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Politics, Democracy and Human Rights in Russia

Posts Tagged ‘Natalya Estemirova

Russian, Finnish Civic Activists Write to Their Presidents

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These days I am participating in the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum in Helsinki. By coincidence (well, at least the organizers say it is a coincidence), Dmitry Medvedev and the Finnish President Tarja Halonen are also meeting not far from here. The participants of the Forum used this opportunity to adopt an address to the two:

Dear President Halonen,
Dear President Medvedev,

While you are meeting today in Finland, we, representatives of Russian and Finnish civil societies, are also gathering here to discuss how non-governmental actors can contribute to cooperation between our two nations and to building a common European space based on the principles of democracy, rule of law and human rights. We would like to draw your attention to the following concerns, which are in the center of our discussions today.

Like you, dear Presidents, we also want to see Russia a modern and prosperous country. However, we believe that without ensuring fundamental freedoms, building strong democratic institutions and an independent judiciary any technological modernization efforts will fail. It goes without saying that free and fair elections and independence of the media are essential to this process.

We want to share with you some of our immediate concerns, which require resolute actions that go beyond declarations.

In particular, we are convinced that the draft law granting new powers to the FSB contradicts not only the Russian Constitution but also recognized international norms. Therefore, it should not be signed by the President of the Russian Federation.

We are extremely concerned about continued persecution of human rights defenders, political activists, trade unionists and journalists in Russia. Instead of fighting terrorism and organized crime, thousands of law enforcement officials harass civic and political activists, often under the pretext of fighting extremism. This practice must be stopped. Murders of human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers must be effectively investigated, and perpetrators brought to justice. Impunity simply must come to an end.

Lack of fair trial and due process fundamentally undermine access to justice in Russia. This includes torture in pretrial detention centers, politically motivated trials in cases of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev and others; persecution of Alexey Sokolov and Oleg Orlov for their human rights work and Valentin Urusov for his trade union activism, as well as the lack of effective investigation of murders of Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova and Sergey Magnitsky. In the case of Magnitsky it is even more blatant because the names of those responsible for his death are well known. This list is by far not exhaustive.

Freedom of assembly continues to be denied to the Russian public. Across Europe we are united in support of Russian activists who convene peaceful gatherings in the framework of ”Strategy 31.” In a week from now, we will again express our solidarity with Russian people in Helsinki, Prague, Brussels, Berlin and other cities across the continent. We call on you, President Medvedev, to guarantee the freedom of assembly on 31 July and in the future.

We hope, President Halonen and President Medvedev, that these concerns close to our hearts will form an important part of your dialogue and that future Russian-Finnish modernization cooperation will include concrete projects in such areas as building independent judiciary, strengthening the rule of law and developing robust democratic institutions.

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

July 21, 2010 at 16:05

Police Arrest an Old Man for Mourning Estemirova

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Yesterday Russian police arrested a man in connection with the murder of human rights activist Natalya Estemirova. He wasn’t a killer, her killers will not be punished. The man was arrested for organizing a demonstration in her memory in the center of Moscow. The action was legal but the police said that “too many people” came to mourn Estemirova, grabbed the 70-years-old organizer by his arms and dragged him to a police van. Several people who protested or tried to prevent the arrest were beaten by the riot police. This is how it happened:

The arrested old man is Viktor Sokirko. He was a political prisoner under Brezhnev. Now he became a prisoner of Putin’s regime.

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

July 24, 2009 at 14:22

Killers of Russian Human Rights Activists Will Not Be Punished

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From The Huffington Post.
July 20, 2009.

Natalya Estemirova, a prominent Russian human rights activist and a representative of Memorial, one of the most respected human rights NGOs in Chechnya, was kidnapped and killed last week. She just left her home in Grozny, Chechnya, in the morning of 15 July and was found dead later that day in neighboring Ingushetia. The assassins shot her in the head and in the chest; this was an apparent “extrajudicial execution,” as human rights defenders call it. The reaction of Russian civil society and international community was immediate: human rights and journalist organizations condemned the murder; so did many Western politicians, from leaders of US Helsinki Commission to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Dmitry Medvedev also said he was “outraged” with the murder and promised that “the killer will be found.”

However, this promise is barely worth anything. The death of Natalya Estemirova is not the first tragedy in the recent history of human rights activism in Russia and in Northern Caucasus in particular. Earlier this year prominent lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who had been defending victims of human rights abuses in Chechnya, was shot dead in downtown Moscow along with young journalist Anastasia Baburova. Owner of a very popular and highly critical to the Ingush authorities Web site Ingushetiya.ru Magomed Yevloev was killed by a senior police officer in August 2008. The murder of famous journalist Anna Politkovskaya in October 2006 was, perhaps, the most outspoken crime of this kind. But many more killings, kidnappings and assaults against human rights activists and journalists remain unnoticed. The performers, not to speak of organizers and masterminds of such attacks are never punished and suspects are rarely even named. Abusing human rights appears to be a safer business in Russian Northern Caucasus than defending them.

This unstoppable wave of violence was made possible thanks to the atmosphere of terror and lawlessness that exists in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan in recent years. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, a former insurgent, now a proud and ardent supporter of Vladimir Putin, was given a carte blanche by the Kremlin to do whatever he wants as long as he controls the situation in the republic. This semiliterate but incredibly ambitious man looks extremely corrupted and cruel even by Russian standards. His love for flashy cars and other kinds of luxury as well as formal attributes of social status (for example, Kadyrov, who reportedly even lacks primary education, was awarded an honorary academic degree by the Russian Academy of Natural Science) have become a subject for jokes and gossips among people. His ruthless, medieval methods of punishing the insurgents are a reason for persistent criticism by human rights advocates. He isn’t even very popular among the ruling elite for ignoring all the rules and behaving in a provocative way (like meeting then-President Vladimir Putin in Kremlin wearing just a sport suit). But as long as Kadyrov does all the dirty work in the Caucasus for Moscow, he is invulnerable. He even extends his authority beyond the borders of Chechnya: his battalion of guards fought in the war in Georgia a year ago, now they are officially allowed to operate in Ingushetia.

Cruelty and cynicism are much in demand in the Kremlin. So we must realize that the death of Natalya Estemirova, who carried on her mission of helping ordinary citizens of Chechnya for many years despite the mortal danger for herself, will most probably be perceived there as a “side effect” of Kadyrov’s “efficient management.” The justice will not triumph yet. Her murderers will not be punished. The most we can do is remember Natalya Estemirova and believe that one day humaneness will be rated higher than barbarianism.

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

July 21, 2009 at 08:15

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