Memorial presents list of 70 political prisoners in today's Russia

posted 4 Nov 2013, 08:56 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Nov 2013, 09:11 ]
30 October 2013 

Vera Vasilyeva, 30/10/2013 

On 30 October 2013, the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Political Repression, a press conference was held at Moscow’s Independent Press Centre on new criteria for what defines a political prisoner drafted by Memorial on the basis of recommendations by Amnesty International, PACE and other authoritative international organisations and in collaboration with human rights activists from Eastern European countries. 

Those taking part in the press conference included Valentin Gefter, director of the Institute of Human Rights, and Sergei Davidis, member of the board of the Memorial Human Rights Centre and head of the programme “Support for Political Prisoners and Persecuted Civil Activists”.

According to the Memorial representatives, the situation regarding political prisoners in Russia and the other CIS countries remains unclear in terms of both legal aspects and public perceptions. On the one hand, the authorities continue to publicise the fact that they have no political prisoners, but on the other hand the various human rights organisations and political “players” have very different understandings of the term, with the end result that lists of political prisoners can vary substantially.

On the basis of a PACE resolution adopted in October 2012 and other regulatory acts, a groups of human rights defenders drafted a set of detailed criteria for the identification of political prisoners, designed to be as practically applicable as possible. The outcome of their work was presented at the press conference.

According to Valentin Gefter, the new criteria were needed firstly because there are no laws in modern‑day Russia which directly prohibit civic activism or peaceful political campaigning, and secondly because it used to be believed that political prisoners were people illegally persecuted solely on the grounds of political and civic activism, while the situation now is more complex.

"The human rights community wanted to find new criteria adapted to these new circumstances, which could be used to delineate the vast field of politically motivated criminal and administrative persecution, and in particular the smaller number of cases which result in imprisonment, or in other words political prisoners," explained the director of the Institute of Human Rights.

Valentin Gefter said that the human rights defenders split modern-day political prisoners into two groups, and formulated distinct demands with respect to each of them.

The first group includes people persecuted solely on the grounds of legitimate, non-violent activism or membership of a particular group. Memorial is calling for these political prisoners to be released immediately, and preferably compensated for any harm they have suffered in connection with the unlawful prosecution.

The second group includes individuals who have been persecuted due to political motives on the part of the authorities, in some cases in connection with actual violations of the law. It is irrelevant whether the individuals in question were engaged in politics.

“If there is a political motive in the wider sense of the phrase, and if substantive and procedural violations of individual rights have taken place, the individual can be regarded as a political prisoner,” said Valentin Gefter.

The human rights activists called for an immediate review of the criminal or administrative proceedings leading to the imprisonment of these individuals, and added that non-custodial measures should be preferred during investigations.

Valentin Gefter particularly emphasised the grounds on which experts would exclude individuals involved in criminal proceedings from the list of political prisoners.

These include those who “commit acts of violence against people and the incitement of violence on the grounds of hatred or who call for the complete dismantling of the entire international body of civil rights and freedoms".

Sergey Davidis then presented a list of political prisoners based on the new criteria, which comprises 70 individuals.

The list includes third-country nationals as well as Russian citizens, such as the Greenpeace activists from the crew of the Arctic Sunrise, seized by Russian border guards at the Prirazlomnaya oil platform in the Pechora Sea.

Memorial’s list also includes those charged in the Bolotnaya trial as well as Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, members of the punk group Pussy Riot who are currently in labour colonies, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev and Aleksei Pichugin, all of whom were sentenced in the Yukos trial, the “spy scientists” Yevgeny Afanasyev, Svyatoslav Bobyshev and Sergei Vizir, and others prosecuted in connection with a number of other criminal investigations. Sergei Davidis stressed that the list may not be exhaustive.

Attached File List-Memorial-10-2013.pdf 117.21 КБ

Translated by Joanne Reynolds