Statement by Human Rights Defenders: "End the Police State"

posted 26 Oct 2013, 11:49 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Oct 2013, 11:52 ]
24 October 2013 

Source: (info)
"Will the authorities find the strength to establish afresh relations with civil society?..."

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Ten years ago a group of Russian special forces seized the head of the Yukos oil company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was on his way to Irkutsk to speak at a seminar on relations between business, government and society, at Novosibirsk airport. Two days later Khodorkovsky was to have taken part in a conference of civil society organizations in Moscow, an event which could have marked the start of a new stage in relations between business and civil society. Instead, Khodorkovsky was remanded in custody by Basmanny district court, and the notion of ‘Basmanny justice’ came into being.

The event had been preceded by the arrests of Aleksei Pichugin and Platon Lebedev on fabricated charges.

With the arrest of Khordorkovsky, the development of the political regime in Russia entered a new phase. This was not only because Khodorkovsky’s detention was followed by a whole series of arrests of senior Yukos staff. The struggle against Yukos, and in general against all those in business of a liberal persuasion and who acted independently, became a cornerstone of the regime’s ideology.

Thereafter, business lost its political independence. There was an almost total end to the support from Russian business for independent non-governmental organizations. There began a whole series of illegal seizures of private companies: the Yukos case was copied in thousands of other instances as fabricated charges were brought against entrepreneurs to wring their property from them, businesses were seized, and many independent business people ended up behind bars.

The two prosecutions of Khodorkovsky seriously damaged the justice system. In many respects it became worse than the Soviet justice system which had been subject to political control. The seizure of property by means of fabricated charges led to the appearance of a whole group of ‘entrepreneurs in epaulettes’. A series of spy trials were set off, of which prominent scientists became the victims, and considerable damage was done to international scientific links.

In the years since, a ‘secret-police oligarchy’, merging business with the bureaucracy, above all those bureaucrats from the security and law enforcement agencies, has resulted in a hitherto unheard of social differentiation, ubiquitous corruption, the destruction of the judicial system as an institution, capital flight, mass emigration of the ‘middle class’, and economic stagnation.

The number of political prisoners has risen rapidly. The cases of Pussy Riot, the Bolotnaya Square defendants, spy trials against scientists, environmentalists in Krasnodar, and the Arctic 30, all demonstrate that the authorities are ready to ignore elementary norms of law in the most provocative manner.

These developments have brought the country to an obvious dead end. Society is witnessing the growth of aggression, of which the recent ethnic pogroms are only the first symptoms.

Will the authorities find the strength to establish afresh relations with civil society? The best route out of the current dead end would be for the authorities to announce a broad amnesty, an amnesty which would have to include all those prosecuted for political reasons, all business people whose property has been subject to illegal seizure, and all those who are highly likely to have been victims of the punitive abuse of the justice system. Among them, without doubt, must be all Yukos employees, all the Greenpeace activists, and all the “Prisoners of the 6th May” - the Bolotnaya Square defendants.

A broad amnesty of this kind is the last chance to turn Russian society onto the path towards civic peace and to creating a real dialogue between the authorities and society.

Ludmila Alekseeva, chair, Moscow Helsinki Group

Valery Borshchev, member, Moscow Helsinki Group

Svetlana Gannushkina, chair, Civic Assistance Committee

Segei Kovalev, chair, Russian Memorial Society

Oleg Orlov, member of the board, Memorial Human Rights Centre

Lev Ponomarev, executive director, For Human Rights

Aleksandr Cherkasov, chair of the board, Memorial Human Rights Centre

Ernst Chernyi, secretary, Public Committee in Defence of Scientists

Father Gleb Yakunin, member, Moscow Helsinki Group