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Open Address of the Russian Human Rights Council to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

News

 

Council of Europe Should Pay Attention to Step-by-Step Demolition of Democracy in the Russian Federation

All the Council of Europe member states are obliged to comply with the obligations they have undertaken on themselves as regards human and civil rights and basic principles of a democratic society – even more so if these are enshrined in the constitutional acts.

We would like to draw your attention to the dramatic developments taking place in Russia.

Following Russian parliamentary and presidential elections that were neither free nor fair and undermined the legitimacy of the authorities and fueled public protests, Russia’s ruling bureaucracy has been able to persuade the parliament to pass a package of laws that drastically limit civil liberties in Russia and contradict both the Constitution and Russia’s international obligations.

Amendments to the law on rallies and demonstrations have introduced Draconian sanctions and de facto made it necessary to obtain the authorities’ permission before staging a public event. Other laws have introduced internet censorship and brought back  libel and slander charges into the Russian Penal Code. Non-governmental organisations focusing on human rights defence, environment, and education that receive financial support from foreign funds have been offered to register as “acting in the capacity of a foreign agent.” While this is to be done “voluntarily,” failure to do may result in the halt of the organisation activity or even lead to criminal charges.

The legal assault on civil liberties is accompanied by show trials which are obviously political ones.

Security services have initiated criminal prosecution of scientists accused of espionage with charges grounded on their co-operation with foreign scientific institutions. To mention just one example, two St. Petersburg professors have been sentenced to long prison terms in a trial which is a vivid reminder of Stalin’s “justice.”

All over the world people have been shocked by the striking similarity to the Inquisition of the trial of Pussy Riot punk band. Now this issue has been superseded by another case, that of the Bolotnaya Square prisoners. The “Bolotnaya” case, as it is widely known, refers to charges of rioting against participants of the May 6, 2012, rally in the centre of Moscow, an event that had been approved  by the authorities.

Another fabricated case is also underway against the well-known opposition activist Alexei Navalny. In another development, the authorities are intended to strip opposition MPs Gennady Gudkov and Ilya Ponomarev of their Duma seats which will lead to the loss of parliamentary immunity.

It is obvious that the Kremlin has chosen Belarusian President Lukashenko’s path in its fight with the  opposition, with its dramatic curtailing of civil rights and liberties and politically-motivated show trials. We are witnessing a final transition to the authoritarian police regime which also includes some totalitarian repressive practices.

It is clear to us that democracy, freedom and rule of law can not be imported into Russia from outside. It is up to the Russian civil society to solve this task. We are certain, though, that the Council of Europe should assist those in Russia for whom human rights are the priority. That is why we urge PACE not to limit itself to the monitoring of the situation in Russia but also take effective measures to stop political persecutions and assault on civil liberties in our country.

We urge the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PACE’s  Monitoring Committee, the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, the Reporters on Russia, MPs and political groups of the Parliamentary Assembly to take into account numerous examples of demolition of democracy cited in the previous part of this address. We urge you to discuss Russia’s non-compliance with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and request the Venice Commission to examine the new Russian laws restricting freedom of opinion, freedom of association, the right to elect and be elected as well as the right of protection against arbitrary and unfair charges.

We urge to make amendments to the Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the legal status of non-governmental organisations in Europe so as to safeguard citizens’ associations receiving financial support from well-reputed foreign funds from political persecution.

We urge to conduct urgent hearings during PACE’s autumn session on the step-by-step measures of the Russian authorities aimed at demolition of democracy  and harassment of the opposition in the Russian Federation.

At these hearings the Russian Federation’s statements should be requested on the suppression of civil rights and liberties. It would seem natural to also hear from heads of reputable Russian and international NGOs as well as long-standing members of PACE acting as representatives of the Russian parliament--Mr. Vladmir Lukin, Mr. Sergei Kovalyov and Mr. A. Shishlov. The hearing might end with a PACE resolution recommending country members of the Council of Europe to challenge the legal decisions and political practice of the Russian authorities.

Lyudmila Alexeeva, Chairwoman, Moscow Helsinki Group
Valery Borshchev, member, Moscow Helsinki Group,
Yury Vdovin, “Civil Supervision” Human Rights Organisation
Svetlana Gannushkina, Civil Assistance Committee
Oleg Orlov, board member, Memorial Human Rights Centre
Sergei Kovalyov, chairman, Public Commission on Andrei Sakharov’s Heritage
Lev Ponomaryov, “For Human Rights” All-Russian movement
Liliya Shibanova, Golos Association for the Protection of Voters’ Rights
Yury Schmidt, lawyer, St. Petersburg Human Rights Council

September 5, 2012

 

 

UNOFFICIAL TRANSLATION – NKI

 

To the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Vice-President of the European Commission Mrs Catherin Ashton

 

 

One should not be indifferent to Russia going back to the realm of political repressions

 

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

We address you in hopes that you raise the issue of the situation with human rights and democratic freedoms in Russia today, which is becoming as disastrous as it was in the USSR.

In August 1975, historical Helsinki Accords were signed that have drawn a line under the Second World War.

In these accords it was clearly and unequivocally publicly acknowledged that respect to the basic freedoms in the European countries is not their purely internal matter, and it is equally important for ensuring security on the continent as, for example, the "transparency" in the location of the armed forces.

Based on an analysis of events during the recent months in the Russian Federation, we come to the conclusion that our country is rapidly returning to the realm of political repression and injustice, from which it began to get out a quarter of a century ago.

Repressive policy of Russia is developing in two directions: the adoption of repressive laws and persecution of the opposition.

Led by the "United Russia" and actually in coalition with it Zhirinovsky's LDPR the State Duma is ceaselessly coining repressive laws. Thanks to these laws for the first time after Stalin times a legal system is being created in Russia which allows criminal charges against any opponent of the regime, persecution of any socially active non-governmental organization.

The most important in this system is the law that makes it possible to arraign on the criminal chargearraign on the criminal charges as on treason for any cooperation with foreign organizations unauthorized by the Government. In the opinion of many in Russia and in the world, its provisions, taking into consideration other Russian official documents literally repeat the regulations of Stalin legislation on enemies of the people - the notorious article 58 of the Penal Code, that made millions of victims.

Another sensational repressive law directly aimed at suppressing human rights and environmental organizations that receive grants from Western charities, is the law that contains the humiliating requirement to register as "foreign agents." Furthermore by the political activity the law understands any social activity associated with shaping public opinion. To our knowledge, all human rights organizations have refused to voluntarily register as "foreign agents". Therefore in the near future they will be subject to repression, up to the fines and imprisonments

In addition, a law is under preparation that punishes for any public statement that can be interpreted as an insult to the feelings of believers. Criticism of Orthodox leaders is considered to be such an insult. Bans of theater productions and art exhibitions have acquired a character of widespread practice, restoring actually the ideological censorship.

The practical realization of the return to the stalin type repressions, undergoing in Russia today, was the preparation of political megaprocess following the events on Bolotnaya Square in central Moscow on May 6, 2012. After the completely unfounded accusation in riots against 18 people, 12 of whom are deprived of freedom, the charges of organization of political conspiracy inspired by Georgian politicians is being drawn to the case.

Victims of such delusional accusation became leftist activists - the abducted outside of the UNHCR office in Kiev and subjected to illegal pressure by investigators Leonid Razvozzhaev, arrested Konstantin Lebedev, as well as prominent opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov.

According to many Russian human rights defenders, activists and journalists, this case fully reminds Stalinist methods of fabrication of show trials.

Furthermore, the investigation is preparing another supercase - "the sedition to violent change of constitutional system" that is within the authority of the state security and can affect all the opposition.

The trial of the Pussy Riot group gained enormous social importance. The charge was actually "blasphemy", which was not criminalized by the legislation existing at the time. Starting from this process there began a frank transformation of Orthodoxy into the state ideology, and criticism of the correctness of this policy was turned into a criminal offense.

Unreasonable interpretation of the May 6 events as "mass disorders" was an occasion for the regime to adopt a package of repressive laws: on meetings, on NGOs, on recriminalisation of slander and on extrajudicial Internet censorship. These laws have already been recognized by the Venice Commission violating democratic standards of the Council of Europe. Russian norms against homosexuality and against "political extremism" have been also recognized as anti-democratic. The UN Committee against Torture has opposed the expansion of the treason concept in Russia and labeling non-governmental organizations as "foreign agents."

Authorities widely use the pseudo-public structures for pressure on dissidents and opposition. Among other things attacks on activists by provocateurs, surveillance and wiretaps, mass hacker attacks are widely practiced.

Violations during the elections, fraud, mass removal of opposition candidates have turned elections into a fiction, led to non-recognition of legitimacy of the results of parliamentary and presidential elections.

In the North Caucasus massive and systematic violations of human rights are going on and are linked with torture and murder of suspects in connections with the armed rebellions, with discrimination of religious dissidents and with actual violation of gender equality in Chechnya.

In the penitentiary system in Russia killing and torture of prisoners, bringing them to suicide remain a widely spread phenomenon.

Deliberate policy of dismantling liberal reforms, which has become a real "perestroyka vice a versa", is supplemented by the imposition of aggressive nationalism and clericalism, appeals to rejection of the influence of Western civilization.

It is impossible to find answers to the challenges of the modern world with hypocritical ignoring the fact that in one of the leading countries in the world for many years there is a consistent and systematic elimination of democracy as such.

We believe that the calm indifference of politicians of democratic countries in the face of Russia diving into the atmosphere of tyranny and injustice is not only immoral, but also fraught with danger for the continent, as the threat of establishment of a totalitarian right-wing wing militarized system capable of adventures in foreign policy is rapidly growing.

Therefore, we urge you not to be silent, and to publicly announce to the Russian authorities the unacceptability of their line.

Members of the "Human Rights Council of Russia":

Lyudmila Alekseeva, Chairman of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Valery Borshchev, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Lev Ponomarev, Russian Movement "For Human Rights"

Lilia Shibanova Association "Voice"

Yury Vdovin, human rights organization "Citizens' Watch"

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