific text, including a review, and was published by a highly-regarded publishing house. The suggestion that social researchers conduct studies, write articles, and publish books only “with the aim of influencing decision-making by government agencies intended to change their public policy, and also in the formation of public opinion for the above purposes” is based on the erroneous idea of the professional activity of sociologists and its purposes.

We declare our legal right to freely choose a topic of scientific research and to publicly analyze the results of our work. We assert that any direct or indirect influence on public opinion is a lawful effect of the professional activity of sociologists and does not change the scientific essence of that activity. Sociology is inherently critical in function. Its goal is not to create positive or negative “public reactions”, but to research and prompt dialogue with the community, offering a professional view of problems. Sociology (like other sciences) is international. Without active cooperation with scholars in different countries, without access to the international scientific grant market, Russian sociology is devoid of growth stimuli and is doomed to stagnation and decline.

We believe that non-governmental (autonomous) research centers, like the Centre for Independent Social Research, have played and continue playing an important role in the formation and development of modern Russian sociology. Subjecting such scientific organizations to the “Law on Foreign Agents” is institutional discrimination against social scholars in the workplace, as it essentially signifies a ban on the profession for researchers who work in the non-governmental and non-commercial sector. Introducing a non-governmental scientific center to the roster of foreign agents is not only an administrative and financial burden on the organization, but also essentially limits the professional activity of its members, denying them access in legitimate research fields [2] and limiting our constitutional right to freedom of scientific work.

The Centre for Independent Social Research objects to the proposed filing of an indictment to include the Centre in the roster of non-commercial organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent, as we believe imposing this requirement by the Office of the Ministry of Justice is unsubstantiated and unjustified.

—————————————————

[1] “Impartiality – the principal of justice, presuming that under examination of a case, the sides of the process are established in an equal position and that when making a decision the judges are governed by the norms of the Constitution of the RF and its laws, and that the judges are not under the influence of subjective prejudices, making them biased in relation to the participants of the process” (page 22 of the Methodological textbook)

[2] As is known, there are already regulations in development forbidding (or essentially limiting) the opportunity for government workers to collaborate with non-commercial organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent (Article 17 Federal Law “On State Civil Service of the Russian Federation”).

Letter in PDF file: Open_Letter_Eng

Sign the letter of support HERE

Translation by: Centre for Independent Social Research

Karinna Moskalenko: Independent Press Centre closes down, but the work of the International Protection Centre goes on

posted 16 Apr 2015, 11:26 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 16 Apr 2015, 11:45 ]

6 April 2015

By Vera Vasilieva 

Source: HRO.org
On 3 April 2015 the International Protection Centre held its last ‘Strasbourg Get-Together’ before an enforced, temporary break. As Karinna Moskalenko said, the break was caused by the closure of the Independent Press Centre in Moscow which until now has been the permanent home of the sessions. The Independent Press Centre has closed because it was threatened with designation as a ‘foreign agent’.

Those taking part in the event, apart from Karinna Moskalenko,  project director of the International Protection Centre, were Centre staff Maria Samorodkina, Valentina Bokareva and Centre director Oksana Preobrazhenskaya.

Karinna Moskalenko:

“This is probably our last meeting in this wonderful place, the Independent Press Centre, which has made us welcome for many years, and where we have held our ‘Get-Togethers’. Strictly speaking, from 1 April the Independent Press Centre will no longer have these premises. The human rights community is, with good reason, frightened by the Russian authorities because of the danger of being designated a ‘foreign agent’.

I want to assure the members of our Centre, those we defend in the courts, and our friends: we always work very transparently, and this is an important protection for us in our legal work. I want to call on all the lawyers who are here, especially those who work in the courts, to be proud of our profession, because we have always, even in the hardest of times, sought to achieve our independence and consider any kind of attack or pressure on members of our profession to be impermissible.

Lawyers are always subject to various kinds of attack and infringements, but until now we have successfully withstood these attacks. Professional lawyers have done their best to work in the Stalin times and in other periods of the Soviet regime. We even defended political prisoners, though it has to be said without success.

Today I had the privilege and at the same time the misfortune to defend Sergei Evgenievich Mokhnatkin. With zero impact, at least in the Russian Federation. We have everything ready for an application to the European Court of Human Rights.

We shall continue in the future to do what we consider to be our duty, professionally, in good faith. We continue to work – both those who have worked at the International Protection Centre for many years, and those who are still moving from stage to stage in their legal qualifications, and those who have recently joined us. Of course, not the same volume of work as hitherto. Of course, the law on ‘foreign agents’ deprived us of the possibility of foreign funding. The authorities are banking on the fact that the human rights movement will cut back on its work.

Perhaps the only optimism that our work gives us today is that, having exhausted all legal remedies for legal defence within the country, we nonetheless have an important means of leverage: making an application to the European Court of Human Rights. In the event that there has been a violation of human rights in any of the 47 member-states of the Council of Europe (including Russia) and if all effective legal remedies have been exhausted and the violated rights have not been restored, legal practice has yet to invent anything more effective than an application to the European Court of Human Rights.

The European Court of Human Rights is a body that assesses only issues concerning violations of human rights, nothing else. That is why you must never believe the Russian authorities when they say that the European Court is interfering in the internal affairs of the state. The European Court is careful to ensure that it does not get involved in discussion of political issues. The European Court exclusively considers matters of law. Only legal matters are the subject of our work.

We do not exclude any scenarios. I am talking about two possible negative courses of events. First: the human rights movement, including the legal community, might be confronted by yet more stringent restrictions on its work. The second scenario is much loved by, and very dear to, those who, I would say, are among the less responsible representatives of the authorities. This is an attempt to move away from Europe altogether. It may be that these two negative scenarios could even take place simultaneously, hand in hand.

Of course, it is not only the authorities in Russia, but in any country, that want to escape from accountability to their electorate, the people, and international human rights bodies. But for as long as our lawyers, our advocates, work at the Centre, we shall continue to use international human rights standards in our legal practice. Russia today is already integrated in the world, in Europe, to such an extent that international standards will remain relevant even if the Russian authorities, pursuing short-term aims and a false understanding of Russia’s interests, want to reject membership in the Council of Europe.

We are convinced of this not least because since 1 January 1992 (earlier than Russia came under the jurisdiction of the European Court on 5 May 1998) our country came under the jurisdiction of a quasi-legal body for the protection of human rights: the UN Human Rights Committee.

The International Protection Centre continues to help Russian citizens who have no resources to pay for professional legal assistance. I also hope that we shall find other premises where we shall be able to continue our series of ‘Strasbourg Get-Togethers’.

OVD-Info report on 'Political repression in Russia, 2011-2014: extrajudicial persecution '

posted 14 Apr 2015, 13:36 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 14 Apr 2015, 13:40 ]

10 April 2015

Source: HRO.org (info)
On 10 April, 2015, OVD-Info published its report ‘Political Repression in Russia, 2011-2014: Extrajudicial Persecution’. Extrajudicial persecution involves a wide range of practices designed to disrupt the political or social activities of a specific person without subjecting them to criminal or administrative proceedings.

The practices employed during the period of analysis can be divided into the criminal and institutional.

Criminal practices include the use of unlawful means to disrupt the activities of activists: threats, destruction of property, assault and murder.

Institutional practices include the use of powers, for the same purposes, by law enforcement agencies and a very wide range of officials. For example, threats to take children out of care, the expulsion of non-Russian undesirables from the country with the help of the Federal Migration Service and FSB, putting pressure on businesses, dismissals, etc.

A preliminary classification of such practices suggests that extrajudicial persecution in Russia consists predominantly of physical attacks of varying degrees of cruelty; arson and the destruction of property; 'preventive conversations' under duress; threats; dismissals; attacks on businesses; pressure using mass media; the withdrawal of residence permits; threats to withdraw parental rights; disruptions of concerts; cyber attacks; the blocking of Internet content; restrictions on freedom of movement; and instances of electoral fraud. All of the above forms of harassment are dealt with in the report on the basis of case studies taken from the years 2011-2014.

Having analysed the collected material and identified the specific features of such repression, OVD-Info concludes that due to the lack of documentary evidence it is difficult to verify and estimate the frequency of extrajudicial persecution.

When talking about this type of repression, it makes sense to focus not so much on the number of incidents, their specific criteria, structure and agency, as on the 'activist's narrative'.

The very existence and prevalence in society of the perception that the authorities are linked to threats, beatings and other cases of extrajudicial persecution says as much about the authorities and political culture, as do actual cases of criminal and procedural political repression.

Based on this analysis, you can hazard the claim that the extrajudicial political persecution of activists has been an integral part of the Russian political landscape from 2011-2014.

This report forms the third part of research conducted by OVD-Info into modern Russian political repression, the aim of which is to give an account of how it is arranged, how widespread it is and against whom it is directed. The first report dealt with criminal prosecutions and the second, administrative prosecutions.

Read the Report in full here 

Translated by Lindsay Munford

Management of non-profit Perm-36 denied access to own archives

posted 12 Apr 2015, 12:35 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Apr 2015, 12:41 ]

9 April 2015

Source: HRO.org (info)
On 8th April representatives of the autonomous non-profit organisation “Perm-36” were yet again denied access to the organisation’s archives located on the territory of the Memorial Museum of Political Repression (MMPR) in the village of Kuchino in the Chukovsky district of Perm region. Employees of Perm-36 have not been able to access their own archive since summer 2014.

Back on 24th June 2014, on the orders of Natalya Semakova, the new director of the government body, “The Memorial Museum of Political Repression”, all premises on the Memorial complex were sealed.

The locations sealed included those places where museum collections were held, the research library, archive documentation connected with the activity of the organisation Perm-36, and personal items belonging to the employees .

Despite repeated affirmations by the management of MMPR that it has absolutely nothing to do with the moveable assets of the autonomous non-profit organisation, the representatives of the state body have given no real answers when questioned, and have provided confusing explanations.

The vice-director of the non-profit Perm-36, Tatyana Kursina, has repeatedly demanded that Natalya Semakova permit them to remove the organization’s property. However, she has not been allowed to do this. From the start the MMPR declared that all the property of the complex is sealed and, furthermore, no longer belongs to the autonomous non-profit organisation. They subsequently gave a number of other reasons.

In December 2014 Tatyana Kursina came to a verbal agreement with Nataly Semakova about the removal of parts of the archive. But on a day agreed earlier, 20th December, employees of the MMPR at the complex refused to allow access to the archives, referring to the absence of the very keys to those rooms where the archives were kept.

In March 2015 a pile of documents located in the archives was demanded by the Ministry of Justice for Perm region, which began an inspection of the nonprofit Perm-36. After a number of official requests to state bodies and the ministry of culture, the nonprofit finally received official permission to access their own archives.

Nevertheless, on 8th April when representatives of Perm-36 arrived at the complex, the vice-director of MMPR, Irina Durneva refused them access to their archives.

In the presence of the representatives of the non-profit and staff from the MMPR, Irina Durneva informed Tatyana Kursina that “this morning” in Kuchino there had been an officer from the Chukovsky police department for economic security and combating-corruption, police major S.V. Pivovarov. He allegedly sealed the doors to rooms in which the archives are held and access to which had been agreed with Natalya Semakova, and he banned access to the documents.

Irina Durneva showed Tatyana Kursina the official document by which Major Pivovarov had proposed that Tatyana Kursina, in accordance with Article 188 of the Russian Criminal Code, on the very same day must appear before him at 17.00 hours. In case of failing to do so, Tatyana Kursina was promised that she would be brought to see him by force. There was no stamp on the document.

Then Ms Durneva allowed the representatives of the non-profit Perm-36 to have a look at the closed and sealed door that led to the organisation’s archives. On the piece of paper it was possible to make out the signature of Major Pivovarov, signatures of two witnesses without printed versions of their names, the laconic phrase “Restricted access,” and a stamp “for packages” with the illegible name of an organisation.

“We witnessed and participated in yet another performance of the absurd which is being played out either by the Ministry of Culture, or by the management of the MMPR, or by someone else. And I am already beginning to doubt that our archives are still whole and being preserved,” said Tatyana Kursina.

Lawyers defending the interests of the Perm-36 non-profit believe that the absence of archive documents could be used as a way to prosecute the managers of the non-profit organisation.

Or possibly also with a view to initiating a legal process to liquidate the organisation, thereby denying the non-profit its official registration.

Translated by Frances Robson

Ivan Pavlov: Russian-speaking Internet in poor shape for 21st birthday celebrations

posted 12 Apr 2015, 10:21 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Apr 2015, 10:25 ]

8 April 2015

Source: HRO.org (info)
The Russian Federation’s adoption of laws which severely curtail the freedom of the Russian-speaking Internet means that the latter will be in poor shape for its 21st birthday celebrations. This is the conclusion drawn by Ivan Pavlov (lawyer, human rights activist and one-time chair of the board of the Freedom of Information Foundation).

"Despite all of these laws aimed at blocking sites, cracking down on piracy or protecting children from harmful information (or in other words protecting adults from information in general), I hope that the Internet will remain a free forum and that the laws which limit the uses to which it can be put are revised. I also hope that every one of us remains able to decide what is harmful for his or her own children,” stated Pavlov in conversation with a Rosbalt correspondent.

The human rights activist said that he was still an optimist, and expressed his certainty that, “all of these backward-looking restrictions will sooner or later fall away like shackles”.

Anna Sharogradskaya, director of the Regional Press Institute, believes that things are very likely to get worse, however.

In her words, “I don’t remember a ‘Golden Age’ of the Internet. A number of people got excited about the fact that a new source of information had been created, seen by some as a new toy and by others as a forum for self-expression. But we have not yet managed to derive any useful benefit from it. We need to face facts and understand that the people working to discredit the very idea of public access to the Internet are far from foolish.”

The “ru” domain was assigned to Russia and included in the international database of national top-level domains on 7 April 1994. New domain names were registered on its very first day of existence and subsequently delegated onwards.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

7 April: 40 Days - In Memory of Boris Nemtsov

posted 10 Apr 2015, 13:08 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 10 Apr 2015, 13:17 ]

7 April 2015

Source: HRO.org (info)
On 7 April in Moscow and other cities of Russia, the 40th day after the murder of Boris Nemtsov, supporters of democracy and human rights held a memorial event, ‘The Minute of NONsilence’

7 April is 40th day since the murder of Boris Nemtsov. In the evening, Dozhd' (Rain) TV-channel is to hold the telethon ‘Nemtsov bridge’.

The day’s events began at 11 a.m. local time, according to Radio Svoboda which broadcast live the memorial events in Moscow.

The organizers called on everyone who cared for Boris Nemtsov to honour his memory: ‘If you go on foot - stop for a moment, if you go by car - honk your horn’.

‘We bring flowers to the murder scene - they are cleared away. We organize a concert in memory of Boris Nemtsov - they prohibit it. They make it plain that it is better to forget. But we remember. We can be heard,’ write Nemtsov’s associates on Facebook.

On the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge in Moscow, where Boris Nemtsov was killed late in the evening of 27 February, flowers will be laid. Then after ‘The Minute of NONsilence’, a memorial service will be held in St. Clement's Church next to the house where Nemtsov lived.

On the same day, Nemtsov’s associates are to hold a memorial concert. Dozens of musicians, including Andrei Makarevich, Yury Shevchuk, the "Bi-2" band, Peter Nalich and others supported the idea but none of the capital’s venues wished to host such an event.

Instead of the concert, on April, 7 the Rain TV-channel is to hold the telethon ‘Nemtsov Bridge. It will bring together musicians and other public figures who knew Boris Nemtsov.

Five suspects have been arrested in connection with the murder of Boris Nemtsov so far.

Photo: Boris Nemtsov at the home of Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner in Nizhny Novgorod (then Gorky)

Translated by Faina Babintseva

"‘Foreign Agents’: Mythical Enemies and Real Losses of Russian Society" - new report by Human Rights Resource Centre

posted 6 Apr 2015, 06:49 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 6 Apr 2015, 06:52 ]

30 March 2015

Source: HRO.org (info)
According to Maria Kanevskaya, a St Petersburg lawyer and director of the NGO Human Rights Resource Centre, the authorities’ campaign to seek out Russian non-profits acting as ‘foreign agents’ is picking up tempo.

Over the two and a half years since the adoption of the law on ‘foreign agents’, 49 organizations have been added to the register – organizations that engage activities including human rights protection, environmental issues, education, research, provision of social services, combating discrimination, investigating corruption and conducting oversight of government bodies in accordance with Russian law.

However, in the near future the register will be significantly expanded since a great number of the NGOs that have asked for assistance via the organization’s Federal Hotline for Legal Support (8-800-3333-068) have said they have been issued with the results of inspections, on the basis of which they will be added to the register.

As the authors of the report Dmitry Bartenev and Maksim Olenichev, both legal experts with Human Rights Resource Centre, point out, the work of non-profit organizations does not, for a number of reasons, please those who have organized the campaign to stigmatize the Third Sector. Non-profit organizations that have worked for many years for the public good have suddenly been designated by the state as ‘foreign agents’.

The term ‘foreign agent’ as applied in the Russian context was thought up, or more accurately, resurrected from recent Soviet history by certain politicians on a wave of spy mania, a search for external enemies of Russia, and the continuation of government policy to close down the opportunities for citizens to conduct civil society initiatives and influence government policy which, one would think, should be for the benefit of citizens, and not primarily for the sake of ensuring the government’s continued existence.

An analysis of the results of the inspections, notices (demanding that alleged violations of the law be ended), court rulings under administrative law, and other court decisions could conclude that practically any activity by a non-profit organization is considered by government bodies to be ‘political.’

The grounds upon which non-profits have been designated as ‘foreign agents’ include: participation in debates, speeches at round tables, viewing and discussing videos, publishing information about the work of the organization in the media, analysis of current legislation, making recommendations on amendments to legislation, taking part in preparing draft bills, submitting views on a case to the Constitutional Court, protecting the rights of other people, intending to take part in public events, joint work with government bodies on reform, taking part in bicycle races, collecting and disseminating information about the environment, and many other activities by civil society groups that form the basis of their work as representatives of society and distinguish them from business and government.

The fact that the law on ‘foreign agents’ states that non-profits working in the area of science, protection of plants or animals, and other areas, cannot be classified as engaging in ‘political activity’ has not saved organizations from being designated as ‘foreign agents’.

The humiliating label ‘foreign agent’ is intended to reduce the level of civic initiatives in Russian society. This is an erroneous path towards closing down the democratic development of society. It does not allow the application in everyday life of standards developed in international practice, such as freedom of speech, nor does it permit an NGO designated as a ‘foreign agent’ to act on opportunities that are presented to it by Russian law without fearing a new wave of repression by the state.

The way out of this situation, according to the experts, is to remove the notion of ‘foreign agent’ from Russian law, build real dialogue between society and the state, and return democratic institutions to the life of Russian society and the state.

The full text of the report is published on the website of the Human Rights Resource Centre.

European Court of Human Rights communicates application on second Pichugin trial

posted 5 Apr 2015, 08:58 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 5 Apr 2015, 09:00 ]

2 April 2015

By Vera Vasilieva

Source: HRO.org
According to information received by HRO.org from a member of Aleksei Pichugin’s defence team on 2 April 2015, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has communicated an application lodged in connection with the second criminal prosecution and trial of the former-Yukos employee, which ended with him being sentenced to life imprisonment.

This means that ECtHR has found Pichugin’s appeal admissible, and has requested further information from both the government of the Russian Federation and the applicant and his lawyers in order to determine whether the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms may have been violated. The parties must submit their responses to the ECtHR within the specified deadline.

During the second set of criminal proceedings against him, Aleksei Pichugin was found guilty of organising the 1998 murders of Vladimir Petukhov (mayor of Nefteyugansk) and Valentina Korneeva (owner of the Moscow-based company “Feniks”) and attempts on the life of Yevgeny Rybin (head of the Austrian company East Petroleum) in 1998 and 1999. The Russian court upheld the state prosecution’s claims that Pichugin was acting on the instructions of Leonid Nevzlin, former Vice-President of Yukos.

The application in question was lodged with the ECtHR shortly after Pichugin was sentenced to life imprisonment on 6 August 2007. Pichugin’s lawyer, Kseniya Kostromina, has previously explained to HRO.org that the issue at stake is the possible violation of Article 6 of the European Convention (“the right to a fair trial”) during the relevant court proceedings.

The author of this article (an HRO.org correspondent) has been present at all of the hearings in the trial and believes that Petr Shtunder, judge of the Moscow City Court, played down evidence which did not support the indictment. In particular, his verdict ignored the statements of the convict Mikhail Ovsyannikov indicating that the Prosecutor-General’s investigators employed psychological and physical force to coerce him into committing perjury against the ex-Yukos employee.

The presiding judge disregarded the testimony given by the witness Aleksei Kondaurov, former head analyst at Yukos and Menatep, stating that Pichugin reported to Shestopalov (head of the Security Department) and could not have received instructions from Leonid Nevzlin.

Judge Shtunder also rejected a request for graphological analysis of a note with the address of the victim Yevgeny Rybin which the prosecution alleges was handwritten by Pichugin, even though such an analysis could potentially clarify the facts of the case.

The main “witnesses” for the prosecution – the convicts Gennady Tsigelnik and Yevgeny Reshetnikov – testified to the involvement of Pichugin and Nevzlin in the crimes on the basis of conversations they reported having with Gorin and Goritovsky, i.e. third parties whose statements cannot be verified (Goritovsky having been murdered and Gorin having disappeared together with his wife). Gennady Tsigelnik retracted his confession on 21 April 2008 during the proceedings in the Leonid Nevzlin case, stating that he had calumnied Pichugin and Nevzlin at the request of the Prosecutor-General’s investigators.

The time and place of the crimes were not specified during the course of the criminal proceedings; the verdict merely states that Aleksei Pichugin committed the alleged crimes ‘in an unascertained location’ and ‘at an unascertained time,’ together with ‘unascertained persons from the Yukos management.’

Furthermore, no account was taken of the fact that Aleksei Pichugin had no motive for committing the crimes. The state prosecution’s allegation that Yukos stood to benefit as a result is not backed up by the evidence in the case.

Aleksei Pichugin’s lawyers have stressed that an ECtHR ruling which finds that Article 6 of the European Convention has been violated will represent a new circumstance allowing the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to overturn the wrongful sentence.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

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