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Journalists assess Putin's conversation with human rights activists

posted 17 Oct 2014 13:20 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 17 Oct 2014 13:29 ]

15 October 2014

Source: (info
The press is discussing the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and members of the Human Rights Council (HRC) which took place at the Kremlin on 14 October 2014. notes that a whole series of topics that traditionally belong to the sphere of interests of the human rights community were not addressed at the meeting. For example, there was no time to discuss the fate of the missing paratroopers, nor were the issues of the media rights and freedom of expression raised.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta writes that the President called the HRC the most important human rights instrument in the country.

Head of the HRC Mikhail Fedotov called on the President to use the high approval rating of the authorities to put a halt to the information war with Ukraine and to demilitarise public awareness, writes Novye Izvestiya.

Sergei Karaganov talked of how difficult it was proving to implement the programme to commemorate the victims of repression. He mentioned the Perm-36 Gulag Museum and thanked the President for helping to save it.

The Russian President expressed surprise that in Moscow there was still no memorial to the victims of repression, writes the BBC. The President found the situation surrounding the federal targeted programme to commemorate the victims of repression rather comical. As president, Medvedev supported the programme but when he became Prime Minister his cabinet mothballed the proposal. "This is a manifestation of the omnipotence of bureaucracy. It's not all Medvedev's fault," Putin explained to members of the HRC.

"The goal is to not forget this subject, not sweep it under the carpet. As to how best to organise this work, there are competing points of view. But that in no way means that the idea of the federal programme to commemorate the victims of repression itself is completely dead. Let's come back to this subject and think it through together. <...> I will put together an instruction to the Administration and the Government so that together you can come up with the best solution to this problem, so that we can move forward and not argue endlessly about how it should be done, because it's time to start acting," the President stressed in his speech.

Journalists from RBC decided to ask why the meeting participants had sidestepped so many thorny issues in their conversation with the President.

Member of the Human Rights Council Elena Masyuk explained that the question of the missing and dead paratroopers rested with her colleagues, which is why she did not ask the question herself.

The conversation about the situation regarding freedom of expression was supposed to have been initiated by Secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists Leonid Nikitinsky, but he was not given the opportunity to speak.

And retired judge of the Constitutional Court Tamara Morshchakova complained that there was hardly any time left to discuss her proposal to control the investigative authorities.

In his column on the Novaya gazeta website, Nikitinsky explained that the problem lay in the fact that the President only met with the HRC once a year and it was simply not possible to discuss all the pressing issues in the space of two and a half hours. Furthermore, the meeting was held in a hall in the Kremlin where the acoustics were so bad that a lot of what people were saying could not be made out.

Nikitinsky among other things mentioned one important point: members of the HRC had succeeded in drawing President Putin's attention to the need to clarify the concept of "political activity" in relation to the "foreign agent law." No objections were raised to this.

Kirill Kabanov delivered a report on corruption. He put forward a strange proposal, which would have made more sense coming from the Investigative Committee rather than the Human Rights Council, to increase sentences for corruption from 10 to 20 years and make it more difficult to get parole. Irina Khakamada, however, literally speaking up just as Putin was getting ready to leave, said that this was not the opinion of the Council but of Kabanov personally.

"In addition, some time ago these people were different. Passionate you could say. And now they've cooled. They've probably realised that you either have to leave the HRC or stay so that you can do something, because at every one of these meetings you feel the monstrous administrative resource that suddenly appears in their hands and eyes for a couple of hours thanks to direct contact with the President. Later it turns out there wasn't any resource but just a chance to have their say, but that's not clear straight away," writes special correspondent for Kommersant Andrei Kolesnikov.

The Pravoslavie i Mir (Orthodox Christianity and the World) website focuses on the President's promise to provide high-tech healthcare for citizens of other countries who do not have refugee status. "I didn't even realise such a problem existed," Putin said in reply to a request by the head of the Spravedlivaya Pomoshch (Fair Aid) organisation Elizaveta Glinka, and promised to look into the matter.

On the whole, thinks Nezavisimaya gazeta, despite the fact the President reacted positively to most of the human rights campaigners' requests, it was clear that he was putting particular emphasis on the activities of the HRC in southeastern Ukraine. It was for drawing the attention of the Russian and global communities to the victims of the military conflict that he thanked the human rights activists and even advised them to take more care over their own safety.

A review of publications about the recent meeting can be found on the Zagolovki website.

Translated by Natascha Kearsey

US journalists victims of arbitrary treatment in St. Petersburg

posted 16 Oct 2014 12:45 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 16 Oct 2014 12:52 ]

16 October 2014

Source: (info)
Jo Bergantino, director of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, and Randy Covington, director of Newsplex, a center for the study of new media techniques at the University of South Carolina, were detained in St Petersburg at the Socos hotel during a seminar on methods and ethics of investigative journalism.

Two people who introduced themselves as officers of the St. Petersburg department of the Federal Migration Service stated that the tourist visas, the basis for the US journalists being on Russian territory,  ‘did not give the right to conduct educational activity’, Radio Svoboda reports.

The visas of Jo Bertantino and Randy Covington were not usual tourist visas, but visas issued for a specific purpose, in line with the recommendation given to them by the US consulate in Moscow.

Aleksandr Gorshkov, chief editor of the internet portal and organizer of the seminar, said that the US journalists were at the Vasilyevsky Island district court where it is expected their future will be decided. 

The US journalists had planned to speak at the seminar on 17 October.

The St Petersburg department of the Federal Migration Service refused to give any information about the detention of the US journalists.

Human Rights Council criticises NGO Law for violating Civil Law Code

posted 15 Oct 2014 11:57 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Oct 2014 12:01 ]

13 Ocotober 2014

Source: (info
Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights has criticised the NGO Law for violating the Civil Law Code and called for the law to be revised, according a report by RIA Novosti quoting Mikhail Fedotov, Chair of the Council. 

In Fedotov’s words, "The Council believes that wholescale changes must be made to the Law on Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), because in its current form it violates the recently amended Civil Law Code.” reported him as stating that this opinion was also shared by the Presidential Commission for the Codification of Civil Law. 

According to Fedotov, the focus should be on socially oriented non-governmental organisations working to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, children, homeless people, pensioners and national minorities. “We should revise the entire law and change its focus from ‘foreign agents’ to socially oriented non-governmental organisations, or in other words those which provide genuine assistance to citizens." 

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Prison conditions toughened for prisoner of conscience Evgeny Vitishko

posted 15 Oct 2014 11:53 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Oct 2014 11:55 ]

9 October 2014

Source: (info
There has been no contact with Evgeny Vitishko for more than a week now at the open-regime penal colony No. 2 (KP-2) in Tambov region where he is serving his sentence.

Fears have now been confirmed that, on the initiative of the colony’s management, the process to transfer Vitishko to a general-regime penal colony has begun.

North Caucasus Environmental Watch reports that on 24 September 2014 in Krasnodar regional court the prosecutor’s petition to annul the ruling of Tuapse town court that would change Vitishko’s suspended sentence to a term of imprisonment in a penal colony was heard.

The court dismissed the prosecutor’s petition and Vitishko, who had been brought to a pre-trial detention centre in Tambov city to take part in the court hearing by video link, returned to the penal colony on 29 September.

The same day he phoned his friends and said that he was in a quarantine block. Since then there has been no contact with Evgeny.

To obtain some clarity about what is happening with Evgeny, today Dmitry Gutov, member of the board of North Caucasus Environmental Watch, asked the Public Oversight Commission of Tambov region to find out what is happening.

Members of the Public Oversight Commission contacted the Tambov department of the Federal Penitentiary Service and were told that official procedures had begun to tighten the conditions of detention of the political prisoner by transferring him from an open regime penal colony to a general-regime penal colony, and that his placement in a quarantine block was related precisely to this development.

Andrei Rudomakha, coordinator of the North Caucasus Environmental Watch, commented on what has happened as follows: “Everything, unfortunately, is going according to the very worst scenario. After the regional court issued its latest unjust decision in relation to Evgeny, and he was not released as the Krasnodar region prosecutor had demanded, there were immediate moves to tighten his conditions of detention.

“This is revenge by the penal colony’s management for his actions in defence of other prisoners. They want to deprive Evgeny of the ability to keep in touch with friends and human rights defenders. Most important, they want to remove him from the penal colony altogether. Not even his lawyers were told about the planned transfer to a general regime penal colony,” Rudomakha said.

Georgy Satarov: We must defend Memorial

posted 14 Oct 2014 13:00 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 14 Oct 2014 13:03 ]

14 October 2014

Source: (info)
Georgy Satarov: They have helped tens of thousands of people. Now it is our turn to help them.

It is pointless to moan or groan. If we don’t defend Memorial now, the game’s up.

They have decided to strike at the strongest, best and wisest. It’s a blow to the solar plexus.

We have to begin a powerful public campaign, and in November to come out on the streets.

They have helped tens of thousands of people. Now it is our turn to help them. Otherwise, it’s the end for all of us. Without them there will be no one to defend us.

I ask everyone who can to write about this, especially those who have been helped by Memorial.

Moscow: Topography of Stalinist terror (video)

posted 14 Oct 2014 12:32 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 14 Oct 2014 12:37 ]

14 October 2014

Source: (info)
Educational work is one of the main tasks of the Memorial Society. Among the human rights activists’ projects are regular, free excursions to the most terrible places in Moscow where, in the years of Stalinist terror, thousands of innocent people were tormented and killed.

This video is in Russian.

Civil society activist Sergei Mokhnatkin released

posted 13 Oct 2014 07:54 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 13 Oct 2014 08:01 ]

9 October 2014

Source: (info)
The civil society activist Sergei Mokhnatkin, who was undergoing a forensic psychiatric evaluation as an inpatient at the Serbsky Centre for Social and Forensic Psychiatry, has been released, Open Russia has reported having been told of Mokhnatkin’s release by the lawyer Kseniya Kostromina, who held meetings with the activist.

The lawyer said that Mokhnatkin was told on the morning of 8 October 2008 that his evaluation was over and that he could go home. Mokhnatkin has stated his intention to break his 18-day hunger strike if he is released. The activist has also said that he intends to appear in court to testify in the criminal proceedings pending against him.

Sergei Mokhnatkin, the public defender of Sergei Krivov in the “Bolotnaya” trial, was arrested on 31 October 2013 during a demonstration on Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow. According to the investigators, the middle-aged opposition activist “beat up two policemen”.

On 19 September 2014, Tverskoi Court sent Sergei Mokhnatkin to undergo a forensic psychiatric evaluation as an inpatient at the Serbsky Centre. Mokhnatkin went on hunger strike in protest.

On 6 October, Mokhnatkin’s lawyer, Karinna Moskalenko, filed an urgent appeal with the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for interim measures to be taken by the Court in connection with the Mokhnatkin case, alerting the ECtHR to the conditions of detention in the Serbsky Centre.

The urgent appeal in the Mokhnatkin case was filed under Rule 39 of the ECtHR Rules of Court. Appeals of this kind are usually submitted when the life of a detainee is at risk due to serious illness or when the applicant is at risk of being deported to a country where they may be tortured.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Court refuses to remand Pavel Shekhtman in custody

posted 13 Oct 2014 07:39 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 13 Oct 2014 07:40 ]

9 October 2014

Source: (info)
Judge Elena Abramova of the Kuntsevo district court in Moscow has refused to remand civil society activist and publicist Pavel Shekhtman in custody. Shekhtman was arrested on accusation of 'extremism', reports.

A request by Anton Krivov, investigative officer from the Russian Investigative Committee, to hold the activist in pre-trial detention until the end of November was denied.

Nevertheless, Shekhtman stayed in temporary incarceration in his isolation cell until Thursday 13:00, when Krivov had received his signature and promise that he will not leave the country. It remains unclear why the investigator could not immediately take Shekhtman’s signature after the hearing.

The hearing was closed, but, according to blogger Anastasia Zotova, who was present in court, judge Abramova in breach of Article 241 of the Criminal Code, did not make public her ruling, leaving the exact motivation of her decision unclear.

Earlier, Abramova was a Justice of the Peace for Moscow’s Tverskaya district. In that position she issued a number of verdicts in administrative cases against members of the opposition. Svetlana Ukhnaleva, a former judge of Tverskaya district court and now deputy chair of Kuntsevo district court, is on the Magnitsky List.

The reasons given by Abramova for denying Krivov’s request were that Shekhtman actually lives at his place of registration, and in addition, the investigation had not provided evidence that the activist is a threat to the witnesses in the case. Two of Shektman’s tenants had been questioned as witnesses.

According to Ekaterina Goryaynova, a legal representative with the Ulpian chamber of lawyers, who is representing the activist, Shekhtman has been charged under Part "a" of Section 2 of Article 282 of the Criminal Code (incitement to hatred and enmity with the threat of violence), which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

The reason for the arrest was a comment which Shekhtman published in mid-August on his personal Facebook page. In reposting a publication by the Ukrainian blogger Roman Davidenko, describing the killings of pro-Russian Ukrainian military terrorists, Shekhtman had written a sharp commentary.

Later, this post has been removed from Shekhtman’s page. However, friends of the activist argue that he would not have erased the post himself.

On August 18, Moscow police department and Moscow prosecutor's office received complaints against Shekhtman in connection with the publication of his remarks. The fact that Shekhtman had been detained became known on Wednesday morning. The activist was taken to a temporary detention cell at the police department of the capital’s western district.

Shekhtman is a well-known civil society activist and publicist. His articles have, among other places, been published on the news website Shekhtman is 47 years old, he was born in Moscow. He studied at the Moscow Historical Archives Institute. In August 1991, he participated in the defense of the White House. He has worked as a teacher in an experimental school and for an Internet media outlet. He has written a number of articles about history on Wikipedia.

Shekhtman has been involved in the movement to conserve the architectural heritage of Moscow, and in environmental campaigns, working with civil society groups such as Arkhnadzor and the Coalition for the Protection of Moscow. In particular, in June 2010, Shechtman helped Arhnadzor defend the ancient building complex in Moscow’s Kadashan quarter. In 2011, Shekhtman collaborated actively with the Movement to Defend Khimki Forest. Shekhtman has been repeatedly attacked by criminals hired by those who wanted to continue to build on the territory of Khimki forest.

Translated by Eva Cukier

A Bouquet for Anna

posted 13 Oct 2014 06:28 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 13 Oct 2014 06:38 ]

7 October 2014

By Vera Vasilieva

On 7th October 2014 the international human rights organisation Amnesty International held events in Moscow to remember Anna Politkovskaya. The day marked eight years since her assassination.

Origami flowers fashioned from pages of Russian and European print and Internet media were laid at the memorial plaque. The plaque was installed a year ago on the building of the Novaya gazeta offices on Potapovsky Pereukok, where the journalist had worked.

Those who brought flowers to mark her memory included the radio stations Svoboda and Echo of Moscow, the TV channels Dozhd, RTVi, the online portals, Caucasian Knot, Ezhednevny zhurnal, as well as media outlets from Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, France and other countries. Amongst others were also flowers from the internet portal

Maria Sereda, the coordinator from Amnesty International, reported that in total around forty publications took part in the event.

According to Sereda, the events were not only a call to remember Anna Politkovskaya, and express their respect and love, but also a call for journalists to show their solidarity, something which at the moment is lacking.

“We wanted it to be an informal event, for people to participate as individuals, so that editors, journalists and bloggers could then upload on their own sites photographs of these flowers, having demonstrated support for our cause,” explained Maria Sereda.

In his speech, Sergei Nikitin, the Head of the Moscow office of Amnesty International, referred to Anna Politkovskaya as a “symbol of journalism, of freedom of speech.” According to Nikitin, millions of people “know this name, people understand and appreciate, all that Anna did for Russian journalism.

Sergei Nikitin also remarked that the Novaya gazeta journalist “spoke the truth in the face of those in power.” He admitted that Anna Politkovskaya had at times criticised the organisation. But it was “precisely this sincerity, this ability to look you in the eye and say what she thought, her irreconcilability with injustice, that drew so many to her.”

Sergei Nikitin expressed his dissatisfaction with how Anna Politkovskaya’s murder case has been carried out.

“Amnesty International believes that the legal process has left many questions unanswered. We believe that justice will only have been done when the names of those who ordered the assassination of Anna Politvoskaya are established and when they have been brought before the courts,” he stated.

“We remember Anna. Her memory is in our hearts and today’s flowers affirm that,” Nikitin added.

Similar thoughts were also expressed by Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya gazeta. He noted that those behind the assassination have in part achieved their aims.

The official investigation into Anna Politkovskaya’s killing remains open. In relation to the nearly 3,000 abductions recounted in her 500 articles and stories, there have only been three sentences passed, and a few dozen rulings by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, said Aleksander Cherkasov, a member of the board of Memorial Human Rights Society.

“Anna Politkovskaya was killed, her friends and colleagues Stanislav Markelov and Natalya Estemirova were killed. Many activists in the North Caucasus have been killed,” the human rights defender reminded everyone.

The name of the man who, according to Memorial Human Rights Centre, had a role in at least six cases of forced disappearance in the North Caucasus during the military conflicts that took place over ten years ago, has this year become common knowledge. That name is Igor Strelkov, the former Minister of Defence for the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR).

“These acts are still happening, no longer in the North Caucasus, but now in eastern Ukraine. Those who fought in Chechnya, are now fighting there,” concluded Aleksander Cherkasov.

There is still another sense in which the Anna Politkovskaya case remains open. Her colleagues are carrying on her mission, believing journalism provides the possibility to save lives, he emphasised.

Commemorative events for Anna Politkovskaya, organised by Amnesty International took place on 7th October not only in Russia, but also in Belgium, Finland, Poland and Ukraine. These events are part of a wider campaign by Amnesty International: the International Week of Solidarity with Russian Civil Society, called "Speak out!" The aim of this campaign is to demand the authorities release prisoners of conscience and to urge them to respect freedom of speech, assembly and association in Russia.

Sergei Nikitin                                                        Aleksandr Cherkasov

Photos by Vera Vasilieva, 

Translated by Holly Jones

Statement by Memorial Human Rights Centre and Russian Memorial Society

posted 11 Oct 2014 11:45 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Oct 2014 02:03 ]

11 October 2014

Source: (info
An item broadcast on 10 October in the NTV programme “Emergency Event" contained two lies: one made with ill intent and one resulting from ignorance.

The lie with ill intent concerned a description of the work of the Memorial Human Rights Centre as allegedly supporting extremists and terrorists. The lie resulting from ignorance was the assertion that for this reason the Ministry of Justice had gone to court to close down the Memorial Human Rights Centre.

In reality, the Ministry of Justice has applied to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to close down not the Memorial Human Rights Centre but another organization, namely, the Russian Memorial Society (in full: the Russian Historical, Educational, Charitable and Human Rights Society Memorial.

The Russian Memorial Society was registered by the Ministry of Justice in 1992 and to this day continues to unite into one organization various ‘Memorial’ groups that exist in Russia's regions and are engaged in human rights, charitable, historical and educational work.

In 2012, 20 years after the initial registration of the Russian Memorial Society, the Ministry of Justice suddenly expressed doubts about the organization's formal status as a 'national' organization. This was despite the fact that virtually all the original regional organizations continued to be members of Memorial, and the legislation governing 'national' status of a non-profit had not changed at all.

What had changed was the position of the Ministry of Justice that suddenly decided to insist on the application of the notion of ‘democratic centralism’, something that to all intents and purposes had lost currency since the abolition of the ‘leading role’ of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Today the Ministry of Justice says that only those non-profits that include in their name the words ‘a branch of the Russian Historical, Educational, Charitable and Human Rights Society’ can be considered to be branches of the Russian Memorial Society.

Moreover, the Ministry of Justice now interprets the legal requirement that the national status of an organization supposes the presence of structural subdivisions in more than half of the regions of Russia as a requirement that these subdivisions must have the formal status of ‘regional’ organizations. According to the point of view of Ministry of Justice officials today, the fact that in a certain region there are 'city' or 'district' subdivisions of an organization is no confirmation that an organization is active at the regional level.

This argument by the Ministry of Justice is completely groundless. It is no accident that the Ministry of Justice has not been able to respond to our questions with arguments based on citations of the law. Such a situation when the Ministry of Justice seeks to unlawfully limit citizens' constitutional right of association is, we believe, impermissible. For that reason the Russian Memorial Society appealed to the courts back in 2012.

In the course of appeals we lodged during 2013 against the demands of the Ministry of Justice, in Zamoskvoretsky district court and then Moscow City Court, we received no responses based on the letter of the law. Nonetheless, quite predictably, the appeal courts took the side of the Ministry of Justice.

For this reason in the near future Russian Memorial will appeal to the Constitutional Court. So far as the Ministry of Justice is concerned, we hope that the Supreme Court, in hearing the appeal, will show more respect to the law and the Constitution than the lower courts.

10 October 2014, Moscow

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