Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Team 29, prominent legal defense group in Russia, folds under state pressure

July 24, 2021

Tanya Lokot on 21 July 2021 in Global Voices wrote about the closure of Team 29:

For almost seven years, Team 29 (Komanda 29), a group of independent lawyers, attorneys, advocacy experts and journalists, has fought for the rights of Russian activists, political prisoners, and other citizens. On July 19, the group announced it was shutting down its operations in order to protect its staff and clients from possible criminal prosecution. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/13/russian-human-rights-defenders-try-technology-and-gaming-innovations/

The decision to suspend their work comes after Russia’s internet regulator Roskomnadzor blocked Team 29’s website—allegedly, for publishing content produced by Spolecnost Svobody Informace (Freedom of Information Society), a Prague-based non-profit organisation which the Russian state had labelled as an “undesirable organisation” earlier in June 2021.

In a July 18 post on their Telegram channel, Team 29 said the Russian prosecutors had “conflated” the group with the Czech NGO (implying they were the same organisation), a charge that Team 29 denies.

While its lawyers plan to appeal the allegations as “arbitrary and contrived”, the group decided to act swiftly out of an abundance of caution to prevent further criminal charges against its staff, collaborators and supporters.

Under these circumstances, the continued activity of Team 29 poses a direct and obvious threat to the safety of many people, and we cannot ignore this risk. We are making the difficult decision to suspend the activity of Team 29. The attorneys and lawyers will continue to work on their client’s cases in a purely private capacity, unless the defendants refuse their services given the current situation.

We are closing all of the Team 29 media projects and purging the archive: all (!) texts, guides, reports, investigations, legal explainers, stories of political prisoners, court documents, interviews, podcasts, our literary project, our social media posts—the existence of this content online can be construed as “disseminating materials of an undesirable organisation” according to the logic that was used to block our website.

In their Telegram statement, the group also implored its supporters to delete any direct links or reposts of their content, as these could be interpreted as participating in the activity of an “undesirable organisation”. However, mentioning the organisation or sharing opinions about the situation was not illegal, according to the team.

Additionally, Team 29 said it was shutting down its crowdfunding efforts, and would refund subscribers for any funds that were unspent.

The founder of Team 29, Saint Petersburg-based lawyer Ivan Pavlov, is himself currently under investigation and facing felony charges for his work defending Russian journalist Ivan Safronov who is accused of treason. Though he now heads Team 29, Pavlov was previously the inaugural president of the Czech NGO, but hasn’t been involved with the Freedom of Information Society in any official capacity for the past five years.

Though it’s their digital footprint that is facing pressure from the authorities, Team 29 is best known for their legal support and human rights work in Russia. Writing on his own Telegram channel, Ivan Pavlov argued that it was this work on the ground, defending Russian citizens, that got Team 29 in trouble:

Our authorities have done everything to criminalize the activity and even our very name, Team 29. This is a peculiar sort of recognition of the effectiveness of our work and a compliment from our procedural opponents, who once again have been exhibiting unsportsmanlike behavior.

Founded in 2014 by Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer and freedom of information advocate, Team 29 has long been a thorn in Kremlin’s side. After authorities blacklisted Pavlov’s previous organisation, Institute for the Development of the Freedom of Information, as a “foreign agent”, Team 29 was born.

Since then, the group of defense lawyers, attorneys and reporters has taken on some of the most high-profile political cases in the country, including the trial of scientist Viktor Kudryavtsev on treason charges, the court battle around the designation of Alexey Navalny’s political movement and anti-corruption organisation as “extremist,” and the case of Karina Tsurkan, a former energy executive who was sentenced to 15 years in prison on espionage charges in December 2020.

Apart from defending political prisoners and activist groups in court, Team 29 has also published legal advice guides (archival link), spearheaded creative anti-corruption investigations, and even provided legal representation for a whistleblower from the infamous “troll factories” who took their Internet Research Agency to court in a labour dispute.

In an interview to independent Russian news website Meduza, Evgeny Smirnov, a lawyer formerly with Team 29, said that the latest events were likely “a cumulative effect” of all of their high-profile work. He said both he and Pavlov have received threats implying they were “like a bone in the throat not only for investigators, but also other people and state agencies”, so “that is why the decision was made to bomb us with everything they have”.

Despite the closure of their website, the group said its individual group members would continue their ongoing legal defense work as private individuals. According to Ivan Pavlov‘s Telegram post, Team 29 was “never a formal organisation, but rather a collective of like-minded people” and that “as long as there are people, there will be new ideas and new projects”.

Human rights lawyer Semyon Simonov convicted under Russia’s foreign agents law

July 14, 2021

Nadia Murray-Ragg of Victoria U. Wellington Faculty of Law, in New Zealand reports on 12 July 2021 that human rights defender and lawyer Semyon Simonov was convicted under Russia’s foreign agents law in a controversial criminal trial on Sunday.

In December 2016, Russia designated the Southern Human Rights Center (SHRC) as a foreign agent, considering it to be engaging in political activity. The SHRC is an organization providing pro bono legal services on human rights issues in Russia. Given this status, Russian law required the SHRC to register as a foreign agent. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), “foreign agent” connotes being a traitor or spy. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/russias-foreign-agents-bill-goes-in-overdrive/]

In February of 2017, Russia fined the SHRC for its failure to register. A Russian court determined Simonov, the President of the SHRC, would be held liable to pay the fine in July of 2019 following the SHRC’s non-payment. Sunday’s ruling imposed a sentence of 250 hours of community service onto Simonov for failure to pay the fine.

Simonov has a long history of championing for human rights. He has documented the human rights violations endured by migrant workers preparing for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Simonov’s criminal case has been heavily criticized by the human rights community. HRW’s Russia Researcher, Damelya Aitkhozhina, said “The criminal case against Semyon Simonov has been a sham from start to finish. It’s shocking and abhorrent that the authorities wasted so much time and resources on a case in which the accused did nothing but help people protect their rights.

Similarly, the country’s foreign agents law itself has faced calls for repeal. It has been criticized for quashing dissent and undermining the United Nations’ Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which provides in article one that everyone has the right “to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights”.

The ‘foreign agents’ law is nothing more than a tool of repression,” said HRW. “[I]t should be immediately repealed.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/11/five-individuals-now-listed-as-foreign-agents-in-russia/

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty filed a lawsuit challenging the country’s foreign agents law, citing concerns about the controversial law’s “profound chilling effect”.

https://www.jurist.org/news/2021/07/russia-court-convicts-human-rights-lawyer-under-foreign-agents-law/

Olga Sadovskaya is the 2021 OAK Human Rights Fellow

June 15, 2021

The Oak Institute for Human Rights has named Olga Sadovskaya, a Russian human rights lawyer, as its 2021 Human Rights Fellow. Sadovskaya, vice chair of the Committee Against Torture, the largest and most notable anti-torture organization in Russia, has worked on issues surrounding torture for more than 18 years. In 2017 she was shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Sadovskaya, who hails from the city of Nizhny Novgorod in western Russia, will join the Colby community in August and will engage with students, faculty, staff, and the greater community throughout the fall semester.

Olga Sadovskaya, the 2021 Oak Human Rights Fellow, will join the Colby community for the Fall 2021 semester and raise awareness on issues of torture and incarceration in Russia and around the world.

“The consistent violation of human rights in the carceral system is not only a major global problem but it is an urgent issue in the United States. There is a pressing need to confront and find better solutions to our current prison system,” said Valérie Dionne, director of the Oak Institute for Human Rights and associate professor of French. “We are lucky to have Olga Sadovskaya coming to campus to share her experience combating torture and to explore potential solutions with us that could replace the current carceral system.”

The Committee Against Torture (CAT), established in 2000 by Sadovskaya and three other activists, created accountability for torture previously missing in Russia. Torture was scarcely discussed, and victims were often scared, ashamed to speak out, or believed justice was unattainable. Even with CAT’s work, however, the practice of torture prevails, and investigations into torture are still inadequate. This problem is amplified in the Chechen Republic, where CAT is the sole organization working on cases of torture and abductions. 

Sadovskaya and her dedicated team have won many international awards: the PACE Prize of the Council of Europe, the Martin Ennals Award, the Frontline Defenders Human Rights Award, and the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. Sadovskaya herself has received the Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/D1B800F8-72AE-F593-868A-57F650E2D576 and https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/5E2006EC-8C84-6024-F77C-52D17819BB10

During her early years at the organization, Sadovskaya’s role as an investigator included collecting evidence of torture in prisons, penal colonies, police stations, and psychiatric institutions. Over time, she transitioned to analysis and international defense work with the European Court of Human Rights and various UN bodies. Sadovskaya also trains lawyers on how to work with the European Court of Human Rights. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/12/02/russian-olga-sadovskaya-keeps-fighting-torture/

Drawing upon years of experience with torture cases, Sadovskaya and her team wrote and published a methodology for public investigations, widely used by human rights organizations in Russia. Sadovskaya has personally represented more than 300 victims of torture before the European Court of Justice. Two of the cases were included in the list of the 20 most important cases that changed Russia (Case-Law of the European Court of Human Rights, Special issue, 5, 2018).  

While working against state-sanctioned torture, Sadovskaya has faced personal threats, including threats of murder, particularly for her work in Chechnya. The committee’s office has been burned down several times, and members’ cars have been destroyed. Sadovskaya is also periodically monitored and constantly at risk of being accused of baseless crimes. 

The Oak Human Rights Fellowship will give Sadovskaya a much-needed respite to return to Russia with renewed energy. As the 2021 Oak Fellow, she will connect with Colby students and raise awareness on issues of torture and incarceration in Russia and around the world. 

http://www.colby.edu/news/2021/06/11/olga-sadovskaya-named-2021-oak-human-rights-fellow/

History writing in Russia suppressed

June 10, 2021

A new FIDH report published on 10 June 20212 finds that human rights abuses targeting historians, activists, journalists, and NGOs working on historical memory of the Soviet past have become systematic since at least 2014. Legal impediments and implementation of laws designed to stifle free speech and freedom of association, arbitrary arrests and prosecutions, censorship, public smear campaigns, and failure to provide effective remedies for past abuses are just some of the violations detailed.

In recent years, control over the historical narrative of the Soviet past has become an essential tool for consolidating authoritarian rule. Building Russia’s collective identity around Soviet victory in the Second World War, the current regime attacks historians, journalists, civil society activists, and non-governmental organisations that work to keep alive a historical memory of the Soviet past that focuses on identification of the perpetrators and victims of the likes of the Great Terror, Joseph Stalin’s 1937-38 campaign of deadly political repression.

The new FIDH report, Russia: Crimes Against History, catalogues these violations, analyses them from the viewpoint of international human rights law, and makes recommendations to national authorities and international organisations on how to improve the situation of so-called “history producers.”

Our report is the first comprehensive analysis of the issue of manipulation of historical memory in Russia from the vantage point of human rights law,” said Ilya Nuzov, head of FIDH’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk who conceived and co-authored the report. “Our findings show that the authorities have created a climate of fear and repression for all independent voices working on historical past in Russia, reminiscent of the worst practices of the Soviet period.”

Specifically, the report details how, in recent years, the government has methodically attempted to discourage independent work in the historical field while actively promoting its own “historical truth” that centers on Soviet victory in the Second World War.

In 2020, the official historical narrative was set in stone in the Constitution, which was amended contrary to domestic and international law. In the Constitution, Russia is presented as the “successor” regime of the Soviet Union, which must “honour the memory of the defenders of the fatherland” and “protect the historical truth.” This narrative is actively promoted by government institutions. On the other hand, the authorities have stigmatised and penalised internationally supported civil society organisations, such as International Memorial, with the likes of foreign agent laws; it has criminalised interpretations that diverge from the state’s interpretation of history through the adoption of “Exoneration of Nazism” and other memory laws; and it has organised show trials against independent historians like Yuri Dmitriev, who received a draconian 13-year sentence for his tireless work to identify and commemorate victims of the Great Terror. Seae also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/01/dunja-mijatovic-calls-on-russia-to-end-judicial-harassment-of-human-rights-defenders/

“The report is important not only for Russia,” remarked Valiantsin Stefanovic, FIDH vice president. “Its findings and recommendations could be applied to other countries in the region and around the world that manipulate historical memory. In Belarus for instance, we see a similar use of memory laws to crack down on the pro-democracy movement.”

The report formulates a number of recommendations, such as the establishment of legal guarantees and protections to safeguard the independence of historians’ work. It also proposes the official recognition of historians as human rights defenders by United Nations special procedures, in addition to the creation of a “historians’ day” by UNESCO.

Yury Dmitriev wins 2021 Sakharov Freedom Award

May 21, 2021

Thomas Nilsen in the Barents Observer of 21 May reports that The Norwegian Helsinki Committee has given its 2021 award, the Sakharov Freedom prize, to Russian dissident Yury Dmitriev. for more on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/DC70DA62-BCB5-497A-A145-79D1F865FC11

Dmitriev is well known for his research and campaigns to create a memorial to the victims of Soviet terror in the Republic of Karelia, a northwestern province near Russia’s border to Finland. see also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/303c010f-033a-45b1-9d25-ed42d99b1da9

“Yuri Dmitriev has returned the human value back to the Russian state. He confronts the past and gives a new vision for the future, which today’s regime does not have,” says Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Geir Hønneland, to the Barents Observer.

Explaining the reason behind the award, Hønneland says it is not only about Dmitriev as a historian. “His work has already inspired thousands of young and old people, who want to find their dearest in the darkest graves. It is about hope and common identity.

Millions were killed during Soviet terror, but the victims of these atrocities and their living relatives have never been given real justice. This was what Yury Dmitriev was working on. In the forests of Karelia, tens of thousands of people were shot and killed without trial or conviction and buried in mass graves.

Dmitriev is currently serving a 13 years prison sentence and is considered a political prisoner by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and other leading human rights organizations. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/01/dunja-mijatovic-calls-on-russia-to-end-judicial-harassment-of-human-rights-defenders/

https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/democracy-and-media/2021/05/jailed-russian-historian-receives-sakharov-freedom-award

Russian resolution on participation of women in activities promoting global peace defeated in Security Council – explanation

November 2, 2020

Yoy may have read in the news that on Friday 30 October 2020 the U.N. Security Council defeated a Russian resolution to commemorate the 20th anniversary of a U.N. measure demanding equal participation for women in activities promoting global peace. The email vote on the resolution was 5-0, with 10 countries abstaining, far less than the minimum nine “yes” votes required for adoption. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/03/roadmap-to-women-peace-and-security-wps-agenda-2020/]

The Russian draft was supported by Russia, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and South Africa. The countries that abstained were the United States, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Germany, Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tunisia. The opponents were objecting to its failure to adequately address human rights and the key role of civil society in pushing for gender equality. If you are puzzled by this outcome the attached statement by CARE explains:

https://apnews.com/article/china-germany-europe-russia-united-nations-e67b5b5856a20d5601294dfdcd12252a

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/care-statement-failure-russia-s-draft-resolution-women-peace-and-security

Russian human rights defender Yuri Orlov dies at 96

October 1, 2020
Yuri Orlov
Human rights activist and Soviet dissident Yuri Orlov speaks at the American Jewish Committee’s annual meeting, May 14, 1987, at New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel.AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler

Cornell University professor emeritus and Russian human rights leader Yuri Orlov is dead at age 96, the Moscow Helsinki Group announced Monday. Orlov died Sunday, 27 September 2020 according to the human rights group that Orlov founded in 1976. A cause of death was not named.

Orlov was a nuclear physicist and a Soviet dissident who became an advocate for human rights during the Cold War, co-founding the Soviet branch of Amnesty International before launching the Moscow Helsinki Group to monitor the Soviet Union’s compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Accords. According to his biography, he was a lifelong activist, getting banned from scientific work in Moscow in the 1950s after giving a pro-democracy speech; spending 16 years in exile in Armenia, where he became an expert on particle acceleration; returning to the U.S.S.R. in 1972; and getting arrested in 1977 by the KGB, who sent him to a gulag labor camp in Siberia for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.”

Orlov was freed in 1986 and stripped of his citizenship, and deported to the U.S. as part of a prisoner swap with American journalist Nicholas Daniloff for Soviet spy Gennady Zakharov. Orlov met with President Ronald Reagan at the White House that year and became an American citizen in 1993. Orlov moved to Ithaca and joined Cornell’s Newman Laboratory in 1987 as a senior scientist. He was later elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, wrote a memoir (1991′s “Dangerous Thoughts”) and became a Cornell University professor of physics and government in 2008, teaching seminars on human rights and graduate physics.

Orlov authored or co-authored more than 200 scientific papers and technical reports since arriving in the West. His physics research investigated systematic errors, spin coherence time and other theoretical issues related to the proposed measurement of the proton, electron and deuteron Electric Dipole Moments. His work on the theoretical foundations of quantum mechanics focused on the origin of quantum indeterminism.

Orlov won the Carter-Menil Human Rights Prize of 1986 and the Andrei Sakharov Prize in 2006.

“He lived a long and active life, teaching his beloved physics to the last and continuing to stand by the human rights movement,” the Moscow Helsinki Group said.

https://www.syracuse.com/news/2020/09/cornell-professor-russian-human-rights-leader-yuri-orlov-dies-at-96.html

Dunja Mijatović calls on Russia to end judicial harassment of human rights defenders

October 1, 2020

Yuri Dmitriev

Yuri Dmitriev

On 30 September 2020 the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg issued the following statement:

“Yesterday’s judgment against Yuri Dmitriev, a Russian historian and human rights defender, sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment in a high-security prison having been acquitted earlier on the same charges, raises serious doubts as to the credibility of his prosecution”, says today Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/24/gulag-historian-yury-dmitriyev-returns-to-prison/]

Mr Dmitriev is widely known in Russia and beyond for his research and his work focusing on the commemoration of victims of past political repression. The harsh verdict delivered by the Karelian Supreme Court in the absence of the legal counsel chosen by Mr Dmitriev cannot be deemed to have complied with fair trial guarantees and is a further illustration of a broader pattern of judicial harassment against human rights defenders, journalists and other independent or critical voices, which has been growing in the Russian Federation in recent years.

Once again I urge the Russian authorities to reverse this alarming trend of targeting Russian civil society. As a matter of urgency the criminal prosecution of a number of human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists, including those of Abdulmumin Gadzhiyev, Yulia Tsvetkova, Anastasia Shevchenko [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/22/in-russia-first-criminal-case-under-undesirable-organizations-law/%5Dand Semyen Simonov for engaging in legitimate civil society activities, must stop. As a Council of Europe member state, Russia should also adopt structural measures at the political, legislative and practical level which genuinely create a safe and enabling environment for the work of human rights defenders, as required by European human rights standards. Instead of intimidating and harassing civil society, the Russian authorities at all levels should effectively co-operate with them and publicly acknowledge their essential role and invaluable contribution to society’s democratic development.”


 Commissioner website

Bill Browder speaks about “his’ Global Magnitsky Act

August 29, 2020

The Human Rights Foundation published on 27 August this interview with Bill Browder in which international legal associate Michelle Gulino speaks with Browder about just how and why he’s become a thorn in Putin’s side, what makes the Kremlin such a threat to democracy and why Magnitsky legislation is so critical to address this threat, and finally, Sergei’s legacy and his message of resilience.On November 16, 2009, Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer of global financier Bill Browder, was murdered for uncovering a $230 million corruption scheme by officials within Russia’s Interior Ministry. Bill became a thorn in Putin’s side after he began a campaign to seek justice for Sergei through the Global Magnitsky Act, which implements visa bans and asset freezes against serious human rights abusers and corrupt officials.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/29/european-court-rules-on-sergei-magnitskys-death/ and

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/05/08/the-case-for-smart-sanctions-against-individual-perpetrators/

 

Oslo Freedom Forum 24-25 September goes on-line

August 17, 2020

For the first time, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is bringing its Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) online. “While the circumstances may keep us apart, our commitment to supporting activists in their struggle against authoritarian regimes is stronger than ever. Join us online from September 24-25 for the only virtual conference that puts human rights at the top of the global agenda. The political and health crises of the past six months have reminded us how authoritarians use human tragedy to advance their own agendas. Corrupt regimes around the world have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to impose restrictions on freedom of speech, to arrest peaceful protesters, and to silence dissent. The courage and determination of activists and citizens alike have been tested, yet they remain resilient in the face of tyranny.”

Confirmed speakers for the 2020 Oslo Freedom Forum include:

  • Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang
  • Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey
  • Uyghur journalist Gulchehra Hoja
  • Thai opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit
  • Gambian anti-rape activist and survivor Fatou Toufah Jallow
  • Exiled Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law
  • North Korean defector Eunhee Park
  • Sudanese doctor and pro-democracy activist Mohamed Nagi Alassam
  • Russian investigative journalist Lyudmila Savchuk
  • Cuban environmentalist and LGBTQ+ rights activist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola
  • “Who Owns Huawei?” author and professor Christopher Balding
  • Oscar-winning film director Bryan Fogel

More speakers to be announced soon.  

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/21/human-rights-foundation-uses-2019-oslo-freedom-forum-for-rebranding/

Oslo Freedom Forum