Posts Tagged ‘Moscow’

Pussy Riot freed in Russia but the bigger issue is blasphemy laws everywhere

December 24, 2013

Demonstrators wear "Free Pussy Riot" balaclavas as they protest at the security fence surrounding the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland June 17, 2013

(Pussy Riot’s members with their distinctive coloured balaclavas)

The two remaining members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, whose incarceration sparked a global outcry, have been released under an amnesty law, but Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina dismissed the amnesty as a publicity stunt before the Sochi Winter Olympics in February.They both promised to continue their vocal opposition to the government. The women were jailed in August 2012 after performing a protest song in Moscow’s main cathedral. Alyokhina’s first words and actions after being freed serve as a sign that this fight is likely to go on. The case divided Russia with many feeling the women were being too harshly treated and made examples of as part of attempts to clamp down on opposition to the government. But others felt their actions were a gross offence to the Orthodox faith. The act was seen as blasphemous by many others e.g. in Greece here and was condemned by several Orthodox Churches. However, their conviction for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” was criticised by rights groups [AI declared them prisoners of conscience], celebrities [such as Sting, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Madonna and Yoko Ono ], anti-Putin activists and foreign governments.

This should make us look again a the issue of blasphemy in general. The crime of criticizing a religion is not always called blasphemy; sometimes it is categorized as hate speech (even when it falls well below any sensible standard of actually inciting hatred or violence) because it supposedly insults the followers of a religion. These crimes—of expressing ‘blasphemy’ or offending religious feelings—are still a crime in 55 countries, can mean prison in 39 of those countries, and are punishable by death in six countries.

Recently, Ireland and the Netherlands started the process of removing some or part of their blasphemy laws. The arguments in these debates have universal validity.

Human Rights First and other NGOs have reported on human rights abuses caused by the use of blasphemy laws around the world.  These laws are often vague and can be subject to abuse, either by the authorities or citizens who can accuse a fellow citizen of blasphemy with a personal complaint to the prosecutor. The concept is inconsistent with universal human rights standards, which protect the rights of individuals rather than abstract ideas or religions. Those accused of blasphemy are frequently threatened or attacked even before any investigation. People take to the streets and violence stoked by religious extremists ensues. Blasphemy laws have been used to justify violence and oppression against minorities. Blasphemy laws enable governments to restrict freedom of expression, thought, and religion. Application of the laws can result in devastating consequences for religious minorities. This has been the case for Christians in Pakistan and Egypt, Ahmadi followers in Indonesia, and non-believers in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In many instances, officials fail to condemn abuses or to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable. And the police often fail to stop violence against religious minorities or to protect those endangered on account of such laws.

In the past few years, several bodies of the United Nations have examined the relationship between freedom of expression and hate speech, especially in relation to religious issues. After extensive consultation with governments and civil society, the Rabat Plan of Action was published by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in October 2012. This document outlines how blasphemy laws are problematic.  Since 2011, a new process dubbed the Istanbul Process was launched as a result of resolutions adopted at the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. The idea is to combat religious intolerance without restricting freedom of speech but whether that is possible is a big question.

Lessons of the Debate Over Ireland’s Blasphemy Law | Human Rights First

http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/Blasphemy_Cases.pdf.

http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2013/12/netherlands-scraps-blasphemy-law–but-seeks-a-way-to-replace-it

BBC News – Pussy Riot: Russia frees jailed punk band members.

Human rights defenders in Russia should be proud to be ‘Foreign Agents’

November 22, 2013

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This blog has on several occasions made mention of the dangerous developments in Russia where the ‘foreign agents’ law is being used to delegitimize human rights defenders. Front Line just came with an update showing that the legal aspect of this issue (is the law legally permissible under the Russian Constitution or the European Convention Human Rights?) is coming under scrutiny. On 18 November 2013, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow heard the cases of 3 NGOs – Human Rights Centre ‘Memorial’, GOLOS, and the Public Verdict Foundation – which challenge the ‘Foreign Agents’ law. Following the presentation of their arguments, the court accepted their request to postpone the hearings until 4 February 2014. Significant, as it was taken in order to await for the rulings of the European Court on Human Rights (ECtHR) or the Russian Constitutional Court, whichever comes first:

  • On 6 February 2013, eleven Russian NGOs lodged a complaint with the ECtHR alleging that the ‘Foreign Agents’ law violates four articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, namely Article 10 (Freedom of Expression), Article 11 (Freedom of Association and Assembly), Article 14 (Prohibition of Discrimination), and Article 18 (Limitations on Rights).
  •  On 13 August 2013, Kostroma Centre for Civic Initiatives Support lodged a complaint with the Russian Constitutional Court arguing that the ‘Foreign Agent’ law violates five articles of the Russian Constitution, namely Article 19 (Equality before the law), Article 29 (Freedom of ideas and speech), Article 30 (Right of Association), Article 32 (Right to participate in managing state affairs), and Article 51 (right not to give incriminating evidence against oneself).
  •  On 30 August 2013, the Russian Human Rights Ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, also lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court against certain provisions of the ‘Foreign Agents’ law. In particular, the Ombudsman argued that the definition of terms ‘foreign agent’ and ‘political activities’, as provided by the law, are politically and legally incorrect.

Still, one wonders whether the battle should not be fought also in the public domain as the ‘foreign agent campaign’ by the authorities is clearly not about financial control (there is enough of that already to satisfy any suspicious prosecutor) or political control (in which case registration as simple lobbyist would suffice) but about  ‘framing’ the human rights defenders as traitors, unpatriotic people. The requirement to identify oneself as foreign agent on every paper or poster is a clear indication of what the Government wants to achieve. This kind of action by governments (not just Russia) is a deliberate (mis)information effort that should be fought in the same arena of public perception. Admittedly far from easy and costly but there are things that COULD be done, I think:

  • bumper stickers and T-shirts with “I am a foreign agent” (in Russian of course, but supporters abroad could have it in English)
  • well-known Russian celebrities could make statements such as:  “IF …is a foreign agent ,in that case I am also one!”
  • production of video clips that poke fun at the idea, etc

As a concrete example: on 21 November 2013, a year after the law came into effect, Amnesty International Norway, LLH (the Norwegian LGBT Organisation) and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee called themselves for one day foreign agents in solidarity with Russian organisations who struggle to keep their work going (see also in Norwegian: http://www.amnesty.no/agent). Of course, people on the ground know best what will work, but I think some form of ‘counter-defamation’ should be tried. It would benefit Russia and could de-motivate the authorities in other countries watching what happens in Russia.

 

Snowden gets one year asylum – Kenneth Ross makes good suggestion

August 2, 2013

HRW_logo

In the ongoing saga concerning the asylum request by Snowden, Kenneth Ross, the director of Human Rights Watch, makes on 2 August an interesting and courageous comment on Twitter: “Instead of trying to extradite Snowden, Congress should ask him to testify by video as spur to end mass NSA snooping.

Defiant Russia Grants Snowden Year’s Asylum – NYTimes.com.

Russian Rights Defender Gannushkina Fined For Refusing Documents

June 26, 2013

Svetlana Gannushkina(Svetlana Gannushkina)
Prominent Russian human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina has been fined for refusing to provide documents demanded by prosecutors. A court in Moscow ruled late on June 18 that the chairwoman of Moscow-based Civic Collaboration Committee must pay 2,000 rubles (50 Euro) for failing to turn over papers related to the financial activities of her organization. Gannushkina, a Soviet-era veteran rights defender, has been refusing to provide the documents to investigators since April. Prosecutors made the request under the new law requiring all nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign funding and engage in political activity to register as ‘foreign agents’. [Last week, a Moscow court rejected an appeal by Russia’s independent election monitor, Golos, against the 300,000 ruble $9,500 fine imposed on the group under the legislation.] Based on reporting by Interfax and ITAR-TASS

via Russian Rights Defender Fined For Refusing Demand For Documents.

 

Russian NGO “For Human Rights” forcibly evicted from offices

June 25, 2013

Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders condemns the brutal use of force against the Russian NGO ‘’For Human Rights’’ and its chairman Lev Ponomaryov, during the organisation’s forcible eviction Saturday night, 22 June 2013. Read the rest of this entry »

Russian human rights defender Tanya Lokshina continues against all odds | Globalization | DW.DE | 12.06.2013

June 12, 2013

In the series Storytellers, Deutsche Welle gives the floor to Tanya Lokshina of HRW who has worked for 15 years in of the most difficult regions: Russia itself and conflict-ridden volatile areas like Chechnya and Dagestan as well as South Ossetia.

At first glance, Tanya Lokshina may not be the kind of person you would expect to travel to some of Russia’s most dangerous areas on a regular basis. But Read the rest of this entry »

Russia pursues its policy of labeling human rights defenders as ‘foreign agents’

April 26, 2013

In spite of protests by many NGOs and Governments around the world (including earlier posts in this blog), Russia seems bent on pursuing its idea of requiring all organisations which receive foreign funding and are engaged in political activity to register as ‘foreign agents’ [‘Foreign Agents’ Law of 21 November 2012] . After the passing of the law, GOLOS, Memorial and the Joint Mobile Group (just made the Final Nominee of the MEA 2013) and many other organisations declared that out of principle they would not register as ‘foreign agent’.

Yesterday, 25 April 2013, the Russian election watchdog GOLOS became the first NGO to be fined. The decision was taken by the Presnensky Court of Moscow. GOLOS is a Russian non-profit organisation which was founded in 2000 for the protection of voters’ rights and the development of civil society.  The court found that GOLOS had been receiving foreign funding, thereby implying that it considered the 2012 Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award  as such, despite testimony given by a representative of Norwegian Helsinki Committee who confirmed that GOLOS actually refused to receive the 7700$. The court also found that the advocacy work of GOLOS aimed at the introduction of amendments to the Electoral Code constitute ‘political activity’. The law does not define political activity, the precise definition of which depends on state officials’ interpretation.  The court ruled that GOLOS and its executive director Lilya Shibanova failed to comply with the obligation to register as a ‘foreign agent’ and fined them 300,000 roubles (approximately €7500) and 100,000 roubles (approximately €2500) respectively. They intend to appeal the decision.

And on 24 April Front Line Defenders reported that the Russian NGO ‘Man and the Law’ has been warned under the same Foreign Agents Law. Man and the Law, which is based in the Mari-El Republic in Russia, received a warning from the local Prosecutor’s Office re ‘political activity’, evidence for which has allegedly been found in their Charter and on their website.  Man and the Law is a local non-governmental organisation which monitors local officials’ and civil servants’ compliance with human rights standards. The NGO also works on prisoners’ rights and monitors detention facilities and organises seminars and workshops for local officials, especially from the Federal Penitentiary Service. The warning also states that the latest inspection of the organisation revealed foreign sources of funding, in which case Man and the Law should have registered as a foreign agent.Frontline NEWlogo-2 full version - cropped

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Russian “homosexual propaganda” law risks to target human rights defenders

February 7, 2013

A draft law to criminalise “homosexual propaganda”, currently being considered by the Russian parliament, flagrantly violates international human rights laws and standards, says the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR). The ISHR is particularly concerned that the law will be used to target, intimidate or harass human rights defenders and those who speak out on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. “States have an obligation not only to respect and protect human rights, but also to respect and protect those who stand up and speak out for human rights. Russia’s draft law is manifestly incompatible with this obligation,” said Ms Collister of the ISHR.ISHR-logo-colour-high

ISHR’s statement comes as three United Nations Independent human rights experts have also called on Russian parliament to scrap the draft Bill. In a joint statement issued by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, the experts state, “The draft legislation could further contribute to the already difficult environment in which these defenders operate, stigmatizing their work and making them the target of acts of intimidation and violence, as has recently happened in Moscow.”

For further comment, contact Heather Collister, International Service for Human Rights, on + 41 79 920 3805 or h.collister@ishr.ch.

 

HRW’s Moscow Researcher Threatened

October 8, 2012

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According to the NY Times a researcher in Human Rights Watch’s office in Moscow received repeated threats this week of an attack focused on her pregnancy, the rights group said, calling it the latest example of escalating pressure against rights and civic groups in Russia.

Natalia Kolesnikova/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Tanya Lokshina, a senior Human Rights Watch researcher, spoke to reporters in Moscow on Thursday.

 

The anonymous threats were sent to the cellphone of the researcher, Tanya Lokshina, who is also the deputy director of the Moscow bureau. The group said they included details that could have been obtained only by eavesdropping on her telephone conversations.

“These threats demonstrate that the sender clearly was following Tanya’s every move,” said Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. “They knew where she lived, what she was doing. They made explicit reference to the fact of her pregnancy. They threatened harm to herself and to her unborn baby.”

……..

“This is not the first time members of our organization, and the Moscow office, have been threatened,” Ms. Lokshina said. “But the level of cynicism, the ugliness in the threats that came to my phone over those three days was unprecedented.”The threats stopped Monday, the day Human Rights Watch reported them to the Russian police, prosecutors, officials in the federal government and the Federal Security Service, the domestic intelligence agency that is a successor to the K.G.B.

However, on Thursday, another employee of the office received a text, again threatening Ms. Lokshina’s pregnancy and mentioning the group’s news conference scheduled for later in the day.

Human Rights Watch Says Its Moscow Researcher Threatened – NYTimes.com.