Posts Tagged ‘Moscow Times’

Grim times for human rights defenders and real journalists in Russia

April 1, 2022
Svetlana Gannushkina and Oleg Orlov in court. @MemorialMoscow / Twitter.com

While understandably most attention goes to the real war in Ukraine, we should keep an eye on the worsening situation in Russia itself. See also my earlier post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/03/05/ngos-express-great-worries-about-human-rights-situation-in-russia-at-un-human-rights-council/

Michael Mainville for AFP on 31 March 2022 is writing about this very intelligently:

For many years, veteran Russian human rights defender Oleg Orlov thought his country’s darkest days were behind it. Not anymore. “I don’t think I have ever seen a darker period,” says Orlov, 68, who began a lifetime of activism in the early 1980s handing out leaflets against the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

What is happening now cannot be compared with anything that happened before in Russia, maybe anywhere in the world… when a country that left totalitarianism behind went back.”

For Orlov and other activists of his generation, the conflict in Ukraine has marked the definite end of a hopeful time that started with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms in the 1980s. Nearly 40 years later, Russian troops are again fighting and dying abroad, Kremlin opponents are in jail, independent media have been shut down and thousands of Russians have decided to flee the country.

“The hopes we had did not come true, there have been terrible disappointments,” says Svetlana Gannushkina, 80, one of Russia’s most prominent post-Soviet rights activists. “Today we have a country that can no longer be called authoritarian, this is already a totalitarian regime.

Orlov and Gannushkina are two of the last few critical voices still at work in Russia, and in interviews with AFP in Moscow this week both said they had no plans to quit or to leave. Orlov was in the offices of Memorial, which was shut down last year after decades as Russia’s most prominent rights group, where bookcases sat empty, desks had been cleared and packing boxes were piled on the floor. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/12/29/russias-supreme-court-orders-closure-emblematic-memorial/]

“I don’t see myself outside Russia. I… have always wanted to live and die in this country,” says Orlov.

A biologist by training, Orlov joined Memorial in the late 1980s when the group was set up to document Soviet-era crimes. He went on to record rights abuses in a series of post-Soviet conflicts, especially in Russia’s two wars in Chechnya in the 1990s.  In 1995 he was part of a group who swapped themselves for hostages taken by Chechen fighters and were eventually released, and in 2007 he was abducted, beaten and threatened with execution by a group of masked gunmen in Ingushetia next to Chechnya. After serving two years in the mid-2000s on Russia’s presidential human rights council, Orlov has since been active in opposing President Vladimir Putin. He was arrested at a March 6 protest against the military action in Ukraine, and returned home one day this week to find his front door painted over with the letter “Z” — a symbol used to show support for Russia in the conflict — and a sign reading “collaborator.”

The harsh new political climate and impact of severe sanctions have prompted thousands of Russians to leave in recent weeks, including many of the country’s young, opposition-minded liberals. Gannushkina has seen it at her Civic Assistance Committee, the group she founded in 1990 to help refugees and migrants in an often-hostile environment. “Unfortunately, our wonderful young people, who followed their hearts to our organization, are leaving,” she says…These young people, who we had so much hope for, feel in danger and helpless, so they leave. And we are left here with this insanity...”

The former mathematics professor set up the Civic Assistance Committee to help the thousands displaced by conflicts as the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991. From its modest Moscow offices, it provides legal assistance and help with finding jobs and housing, as well as campaigning for the rights of marginalized groups. Gannushkina also worked with Memorial and like Orlov served on the presidential human rights council before resigning in 2012. A letter of thanks for her service signed by Putin still hangs on her office wall. She remains very active, taking the time to meet individually with people seeking help.  [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/215E5731-7786-434A-9C20-923168E65F44]

“No, I don’t think about leaving,” Gannushkina says, though she admits she is glad her children and grandchildren live abroad. I am happy they are not here, because it gives me the chance to say what I think, to everyone and everywhere.”

We had a chance to create a normal federation, which would be governed in the way other federations are governed in democratic regimes. We missed that chance,” she says. All she can do now, Gannushkina says, is “hope that time will pass and we will get another chance. “But most likely I won’t be here to see it.”

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Also on 31 March 2022 The Washington Post had an editorial: A generation of independent Russian journalists meets its grim end:

In his lecture accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, the editor of the Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Dmitry Muratov, declared that “journalism in Russia is going through a dark valley.” He said more than 100 journalists, media outlets, human rights defenders and nongovernmental organizations have been branded “foreign agents,” a label equivalent to “enemies of the people.” Many journalists lost their jobs and fled the country. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/bdbb2312-8b7a-4e44-bb4c-1864474daec7]

Now Novaya Gazeta itself has suspended publication, threatened by the government for failing to label a group as a “foreign agent” and because of an onerous new law that makes it a crime with penalties up to 15 years in prison to “discredit” the armed forces — including use of the words “war,” “invasion” or “attack” to describe President Vladimir Putin’s onslaught against Ukraine. A day after the invasion, Novaya Gazeta expressed outrage with a front-page three-word banner headline against a black background: “Russia. Bombs. Ukraine.” The paper continued to report, including from a correspondent in Ukraine, until it could no longer. The decision to suspend was portrayed by Mr. Muratov as temporary, but the future for all independent media in Russia appears grim.

This is a tombstone moment for a generation of independent journalists. In the final years of Soviet glasnost and in the unbridled and exuberant first years of Russia’s democracy, they threw off the straitjacket of censors and state-dominated media outlets to create newspapers, magazines, radio stations, television broadcasts and digital and social media that drew large and information-hungry audiences. To be sure, the audiences often were liberal, elite and urban, but at the very least, Russians benefited from information sources outside state control. Even in the authoritarian years of Mr. Putin’s rise, some were permitted to function. Novaya Gazeta distinguished itself with hard-hitting investigations, as Mr. Muratov noted in his lecture, fearlessly exposing money-laundering and the exploitation of Siberian forests, among other topics. Six of the paper’s reporters have been killed over the years.

But now it seems that Russia is moving from authoritarianism to totalitarianism, where the state can no longer tolerate any independent outlets. Echo Moskvy, a bastion of open discussion on radio and online, has been silenced and closed. TV Dozhd, founded in 2010, has suspended operations, and some of its journalists have fled. The popular news website Znak.com has also closed. A similar trend has swept independent media in Russia’s regions.

Mr. Putin completely missed the ferment and exhilaration of the late-1980s glasnost years — he was serving in the KGB in East Germany — and in his two decades in power, he has shown little patience for free speech. Lately, dozens of people have been arrested for expressing anti-war sentiments. Vera Bashmakova, the editor of a popular science magazine, was detained for several hours when she showed up at preschool to pick up her daughter with a “No to war!” sign in her car window. She was charged with “discrediting the army.” This is indeed a “dark valley” for Russia, and it is growing darker by the day.

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/03/31/shattered-hopes-and-dark-days-for-longtime-russian-rights-activists-a77158

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/03/31/generation-independent-russian-journalists-meets-its-grim-end/

Gulag historian Yury Dmitriyev returns to prison

July 24, 2020
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Expert on Stalin atrocities Yury Dmitriyev. Photo: Igor Podgorny, 7×7-journal.ru

The Moscow Times of 22 July 2020 carries a detailed report by Evan Gershkovich on Gulag historian Yury Dmitriyev who has spent decades calling attention to one of the darkest chapters in Russia’s history. He now faces up to 15 years in prison on sexual assault charges in a case his allies say has been trumped up to silence him. Acquitted of child pornography, Yury Dmitriyev now faces charges of sexual assault.

The Moscow Times profiled Dmitriyev in 2018:

Yury Dmitriyev normally hates Moscow. The concrete, the commotion, the pollution. As much as he can, he stays in Karelia, where he was born, raised and has spent his 62 years. In the northwestern region bordering Finland and the Baltic and White Seas, he can usually be found in the woods or in his study, writing.

Yet on a pleasant evening in mid-May, Dmitriyev, a prominent researcher of Soviet crimes, was happy to be in the metropolis. Accompanied by his elder daughter, Yekaterina Klodt, and his lawyer, Viktor Anufriyev, old friends greeted him with grins and tight hugs in a courtyard outside Teatr.doc, a progressive theater, ahead of a human rights awards ceremony.

One month earlier, Dmitriyev had been cleared of child pornography charges. Authorities had detained him in December 2016 after investigators found nude photos of his 11-year old adopted daughter; Dmitriyev said he took the photos to monitor her physical changes as she was prone to illness. From the outset, human rights defenders claimed that the case was fabricated to silence an outspoken activist.

If the arrest came as a shock to those who knew him, so too did his acquittal: Fewer than one percent of criminal defendants in Russia are cleared.

But authorities, human rights defenders now say, weren’t done with the historian just yet. Only a month after the awards night, a judge annulled the April decision, starting the trial anew.

Then, two weeks later, prosecutors brought additional charges to the table: This time they claimed that Dmitriyev had sexually assaulted his daughter. As of late June, the historian was back in jail facing another uphill legal battle, his freedom having been fleeting.

“The new charges are a chance for the prosecution to get it right,” Anufriyev said. “They failed the first time, so officials are giving them another chance to get the job done.”

Digging and documenting

Two decades ago, Dmitriyev discovered a set of mass graves in a Karelian forest containing the bodies of more than 9,500 victims of Josef Stalin’s Great Terror. Poring over KGB documents, the head — and sole employee — of Memorial’s Karelia branch spent the next 20 years documenting each victim’s story.

“What makes Yury unique is that he combines both the digging and the documenting,” said Sergei Krivenko, a colleague of Dmitriyev’s at Memorial and a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council. “Some people work on compiling books of names, some people search for the exact locations of the killings. No one has dedicated themselves to both the way Yury has.”

No one has dedicated themselves to both digging and documenting the way Yuri has.

Those who know Dmitriyev say he toiled everyday. “He’s been doing this work for the past 30 years, and I’m 33,” said Klodt, his elder daughter. “I’m so used to it that, for me, his work is no different than a dentist’s.”

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, historians say, the state has supported them in locating and memorializing the burial sites of the estimated 15 to 30 million victims of Stalin’s rule. At the location Dmitriyev discovered — Sandarmokh — local authorities helped build roads and erect monuments and aided with an annual gathering at the site.

But in recent years, human rights defenders say, the climate has become less hospitable. Those who spoke with The Moscow Times pointed to a resurgence in Stalin’s popularity as a significant reason: In June last year, Russians voted him the “most outstanding” person in history. In second place was President Vladimir Putin, who has accused the West of “excessive demonization” of the Soviet leader.

Others pointed to a surge in nationalism since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and got involved in Ukraine. “There were many foreigners killed at Sandarmokh — Norwegians, Poles, Finns and Ukrainians, including around 200 intellectuals,” Krivenko said. “This is a very important place for Ukrainians especially, and a delegation would visit the site annually.”

Dmitriyev organized the memorial visit every year on Aug. 5. He invited foreign delegations and led discussions, Krivenko said. After the events in Crimea and Ukraine, the discussions often turned to politics.

“I think this is why they went after him,” Krivenko said. He also pointed to an October 2016 decision to add Memorial to a register of “foreign agent” organizations that receive foreign funding. “I think this gave the local siloviki” — officials with ties to law enforcement — “a signal that they could go after us.”

Two months later, in December, Dmitriyev was first arrested.

Prison as a work trip

The day after the awards night, Dmitriyev was invited to speak with human rights students at the Sakharov Center, named after the Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist.

Klodt had come with him and complained that she wasn’t feeling well. “Maybe they should put you in prison for a year too so they can toughen you up,” her father joked.

Quick to laugh, thin and slightly disheveled, Dmitriyev presented an unimposing figure. But when the subject of his work came up, he turned deadly serious.

“I don’t fight the system. That’s a dead end, and I’m already old now,” he told The Moscow Times before the event. “I fight for memory. I fight so anyone who wants to can learn about their relatives, regardless of whether the government wants it or not. These people existed at some point. They worked and loved and had children. I’m for protecting the freedom of private life and of those memories.”

Without those memories, Dmitriyev continued, today’s generation cannot judge whether their government is laudable or acting improperly.

The people I dig up were in the same prison, walked the same halls and were behind the same bars.

“When a person knows the history of their family for multiple generations, they can understand what our state is doing right and what it’s doing wrong,” he said. “Called upon by the state to do this or that, they’ll say, ‘No, my great-grandfather was summoned in the same way and it ended badly for him. So maybe it’ll end badly for me as well.’”

Dmitriyev shrugged at the subject of his time in prison. “I don’t make a great tragedy out of that year,” he said. “I just think of it as a work trip. I’ve gained a better understanding of what my heroes — the people I dig up and write about — were thinking. They were in the same prison, walked the same halls and were behind the same bars.”

More difficult, he said, was being separated from his younger daughter. Dmitriyev himself was adopted, and at some point he decided he wanted to care for an orphaned child too. He hoped he’d be able to talk to her again by the end of the year. “It’s a humane policy by the prosecutor’s office,” he joked. Then he turned serious again: “I can handle it, I’m a tough person. But what about the child? She thinks everyone has abandoned her.”

Into the forest

After Dmitriyev was first arrested, the girl was taken in by her biological grandmother. Klodt said the family and the grandmother maintained regular communication. But when Dmitriyev was acquitted, Klodt said, the grandmother cut off all communication with the family. Then she sent a letter to the prosecution demanding the acquittal be overturned.

Anufriyev, Dmitriyev’s lawyer, believes that local authorities pressured her into writing the letter. He also says that the new charges of sexual assault are founded solely on a June 6 meeting between investigators and the girl during which, Anufriyev says, they coerced her into saying what they wanted. “They say they’re helping the child, but really they’re making her suffer,” he said.

Reached by phone, Tatyana Kordyukova, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office, said she couldn’t comment on the case and referred The Moscow Times to the Investigative Committee. The Investigative Committee, in turn, did not respond to requests for comment.

On July 25, the retrial of the first case will begin. The Investigative Committee is currently researching the new charges, a process which could take months. The original charges carry up to 15 years in prison; the new charges up to 20.

This time, though, Anufriyev says Dmitriyev is better prepared. “After his last stint in prison, he now knows that we can fight and win this thing,” he said.

Klodt, too, is ready for the fight. “I’m not constantly hysterical like last time,” she said. “I understand that something needs to be done. I’m not giving up.”

His colleagues say they won’t give up either. When Dmitriyev was first arrested, human rights defenders, artists and writers across the country spoke out for him and wrote letters to Putin. Still, they are sober about the possible outcome.

“This is the atmosphere for us right now,” Krivenko said. He pointed to the case of Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker accused of terrorism after he had refused to accept the annexation of Crimea, and Memorial colleague Oyub Titiyev, who is also in prison on charges widely believed to be fabricated.

“The only good thing from all this is that the president is showing us how it all happened in the 1930s — how people were blamed, how siloviki read signals from the top,” Krivenko said. “We used to study this in archives, now we see it in real life.”

During his short stint out of prison, Dmitriyev returned to work. Anatoly Razumov, a historian and one of Dmitriyev’s closest friends, stayed at his house from the night before the acquittal was overturned until June 19. The entire time, he says, Dmitriyev worked on a book he had to put off when he was first arrested.

In May, asked if he would return to his work or if he feared doing so would anger certain parties, Dmitriyev was unmoved. “If you’re afraid of wolves, you shouldn’t go into the forest,” he replied.


This article first appeared in The Moscow Times and is republished in a sharing partnership with the Barents Observer.

Russia’s Human Rights Defenders continue the struggle against foreign agents law and other repression

September 11, 2014

I have posted extensively on the ‘foreign agents” law in Russia (and a few other countries that got inspired by this bad example) [see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/foreign-agent/] and the article below in the Moscow Times is an excellent piece that sums up the current repression AND the resilience of the human rights defenders. Election-monitoring watchdog Golos won a rare victory among Russian NGOs on Tuesday 9 September when a Moscow court ruled it should not after all be labeled a “foreign agent.” But rights activists warn that the battle against the “foreign agents” label is only the tip of the iceberg in a far broader pressure campaign being waged by the authorities. Read the rest of this entry »

Russia rightly interferes on Gitmo but does not appreciate interference on its own record

May 21, 2013
Konstantin Dolgov (Image from vaseljenska.com)

(Konstantin Dolgov -Image from vaseljenska.com)

On 16 May 2013 Russia Today spoke with the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Commissioner for Human Rights Konstantin Dolgov, to find out his view on the situation as the hunger strike in Guantanamo hits its’ 100-day landmark. It is good to see Russia express its concern about this and even invoke the views of human rights defenders. Below I give some quotes from the interview. If only Russia would always be so concerned with their views! As to  illustrate this the Moscow Times comes today with an article by Jonathan Earle Read the rest of this entry »