Posts Tagged ‘repression’
Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev sentenced to 13.5 years imprisonment for allegedly stealing all the oil their own company, Yukos, has produced. This is almost exactly the term (minus 6 months) that the prosecutor requested. The sentence is combined with their current prison term, so they will stay in prison until 2017 (if they survive long enough in prison camps). The truth is, however, as Khodorkovsky mentioned, they will stay behind bars as long as Putin is in power.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky commented the sentence briefly, saying:
Platon Lebedev and I show you an example: do not hope to be protected by a court from a bureaucrat in Russia. The [Central Electoral Commission Chief Vladimir] Churov Rule ["Putin is always right"] works. But we don’t lose heart and wish the same to our friends.
Clifford Levy’s recent piece in NYT reports how the Russian police use antipiracy laws to harass the opposition, NGOs and independent media—and how Microsoft helps it happen:
[Advocacy] group [Baikal Environmental Wave] fell victim to one of the authorities’ newest tactics for quelling dissent: confiscating computers under the pretext of searching for pirated Microsoft software.
Across Russia, the security services have carried out dozens of similar raids against outspoken advocacy groups or opposition newspapers in recent years. Security officials say the inquiries reflect their concern about software piracy, which is rampant in Russia. Yet they rarely if ever carry out raids against advocacy groups or news organizations that back the government.
As the ploy grows common, the authorities are receiving key assistance from an unexpected partner: Microsoft itself. In politically tinged inquiries across Russia, lawyers retained by Microsoft have staunchly backed the police.
It is understandable why Microsoft prefers to cooperate with the police in such cases: they don’t want to have troubles with the authorities. And despite all the statements about “commitment to respect fundamental human rights” their lawyers ad hoc in many (not all) cases prefer to support the prosecutors’ side, not the defendants’.
I see only one way to put an end to this tactic of persecution and to save the reputation of Microsoft. The software giant should go from words to deeds and really implement a program of providing licensed software to advocacy groups (whether registered with the government or not) and independent media free of charge or for symbolic price. Such a program was mentioned in the article, but there seems to be nothing more to it than just rumors; I’ve never seen or heard of anyone who actually participated in it.
It is not going to be a serious financial loss for Microsoft because such groups and media only make a relatively small portion of the market, and because many of them wouldn’t be able to pay for licensed software anyway. But this program, combined with a more responsible behaviour of the company’s lawyers, could prove that Microsoft is on the side of democracy, not repression.
Earlier this week, two Oborona activists were arrested in Moscow and later released without explanation. Head of the Information Department (i.e. official spokesperson) of Moscow police Col. Viktor Biryukov claimed that it was done to prevent some illegal protest action. He also added proudly that “the police learnt about preparation of this action while reading e-mail communications between Oborona activists.”
It’s not a news that the police monitors communications of the opposition, but it must be the first time it was officially confirmed by a high-ranking police officer. Apart from being antidemocratic and unconstitutional, it also violates the law, which puts rather strict limitations on this kind of activities.
Besides, immediately after Oborona issued a statement on this case and promised to arrange investigation of illegal activities of the Moscow police, Biryukov denied his own words. He said, “the Moscow police only work strictly within the law, and in the case of Oborona activists, their correspondence haven’t been monitored.”
The arrested Oborona activists are going to file a complaint to a prosecutor to demand investigation into Biryukov’s claims.
Kommersant publishes a new interview with Putin, where the dictator comments on opposition rallies:
Look, all our opponents support a Rechtsstaat. What is a Rechtsstaat? It is obedience to the existing law. What does the existing law say about [Dissenters'] Marches? You need to get a permission from the authorities. Got it? Go and protest. Otherwise you don’t have this right. If you go out without having the right, get beaned with a baton. That’s it!
Putin manages to lie three times in this short passage:
1. Rechtsstaat (“правовое государство”) is not just about obedience to every law. It is also about laws being fair, about everybody being equal before the law, about having independent judiciary system etc. Do we have anything of this? No. The government adopts any laws they want, including non-constitutional, they apply them discriminatively (e.g., United Russia has on many occasions organized rallies in violation of the law but nobody dared to “bean” them for that), and they control the courts, so that the protesters can’t defend their rights there. So what kind of “obedience” can Putin demand from the opposition? I’m not even asking if Putin heard about the term “civil disobedience” and that it is often used to effectively advance rule of law.
2. Even in Putin’s law, there is no such thing as a “permission” to hold protests. The Law on Gatherings, Meetings, Demonstrations, Marches and Pickets, according to which all rallies are to be held, you only need to file a notice to local authorities that you are going to hold an action. Strategy 31 (which Putin most probably is referring to) makes it every time, complying with the law absolutely. And still, every time they get “beaned” by Putin’s riot police. So who is violating the law?
3. The last, smaller but remarkable lie: Putin also “forgot” that his own law forbids to use batons and other “special means” to disperse peaceful rallies, and the new Law on Police will forbid to “bean” people, i.e. beat them on the head. The law rightfully calls it “cruel treatment” and it doesn’t take a degree in law (which Putin kind of has) to understand why it is so. But if you yourself are a cruel person, this kind of treatment is just right: “That’s it!”
I visited Belarus a few days ago with a group of Oborona activists. We were meeting with local opposition organizations and leaders, observing municipal elections and participating in an annual march dedicated to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster–Chernobylsky Shlyakh.
Belarussian elections are largely similar to Russian in their predefined outcome, persisting abuse of power by the authorities and even methods of fraud. Like in Russia, they use preliminary voting as a means to both increase turnout and falsify the results (since the bulletins are kept at administration offices till the election day). As much as 30% of Belarussian electorate voted preliminary, according to official data. This unbelievable figure is more than even some of the most scandalous elections in Sochi a year ago (when the Kremlin was ready to do what it takes to prevent opposition leader Boris Nemtsov from becoming the mayor). Most opposition candidates were denied registration, so they couldn’t even get on the lists–the same we see in Russia. In the end, in many district it looks like the electoral commissions didn’t count the votes at all: they simply wrote the target figures. No suprise, not even a dozen seats were won by the opposition out of 20,000+.
The rally was attended by some 1,000 to 1,500 participants including several activists of Oborona. The Chernobyl disaster caused incredible damage to Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and its consequences are still there. The march in Minsk has become a tradition since 1988; its demands concern environmental, social and political issues.
Alas, I didn’t make it to the march. I and two other Coordinators of Oborona, Maria and Alexey Kazakovs, were arrested an hour before the rally begun as we were leaving headquarters of an opposition party Belarussian People’s Front. A van stopped next to us, half a dozen spetsnaz (SWAT) troops put us into the van and left. Our friends and other eyewitnesses say that it looked more like a kidnapping than an arrest.
We were taken to the Sovetsky district police HQ and interrogated. The police were asking us, who we had met with, what was the purpose of the travel, what organization we were at, etc. etc. They threated to take us into custody if we refused to answer, but gave up after several hours. Then the infamous BT, Belarus state TV, tried to “interview” us right in the police, but were ignored. After 5-hour long interrogation police took our fingerprints, photographed us and even took DNA samples and let us go without any charges. A small crowd of Russian and Belarus activists greeted us at the police HQ doorstep.
When one speaks of advantages of the Putin’s regime over the Soviet system, one achievement is almost never disputed—the freedom to travel abroad. In the USSR, very few people were able to visit the Soviet Bloc countries, and only a tiny minority could see the “capitalist world.” But after the USSR collapsed, Russia opened its borders, removed numerous obstacles for international travel, and millions of Russians could travel the world. After Putin came to power most of the freedoms we had enjoyed were reduced or eliminated, but this one was left almost untouched.
For me, this freedom seems to be over. Yesterday, I was informed that FSB is refusing to give their approval for re-issuing of my passport. The official reason is, they failed to receive information about whether I had access to any state secrets during my military service (which I, of course, hadn’t). Ironically, I was drafted into the army two years ago with direct involvement of FSB when they tried to isolate me during the presidential campaign. Now, they use it as an pretext for not letting me out the country.
Unfortunately, the FSB’s decision is already ruining some of my plans. In early February, I was going to visit the USA to speak at American Enterprise Institute about the freedom of assembly in Russia and to read a lecture for students at Principia College. These events will now be postponed or cancelled.
FSB is violating the law, which clearly says that a passport has to be issued within a month (almost two months passed already). I have filed a complaint to the prosecutor, but officials say, “You can’t beat FSB, they will always win.” True, FSB as a KGB successor consider themselves above the law and never mind to violate it in their interests. But I will use any legal methods and will eventually make them obey the law.
PS: Thanks to Robert Amsterdam for writing about the story.
Russian bloggers have a reason for a small celebration today. For the first time, a blogger was cleared of all extremist charges. Dmitry Soloviev could face up to two years inprisonment for criticizing the police and FSB on his blog. See more on his case here.
The investigation started in August 2008 and in March 2009 Dmitry (who is a member of Oborona, by the way) was charged with “inciting hatred, hostility and degrading a social group of people—the police and FSB,” a violation of the infamous paragraph 282 of the Russian Criminal Code. The blog posts dealt with “siloviki” participating in political repression and contained no calls for violence or even curse words. However, the investigator was very confident that Soloviev would be convicted, and so were the prosecutors: Dmitry’s persecution has been prolonged a number of times, most recently by Deputy Chief Prosecutors. The case lasted almost 1.5 years.
Persecution of Soloviev became a widely discussed topic, a committee in his support was found in Moscow; I was one of its members. Hundreds of bloggers signed a petition in support of Dmitry, but its addressees (Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin, State Duma, Prosecutor’s Office and the Investigative Committee) ignored it. Bloggers resorted to civil disobedience: dozens of them reposted the “extremist” entries on their blogs, some did it publicly at a Moscow’s central square. The government had to choose between persecuting hundreds people countrywide and ignoring this “act of extremism.” They chose the latter. The officer who was investigating Soloviev’s case was overwhelmed with letters and calls in support of Dmitry.
Ultimately, the detective began to give in. In mid-2009 he agreed to hold an independent examination of Dmitry’s texts outside Kemerovo (where it would be harder for him or FSB to press on the experts). Both such groups of experts, in Moscow and in Tomsk, found no signs of extremism in Dmitry’s texts. The investigation lost any sense after that and on the last day of 2009 the case was closed.
There’s not much to celebrate, however. More and more criminal investigations are being opened against bloggers in Russia, most connected to the same paragraph 282. Dozens of bloggers have been convicted of “extremism” or have been charged with it in last two years. There have been no cases (at least known ones) when bloggers were acquitted, and Soloviev is the first one who was cleared of the charges. Most are sentenced to either fine or conditional imprisonment. Some, like Irek Murtazin, former spokesman of Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaymiev, go to jail. Russian authorities justify such harsh measures by the growth of xenophobia, but in fact accusation of extremism is widely used to silence criticism of the government and bloggers are a target number one.
Two leading human rights organizations, Moscow Helsinki Group and For Human Rights Movement, are going be evicted from their offices by Moscow authorities, Prima News agency reports. Moscow government has decided not to prolong rent of their premises, which they occupy since 1996 and 1997 respectively. The government has already applied to the court for eviction of the NGOs.
Moscow Helsinki Group is the oldest existing human rights organization in Russia, which was founded in late 1970s. Its head Lyudmila Alexeeva, one of the most prominent human rights activists, was just recently awarded the Andrei Sakharov Prize. For Human Rights Movement (Za Prava Cheloveka) is another old and respected human rights NGO headed by Lev Ponomaryov. He says that the reason behind the eviction is either political or economical. Both organizations are outspoken critics of the Kremlin and participate in democratic protests.
PS: As another democratic movement’s activist Vsevolod Chernozub reports on his Twitter, another NGO that defends soldiers’ rights, Mother’s Right is also going to be evicted. I don’t know any more details yet.
Another protest rally was dispersed Saturday night by Moscow police. The action was a part of the so called Strategy 31–a campaign in support of freedom of assembly guaranteed by paragraph 31 of the Russian Constitution. This basic right to hold peaceful demonstrations is routinely violated by the authorities: major opposition rallies are banned, often without any legal grounds, their participants get arrested and beaten by the police. The situation is particularly bad in Moscow where all government institutions are located and authorities are especially rigid (although legislation is the same in all regions).
As a part of this Strategy 31, several human rights and political activists (as different as prominent Soviet dissident and human rights defender Lyudmila Alexeeva and radical left-wing opposition leader Eduard Limonov, for example) decided to hold a demonstration at Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow downtown on October 31. The action was, as usually, banned; the authorities explained that some kind of a “military-patriotic celebration” was planned for the same time at the same place. In order not to provoke arrests, organizers called participants not to bring any flags or banners or chant slogans. “How long will the police stay there?” they asked, and suggested that people should wait until the police leave the square.
The government had different plans, however. In order to find a pretext to arrest participants of the action, members of Rossiya Molodaya (Young Russia), a Kremlin-aligned youth group (a part of the so-called Putinyouth), were used as provocateurs. They began lighting flares, chanting slogans and throwing leaflets (mocking the opposition) in the middle of the crowd. The police were ready: they arrested the Putinyouth and many regular participants around as well as Limonov. The provocateurs were soon released without any charge while Limonov himself may face up to 15 days imprisonment for “disobeying police orders.”
This provocation was also a signal to start a crackdown on the protesters, most of whom were standing steadily and silently according to the general plan. About 70 people were arrested. Police officers simply pointed at certain activists and they were immediately dragged into police vans. Many others were arrested for just being too close to the scene. Although no resistance was offered, policemen and soldiers beat people while dragging them. According to Russian bloggers, the police even went so far as to try to arrest an American diplomat, Vice-Consul Robert Bond who was observing the rally. Photos of Mr Bond surrounded by the police and showing them his ID card have been posted in many blogs.
I was arrested while trying to tweet what I saw. Apparently, one of the officers recognized me. Along with some 20 more people in the bus I was taken to a police station where we were charged with… lighting flares, chanting slogans and throwing leaflets–the ones that Putinyouth were throwing. As the police officers were filling in the papers with these fake charges, we looked at the walls of the police station’s lecture hall. Portraits of proud police officers as well as of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev hung there next to Yagoda, Ezhov and Beriya, the three heads of Stalin’s NKVD and Gulag.
As democracy and civil rights in Russia are diminishing with every year, the country is becoming more and more a police state. The voice of dissent is silenced by cynical and cruel country’s leadership. At the same time, Western public opinion and governments generally turn a blind eye to this trend in hope to buy Kremlin’s favour.
PS: Two days before the event, police SWAT had a drill in Moscow-nearby city of Balashikha. They were trained, according to the script, to disperse “a group of senior citizens who demanded social support and blocked a federal highway.” In order to do this, the whole arsenal was used by the police: water cannons, stun grenades and tear gas. The “pensioners” were blocked, many arrested. Bloggers called it ironically a “Russian welfare service.”
According to Russian media (in Russian), Ministry of Home Affairs (whose main agency is police) held tactical maneuvers in Moscow suburbs today. During these maneuvers, SWAT troops were trained to disperse, according to the script, “a group of senior citizens that protested social injustice and blocked a federal highway.” In order to do this, the whole arsenal was used by the police: water cannons, shock grenades, and tear gas. Troops blocked and arrested some of the “senior citizens.”
Minister Rashid Nurgaliev was watching the maneuvers and was apparently satisfied. A lot of civilian journalists couldn’t share his optimism. Even the reports of government TV called the event “very strange.” Here is a report of Vesti news TV channel (one of the most official TV channels owned by the government, in Russian):
Of course, when the scandal broke out, MHA hurried to deny any references to senior people in their maneuvers’ script, the use of water cannons and the very fact of maneuvers; state TV channels removed their news reports from their Web sites. Fortunately, somebody saved the clips and uploaded them to YouTube.