Human rights https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/7870/all cached version 19/06/2018 10:27:37 en How Russia’s security services target Crimean Tatars as “Islamic terrorists” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alona-savchuk/how-russias-security-services-target-crimean-tatars-as-islamic-terrorists <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the four years since the peninsula’s annexation, Russian security services have become well practiced at prosecuting Crimean Tatars on terrorism charges. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alena-savchuk/fsb-preduprezhdaet" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.03.23_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.03.23_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Evelina, daughter of Arsen and Zarina Dzhepparov, looks at photographs of her parents. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>“I will prove by all possible and impossible means that he’s guilty – even if he isn’t guilty.” These were the first words Arsen Dzhepparov’s family heard from the mouth of a Federal Security Service investigator in after his subordinates broke down a gate and entered the family’s yard. The investigator in question was a senior FSB lieutenant named Alexander Kompaneytsev. A former Security Service of Ukraine operative, Kompaneytsev is known for having instigated the beating and arrest of Crimean human rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku, and also for being an active recruiter of “witnesses” for Hizb ut-Tahrir cases in Crimea.</p><p dir="ltr">The FSB paid three visits to Arsen Dzhepparov in April 2016. The first came two weeks before his arrest, and took place at the boiler plant where he was working. Kompaneytsev told Dzhepparov in no certain terms that he must give incriminating evidence against four already-arrested individuals named in the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case. When Arsen refused to comply, he was fired from his job at the FSB’s request.</p><p dir="ltr">The second visit occurred exactly one week later. Dzhepparov was driving to a construction site where he was making some extra money. Another car cut in ahead of him right by a traffic police station. The police immediately stopped Dzhepparov; the offending vehicle, meanwhile, braked to a halt nearby and a group of now-familiar FSB officers, two of them in uniform and armed with automatic weapons, exited. The officers ordered Dzhepparov out of the car together with its other four occupants and proceeded to search it. One of the other guys tried to object, earning himself a blow to the chest with the butt of an automatic. In the meantime, the traffic police were busy deleting CCTV footage of the incident. Asked whether he’d changed his mind about providing incriminating evidence, Dzhepparov replied that he had not. He was then charged with drunk driving, stripped of his license and fined 30,000 roubles (£350).</p><p dir="ltr">“Mate, you need to agree. I don’t know what they want from you, but agree or they’ll just crush you” – these were the last words Arsen Dzhepparov heard from the traffic police officer who wrote the incident report.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.04.56_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.04.56_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A Russian security officer during a search of a Crimean Tatar home. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Another week later, at 6am on Monday 18 April 2016, FSB operatives raided Dzhepparov’s home, detained and ultimately arrested him. Dzhepparov’s wife Zarina recalls her husband’s withdrawn, taciturn behaviour in the days leading up to his arrest, and remembers seeing him trawl the internet for information on the unspoken rules of prison conduct.</p><p dir="ltr">“It was too late to leave – he wouldn’t have been allowed to exit Crimea,” Zarina tells me. “But there was no question of his agreeing to their conditions. After all, how can you slander people you’ve never even seen in the flesh? ‘They’ve got their own kids, their own families,’ he told me. ‘How could I explain to my child afterwards what the meaning of conscience and honour is?’”</p><p dir="ltr">On the weekend before his arrest, Arsen drove Zarina down to the Yalta seafront. “He already knew they’d take him away. So we went for one last stroll by the sea,” the young woman recalls. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The faces of Crimean “terrorism”</h2><p dir="ltr">Arsen Dzhepparov is one of 28 individuals to be named in the peninsula’s Hizb ut-Tahrir case. According to the Russian investigation, all of them are members of cells within a “radical Islamist terrorist organisation”. Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organisation which describes its objectives as “reviving the Islamic way of life in countries where it has been abandoned, and disseminating Islamic ideology around the world”, is banned in Russia, but operates in Ukraine. </p><p dir="ltr">In the eyes of Ukrainian and Russian human rights activists, then, these men are political prisoners who are being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Five Crimean Muslims have been convicted of or charged with establishing terrorist organisations, and the remaining 23 with involvement in terrorist activities (Article 205.5 of the Russian Federation’s Criminal Code). The “instigators” face sentences up to and including life imprisonment, with the “participants” facing up to 20 in prison colonies.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.09.01_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.09.01_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Supporters of imprisoned Crimean Tatars gather outside Crimea’s Supreme Court. Among them are wives and daughters of defendants charged with terrorism. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Four Crimean Tatars have already been sentenced to prison terms by a Russian court. In 2017, Sevastopol residents Rustem Vaitov and Nuri Primov were both sentenced to five years in a standard regime penal colony, Ferat Sayfullaev to seven years in the same, and Ruslan Zeytullayev – charged with establishing a terrorist group – to 15 years in a strict regime colony. However, the first-instance court didn’t find the evidence for his guilt convincing and handed Zeytullayev a seven-year sentence, reclassifying him as a “participant” rather than an “instigator”. His lawyer, Emil Kurbedinov, said that, “given Russian realities,” the court’s ruling must be deemed a “victory”.</p><p dir="ltr">But the state prosecutor challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, which promptly remanded the case for a retrial. Having re-examined the same evidence, the North Caucasian District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Ruslan Zeytullayev to 12 years in a strict regime colony in April 2017. Towards the end of the retrial, Zeytullayev went on hunger strike, hoping, if not to influence his sentence, at least to draw greater attention to the persecution of Crimean Tatars across the peninsula: “For over two years now, I have refused to acknowledge any guilt in the commission of the crime imputed to me, and I will not acknowledge it now. And I hope that any reasonable individual can understand why. Because this indictment – one where every single fact is misrepresented – isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”</p><p>But even 12 years proved insufficient. Once again, the public prosecutor challenged the ruling in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, which issued a final sentence in July 2017: 15 years in a strict regime colony. Ruslan Zeytullaev thus became the first Crimean in the history of the peninsula to be convicted by Russia for “organising terrorism”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.11.07_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.11.07_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sabrie, Mumine and Nurie - daughters of Ruslan Zeitullayev play outside their home in Orlinoye, Crimea. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>The military court in Rostov is now <a href="https://ru.krymr.com/a/news/29245733.html">examining</a> the second Crimean Hizb ut-Tahrir case. The case is being prosecuted against the so-called “Yalta group”, which includes Arsen Dzepparov. In February 2016, FSB operatives arrested four Muslims from the Yalta area: Muslim Aliyev, chair of the local community group; Emir-Usein Kuku, a human rights activist; Vadim Siruk, a market trader; and Inver Bekirov, a school watchman. Two months later, in April 2016, Dzepparov and Refat Alimov were detained as well.</p><p dir="ltr">Bekirov, Dzhepparov and Alimov lived next door to one another in the village of Krasnokamenka. Refat and Arsen are childhood friends, and Alimov is Bekirov’s nephew. Though urged to testify against his uncle, Alimov refused. The investigation alleges that Dzhepparov and Alimov attended unauthorised meetings in the watchman’s lodge at Bekirov’s school. Relatives and lawyers are convinced that the criminal prosecution of Arsen and Refat is payback for their unwillingness to “collaborate” with the security services – and that it also serves as an exhortation to other “witnesses”: don’t bother standing up to us.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“One tablet of analgin covers every base”</h2><p dir="ltr">The Yalta case’s six defendants have spent the last six months in the pre-trial detention centers of Rostov-on-Don, prior to which they’d been forced to endure the inhuman conditions of Simferopol Remand Prison. According to Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), this is one of the most overpopulated incarceration facilities under Russian control, according to Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN). A <a href="http://publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001201804130011?index=2&amp;rangeSize=1">document</a> published on 6 April 2018 states that “the number of inmates (...) exceeds the maximum official capacity by 1.8 times.” It also refers to the urgently required “reconstruction of the facility’s buildings”, which were built in 1803 and 1965.</p><p dir="ltr">In practice, this means that prisoners take turns to sleep, since there are more people in the cells than beds. Fleas and bedbugs multiply like mad in the completely unsanitary conditions, there are cockroaches in the food, and Muslim inmates are sometimes given pork to eat, even though the prison bosses are fully aware that its consumption is forbidden by Islam. Inmates who fall ill very rarely receive medical visits and aren’t prescribed medications (“one tablet of analgin covers every base”).</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.12.35_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.12.35_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Simferopol Remand Prison. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The prison doctors’ negligence almost killed Arsen Dzepparov. In November 2016, a fistula developed on his buttock, but instead of receiving treatment, Dzhepparov was placed in solitary confinement and left there for ten days because he’d allegedly failed to shave. In the meantime, the fistula ruptured.</p><p dir="ltr">“No one attended to him or did anything to help. He remained in his solitary confinement garb, all wet and dirty, with an untreated wound and cat-sized rats scurrying around him,” says Zarina, paraphrasing her husband’s words. “He was eventually taken to hospital and operated on but then thrown back in his cell before he’d even come to from the anaesthetic.”</p><p dir="ltr">In March 2017, Dzhepparov developed another fistula – this time, it formed behind his left ear. He began to be tortured by headaches so intense he’d lose consciousness. He suffered from high fever and hearing loss. His ear wept pus. The prison doctors failed to respond. Fearful that he would simply perish, Dzhepparov’s family and his lawyer, Dzhemil Temishev, spent weeks penning numerous petitions and complaints to the prison, the prosecutor’s office and the ombudspersons of Crimea and Russia. It was only thanks to their perseverance – and the ensuing blaze of publicity – that Dzhepparov was finally given treatment.</p><p dir="ltr">Two months ago, Uzeyir Abdullayev, another defendant in the Crimean Hizb ut-Tahrir case, <a href="https://lb.ua/society/2018/04/27/396420_sizo_krima_lechat_figuranta_dela.html">fell victim to similar negligence</a>. Abdullayev developed a purulent lesion on his leg, only to be ignored by prison doctors for several days. His leg became so swollen that he could no longer move about, and he was running a 40-degree-plus fever. Abdullayev’s relatives feared that he could end up losing his leg altogether.</p><p dir="ltr">Conditions in Simferopol Remand Prison are so intolerable that suicide attempts among prisoners have become more commonplace. In April of this year, at least four people <a href="https://crimeahrg.org/v-sizo-simferopolya-v-aprele-4-cheloveka-umerli-neestestvennoy-smertyu/">died unnatural deaths</a> while in solitary confinement. The prison administration insists that these deaths were suicides.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Run-of-the-mill terrorists</h2><p dir="ltr">On 14 February, the military court in Rostov-on-Don proceeded to examine the merits of the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case. Charged with orchestrating or contributing to the terrorist group’s activities, the six defendants also stand accused of attempting forcible seizure of power (punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment, as per Article 278 of the Criminal Code). None of the defendants have pleaded guilty to any of these crimes.</p><p dir="ltr">“The charges are absurd in their very essence: how can six people who neither possess vast financial resources, nor enjoy the support of the top brass of Russia’s Armed Forces possibly seize power in a powerful nuclear-armed state with a million-strong army?!” asked an incredulous Emir-Usein Kuku in an <a href="https://lb.ua/society/2018/05/26/398763_tempi_vizvoleniya.html">open statement </a>to the Ukrainian people in May 2018. “Yet the FSB,” he continued, “continues to paint us as terrorists, falsifying ‘evidence’ for our ‘guilt’ in a fashion consistent with most dismal traditions of the NKVD – and thereby demonstrating that little has changed in Russia since Stalin’s time.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.30.48_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.30.48_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dzhemil Temishev, Arsen Dzhepparov’s lawyer, sits on the right during a meeting of families of political prisoners and the Crimean Solidarity movement. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Similarly to its Sevastopol counterpart, the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case is built on the testimonies of secret witnesses and on wiretapped recordings of “run-of-the-mill” conversations engaged in by the defendants – conversations about the political situation in Russia and Ukraine, the fate of Crimea, the place of Islam in both countries, about religious norms. The court has already questioned several prosecution witnesses, with some departing from the testimonies they provided to investigators 12 to 18 months ago and presenting the defendants in a positive light in court hearings. Moreover, one of the secret witnesses declared during questioning that he wanted to testify openly, which left the prosecution in a difficult situation. </p><p dir="ltr">“Shamil Ilyasov stated in court said that he worked at the same school as Inver Bekirov and that Bekirov was well versed in Islam and that many villagers would turn to him for advice on religious issues. In his testimonies to investigators, however, Ilyasov maintained that Inver Bekirov was an adherent of Hizb ut-Tahrir. But he gave these testimonies at the FSB offices, having been taken there after a raid of his home. I believe he was testifying under duress,” says Refat Alimov’s lawyer Eden Semedlyaev, articulating the unified stance of the defence team.</p><p dir="ltr">The FSB then attempted to discredit Ilyasov’s testimony. Viktor Palagin, head of the Crimean FSB, submitted a petition to the court with a request that a note allegedly found at a defendant’s home be entered into the case file. In the alleged note, Muslim Aliyev asks Inver Bekirov to get in touch with three prosecution witnesses and tell them that “giving false testimonies against people is something that shouldn’t be done”. According to the investigation, the note confirms that the defendants attempted to pressure the witnesses.</p><p dir="ltr">Vadim Siruk’s lawyer Emil Kurbedinov issued a brief comment on Palagin’s petition, calling it “the FSB’s revenge” for the witness’s open testimony. Sergey Legostov, defence counsel for Muslim Aliyev, stressed that the note couldn’t have materialised “at a more timely moment as far as the prosecution was concerned,” and that the court decision’s to enter it into the case file ran counter to the law and had no reasonable basis.</p><p dir="ltr">“The note was submitted by a body that isn’t party to the case. There’s a prosecutor in the case, and only that prosecutor has the right to present evidence. Otherwise we’ll have some plumber from the public utilities office turning up at court tomorrow with more evidence to file,” said Kurbedinov. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.36.42_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.36.42_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sergey Legostov, lawyer for Muslim Aliyev, a defendant in the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case, and Nadzhie Aliyeva, Muslim’s wife. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The court also questioned FSB investigator Alexander Kompaneytsev, who claimed that Muslim Aliyev was in charge of the “Yalta and Alushta branch” of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Crimea. Aliyev allegedly answered to Inver Bekirov, leader of the “Yalta sub-branch”, who, in turns, answered to Vadim Siruk, “head of the Yalta cell”, and Emir-Usein Kuku, leader of “the cell in Koreiz and Simeiz” in the Yalta area. Bekirov had also allegedly recruited Refat Alimov and Arsen Dhzepparov. </p><p dir="ltr">Kompaneytsev went on to claim that the defendants were all preparing to seize power in Crimea. Inver Bekirov responded by saying that he first saw the FSB operative when he was already in custody at the detention centre, and that Kompaneintsev had come there to induce him to collaborate. Refusal to do so, Kompaneintsev had threatened, would result in the arrest of Bekirov’s nephew, Refat Alimov. Bekirov did indeed refuse – and Alimov was detained a few months later.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Creating and eliminating enemies</h2><p dir="ltr">The international human rights organisation Amnesty International has declared Emir-Usein Kuku a “prisoner of conscience” and called on Russia to halt the prosecution of the “Yalta Six” immediately.</p><p dir="ltr">“Kuku was subjected to repeated pressure from the FSB before his arrest on 12 February, 2016, and his house was searched twice,” said Amnesty International Ukraine’s director Oksana Pokalchuk. “His wife and young son were harassed and intimidated by Russian intelligence agents after the human rights activist was already behind bars.”</p><p dir="ltr">In March of this year, the Russian human rights centre Memorial also <a href="https://memohrc.org/ru/news_old/figuranty-yaltinskogo-dela-hizb-ut-tahrir-politzaklyuchennye">declared</a> defendants in the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case to be political prisoners and demanded their immediate release. According to Memorial, the charges levelled against the six men are unfounded. The human rights activists are adamant: the defendants not only didn’t engage in any terrorist activities, they haven’t even committed any socially-dangerous acts.</p><p dir="ltr">“The ‘Yalta affair’ is part of a repressive campaign unleashed by Russian siloviki across the occupied peninsula. Further, the Hizb ut-Tahrir cases are among so-called ‘serial cases’: the FSB achieves ‘top results’ (dozens of convicted offenders) with minimal effort, launching mass prosecutions without any grounds for doing so,” Memorial said in a statement.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.37.55_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.37.55_0.png" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Men pray namaz on the anniversary of the Yalta Four’s arrest at Emir-Usein Kuku’s home. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>According to Memorial data, 237 individuals are currently detained or incarcerated in Russia in connection with their alleged involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, declared a terrorist organisation by the country’s Supreme Court in 2003. One hundred and eight people have already been convicted: 27 of them have been slapped with terms in excess of 15 years, with a further 13 sentenced to between 10 through 15 years; 33 are currently being tried; and 96 are under investigation. Memorial takes care to <a href="https://memohrc.org/ru/news_old/spisok-presleduemyh-v-svyazi-s-prichastnostyu-k-hizb-ut-tahrir-obnovlyaetsya">stress</a> that the “list is undoubtedly incomplete”.</p><p dir="ltr">Thanks to a <a href="http://nac.gov.ru/zakonodatelstvo/sudebnye-resheniya/reshenie-verhovnogo-suda-rf-ot-14-fevralya.html">ruling</a> by Russia’s Supreme Court, investigators no longer need to prove that defendants are “planning a terrorist attack” – it is sufficient merely to establish a link between them and Hizb ut-Tahrir. But even this sometimes proves an impossible task.</p><p dir="ltr">While outlawed in Russia, Hizb ut-Tahrir is legal in Ukraine. Prior to the annexation of Crimea, its supporters organised conferences and rallies across the peninsula. It seeks to recreate a caliphate that would unite the entire Islamic world, but advances its cause by pointedly non-violent means. Radical Islamist organisations have repeatedly criticised the movement for “shirking jihad”.</p><p dir="ltr">Many independent human rights organisations (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Memorial Human Rights Center, the Civic Assistance Committee, For Human Rights, the SOVA Centre) believe that the organisation’s activities cannot be dubbed terrorism and consider the defendants in the Hizb ut-Tahrir cases to be political prisoners.</p><p dir="ltr">“Hizb ut-Tahrir isn’t recorded as having committed a single terrorist act,” <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/235276/">says </a>Svetlana Gannushkina, chair of the Civic Assistance Committee. “In my opinion, turning the organisation’s leaders into martyrs will only serve to swell its ranks. And trying them for preparing the overthrow of the system is just as illegitimate as trying the Communists for the idea of ​​building worldwide communism or for the theory of the withering away of the state.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.39.03_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.39.03_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Emine, mother of Refat Alimov, prays on the anniversary of the arrest of the Yalta Four at Emir-Usein Kuku’s home. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Meanwhile, the prosecution continues to present its evidence in the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case at the Rostov military court. The defendants themselves are pessimistic; so too are their lawyers.</p><p dir="ltr">“We will of course appeal against the verdict in the Supreme Court of Russia,” says Refat Alimov’s lawyer Edem Sememlyaev. “Overall, though, the efforts of the defence teams are geared towards the prospect of the case coming before the European Court of Human Rights.”</p><p dir="ltr">The only hope for political prisoners is exchange, as in the case of Ilmi Umerov and Akhtem Chyigoz, deputy chairs of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, who were <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anton-korolyov/ill-definitely-go-back-to-crimea-umerov">released in October 2017</a>. But this mechanism, too, is difficult to rely on. “The fact that the release of our political prisoners is being secured at a truly snail-like pace – five people in four years – testifies to the ineffective operation of the relevant state bodies (of Ukraine). It isn’t hard to calculate how long it’s going to take for all our prisoners to be released,” wrote Emir-Usein Kuku in his recent statement.</p><p dir="ltr">“Arsen tells me: a five-year term, well, I could just about live with that. I’d be released at 30. But 12 years or more? My daughter will be an adult by then, she’ll be ripe for marriage,” says Dzhepparov’s wife. Evelina, Arsen and Zarina’s daughter, is now seven. She recently penned a letter to her father: “How are you, my beloved babashechka (daddy – from baba, “father” in Crimean Tatar)? What are you up to? I miss you very much. What food are you eating there? What’s your mood like? Oh, how I miss you. I think about you at night and sometimes I want to cry.”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Why Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/trial-continues-askold-kurov-on-his-visit-to-oleg-sentsov">The trial continues: Askold Kurov on his visit to Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/why-we-should-write-about-the-crimean-tatars">Why we should write about the Crimean Tatars</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dzhemil-insafly/keeping-crimeas-muslims-in-check">Keeping Crimea&#039;s Muslims in check</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/crimea-peninsula-of-torture">Crimea: peninsula of torture</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anton-korolyov/ill-definitely-go-back-to-crimea-umerov">“I’ll definitely go back to Crimea”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Alona Savchuk Ukraine Russia Human rights Tue, 19 Jun 2018 20:32:05 +0000 Alona Savchuk 118465 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Women’s rights in Russia's North Caucasus: between “national traditions” and “ordinary” murders https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/womens-rights-in-the-north-caucasus <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How the Russian state authorities supports “national traditions” that infringe on the rights of Caucasian women. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-anohina/prava-zhenzhin-na-kavkaze" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_01277904.LR_.ru_-1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_01277904.LR_.ru_-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Women in Grozny, 2012. Photo: Ramil Sitdikov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Every time the issue of women’s rights rears its head in Russia’s North Caucasus, defenders of tradition – religious and lay figures alike – solemnly declare that nowhere do women enjoy the kind of protections and respect they receive as they do here. But their slogans in no way coincide with reality, in which monstrous crimes are committed with the tacit consent of society. </p><p dir="ltr">Moreover, young people are becoming ever more conservative in their attitudes to women’s rights. And these attitudes are being endorsed by the state authorities – not only at the level of the North Caucasus republics, but at the state level as well. </p><h2 dir="ltr">“Ordinary” murders</h2><p dir="ltr">In February 2018, the European Court of Human Rights <a href="https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#%7B%22itemid%22:[%22001-180849%22]%7D">awarded €20,000 in compensation to Khava Bopkhoyeva</a> from the village of Galashki in Ingushetia. Her daughter Zaira was 19 when she was taken to hospital and diagnosed as having been poisoned by “unknown substances”. The girl fell into a coma as a result of impaired oxygen flow to the brain. </p><p dir="ltr">A couple of months previously, Zaira had been bride-kidnapped on her way home from college. Though bride-kidnapping is banned – at least on paper – in Chechnya, it is still practised in Ingushetia and North Ossetia. The kidnapper’s mother was unhappy with her son’s choice (“But she’s divorced!”) and Zaira was returned home on the following day. Still, she ended up being married to the man who’d kidnapped her. Zaira didn’t see her husband again, however: he promptly left town, leaving Zaira with his mother and sister. The short period Zaira spent with her new family was punctuated by several trips to hospital: a previously healthy young woman, she experienced poisoning symptoms and suffered from epilepsy-like seizures. Two months later, an ambulance finally removed Zaira from her mother-in-law’s house.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/3_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="212" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zaira Bopkhoyeva. Source: Bopkhoyev Family / Pravovoye sodeistvie - Astreya. </span></span></span>There’s a lot of unpleasant details in Zaira Bopkhoyeva’s case. Khava Bopkhoyeva, Zaira’s mother, was prevented from initiating criminal proceedings on eight occasions. Zaira herself, meanwhile, remained utterly powerless throughout: kept in her husband’s house as a prisoner, she wasn’t allowed to contact her mother and had her phone confiscated. But perhaps the most appalling detail of all is the role played by Zaira’s relatives on her late father’s side. </p><p dir="ltr">Having learnt of her abduction, seven men – individuals on whose help and support the girl could ostensibly rely – lured her out of her home and took her to a forest. </p><p dir="ltr">Subjecting Zaira to an hours-long beating, they interrogated her as to whether she and her kidnapper had been physically intimate, and eventually came to a decision: Zaira would return to the man who’d kidnapped her and become his wife. They would play no further part in her fate. Zaira is now 27. She still hasn’t come out of her coma, and no one’s been punished for what was done to her – a perfect illustration, but far from the only one, of the “respect” and “protections” accorded to women in the North Caucasus.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_opt.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="210" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Maryam Magomedova. Source: The New Times / Magomedov Family. </span></span></span>Divorced and living with her mother in Moscow, Maryam Magomedova was lured back to her home village of Nechaevka in Dagestan on the pretext of attending her cousin’s wedding. Kusum Magomedova <a href="https://www.srji.org/news/2014/10/kizilyurtovskiy-rayonnyy-sud-dagestana-vynes-obvinitelnyy-prigovor-po-delu-ob-ubiystve-chesti-/">found her daughter’s body in a freshly dug grave</a> in the village cemetery. Maryam was killed by relatives on her father’s side. As in Zaira’s case, everyone around knew what was going on, but Maryam would have vanished without a trace had it not been for her mother’s tenacity. Violating an unspoken social contract that required her, at the very least, to remain silent, Kusum brought the matter to court.</p><p dir="ltr">Doing so, however, is often only half the battle. Lawyers representing defendants in trials on so-called <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maria-klimova-yulia-sugueva/honour-killings-in-russia-s-north-caucasus">“honour killings”</a> have begun deploying a remarkable new rhetorical strategy. The fact that their client is sitting in the dock instead of accepting congratulations merely points, they claim, to the inadequacy of the law. Consider, for example, a <a href="https://memohrc.org/ru/news/chechnya-preniya-i-prigovor-na-sude-po-ubiystvu-chesti">speech made by lawyer Ilyas Timishev</a> at the trial of Sultan Daurbekov, who confessed to murdering his daughter in 2015. Timishev wasted no time in denying the guilt of his client. Summoning the full force of his eloquence, Timishev explained that such murders are actually “a good custom”, and one “designed to protect the woman’s honour and dignity”. It’s all done for the victim’s benefit, you see: “He didn’t kill her,” said Timishev. “We ought to put it like this: he removed her from life so she wouldn’t bring shame on herself, on her father and on all her close relatives. That would be more accurate.” </p><p dir="ltr">There’s little novelty in Timishev’s arguments; the only novelty is that they’re being made by a lawyer during a criminal trial. But the general idea has long been entrenched in the public consciousness: “Woman! If you’re killed, you’ll have only yourself to blame, unmindful as you’ve been of the fact that every aspect of your existence is determined by your relatives – first by your father, your brothers, your uncles, and subsequently by your husband or even your son. You are their chattel.” And what rights are accorded to items of chattel? None: not over their own lives, nor their own bodies. </p><p dir="ltr">A few years ago, a court in Dagestan <a href="https://newtimes.ru/articles/detail/88126/">examined</a> a murder case in which the victim was a 14-year-old girl. After a days-long search, some relatives found the girl’s corpse near her home. The deceased’s father, who played an active role in the search, went to the police that same day and confessed that he’d killed the girl in a fit of anger on discovering that she was “sleeping around”. Some time later, however, new evidence emerged, and the picture completely changed. This morally upstanding father, it turned out, had raped his child over a period of two years. And when the girl finally resisted and threatened to expose his misdeeds, he grew fearful that she’d go through with her threat –&nbsp;and strangled her to death. </p><p dir="ltr">Intra-familial sexual violence is a taboo topic. And perhaps Timishev would fail to see a direct link between the existence of a “good custom that protects a woman’s honour” and incest. But once the “right to take life” and the “right to inflict violence”, physical and psychological alike, are effectively enshrined in law, the “right over a woman’s body” is very quick to materialise as well. </p><h2 dir="ltr">“National traditions”</h2><p dir="ltr">Honour killings are not a ubiquitous phenomenon, of course. But they do exist, and they’re justified on the basis of tradition, which renders any discussion around women’s rights absurd. Furthermore, there has been a recent tendency to make allowances for “national traditions” even in court, especially when it comes to post-divorce custody decisions. We’ve witnessed many cases of Ingush and Chechen women being forcibly separated from their children. So many, in fact, that one is tempted simply to focus on those where everything ended happily. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/N4XFgFixoBiLfC7rD.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="160" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Elita Magomadova. Source: Instagram. </span></span></span>Having reviewed Elita Magomadova’s appeal, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in April 2018 that her right to family life had been violated and awarded her €15,000 in compensation for moral damages. This marks the first time that a case concerning familial relations in Chechnya has been resolved in such a senior court.</p><p dir="ltr">Elita’s son was returned to her only in 2016, three years after the boy was kidnapped and relocated from Moscow to Chechnya by her ex-husband. </p><p dir="ltr">Elita did her best to put up a fight. But the Russian court ruled again and again that the child would remain with his father. Even after the latter was killed in a road accident, his relatives still refused to give the child back to her mother. Though Elita managed to win the case following numerous legal proceedings, the court bailiffs spread their arms in a gesture of helplessness: we cannot find the child! Desperate now, Elita appealed to the ECHR, which sent an inquiry to Russia. As was to be expected, however, our country failed to recognise that any rights violation had taken place. The court’s decision not to return the kidnapped child to her mother and leave him in the care of his father’s family was explained with reference to “the national idiosyncrasies of child-rearing in Chechen families”.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“He didn’t kill her, we ought to put it like this: he removed her from life so she wouldn’t bring shame on herself”</p><p dir="ltr">People wishing to join the battle against “immorality”, whatever the meaning of that word, are a dime a dozen. But sometimes the participants in this battle go beyond the usual teenager users of Youtube and social media groups and include state officials. For instance, in 2016, Gadzhimet Safaraliev, the then head of the State Duma Committee for Nationality Affairs, <a href="https://regnum.ru/news/2117837.html">recommended</a> that one participant should never reveal that she was, in fact, from there. Why? Because Albina Ildarova had posed for swimsuit photos, as per the contest’s requirements. </p><p dir="ltr">“Patriarchal paradigms manifest themselves more strongly in the Caucasus than elsewhere in Russia,” Irina Kosterina, sociologist and coordinator of the Henrich Böll Foundation’s Gender Democracy initiative, explains. </p><p dir="ltr">“In certain republics, gender relations are strongly influenced by local traditions and customs that regulate social distance, interaction rituals and sometimes also people’s behaviour and appearance. Local researchers and journalists may enjoy writing about the ‘special role of women in Caucasian society’, but they certainly don’t enjoy writing about the problematic side of things: washing your dirty linen in public, they believe, is a definite no-no. Caucasian men are particularly averse to the topic, regarding the slightest reference to women’s rights infringements as a potshot aimed in their collective direction and serving to undermine their reputations.” </p><h2 dir="ltr">A new generation chooses</h2><p dir="ltr">Two years ago, a group of researchers from the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy <a href="https://etokavkaz.ru/obshchestvo/izmerit-musulmanina">conducted</a> a study of the values held by Dagestani Muslims. Troubled though Dagestan might be, 60% of respondents felt “secure”, while 85% declared themselves to be “happy” or “relatively happy”. The questionnaire also featured questions about family and relationships with children. Older people, as it turned out, were generally in favour of the idea of working women, with 90% asserting that women could work as long as they had someone to leave the children with. The equivalent percentage among the younger generation was far lower – a mere 64% – and dropped to 59% among adherents of “non-traditional Islam” (so-called Salafis). But the latter group also proved more tolerant to the idea of women taking the initiative in the search for a husband, with 33% in favour (as compared to a mere nine percent among “secularised Muslims”). </p><p dir="ltr">Respondents were also presented with a hypothetical scenario featuring a ne’er-do-well son, a straight-A daughter and a paterfamilias who can afford to educate only one of his two children. 59% of all respondents suggested that he should accord this privilege to the daughter, but only 49% of younger respondents agreed. 40% said that the daughter should be given her own say in the matter, while 19% maintained that she be married off. </p><p><iframe allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/1sTDA9Y1Lwk" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>In this 2016 talk show broadcast in Dagestan, young men and women voice their concerns about "women's behaviour".</em></p><p dir="ltr">That young people hold conservative attitudes towards women’s rights was also evidenced during <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sTDA9Y1Lwk&amp;t=109s">a Dagestani talk show on the subject</a> at the time. The talk show’s interactive audience was made up of law school students, and only two of them answered in the affirmative to the question of whether “women in Dagestan have problems”. As it turned out, one of the two had misunderstood the question, while the second proved more unwavering and dug in his heels: “Yes, they do! Many girls don’t dress properly!”</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">On the talkshow, not a single girl answered that she’d stand up for her herself and assert her right to have her own plans and forge her own way in life</p><p dir="ltr">The discussion eventually segued into a family-versus-career debate. The girls among the student audience were asked the following question: what would you do if your other half refused to allow you to continue your studies or go into work after graduating from law school? Not a single girl answered that she’d stand up for her herself and assert her right to have her own plans and forge her own way in life. They were then asked if the very wording of the question didn’t trouble and disconcert them. Did they really believe that anyone, no matter how beloved, had the right to give them – grown adults now – consent to do anything, or to withhold that consent? Cue an awkward silence in the studio – a silence interrupted by a sonorous, girlish voice: “Yes!” “Why?” “He’s responsible for me!”</p><p dir="ltr">But “responsibility”, as Caucasian men understand it, isn’t about ensuring that women feel happy and protected. It’s about ensuring that they don’t step out of line. Which entails keeping them under control. A control that can be all-encompassing. A colleague of mine – a woman who’d been working in Chechnya for a couple of months – once made an obscure quip: if a young Chechen hasn’t checked his iPhone for an hour, his sister must be married! No one got what she meant. “Well,” she explained, “if his sister’s married, it’s up to the husband to make sure she’s kept in check. But if she isn’t, any ‘upstanding’ Chechen brother will monitor her every move through her phone’s GPS.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">“A different purpose”</h2><p dir="ltr">Discussions around gender inequality tend to focus on the male-female wage gap, on “glass ceilings”, on the fact that a woman stands less chance of getting a job than a man with the same level of qualifications, and on the list of occupations from which women are legislatively barred. But in the Caucasus, this list is much broader than elsewhere, and people become acquainted with it long before they actively consider potential employment avenues. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” a five-year-old girl is asked. She answers – and confronts the reality of her world for the first time.</p><p dir="ltr">Zarina Beksalova, a teacher from Ingushetia whom I contacted for comment on this matter, didn’t confine herself to a two-sentence response. She sent me an extensive letter, and a very bitter and acerbic one. If we weren’t acquainted, I would never have believed that this young woman, who wears a hijab, could have written something of this kind. I’ll end by quoting two excerpts from Zarina’s letter, followed by her title. She insisted that I don’t omit the latter.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">In my conversations with my students, I often tell them about the diversity of professions in the world: there are people who pick up penguins in the Arctic, marine biologists, archaeologists, animators, freelance correspondents, sailors in the navy, etc. The girls listen with great enthusiasm, ask interesting questions, express their concerns. Then someone pipes up: ‘I won’t be allowed to train as an archaeologist. I’m a girl and I have to choose a girly profession.’ She’s followed by a second girl, a third, a fourth, a tenth, all of them breaking out into bitter lamentations. </p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">Girls are barred from many occupations because they serve a ‘different purpose’. Furthermore, ‘men are smarter and stronger / women must wholly submit to the will of their families / girls haven’t the right to study abroad / women’s opinions aren’t taken into account’. A woman can be forcibly married off at any time and to whatever husband her patrilineal relatives deem appropriate. Divorce proceedings, too, can only be initiated with the permission of her family’s menfolk. In our society, a divorcee loses even the little power she wielded as an ‘innocent’ girl or as a married woman.</p><p class="blockquote-new">The absurdity of it all is encapsulated by the fact that widow, divorcee and woman of easy virtue are all rendered by a single Ingush word – zhiiro. I don’t think I really need to expand upon how hard it is to be divorced or widowed in a patriarchal society where everyone can construe the meaning of ‘zhiiro-hood’ however they please. But the time has come for us women to decide what role we are to map out for ourselves in any of the world's communities, and how (if at all) this choice is influenced by this or that status. </p><p class="blockquote-new">Zarina Beksalova, zhiiro.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-kosterina/love-north-caucasus-style">Love, North Caucasus style</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/convert-and-love-russia-s-muslim-wives">Convert and love: Russia’s Muslim wives</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-klimova-yulia-sugueva/honour-killings-in-russia-s-north-caucasus">“Honour killings” in Russia’s North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/stories-you-weren%E2%80%99t-meant-to-hear-women-tradition-and-powe">Stories you weren’t meant to hear: women, tradition and power in Russia’s North Caucasus </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Svetlana Anokhina Human rights Caucasus Tue, 05 Jun 2018 04:08:12 +0000 Svetlana Anokhina 118220 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What’s behind China’s anti-Kazakh campaign? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/inga-imanbai-andrey-grishin/whats-behind-chinas-anti-kazakh-campaign%20 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If you're an ethnic Kazakh or a Kazakh citizen in northwest China, you can face detention on espionage and extremism charges. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/inga-imanbai-andrey-grishin/mezhdu-molotom-i-nakovalney" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 15.00.24_0.png" alt="" title="" width="394" height="263" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zhenisnur Ayatkhanuly with children in a house in the suburbs of Almaty. Photo from the personal archive of Zhenisnur Ayatkhanuly.</span></span></span>After its continuing persecution of Uyghurs, the Chinese authorities have now turned their attention to ethnic Kazakhs living in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwest China. There are few details available, but Radio Free Asia has <a href="https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/kazaks-arrests-11132017130345.html?searchterm:utf8:ustring=Kazakhs">reported</a> that up to 500 Kazakhs can be arrested in a week and that several tens of thousands of families <a href="http://www.fergananews.com/news/27174">have had their homes searched</a>. Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has, however, taken very little interest in both Kazakh citizens and Chinese Kazakhs. </p><p dir="ltr">Chinese law enforcement agencies have been persecuting ethnic Uyghurs since 1989, when Uyghurs held protests in several cities in the XUAR following Tiananmen Square. With almost 250,000 Uyghurs live in neighbouring Kazakhstan, the Kazakh government found itself an unwilling participant in Uyghur affairs. Despite protests from human rights activists and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since 1999 Kazakhstan, under pressure from China, has <a href="https://rus.azattyq.org/a/1180644.html">turned three Uyghur asylum seekers over to the Chinese authorities officially</a> – and six unofficially. Some simply disappeared, only to be discovered in Chinese prisons. </p><p dir="ltr">In 2000 and 2001, Uyghurs from China were <a href="https://zonakz.net/2004/05/31/%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%B6-%D0%B4%D0%B2%D1%83%D1%85-%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%BD%D0%B5%D0%B9/">involved in several shootouts </a>with police in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city – in two cases, over fears of being forcibly returned to China. Kazakhstan’s security services still keep the Uyghur diaspora under close observation, suspecting that it might lend aid to its compatriots across the Chinese border and that Kazakh Uyghurs might start spreading separatist ideas. But since 2017, other ethnic minorities, including Kazakhs, have been subjected to various kinds of persecution in the XUAR, and now the Kazakh government finds itself in a predicament: its inaction is drawing criticism from both its own citizens and repatriates, while it is significantly financially dependent on Chinese investments and loans. </p><h2 dir="ltr">A few personal stories</h2><p dir="ltr">On 6 April 2018, a woman living in Almaty made several calls to the <a href="https://bureau.kz/en/">Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law </a>(KIBHR) NGO. An ethnic Kazakh who was born in China but has Kazakh citizenship, the woman complained that she had been summoned to the city’s Prosecutor’s Office, where she was ordered to stop “drawing attention” to the situation of ethnic Kazakhs in China. She had suddenly lost contact with relatives still living across the Chinese border, and her children, moreover, were under pressure at school: the school’s director had demanded that she stop complaining. </p><p dir="ltr">A Chinese émigré living in Enbek, a village not far from Almaty, Zhenisnur Ayatkhanuly received Kazakh citizenship more than ten years ago. Every day, as he leaves for work, he has to lock his two small children up in their home: he has been bringing them up alone for two years after his wife disappeared. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 15.11.29_0 (1).png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A copy of Gozalnur Zheniskazy's Kazakh identity card. Photo from the personal archive of Zhenisnur Ayatkhanuly.</span></span></span>Zhenisnur’s wife Gozalnur Zheniskazy, 23, moved to Kazakhstan with her parents when she was 10 years old as part of a programme to resettle ethnic Kazakhs in their historical homeland, and received a Kazakh passport when she came of age. In mid-2016, Gozalnur went to visit relatives in China and never returned, and it is only recently that her family discovered from relatives in the XUAR that she was in a detention camp in the region, although its precise location was unknown: her passport had been confiscated and she had been sent to a “political re-education centre”.</p><p dir="ltr">Zhenisnur has written to Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs but has had no response. He is appealing to the Kazakh government to help release his wife. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Kazakhstan’s security services still keep the Uyghur diaspora under close observation, suspecting that it might lend aid to its compatriots in China</p><p dir="ltr">Zhenisnur has no idea how and why Gozalnur ended up in a “re-education centre”, but believes that his wife could have done nothing wrong in China. </p><p dir="ltr">“She went to China in 2016 and hasn’t returned,” he tells us. “A year and eight months have passed since then and we have had no word from her. We’ve just recently found out that she’s in a re-education camp. I’m begging our government, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to return the mother of my children. We’re living in a kind of hell at the moment, it’s particularly hard on the children. I lock them in the house every morning and go off to work. It’s a real strain to have to leave them like that, but I have to work. And I haven’t even got a permanent job.</p><p dir="ltr">“We just survive, then three of us. The children keep asking, ‘where’s Mummy?’ and I don’t know how to answer. I hope she’ll come back to us alive and well.” </p><p dir="ltr">Gozalnur’s story is far from unique: although many people are afraid of telling anyone, more and more people have been openly admitting that family members have disappeared in China. </p><p dir="ltr">Jamilya Maken, who lives in the Almaty region, is in a similar situation: her husband, who was born in China but was promised speedy Kazakh citizenship, travelled to China after an insistent request by the Chinese authorities in 2016, but failed to return. In China, he was ordered to explain why he had moved to Kazakhstan and applied for Kazakh citizenship. He couldn’t have refused to make the journey to China, for fear of making life difficult for his relatives there. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 15.17.13_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 15.17.13_0.png" alt="" title="" width="390" height="262" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Jamilya Maken. Photo from personal archive.</span></span></span>“I have two children. My husband Toktar Osmangali was invited to China and travelled there, and then we found out that he had been detained, but no one knew why,” Jamilya tells us. “And now we have no news from him and no idea if he’s still alive and what has happened to him. I wrote to the Kazakhstani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asking them to help return my husband, the father of my children. The children keep asking where their father is, and I have no answer.” </p><h2 dir="ltr">Cautious attempts </h2><p dir="ltr">One million people out of the 18-million population of Kazakhstan are repatriates, and <a href="https://kapital.kz/gosudarstvo/47713/pochti-million-oralmanov-pribylo-v-kazahstan-za-25-let.html">14% of those are Kazakhs from China</a>. The issue of repatriates from the XUAR suddenly surfaced in October 2017, when about 250 people whose ID papers weren’t in order <a href="http://www.astanatv.kz/news/show/id/59204.html">faced threats of deportation to China</a>. After that, the repatriates dropped their veil of silence and began to demand some action from the Kazakhstani government to halt the persecution of their fellow-countrymen and women in China. At the end of last October a group of repatriates <a href="https://rus.azattyq.org/a/kitay-arestovannye-kazakhi-rodstvenniki-mid/28817130.html">attended</a> a meeting at Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ offices in Almaty. </p><p dir="ltr">That same month. Nurlan Kylyshbayev, a deputy of the Senate, Kazakhstan’s upper house of Parliament, <a href="https://www.zakon.kz/4885332-senator-obespokoen-narusheniem-prav.html">made an official request</a> to the Head of Government to confirm whether reports that ethnic Kazakhs had been persecuted in China were true. At both of these high level meetings, the issue concerned at least 47 relatives of Kazakhstani repatriates (some with Kazakhstani citizenship, some with Chinese) who may have been imprisoned or had disappeared. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 15.36.03_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 15.36.03_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A Kazakh family in XUAR, China. Image via Serikzhan Bilash. </span></span></span>After this development, Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs <a href="http://mfa.gov.kz/ru/content-view/khr-kazak-diasporasyny-mseleleri-znindegi-konsultacialar-turaly">posted an announcement</a> on its website about forthcoming meetings to be held with China’s Ambassador to Kazakhstan, “on cooperation over issues connected with members of the Kazakh diaspora who are citizens of China”. The ambassador, Zhang Hanhui responded in November in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana:</p><p dir="ltr">“Before and during the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, harsh surveillance and vetting measures were in place for all citizens – not just Kazakhs but Han Chinese (China’s ethnic majority) and all other ethnic groups without exception,” said Zhang. “These measures were adopted because of information received about possible planned disruption. If the question relates to citizens with Chinese passports, it is purely a Chinese internal matter.”</p><p dir="ltr">In February 2018, Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs nevertheless sent a note to its Chinese counterpart concerning the harassment of ethnic Kazakhs resident in China. This information was not, however, made public by the Ministry, and the Kazakh public <a href="http://www.trt.net.tr/russian/rossiia-i-strany-sng/2018/02/18/mid-kazakhstana-napravilo-notu-vlastiam-kitaia-912799">only found out about the note from the TRT Turkish TV channel</a>. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Don’t believe the propaganda </h2><p dir="ltr">The photographs shown by Serikjan Bilash, an activist from the <a href="http://atajurtjastar.com/kz/index.php/en/">Young Homeland Volunteers</a> organisation, which offers support to Kazakh repatriates from the XUAR, show the happy faces of Chinese Kazakhs as they do housework, cook meals and sit together around a dinner table. </p><p dir="ltr">You can’t immediately tell that it’s not real. But as Bilash explains, the thing common to all the photos is the fact that the men in these Kazakh families are Han Chinese. The Chinese government plants them in ethnic Kazakh families, so that they can teach them the Chinese language and traditions and “help” them assimilate in China. The real husbands and fathers of the families are in political re-education centres – correctional facilities where conditions are more like those of Russian prison colonies. Behind this is an attempt on the part of the Chinese authorities to halt the growth of Islam in the region and limit nationalist tendencies within its communities. </p><p dir="ltr">Serikjan Bilash, who is himself a repatriate from China, tells us that at least 10 Kazakh nationals are arrested in China without any reason.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 15.35.48.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A Kazakh family in XUAR, China. Image via Serikzhan Bilash. </span></span></span>“These are exact figures. We received eight official statements. And this is just Kazakh citizens. The numbers of ethnic Kazakhs with Chinese citizenship in detention centres go into the hundreds. And we know for sure that for every repatriate in Kazakhstan there is a relative in China who is in a detention centre,” he says with tears in his eyes at a press conference Almaty on 2 April. “But our government ignores that fact. Many family breadwinners can’t return to Kazakhstan. How long will these people have to suffer?”</p><p dir="ltr">In an <a href="https://rus.azattyq.org/a/samarkan-china-lager/29190158.html">interview with the Kazakh language service of RFE/RL</a>, Kayrat Samarkin, an ethnic Kazakh who was born and brought up in China, told of how he landed in a re-education centre when he travelled to China in 2017. Samarkin had gone there to sell his house and land, instead finding himself in a prison camp in the XUAR. Before that, he spent three days under interrogation. He didn’t manage to figure out what he was being accused of, though that didn’t stop him being sentenced to between three and nine months of internment. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Samarkin, there are 5,700 detainees in the camp where he was sent: over 3,000 of them Kazakhs, 2,000 Uyghurs and 200 Dungans (members of a group of Muslim people of Chinese origin). There were just two Kazakh citizens among them. He was released prematurely after a suicide attempt and given permission to go to Kazakhstan, where he was immediately given citizenship. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Official displeasure </h2><p dir="ltr">Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev is the unofficial leader of the <a href="http://www.qazaq-alemi.kz/kazakh_in_world?id=335">World Kurultai of Kazakhs</a>, a global gathering of Kazakh diasporas that takes place every five years. The most recent Kuruktai took place in Astana in 2017, and at it Omirkhan Altyn, an ethnic Kazakh from Germany, <a href="http://www.exclusive.kz/expertiza/obshhestvo/14674/">raised the issue of the Chinese Kazakhs</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">“Our fellow-Kazakhs are asking us for help. Ten of them have recently been convicted, allegedly for praising Kazakhstan and staying in contact with fellow Kazakhs there, but also for talking about their wish to move to their historic homeland. Young men get convicted for just going into a mosque to pray. We can’t allow this to continue. If bridges are broken, how can we have friendship between peoples? There are no terrorists among our people.” </p><p dir="ltr">In response, Nazarbayev declared that he was hearing about Kazakhs’ problems in China for the first time: “We know about the problems in Xinjiang. They have terrorism and extremism there, but I’ve never heard about Kazakhs being persecuted.” </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 15.43.16_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 15.43.16_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chinese policemen patrol a Kazakh village in Xinjiang. Photo via Serikzhan Bilash.</span></span></span>Nazarbayev promised to follow the matter up through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and “devote the appropriate attention to it” if necessary. Kazakhstan, like China is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), founded in 2001 by the leaders of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The organisation’s main purposes are to strengthen stability and security over the wide area that encompasses its members and to fight terrorism, separatism, extremism and drug trafficking. In terms of security, agreements within the SCO may sometimes take precedence over other international treaties, but the subject of security and the war on terrorism and extremism have priority over the economic and cultural links that are also seen as priorities in OSC documents. The very name of the organisation presupposes China’s leading role in it. </p><p dir="ltr">It’s completely possible that the Kazakh public has reacted to the plight of Chinese Kazakhs due to Kazakhs’ own ambiguous attitudes to repatriates. The latter often live close together, do not actively associate with local residents, including due to language difficulties. Kazakhstan is still a widely Russophone country, and repatriates often don’t know Russian. </p><p dir="ltr">Nazarbayev, who initiated the repatriation programme in 1991, <a href="https://www.azattyq.org/a/2302777.html">stated</a> in 2010 that “repatriates haven’t worked hard enough for the good of the country” and that “they have made no contribution to the development of the country’s economy”. In 2011, in western Kazakhstan, police forces <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elena-kostyuchenko/what-i-didnt-write-about-zhanaozen">violently suppressed a year-long strike by oil workers</a> in the town of Zhanaozen. The oil workers demanded a review of wages, including additional payments due to them as oil workers. Back then, Timur Kulibayev, who was head of the Samruk Kazyna sovereign wealth fund and Nazarbayev’s son-in-law, <a href="https://www.zakon.kz/4451369-kto-rulit-bastujushhimi-neftjanikami.html,">said</a>: “Repatriates from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are moving in whole villages to Zhanaozen. In their own countries, these people were, let’s say, second-class.” The last phrase referred to the fact that repatriates were often involved in low-qualified work. </p><p dir="ltr">Nazabayev ordered the government to review the repatriation programme and “fundamentally sort out, together with the repatriates, the issue that we’re solving via the Nurly kosh (“Bright Nomad”) programme: the way they’re concentrated in the same districts needs looking at.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Taking the initiative</h2><p dir="ltr">Without having received a response from the authorities, at the end of 2017, relatives of people imprisoned in China <a href="https://rus.azattyq.org/a/28902707.html">conducted</a> a press conference in Astana, presenting examples of how the rights of the Kazakh ethnic minority had been violated. “In China, 160 ethnic Kazakhs have been convicted on various charges. Four thousand complaints have been sent to a special committee on this issue. In the course of a week, Chinese security services carried out searches in the homes of 30,000 Kazakh families. Any texts related to Kazakhstan and Islam – flags, books, photos – were confiscated.”</p><p dir="ltr">The charges, as it turns out, are often different: local Kazakhs are accused of belonging to extremist religious groups, whereas Chinese Kazakhs, who resettle in Kazakhstan, are charged with espionage.</p><p dir="ltr">Immediately after the press conference, activists and relatives of imprisoned Kazakhs sent an open letter to the Chinese consul in Kazakhstan. They requested that Zhang Hanhui turn his attention to the persecution and bring it to the attention of the Chinese authorities. “Kazakhs born in China have always been proud that we grew up in a place where we weren’t forbidden to love our historical homeland, native language and religions. But now the situation has grown much worse. There are violations of Kazakhs’ civic rights just because they visit relatives in Kazakhstan, trade with citizens of our country (...) All of this creates an unpleasant image for the country, a negative image for China and anti-Chinese attitudes.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 15.29.44.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="356" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kazakh repatriates from China, concerned about the fate of their relatives, visit Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry in Almaty. Image: Nurtay Lakhan. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>But it’s clear that anti-Chinese attitudes in Kazakhstan are strong even without this problem. Over the past decade, local workers and Chinese staff have come into violent conflicts at oil extraction sites, developed by Chinese companies. In 2010, in Aktobe region, six people were <a href="http://www.diapazon.kz/aktobe/aktobe-details/32179-podralis-kitajjskie-i-mestnye-rabochie.html">wounded </a>(two of whom received gunshot injuries) in a fight between Chinese and Kazakh workers at the Northern Truva site. In 2012, four people were <a href="https://rus.azattyq.org/a/kazakh-chinese-workers-fight-atyrau/24677945.html">wounded</a> in a conflict between workers at the Atyrau oil refinery. And 31 people were <a href="https://www.zakon.kz/4726610-mestnye-zhiteli-podralis-so.html">injured in a mass brawl</a> in the cafeteria of a Kazakhmys ore enrichment plant in east Kazakhstan. </p><p dir="ltr">In 2016, Kazakhstan witnessed a wave of protests after the authorities declared plans to reform the land ownership system, permitting foreign citizens to own land in the country. Opponents of the legislative changes believed that the chief interested party in this reform was China, triggering protests that ended in a moratorium on land reform. </p><p dir="ltr">“Attitudes towards Kazakhs in China remains the same,” says Aidos Sarym, a Kazakh political scientist. “Many in the country sympathise with the difficulties they’re going through, the problems. But the other side of the question is how far is society ready to defend their interests actively, using different forms of pressuring the authorities? And for the government, China remains very important state and economic partner. Many projects are dependent on China.” </p><p dir="ltr">China is one of top five lenders to Kazakhstan. According to National Bank figures, Kazakhstan <a href="https://tengrinews.kz/markets/skolko-i-komu-doljen-kazahstan-316716/">owes</a> China between $12-13 billion. Moreover, the two countries are now creating a $300m investment fund for projects in Kazakhstan. <a href="https://kapital.kz/economic/10517/kitayu-prinadlezhit-40-dobyvaemoj-v-rk-nefti.html">Figures</a> put the percentage of oil extracted in Kazakhstan that is sent to China between 23%-40%. </p><p dir="ltr">In China, Kazakhs are the 16th largest ethnic group (1.5m) out of 55 national minorities, and 95% of them live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Until recently, Chinese Kazakhs did not report instances of persecution, instead performing the role of an ethnic minority which lived in harmony with Han Chinese while still maintaining its traditions. But the situation has changed. There’s up to 120,000 people in re-education camps in Xinjiang – mostly Uyghurs – but there’s also Kazakh prisoners there. </p><p dir="ltr">In Kazakhstan, many repatriates hope that their historical homeland will find the courage to try and get Kazakh citizens released – and to ensure China stops its campaign against Chinese Kazakhs – even if it hurts Astana’s economic and political interests. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/henryk-szadziewski/uyghurs-china-and-central-asia">The Uyghurs, China and central Asia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/ukrainian-muslims-forbidden-literature">The permitted and the forbidden: Ukraine’s security services turn their eyes to “banned” Islamic literature</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-slavina/tortured-terrorised-russian-muslim-facing-deportation">Tortured and terrorised by the state, this Russian Muslim now faces deportation </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Inga Imanbai and Andrey Grishin Kazakhstan Human rights Wed, 23 May 2018 05:38:20 +0000 Inga Imanbai and Andrey Grishin 118002 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “In two years of picketing, 15 miners of working age have died”: how Rostov miners are fighting against all odds for their wages – and respect https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maria-pogrebniak/how-rostov-miners-are-fighting-against-all-odds-for-their-wages <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For two years, workers at a bankrupt mining company in southern Russia attempting to recoup their outstanding wages. All this in a town with 100% unemployment. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maria-pogrebnyak/shahtery-kompanii-bankrota-iz-gukovo" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ почета у здания «Кингкоул»_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ почета у здания «Кингкоул»_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Board of honor near the Kingcoal’s building. Photo: Evgeny Kosivtsov. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Two years ago, four mines in Gukovo, in the southern Rostov region, closed down. The mines were the town’s main employer, but <a href="http://miningwiki.ru/wiki/%D0%9A%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0%B3%D0%BA%D0%BE%D1%83%D0%BB">Kingcoal</a>, the company that owned them, had <a href="http://www.novostibankrotstva.ru/tag/ooo-kingkoul/">gone bankrupt</a>. Kingcoal’s CEO was sentenced to five years in prison for failing to pay employees for over a year and using company funds for his own purposes. </p><p dir="ltr">Next month will mark the second anniversary of the start of the Kingcoal miners’ campaign to get their wages. Almost every day, residents of Gukovo, who are mostly older people, take to the streets to demand their back pay: the Rostov regional authorities have paid out less than half of the outstanding sum. More than 2,000 people have been affected: half of the miners have yet to receive all the money due to them.</p><p dir="ltr">I went to Gukovo to find out how the miners are battling with the bureaucrats, how people live in a town without work and whether there is any hope of the mines reopening.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Kingcoal: a story of bankruptcy</h2><p dir="ltr">As a town, Gukovo developed thanks to its coal deposits: mining began here before the 1917 revolution. The mines were originally state owned, but were privatised in the 2000s. </p><p dir="ltr">The Kingcoal company appeared in 2007, and by the end of 2012 it had acquired four pits: Almaz, Gukovo, Rostov and Zamchalovo. The company’s CEO Vladimir Pozhidayev announced that, under his direction, these mines would become the leading coal producers in southern Russia. In April last year, Pozhidayev was <a href="http://rostov.sledcom.ru/news/item/1116017">sentenced</a> to five years behind bars for misuse of power and failure to pay his employees: between April 2015 and March 2016, Kingcoal’s employees received no wages. The mines were shut down at the end of 2016 and the company declared bankrupt, and at the end of last year Pozhidayev was <a href="http://rostov.sledcom.ru/news/item/1135598">charged</a> with a second offence: deliberate bankruptcy.</p><p dir="ltr">“From 2002 on, the mine was run by people who hadn’t a clue about the mining industry,” says Nikolai Shulepov, an officially decorated Distinguished Miner of Russia with 42 years at the Zamchalovo mine behind him. “One of its CEO’s was a former submarine commander. These people would put on their suits to go and inspect the mines. Pozhidayev just robbed us. Rumour has it that he raked in a couple of billion dollars and sent it all offshore to Cyprus. As soon as he took over, the wage delays started: a month, two months. I argued with Vasily Golubev, the Rostov regional governor, about it, but he just told me, in so many words, not to get in Pozhidayev’s way: he was developing the business.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ Шулепов_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ Шулепов_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nikolai Shulepov. Photo: Evgeny Kosivtsov. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>When the four mines went bust, there were around 2,500 people working at them. They were gradually made redundant, and those that were still there were working on two shifts – some were spending 12 hours a day down a pit. In the end, there were just security staff left: at the Zamchalovo Anthracite mine, for example, they went on working until June last year, hoping they’d get their back pay. But then all four pits flooded, and there was no one to pump out the ground water. It became clear that this was the end. </p><p dir="ltr">“Some people say that the mines were flooded deliberately,” says Tatyana Avacheva, a member of the local initiative group and former surveyor at the Zamchalovo pit. “And that was why sink holes were appearing both next to the mines and in Gukovo itself. The water leaks into the foundations of buildings and destroys them: some houses have become unfit for habitation, with cracks in their walls. If it’s not pumped out in the next few months, it’s going to stream into people’s cellars. Toxic so-called <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackdamp">blackdamp </a>will also be released, so people could be suffocated in their cellars.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Some people say that the mines were flooded deliberately”</p><p dir="ltr">Most of the coal from the Gukovo mines was used to power the Novocherkassk regional power station. The highest quality stuff came from the Zamchalovo pit – the so-called “gold” coal, known for its clean burn and lack of impurities. It used to be exported to Canada and numerous European countries. But now the area around the mine looks like Chernobyl, with half-demolished buildings and rotted roofing, and the entrance to the mine blocked with rubbish and bricks.</p><p dir="ltr">“It’s all crumbling and overgrown. The window frames are rotten, the ground is sinking,” Nikolai Shulepov tells me. “It used to be so fine, all clean and tidy. I spent my whole life at that mine; I’d walk to work through the fields. It was all old-fashioned then, of course. The mine was opened in 1955 and was never modernised, but it produced good coal: there are still more than 40 million tonnes of the stuff under here, it’s not exhausted.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Rostov mine is in a similar state: there is no security, you can get onto the site through a hole in a fence. It looks just like it did after the Second World War, with cracked foundations of administrative buildings, smashed windows, heaps of stone and rubbish. It’s strange to think that just two years ago it was still heaving with activity.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The fight for back pay</h2><p dir="ltr">The pickets began in June 2016. Every day, except weekends and public holidays, hundreds of people would crowd round Kingcoal’s main office. In June last year, Rostov’s Regional Development Corporation (which is responsible for investment and infrastructure projects in the region) made a payout of 310m roubles (£3.7m) to the miners, and the regional officials announced that they had honoured the main part of their commitments. In fact, it was less than half of the sum owed.</p><p dir="ltr">“The miners are due another 374m roubles (£4.436m),” Tatyana Avacheva tells me. “This amount includes both ordinary wages and the many other types of additional financial compensation required by law: for late payment of wages, for example, or production stoppages. It also includes child support payments and some other things. Plus we are also due compensation for the free coal allowances that the miners didn’t have for the three years between 2014 and 2016.”</p><p dir="ltr">The coal allowance was a statutory benefit in kind for those miners whose homes were heated by coal fired stoves (which was most of them). When the mines were state owned, the coal was delivered regularly, but when they became privatised many owners, Pozhidayev’s company included, stopped this service. The miners were promised social aid – 300 tonnes of coal from other mines in the Rostov region. The first 100 tonnes were supposed to be delivered by the end of March, but they never appeared.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ Ильянов разбирает оставшийся уголь.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ Ильянов разбирает оставшийся уголь.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Coal in the yard of Aleksandr Ilyanov. Photo: Evgeny Kosivtsov. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“People have barely survived this winter without coal,” Nikolai Posokhin tells me. Posokhin has worked in the coal industry for 28 years, most recently at the Rostov pit. “They have managed as well as they could, pulled down their fences – the mine was ransacked for firewood. Some people would walk along the railway line, picking up lumps of coal. You need about seven tonnes of coal to last you through the winter, and it’s expensive – seven to eight thousand roubles a tonne. Here in Gukovo, it’s like living in the 18th century – heaven knows what people in Moscow would make of life here! I don’t understand what our state is doing. There was a meltdown in the 1990s, but it feels as though it’s even worse now. On the TV, they show you Ukraine and Syria enough, but there’s nothing about what’s going on in our own country.”</p><p dir="ltr">Gukovo activists are trying to have the whole wages shortfall and compensation demands met out of regional reserve funds, which can then be offset by selling the mines and their equipment. They also want to change the rules on free coal allowances for pensioners. Currently, the extra free coal supply is only available to those who worked at the mines for 10 or more years when they went under state ownership and retired before they passed into private hands. The activists, however, want this benefit to also apply to miners who retired after the privatisation. Their proposal has been <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/317869/">passed to the State Duma</a> and should be debated in the next six months. If it is accepted, it will be incorporated into law in 2019.</p><p dir="ltr">The miners, meanwhile, continued their public protests. In December 2016, they decided to travel to Moscow, attend a State Duma session and organise a mass protest while they were at it. One hundred and fifty people were due to travel to the capital in two buses, but a few weeks before they left they started to receive threats from the police, and on the day they were due to travel they were prevented from leaving Gukovo.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“I’m writing to everyone I can think of: local officials, the Presidential Administration – I’m planning to contact the prosecutor’s office now. I have a small child; we can’t live in a place like this”</p><p dir="ltr">“The police kept knocking at our doors; literally breaking into our flats. They threatened us, tried to make us sign some bits of paper and said they would fine us, that we had no right to go anywhere,” Tatyana Avacheva tells me. “The firm that we had ordered the buses from refused to take us: they had been leaned on and threatened with losing their business. Some people decided to go from Kamensk (where there are mines as well), but the police had set up a cordon around the bus station.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ инициативной группы и один из организаторов пикетов Татьяна Авачева.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ инициативной группы и один из организаторов пикетов Татьяна Авачева.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tatyana Avacheva, member of the initiative group and one of the organizers of pickets. Photo: Evgeny Kosivtsov. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“Before the trip, our local police officer knocked on our door three days running,” Irina Litvinova, a member of the initiative group and representative of the People’s Unity miners’ movement. “He threatened to fine my husband and me 150,000 roubles each. They dangled some papers in front of our eyes but wouldn’t hand them to us. They also mentioned my child: ‘Don’t risk it: you have such a small daughter’. We tried to buy rail tickets, but they wouldn’t sell them to us.”</p><p dir="ltr">The miners went on several hunger strikes. At the end of last year, the authorities banned activists from picketing outside Kingcoal’s head office, claiming that they were stopping the movement traffic and pedestrians, and that this spot was not on the list of places permitted for public assembly. They were sent off to the edge of the town. Now the miners picket outside the House of Culture close to the Rostov mine, with a permitted limit of 85 people – otherwise they face a fine. And while officials used to give picketing permits out for six months at a time, now each action has to be negotiated individually.</p><p dir="ltr">“We’ve been standing here now for two years, in frost, slush and thunderstorms. We meet three times a week,” Nikolai Shulepov tells me. “I’m lucky, I got all my back wages and benefits repaid, but I keep coming here, to help other people. Last September, I went and stood outside the Rostov regional administration building with a placard reading: ‘Governor, give us back our money!’ I wore my jacket with all my decorations on it, but when the TV people started filming the police surrounded me. They brought me to the regional Deputy Minister for Fuel and Energy and I asked: ‘Why have you abandoned people, leaving them without pay? Gukovo is a lost town: a wasteland with nothing to do and nowhere to work and a playground for criminals.’ They said: ‘We’re working on it.’ What else could they say?”</p><p dir="ltr">“There’s a problem – our people are unfriendly,” says Irina Litvinova. “Those who have got their money have stopped picketing. There used to be 140 people there. Now it’s down to 70-80, you won’t get more than that. I keep writing to everybody: ‘We helped you, you got your money early, so help us now, come and stand, if only once a week. We need to gather momentum!’ But they don’t come, and they even write offensive messages back.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">A dialogue with the authorities</h2><p dir="ltr">There used to be a lot of talk about Gukovo, at both regional and national level. In April 2018, Communist Party Deputy Dmitry Novikov raised the mining issue with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during the government’s annual report to the State Duma. Medvedev promised that the remaining money would be paid, but he didn’t say when. Vladimir Putin is also aware of the issue: Mikhail Shmakov, who heads Russia’s Independent Trade Union, has brought it to his attention. And last year, decorated miner Nikolai Shulepov travelled to Moscow to talk to the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights.</p><p dir="ltr">“I told them all about our hopeless lives: how the town is in decline and lives are destroyed; how people are suffering. A load of human rights campaigners visited Gukovo at the end of 2017: they visited the town council and discussed the issues, and afterwards they went to Rostov and spoke to various ministers. We were then told that there was a plan to build a factory that would provide jobs for 50 people. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut at that, and told them that they’d need 50 of their factories to provide work for everyone! Gukovo, after all, is a mining town: everything revolves around the pits: the technical college, the storage and equipment facilities – everything.”</p><p dir="ltr">Both central and regional government have fallen silent now. The miners constantly write to every possible authority, but without success: “You can raise the money by selling the pits,” goes the written response. That’s not a lot of help for the former Kingcoal employees: mines are sold for much less than their declared value. Two mines have been sold this year – Zamchalovo and Rostov. </p><p dir="ltr">“This year, two of Gukovo’s four mines, the Zamchalovo and Rostov, have been sold,” Tatyana Avacheva tells me. “The Zamchalovo was on the market for 96m roubles, but eventually sold for 65m. Only 15% of the sale of the mine will go towards covering the miners’ back pay – that’s not enough. They also sold the Rostov. Both of these mines’ new owners have promised to revive production and return employees to their old jobs. But this all remains to be seen: returning the mines to production will require vast investment. We’ll probably need to go cap in hand to central government.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ в шахту_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ в шахту_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The entrance to the Zamchalovo mine. Photo: Evgeny Kosivtsov. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The authorities are also doing nothing to help people living in unfit housing – and there is more and more of that in Gukovo. The Litvinov family live in one such building: the foundations are collapsing and the wall of the flat next door has split.</p><p dir="ltr">“A tractor turned up to do some repairs, but when they poked around a bit, water started streaming out,” says Irina Litvinova. “We were promised new housing by 2019 – we’d either be given money or rehoused. I went to the housing office with all my papers, and they said I was on a waiting list for new housing in 2030. Our building won’t last that long! ‘When the wall collapses, call the housing office,’ they said. I’m writing to everyone I can think of: local officials, the Presidential Administration – I’m planning to contact the prosecutor’s office now. I have a small child; we can’t live in a place like this.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Activists tell me that the miners were slightly cheered by the news of the two pit sales, but not many people believe that the mines will reopen and there will be jobs again</p><p dir="ltr">For a short time, the authorities tried to offer the miners work, but it was usually unsuitable and in other towns. Many such offers were sent to Tatyana Avacheva, as an active initiative group member. She was offered work underground, and as a technician and warehouse clerk in regions all over Russia, from Kuban to Kamchatka – in an attempt, she believes, to stop her protest activities. Staff from the local job centre would even turn up to watch her picketing.</p><p dir="ltr">“My husband has been offered absolutely absurd work – as a seamstress in a clothing factory, for example,” says Irina Litvinova. “Or a job in a fish processing factory in Novoshakhtinsk, 40km from Gukovo. They came every day; everyone got fed up with it. We asked one of them what age of person they were looking for, and they said, ‘under 40’. Well, we said, you won’t find anyone of that age here: we’re mostly pensioners. It was all part of a general attempt to stop us protesting, but it didn’t work.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Life without the mines</h2><p dir="ltr">Practically every business in Gukovo worked for the mines in one way or another, which is why there is now a 100% unemployment rate. Young people move away: some work on a long rotation system, interspersing a few weeks or months earning money in Moscow, Yakutia or Norilsk with a similar period back home. But there is practically no work available for people over 40 (and most of the ex miners fall into this category).</p><p dir="ltr">“I managed, after a lot of effort, to get a security job at 10,000 roubles (£118) a month (average monthly wages in Gukovo are 12,000 roubles, while an average miner’s wage is 20,000 roubles (£237) and higher)”, Nikolai Posokhin tells me. “Plus, I have my pension. I have two daughters with children; their husbands have both gone off to earn money elsewhere, and I help them as much as I can. I’m still owed about 100,000 roubles (£1185). I got injured down the mine in the 2000s, a tunnel fell in on me, so they also owe me compensation for that as well, but I’m still waiting for it.”</p><p dir="ltr">“I earn 15,000-16,000 roubles (£180-190) a month as a mechanic at the Krasnosulin chicken factory; I used to earn twice that when I worked underground for 10 years at the Rostov mine,” says Igor Litvinov. “I have a wife and a small child, and we survive on very little money. Fortunately, our parents are still around and help us out. Here, like everywhere in Russia, prices are going up but wages are frozen. I had real problems finding a job here – I searched all over the town. I’m also an electrical fitter and take appliances home to mend, which gives me a bit more cash.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ работник шахты «Алмазная» Александр Ильянов copy.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ работник шахты «Алмазная» Александр Ильянов copy.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Aleksander Ilyanov, Former employee of the Almaz mine. Photo: Evgeny Kosivtsov. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Pensioner Aleksandr Ilyanov worked at the Almaz mine for 19 years. He lives in the village of Yasny, near Gukovo: there is no public transport there, and he used to cycle to work in the summer and walk the seven kilometres in the winter. He has received just half of the money owed to him, and is still owed 200,000 roubles (£2370).</p><p dir="ltr">“My wife had a stroke at the end of last year and is in hospital now,” Ilyanov tells me. “I’m up to my ears in debt: I have to borrow from a neighbour as I’ve only got a pension of 16,000 roubles a month (£190) and up to 7,000 roubles can go on medication alone in a week. I live in a house with a stove, and barely survived the winter: I had hardly any good coal left and had to cut some wood. It was cold. I’d like to refurbish my house, but I don’t have the money, and recently my back was hurting so badly that I wept. It’s a miner’s condition, you know what I mean. But I don’t have any money for medicines.”</p><p dir="ltr">Many miners have occupational illnesses. They are usually conditions affecting the lungs: silicosis (breathlessness, a dry cough and chest pain), pneumoconiosis (the same plus heart problems, digestive disorders and the risk of pneumonia), bursitis (inflammation around the joints) and so on. Lung cancer is also common.</p><p dir="ltr">“Just think,” says Tatyana Avascheva, “the miners are mostly pensioners; they go on these pickets and get stressed out. They were all ill already, and this endless stress has just exacerbated their poor state of health. Plus, radiation levels in Gukovo are higher than normal. A whole family died recently: first the husband, then the wife, and their 16-year-old son was left an orphan. In two years of picketing, 15 miners of working age have died.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to local residents, the crime level in Gukovo is rising: people have started drinking more, there have been more burglaries. Things are generally pretty depressing. Activists tell me that the miners were slightly cheered by the news of the two pit sales, but not many people believe that the mines will reopen and there will be jobs again. They will, however, continue picketing until their wages are paid. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/diana-karliner/russia-car-industry-avtovaz">Russia’s car industry, where even the dead work overtime </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-yarovaya/protest-in-karelias-paper-town">Protest in Russia&#039;s paper town </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-damber/letter-from-russias-end">Welcome to Gdov, where Russia comes to an end</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/our-city-our-space-ekaterinburg-residents-come-out-against-plans-to-construct-new-church">Our city, our space: Ekaterinburg residents come out against plans to construct a new church</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/faded-glory-ukraines-miners">Undermined: how the state is selling out Ukraine’s coal workers</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-pogrebnyak/they-threw-us-out-on-street-like-dogs-undetermined-fate-of-rostov-on-don-">Life in the ashes: where now for survivors of the Rostov blaze?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-yarovaya/karelia-mining-conflict-russia">Extremists by any another name: how Karelian pensioners fought against a mining company – and won</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Maria Pogrebniak Russia Human rights Fri, 18 May 2018 05:18:49 +0000 Maria Pogrebniak 117925 at https://www.opendemocracy.net No defence in Chechnya: Oyub Titiyev and the grim future of human rights in Russia’s North Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/no-defence-in-chechnya <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The prosecution of a Chechen human rights campaigner is a landmark step in the systematic elimination of civil society under Ramzan Kadyrov. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/checnhya-bez-prava-na-zaschitu" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_Чеченской_Республики,_Герой_России_Рамзан_Ахматович_Кадыров_вручает_Председателю_Парламента_Чечни_Магомед_Даудов.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_Чеченской_Республики,_Герой_России_Рамзан_Ахматович_Кадыров_вручает_Председателю_Парламента_Чечни_Магомед_Даудов.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="340" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ramzan Kadyrov and Magomed Daudov. From Ramzan Kadyrov's Instagram. </span></span></span><span class="blockquote-new">“The whole world knows Ramzan Kadyrov as an effective and decisive defender of human rights, who supports all human rights-oriented institutions in Chechnya... Among those behind the situation that has led to sanctions and the blocking of the Head of the Chechen Republic’s social media accounts are rights defenders working in various ‘centres’ and ‘committees’, as well as ‘journalists’ from the most unscrupulous media who win ‘prestigious prizes’ and ’30 pieces of silver’ in Washington and other western countries for their anti-Russian subversive activities… I think it’s time to dispatch our enemies back to their bosses abroad or remove them from healthy society. If there weren’t a moratorium at present in Russia, it would be Salaam Alaikum to the enemies of the people and that would be the end of it.<span>”</span></span></p><p dir="ltr">This is an extract from a <a href="https://chechnyatoday.com/content/view/309926">statement</a> made in late 2017 by Magomed Daudov, the head of Chechnya’s parliament, one of the most influential people in the republic and Ramzan Kadyrov’s right hand man.</p><p dir="ltr">Daudov’s call did not go unheard: on the first working day of 2018, police officers arrested Oyub Titiyev, head of the Grozny branch of the Memorial Human Rights Centre.</p><h2 dir="ltr">208 grams of pure lies</h2><p dir="ltr">On 9 January, the weather in Grozny was miserable: an overcast morning turned into rain and wet snow that continued into the night. It was the first working day after the New Year celebrations, and people wrapped themselves up in scarves before setting out for work.</p><p dir="ltr">Oyub Titiyev set off for Grozny early. Despite the forecast, Titiyev, who is used to tidiness, cleaned his car inside and out in the yard of his house in the village of Kurchaloy. He left home at about nine o’clock: he had to meet a friend first and then go to the Grozny office of Memorial, which he has headed since 2010.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG-0699.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="338" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oyub Titiyev in court, with legal counsel Pyotr Zaikin in the foreground. Source: Ekaterina Neroznikova. </span></span></span>Titiyev planned to arrive at his office at about 11am, but he hasn’t been at work since that morning. Indeed, he hasn’t been at home or free to go anywhere. As soon as Titiyev left his home, he was stopped by police officers who asked him to show his ID and open the boot of his car, and then they “unexpectedly” found a package of marijuana weighing 208 grammes under his passenger seat.</p><p dir="ltr">The story of Oyub Titiyev’s arrest has been covered in the press extensively. There is absolutely no doubt that the drugs were planted in the car, and that this was done to discredit not only Oyub Titiyev personally but the Memorial organisation in general. The Human Rights Centre is active in the North Caucasus; it’s the only international NGO with an office in Grozny.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">“They have no family, no nation, no religion… all they have is a common interest”</span></p><p dir="ltr">Two days after Oyub Titiyev was arrested, Shalinsk city court remanded him in custody for two months, and on 6 March the Staropromyslovsky district court extended his remand for a further two months. Appeals by lawyers, intercession on behalf of various bodies, not to mention statements by Titiyev himself and blunders by the prosecution were ignored by both the trial and appeal courts.</p><p dir="ltr">In the few weeks since Titiyev’s arrest, Memorial has been subject to a number of attacks: its office in Ingushetia has been burned down; its staff members in Dagestan have been plagued by letters and phone calls threatening physical harm. The Dagestan office driver’s car has been set alight. Oyub’s lawyer and friends have been harassed in Chechnya. The NGO’s office in Grozny was also searched and drugs were found planted on their balcony. Titiyev’s close colleagues and family have had to flee the country.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/img-20180117-wa0002_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Memorial's office in Nazran, Ingushetia, after it an arson attack in January 2018. Source: Memorial.</span></span></span>It is not just independent Russian and international human rights campaigners who have sprung to Oyub Titiyev’s defence: even Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights, has joined in deploring his arrest. Human rights ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalova practically declared her lack of trust in Chechnya’s judicial authorities and asked for Titiyev’s case to be tried outside the republic. The Memorial organisation, meanwhile, has added him to its list of political prisoners.</p><p dir="ltr">But every attempt to defend Titiyev in Chechnya has had the same response from the one person who decides the fate of all Chechens – the republic’s head Ramzan Kadyrov:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“They say that the police have caught a junkie with hashish on him. The UN, and even the US State Department, are up in arms about the arrest of one person from the Kurchaloy district. The police have caught thousands of addicts in Chechnya and no one has given a squeak, but this particular junkie got himself arrested and the whole world noticed. Why haven’t they defended the rights of other addicts? What’s the difference… Surely he could smoke if he wanted to? We arrest people of 60, 70 years old who use drugs. Can’t we arrest him? Of course we can.”</p><p dir="ltr">These words belongs to Ramzan Kadyrov. In his speech on 17 January, Kadyrov didn’t only express his opinion of Tityev (without mentioning him by name), but predicted the fate of all human rights campaigners: “They have no family, no nation, no religion… all they have is a common interest. I am amazed that a person who considers himself a Chechen can work with them. And I’m also amazed that his family don’t stop him. They should know that their work won’t pass in our republic.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">First they throw eggs: what will be next?</h2><p dir="ltr">Oyub Titiyev became head of Memorial’s Chechen team at a difficult moment. His predecessor was Natalya Estemirova, who was abducted from her apartment in Grozny in July 2009, driven to Ingushetia and murdered. Titiyev was then working in Memorial’s office in Gudermes, Chechnya’s second largest town, about 35km east of Grozny, and he was offered her job.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/14570552992_5e4436b67a_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Natalia Estemirova. BY-NC-ND 2.0 Frontline Defenders / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“When Natasha was killed, there was a big question mark over who should be her successor,” says an ex-colleague at Memorial’s Grozny office. “It was an important position, and they tried a few people out before Oyub agreed to take the job. He was a rather stiff person, very calm; he kept his distance from other people and it took us a while to get used to him. But when we started travelling around with him on work trips, we started getting to know him better. He is the kind of person who puts his work above a lot of other things in life. He has a heightened sense of responsibility for his colleagues and has always tried to keep us safe. He never spared himself, worked calmly and quietly and in general didn’t waste words – just got on with it, whatever was happening.”</p><p dir="ltr">The clouds around Memorial started to thicken as the years passed. “In 2014, some thugs in masks broke into the Gudermes office and threw eggs at the people working there,” a former colleague of Titiyev tells me. “There were generally a lot of attacks on human rights campaigners working in Chechnya at that time, and the<a href="http://www.pytkam.net/"> Committee against Torture NGO</a> [headed by Igor Kalyapin] was forced out of the republic. It was a sign that things were getting dangerous. First it’s eggs, but then what? All these women had family members. And in Chechnya, it’s never just a single person that gets hurt – your family isn’t safe either. We are not just responsible for ourselves, you understand. So we decided to close the Gudermes office.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“He was always prepared for the worst. He realised that anything could happen to him at any moment”</p><p dir="ltr">From the start, Oyub showed himself to be a very experienced operator in his field. “He started by passing Natasha [Estemirova] information about war crimes, doing anonymous monitoring. He did this for free, as a civic duty. It was a difficult time, but he went on doing it. He wasn’t afraid of anyone. At that point, disseminating information – telling people what was going on during the second military campaign – was one of the most important things you could do for Chechnya. They were murdering innocent civilians, while claiming to be killing terrorists. Everything was carefully hushed up. Without the help of people like Oyub, a lot of stuff would still not have come to light.”</p><p dir="ltr">Oyub had continual problems, although he didn’t talk about them much. At one point, his family was evacuated abroad, but they couldn’t live outside Chechnya and returned home. Oyub kept receiving warnings, hints that he’d do well to leave his work and leave the republic. Both he and his colleagues were kept under surveillance.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/201801europe_russia_chechnya_titiev_memorial_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The arrest of Oyub Titiev has provoked international outcry. Source: Memorial Human Rights Center.</span></span></span>“He was always prepared for the worst,” says his colleague. “He realised that anything could happen to him at any moment. I think he was psychologically prepared for arrest and prison. In Chechnya, nobody believes the police story’s about drugs. The government has its own fan club, of course, who pretend to believe the official line. But our main source of information isn’t the TV or the pro-government press. It’s Grozny market. Ask anybody there what they think about Oyub – they’ll all tell you he was arrested because he wouldn’t get along with the local administration.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">The elimination of the undesirables</h2><p dir="ltr">Oyub Titiyev’s detention is just one link in a chain of arrests of people who disagreed with the Chechen authorities’s actions. In April 2016, Jalaudi Geriyev, a young journalist working for the Caucasian Knot online news site was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/disappearing-journalists-of-north-caucasus">kidnapped, tortured and then arrested</a>. He was in a minibus on his way to the airport, due to fly to Moscow and with nothing on him but a small backpack, when he was dragged out of the bus under the eyes of the other passengers and driven off to an unknown destination. The police later claimed that his arrest was accidental – supposedly he was caught smoking hashish in a Grozny cemetery.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/20140912_160101.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/20140912_160101.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zhalavdi Geriyev in Itum‐Kali, Chechnya in September 2014. Image: Dominik Cagara</span></span></span>In September 2016, Geriyev was sentenced to three years in a prison colony, convicted of possession of a particularly large quantity of narcotics. Oyub Titiyev will be tried for the same crime 18 months later. The supposed proof of Geriyev’s guilt was the packet of marijuana found in either his backpack or his flat – the investigators came up with both explanations at various times – and the weight of the packet was suspiciously similar to the one being used to incriminate Titiyev.</p><p dir="ltr">Geriyev’s defence team appealed to every possible body and lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), but to no avail. Jalaudi Geriyev, who has been recognised as a political prisoner, is currently serving his sentence in a prison colony in Chernokozovo.</p><p dir="ltr">In December 2017, another Chechen political prisoner, the head of the Caucasus Peoples’ Assembly Ruslan Kutayev, was released from the same prison after serving three years and ten months. Kutayev was convicted under the same article of the Criminal Code, but charged with possession of a different drug. In 2014, when he was arrested, heroin was the substance of choice for planting on undesirables. Three grammes of the stuff were found on him, a sufficient quantity for a more serious charge, hence the longer sentence. Kutayev was arrested on the day after he chaired a round table that discussed whether or not to move the celebration of Fatherland Defender’s Day from 23 February to 10 May, 23 February being a day of mourning for Chechens in memory of their<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deportation_of_the_Chechens_and_Ingush"> mass deportation to Central Asia</a> on that date in 1944. At such discussions, Kutayev always reminded participants of this tragedy, despite the Chechen government’s ban on discussing it.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">“I am pretty sure that Oyub’s defence will get nowhere. The judges will carry out their instructions”</span></p><p dir="ltr">Kutayev is now living on probation in Ivanovo, a Russian city northeast of Moscow and the place where he is officially registered, and will be required to remain there for a year after his release from jail. Afterwards, he plans to return to Chechnya and continue his activities there.</p><p dir="ltr">Kutayev knows Oyub Titiyev to be a principled and honest person, but holds little hope that the judicial system of which himself has been a victim will act differently in Titiyev’s case. “I am pretty sure that Oyub’s defence will get nowhere,” he tells me. “The judges will carry out their instructions. Putin gave the Chechen government carte blanche to do what they like with their people, and has done nothing to change that arrangement. It still exists, and they do as they like. Wherever a Chechen might be – in Germany, the US or the bottom of the Pacific Ocean – they still have the power to do as they like with them.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Kutaev_colour [from YouTube].png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="339" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In 2014, Ruslan Kutayev was <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maria-klimova/ruslan-kutayev-chechen-human-rights-activist>sentenced to four years in prison</a> on drugs charges. Photo CC: youtube </span></span></span>According to Ruslan Kutayev, in the years when he was active in public life, working conditions were even worse than they are now. “Who said that we had permission to do what we did? Who said we were allowed to do it?” he asks. “We did everything in spite of them, the Chechen government, and they were sitting pretty. Now we have oppositionists like Alexey Navalny, Igor Kalyapin [Committee to Prevent Torture], Pyotr Zaikin [Tityev’s lawyer] and Elena Milashina [journalist for Novaya Gazeta] writing and talking about all this. But back then, there was no information coming out of Chechnya: anyone who did anything the government didn’t like was on their own against these people. So they weren’t scared, then. But at my trial we saw a crack appear in the inviolability of the Kadyrov regime.”</p><p dir="ltr">Igor Kalyapin, a member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and Chair of the Committee against Torture and one of the people mentioned by Kutayev, does actively monitor things happening in Chechnya, but can’t engage in human rights campaigning in the republic. In 2016, he was <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/03/17/russia-rights-defender-attacked-chechnya">assaulted</a> at the entrance of the 5-Star Grozny City Hotel, where “local residents” threw eggs and flour and poured green dye over him.</p><p dir="ltr">The Committee against Torture was one of the few organisations whose work in Chechnya was based on “mobile groups” of lawyers, human rights activists and journalists. Members came from various regions and would travel to wherever their services were required at a given moment. A few days before Kalyapin’s last visit to Grozny, one such group was subjected to a violent attack when the minibus in which they were travelling to Chechnya from Ingushetia (with some foreign journalists on board) was stopped by an unidentified group of people. The travellers were dragged out onto the road and threatened and beaten, and their minibus was set alight.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/4b4258527_3575506.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/4b4258527_3575506.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Igor Kalyapin, Committee to Prevent Torture, was attacked in Grozny in March 2016. Source: Twitter.com/Moskvychova.</span></span></span>Despite the attack being caught on tape (MediaZona journalist <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/yegor-skovoroda">Yegor Skovoroda</a> managed to switch on his dictaphone) and the evidence of its victims, the attackers have still not been found. Kalyapin himself has stated more than once that the raiders came from the Chechen side of the border.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The apotheosis of terror</h2><p dir="ltr">Oleg Orlov runs Memorial’s “Hot spots” programme, and coordinates the human right centre’s work in the North Caucasus. Orlov’s first trip to Chechnya was in 1994, before the First Chechen War, when he travelled with<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Kovalev"> Sergey Kovalyov</a>, who was then Russia’s ombudsperson and head of the President’s Human Rights Commission. President Boris Yeltsin had commissioned Kovalyov to observe the return of refugees who had been displaced by the short-lived<a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-ingushetia-north-ossetia-prigorodny-dispute-poisons-relations/29023492.html"> Ossetian-Ingush Conflict</a> of late 1992.</p><p dir="ltr">“When we had finished our main task, we dipped into Chechnya and discovered the horrific lack of rule of law there: bandits were attacking the Russian speaking population, taking advantage of the fact that the government of the de-facto independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria wasn’t stopping them,” Orlov recalls. “We passed all the information we collected to Yeltsin, although it wasn’t used because war broke out soon afterwards. But Memorial has had a presence in Chechnya ever since”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/4689828175_a8ccbfe304_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/4689828175_a8ccbfe304_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Grozny, 1995. Photo CC BY-NC 2.0: Vladimir Varfolomeev/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Orlov was part of Kovalyov’s observer group, representing Memorial, from the start of the war in December 1994. He tells me about the time when Memorial was setting up its network in the Caucasus: how it began by opening an office in Ingushetia, from where it could be engaged with what was going on in Chechnya. Later, the organisation had offices in Chechnya itself: in Sernovodsk, Urus-Martan, Gudermes as well as Grozny. He recalls Natasha Estemirova working with Memorial from the day it opened its office in Ingushetia.</p><p dir="ltr">“We were constantly getting information about torture and the destruction of towns and villages,” he tells me. “We tried to publicise every instance of human rights infringement that we heard about. It was hard, both psychologically and physically – a lot of places were inaccessible because of the fighting.” Natalya Estemirova would get caught in gunfire in the centre of Grozny itself at that time.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“It wasn’t, of course, easy to discover how and where people died, and now it’s simply impossible. Let alone trying to find the people responsible for the killings”</p><p dir="ltr">“On the other hand, what made our work easier was the fact that the people in towns and villages would tell us a lot about what was happening, so we could collect objective information from the most important source – ordinary people” says Orlov. “It wasn’t, of course, easy to discover how and where people died, and now it’s simply impossible. Let alone trying to find the people responsible for the killings. We could count our successes in that respect on the fingers of one hand.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Orlov, the situation changed dramatically in 2009. People became less talkative. They became increasingly afraid of being victimised. And Natalya Estemirova was assassinated in that same year. “That was a terrible tragedy for us. Natasha was very important to us, a fantastic worker and close friend,” he tells me. “She was murdered because they needed to halt the active human rights work that she was at the heart of.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG-0388.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oleg Orlov (centre), together with Grigory Yavlinsky and Svetlana Gannushkina, at a recent hearing for Oyub Titiyev. Source: Ekaterina Neroznikova. </span></span></span>Now it’s not just the tragedies of their neighbours that people don’t want to talk about, says Orlov: they’re afraid to mention the harassment faced by their own family members. “Ten years ago it would have been impossible to imagine such a thing. What we see now is the apotheosis of fear. You can’t conceive of how it could get any worse.”</p><p dir="ltr">Chechnya’s human rights community used to look quite different. There was a whole network of organisations that would discuss the various issues and take a collective approach to the authorities. “We weren’t alone in Chechnya: there was a functioning civil society there,” Orlov goes on. “But gradually, a lot of organisations either closed down completely or remained just on paper. I can understand them: it’s awful working in the conditions we have today. Ruslan Kutayev, for example, only ended up behind bars because he organised a conference that wasn’t sanctioned by the powers that be. He was charged with possession of narcotics, and now they’re trying to pin the same charge on Oyub Titiyev. But what’s worse is when human rights campaigners are ‘born again’. Look at Kheda Saratova’s Obyektiv [Lens] organisation. She used to be a great friend of Natalya Estemirova, and actively worked with us. But now what has that turned into? A pro-Kadyrov propaganda machine.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“We don’t know what will happen in a few years time. We may remember 2018 as a year when we still had a certain freedom of action”</p><p dir="ltr">The whole of Chechnya changed soon after the end of the war. Towns were rebuilt, power was consolidated, civil society was more or less wiped out. “People were broken by the regime set up by Ramzan Kadyrov, in which he has almost absolute power. His power is so extensive that no one is left unaffected by it. The principle of collective responsibility that is universal in the republic creates an atmosphere of mindless terror. Whole families are made to pay for the actions of their relatives. Any criticism of the government, however mild, is severely punished, with especially close surveillance reserved for social media. Kadyrov’s regime is not just authoritarian, it is totalitarian. Chechnya’s political, social, economic and religious life has long since been subject to absolute control, including the everyday private life of the republic’s residents. In 2016, the Committee against Torture was literally thrown out of Chechnya. Violent assaults and raids on the offices of organisations that don’t toe the line have become the norm. And now it’s Memorial’s turn.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img-0400_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img-0400_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Titiyev's trial in Grozny. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Orlov sees little distinction in this respect between Chechnya and Russia as a whole – whatever happens in the republic is just a symptom of the disease afflicting all of Russian society. “NGOs are being squeezed all over the country. We are accused of selling Russia’s interests, and called foreign agents. Chechnya just takes it all to extremes. And we don’t know what will happen in a few years time. We may remember 2018 as a year when we still had a certain freedom of action.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Removing the traces</h2><p dir="ltr">Oyub Titiyev’s case has gone quiet; his next court session will be on the eve of 9 May, Victory Day. His defence team is not optimistic: the chances are that his time in pre-trial custody will be extended, after which they will start preparing to deliver his sentence. There is practically no hope of an acquittal – only 0.4% of people who come to trial are declared innocent.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Grozny’s TV station is busy filming wonderful stories about how Chechnya is flourishing – about the stability and security provided by the rule of Ramzan Kadyrov. On the screens, Kadyrov smiles modestly in response and promises never to let his motherland fall into the hands of foreign agents, as people who disagree with his government are generally known.</p><p dir="ltr">Fashionably dressed young ladies stroll through the centre of Grozny, and young men sit in cafés drinking tea and laughing happily as they look at someone’s Instagram account. The house in the village of Kurchaloy where we last watched our human rights activist washing his car will soon be no more: Titiyev’s house and the 38 others beside it are to be demolished and replaced with a shopping centre.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-klimova-egor-skovoroda/how-ingushetia-got-rid-of-its-independent-media">How Ingushetia&#039;s independent media and opposition were harassed, exiled and murdered out of existence</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/disappearing-journalists-of-north-caucasus">The disappearing journalists of the North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tamara-grigoreva-ismail-djalilov/new-era-of-crimes-against-humanity-in-eurasia">A new era of crimes against humanity in Eurasia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslayev/soviet-deportation-chechnya-akhmed-tsebiyev">One Chechen man’s quest for a real education</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/the-chechen-watcher%20">The Chechen watcher</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/chechnya-dead-europeans-are-only-news-sometimes">Chechnya: dead Europeans are only sometimes news</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ekaterina Neroznikova Human rights Caucasus Thu, 12 Apr 2018 12:15:45 +0000 Ekaterina Neroznikova 117230 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Lights in the distance https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/lights-in-the-distance <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A new book on migration processes in the European Union foregrounds human stories, militarising borders and Europe’s new racism. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vitaliy-atanasov/ogni-vdaleke" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-30004563_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>People walk through the centre of Lesbos, Greece. (c) Owen Humphreys PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>British journalist Daniel Trilling, who won the <a href="http://www.migration-media-award.eu/en/winners/94-english/winners-en/print/148-daniel-trilling">2017 Migration Media award</a>, is known for his work on refugees, European borders and migration systems. Trilling’s new book <a href="https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/daniel-trilling/lights-in-the-distance"><em>Lights in the Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe</em></a> is devoted to stories of people searching for asylum and shelter in the European Union.</p><p dir="ltr">I spoke to him about his new book, media coverage and a changing Europe via email.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In 2015, the topic of refugees became one of the key issues for European media and politicians. You, as far as I know, have been writing about refugees long before that. When did you first take up this topic and what was your first material about the stories of asylum seekers?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">In 2012, I visited Athens to research a piece about the growth of the far-right – which was my main interest at the time. During my visit I went to interview a group of Afghan refugees who had been targeted by neo-Nazi violence and I was really shocked by what I found. In theory they were free, living in private accommodation in a city neighbourhood, but in reality they were completely trapped: not only by the threat of attack by Golden Dawn, but also by police violence, a dysfunctional Greek asylum process, and an EU border system that tries to control the movement of refugees. I became interested in how this wider system operated, and the effect it had on the lives of the people who encountered it, so I started travelling to different parts of the EU – or to neighbouring countries such as Ukraine and Turkey – to meet refugees and other migrants, then following their journeys. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The EU spends a lot of money in order to fence its borders from refugees in the last decade. What the recent so-called “refugee crisis” has changed – what obstacles do asylum seekers face now?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">After a period of political hesitation in 2015 – roughly speaking, between the two shipwrecks off the coast of Libya in April, which provoked panic among European leaders, and the Paris attacks of November, which shifted the focus of debate from humanitarian to security concerns – the EU has sought to restore the old system, in which as many asylum-seekers as possible are prevented from reaching its borders, and as many as possible of those who do are contained in the southern and eastern European member states. </p><p dir="ltr">This involves a further militarisation of the old system: since 2012, border fences and surveillance networks have been built or extended in Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary and elsewhere, while security patrols have been extended in the Mediterranean. Inside the EU there has been a growth in the use of remote camps and detention centres (particularly in Greece and Hungary), the introduction of racialised police controls at internal Schengen borders (for instance, on the border between France and Italy) and the criminalisation of European citizens who help asylum-seekers continue their journeys. The EU has also been outsourcing border control to states further afield: a deal with Turkey that lowered the number of Syrians and other refugees crossing the Aegean Sea in early 2016 has been followed by attempts to strike similar deals, or invest in border control, or pressure countries to accept deported failed asylum seekers, in various parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/30662554684_421efdece3_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/30662554684_421efdece3_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>It is pointless to put fences in order to separate from refugees. Photo: CC BY 2.0: Meabh Smith/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>This is having three important effects. First, it's undermining the principles of international refugee protection established by the UN convention of 1951, which are that refugees should not be punished for trying to cross a border without permission, that they should not be pushed back to unsafe countries and that people should be treated as individuals. Second, it's creating further violence and instability in countries outside the EU, most of all Libya, where a European effort to discourage sea rescues and to turn back smuggler boats has trapped thousands of migrants in detention centres where they are abused, tortured and in some cases enslaved. A a recent Italian attempt to pay Libyan smuggler gangs to stop sending migrants to sea has also fuelled fighting between rival militias. Third, it has reinforced divisions within Europe: between migrants and parts of the population who fear their arrival; between the state and people who form migrant solidarity networks. </p><p dir="ltr">I've written about this, and what it tells us about how borders work globally, at greater length <a href="https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n14/daniel-trilling/should-we-build-a-wall-around-north-wales">here</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Migrants and refugees have always been the subject of speculation and the fomenting of fears by the tabloids and yellow press. During the last crisis, it just happened again, or did something new appear in how conservative media react to the refugee issue?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">You’ll have to forgive me for talking in very general terms, because I can’t follow media coverage in every European country, in every European language – but I think the media coverage of the refugee crisis was, above all, fragmented. You had a single crisis of European border policy, with flashpoints in different places at different times: the central Mediterranean, the Aegean Sea, the Greek Islands, southern Italy, the Balkans, Germany, France etc. </p><p dir="ltr">Each time a new situation arose you saw the news media rushing towards it, producing material that was very immediate and vivid. If a media outlet wanted to evoke sympathy, then it would convey human need and desperation. If an outlet wanted to evoke hostility, it would convey chaos and anger or violence. Often we saw both at once.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">A well-meaning stereotype of the refugee as innocent child – although of course, there are vulnerable children who do need help – can cause damage too</p><p dir="ltr">But the coverage often failed to join up the dots; to show that refugees were being forced onto one route because of the closure of another. For example, one reason people crossed from Turkey to Greece by sea in 2015, and not across the land border, is that the land border had been sealed in 2012. There was also a longer-term pattern of EU countries shutting off legal and safe routes to asylum, such as claiming asylum at overseas embassies. Without this kind of context, a lot of the media coverage – even well-meaning coverage – gave the impression of a unstoppable and unprecedented tide of refugees, seemingly coming out of nowhere. In my opinion, the way out of this is for journalists not only to provide adequate context, but to think of people on the move as individuals with political agency, who are trying to take control of their own lives. A well-meaning stereotype of the refugee as innocent child – although of course, there are vulnerable children who do need help – can cause damage too. </p><p dir="ltr">You’re right that migrants and refugees have always been a focus of racist media coverage, and this has certainly been present in the last few years. This involves the familiar tropes of invasion by foreigners, a “clash of civilisations” between Islam and the west, and the allegedly savage or sexually deviant or uncultured behaviour of migrants. What’s new I think is how these have joined up to form a new, specifically European racism, which sits above its various national forms. Benedict Anderson described nations as “imagined communities”; the European Union is another kind of imagined community – both shaping and shaped by realities on the ground. </p><p dir="ltr">The EU has created this external border that divides it from the rest of the world; and so the people who cross that border without permission are cast by some as a threat to the EU project, and to pan-European identity. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How big is the difference in how the media in different countries covered the topic of refugees?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Some of the broad themes I described above have been similar across Europe, from what I’ve seen. But what interests me is how they are put to different political ends. Take, for example, this <a href="http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2015/10/23/15/2DB32A3B00000578-3286365-image-m-99_1445611105381.jpg">famous photo of refugees being led through Slovenia</a> by police in October 2015.</p><p dir="ltr">To a Merkel-supporting outlet in Germany, this might be evidence that Europe needed to act together to help accommodate refugees (or at least, the Syrians among them). To a pro-Orban outlet in Hungary, it might show why “Christian” Europe needed to build fences to defend its civilisation from Muslim outsiders. In Britain, the image was <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36570759">used</a> by the far-right UK Independence Party for a pro-Brexit poster during the 2016 referendum campaign, suggesting that the ultimate problem was not refugees but the EU itself. In the context of the UKIP poster, people <a href="https://www.newstatesman.com/2016/06/nigel-farage-s-anti-eu-poster-depicting-migrants-resembles-nazi-propaganda">noted the similarity of the image to a Nazi propaganda film</a> about Jewish refugees before the Second World War – but that was probably the opposite of what the original photographer intended. </p><p dir="ltr">Media will use the same basic ingredients for very different ends, which is why it’s important to pay attention to how stories are constructed and what context they are presented in. </p><p dir="ltr">For further reading, the Ethical Journalism Network <a href="http://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/press-release-migration-global-report-on-journalism-s-biggest-test-in-2015">published a study</a> of how European and international media covered the 2015 refugee crisis and identified some of the main problems. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Your new book will be released in the spring of 2018. What is the main focus of this work?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The book is a portrait of the EU's border system, seen through the eyes of asylum-seekers who encountered it. I followed a dozen or so different people, from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, over several years and the book tells their stories in detail. It also has a chapter on Ukraine, briefly comparing the journey some of my family took in 1920 – they left Kiev for Berlin during the civil war, and then Berlin for London in 1939 – with journeys taken by Somali refugees and Ukrainian IDPs today.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do you think that the “refugee crisis”" was used by the Russian ruling class and the media under its control in order to weaken Europe and help strengthen the nationalists and right-wing radicals? Or is this just another conspiracy?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Some of the commentary has been pure conspiracy theory. The claim by a Nato chief in 2016 that Putin was “weaponising” the refugee crisis to “break” Europe – a claim echoed elsewhere – I thought was nonsense. This gives Russia a kind of power it doesn’t possess: Russia is relatively weak, which is why it has covertly provoked and participated in a war to destabilise Ukraine, and why it brutally reinforces a shell of a regime in Syria. This analysis also misses the role of European border policy, which forces refugees to take increasingly dangerous and chaotic routes, in creating the refugee crisis. And it misses the role of western powers in other conflicts: Syrians make up about half the asylum-seekers who have come to Europe in recent years but there have also been significant numbers from Iraq and Afghanistan, and many people from different parts of Africa who have come to Europe via the chaos in Libya. </p><p dir="ltr">Nonetheless it is clear that groups within Russia, at least some of them linked to the Kremlin, have sought to exacerbate social tensions and give support to far-right, anti-immigrant movements in a number of European countries. One recent example is this <a href="http://www.lse.ac.uk/iga/assets/documents/arena/2017/Press-Release-September-2017-%E2%80%93-Initial-Analysis-of-Influence-Operations-in-German-Elections.pdf">study</a> by the London School of Economics, which shows that pro-Russian groups sought to promote the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in the run-up to this years German parliamentary elections. Last year it was revealed that France’s Front National received a loan from a Russian bank. Russian media has at times spread rumours about the threatening behaviour of refugees in Europe, such as this claim of rape by a Russian-German girl in Berlin, which <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/how-operation-liza-failed">subsequently turned out to be untrue</a>. And more broadly, the international network Russia Today offers a platform to European far-right voices, as well as some from the left, in such a way that it makes Europe seem as if it’s riven by intractable social conflict. (Spoiler: it’s not, and it’s within our power to overcome our divisions.)</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/27196808296_cdea7072f2_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/27196808296_cdea7072f2_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Often refugees have to choose the most dangerous sea routes, because the way overland for them is closed. Photo CC BY-NC 2.0: Brainbitch/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>But racism and nationalism begin at home. Russia's ruling class may well see its interests in promoting reactionary nationalist views to stir up hostility towards migrants in Europe. But it cannot create these things out of nothing. The growth of European far-right parties stems from a crisis in political representation, where the mainstream left and right have, to varying degrees, accepted neoliberal ideology – market values are the values by which we run society; the state is not there to build, only to clean up the mess – and have tried to shut out the alternatives. </p><p dir="ltr">When far-right movements have challenged this by appealing to nationalist or racist sentiment, their flames often fanned by reactionary media coverage, the mainstream parties have tended to try and co-opt this message rather than stand firm against it. Nationalism is the glue that elites use to try and keep deeply unequal and unfair societies stuck together. That's a problem we all have to face and we can't blame it all on Russia.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How did Europe change after these events? Do the media keep interest in asylum seekers?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Asylum and migration is a constant topic of interest for European media, but it's largely returned to a background hum for now. As for how Europe has changed? Well, it's too early to tell... the number of refugees who arrived in 2015 is relatively small – less than a million, in an EU of 508 million people – but the manner of their arrival was chaotic and there are big questions about how we can provide for one another, live together, make stronger societies. </p><p dir="ltr">These aren't just questions about refugees and "natives"; they also apply to communities hurt by austerity policies, or by long-term economic inequality and deindustrialisation. Can we build on the networks that form in response to a crisis? Can we convince people who are sceptical, or actively hostile, that we have shared interests? A healthy media would help us discuss these questions. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/the-chechen-watcher%20">The Chechen watcher</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/syrian-refugees-in-russia">Syrian refugees in Russia have to fight for their rights</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/how-operation-liza-failed">How “Operation Liza” failed</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors-tatiana-golova/russian-germans-and-surprising-rise-of-afd-germany">Russian-Germans and the surprising rise of the AfD</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland">Second-hand Europe: Ukrainian immigrants in Poland</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Can Europe make it? oD Russia Vitalii Atanasov Migration matters Human rights Tue, 10 Apr 2018 10:59:41 +0000 Vitalii Atanasov 117153 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How Russia and Uzbekistan cooperate on the kidnap trail to Central Asia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/how-russia-and-uzbekistan-cooperate-on-the-kidnap-trail <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>People leave Uzbekistan seeking safety and work in Russia. But what they find is prosecution and abduction.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_3083235.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_3083235.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="261" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The detainee of the FSB of the Russian Federation in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is a supporter of the international terrorist organization “Islamic State” banned on the territory of the Russian Federation. Still image from video, provided by the DSP FSB. Photo: RIA News. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In the last six years, the number of people charged with extremism offences in Russia has <a href="https://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2016/05/04_a_8211929.shtml">risen more than three-fold</a>. Many of them have migrated from Uzbekistan, seeking safety in Russia from poverty and political persecution. </p><p dir="ltr">The Russian judicial system, however, has no intention of offering them protection. On the contrary, it fabricates terrorist and religious extremism charges against them and hands them back to the Uzbek security services, in circumvention of all international agreements.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A flight from death</h2><p dir="ltr">The story of Tatyana and Bakhodir Karimov doesn’t just illustrate the indifference of the Russian judicial system, but demonstrates the complicity between the Russian and Uzbek Special Services.</p><p dir="ltr">Tanya and Bakhodir met in 2010 in Samara, in southwest Russia, where Bakhodir arrived six months before he met his future wife. Migrating was not his own idea: “I grew up in an educated family: there were five doctors among my brothers and sisters,” he tells me. “I was the eighth child. The authorities have been harassing my family since 1996. My brothers were unwilling to take part in the cotton harvest. It’s no secret that there is forced labour in Uzbekistan.”</p><p dir="ltr">Bakhodir’s brothers consistently opposed the forced labour system and refused to allow their medical subordinates to work in the cotton fields. In 1999, the regime of Islam Karimov started widespread repressions against opponents of the government. Members of Bakhodir’s family were placed on a blacklist.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_karimovy_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_karimovy_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chronicles of a family tragedy: photographs of Tanya and Bahodir Karimov. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>“I was arrested along with my two brothers on 25 March 1999, I was 15 at the time. They were set up on a charge of undermining the constitutional system, the usual story in Uzbekistan. They were tortured to force them to sign confessions. I was beaten half to death and dumped in front of our door. They thought I would die so they let me go.”</p><p dir="ltr">Bakhodir’s brothers were tried without access to lawyers – the people their family found to defend them were too intimidated to work on the case. A month later, yet another brother was sent to prison, for trying to get a fair investigation.</p><p dir="ltr">“I was constantly summoned for questioning and badly beaten,” Bakhodir tells me. “Their methods were medieval. You’d be undressed, thrown in a cellar, beaten, hung up from the ceiling. They would often break into our house at night, and they would say: ‘Why don’t you just kill yourself, and save us the trouble?’”</p><p dir="ltr">“Sometimes I really dreamed about dying. This lasted for six years, until my mother made me leave the country. In 2005 I moved to Ekaterinburg, and from there to Samara.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">An unwelcome wedding</h2><p dir="ltr">Bakhodir and Tanya lived together quietly until December 2013. The only problem was that they couldn’t get officially married; Bakhodir needed a certificate from Uzbekistan to prove that he wasn’t already married. “My brother got hold of a certificate with great trouble, so we could finally marry. But then the authorities remembered I exist.”</p><p dir="ltr">Tanya and Bakhodir were married in early October 2013, but on 31 October, less than a month later, a criminal charge was filed against him in Uzbekistan. The crime, of “undermining the constitutional system of Uzbekistan”, was supposed to have taken place in 2009, when Bakhodir was in Russia, but it took four years to find a witness to it. “One day we were travelling by train together. This is how it’s done: they put a person’s name through the databases, and then they select witnesses among the people sitting next to them in the plane, train or bus. I don’t know how they lean on the other passengers, but they are definitely forced into giving evidence.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 15.17.38.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 15.17.38.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bakhodir and Tatyana Karimov. Source: Refugee.ru. </span></span></span>Tanya remembers how they were on their way to Uzbekistan, to celebrate New Year and meet her husband’s family, but his mother rang to warn them not to come. They soon discovered that Bakhodir was facing extradition. Remembering what had happened to his brothers, the couple began to look for lawyers and called on the human rights campaigners at<a href="http://refugee.ru/"> “CivicAssistance”</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">In March 2014, the Karimovs approached the Samara Federal Migration Service, asking them to offer Bakhodir asylum in Russia. “We went to speak to them together,” says Tanya, “and told them about the persecution he had faced back home. The person in the office checked my husband’s ID documents and assured us that there were no charges against him, so there were no grounds for an asylum request. But he was lying – my husband had already been on the wanted list for four months.”</p><p dir="ltr">On 10 June, Bakhodir was arrested right in the migration service offices, where he had come to extend his work permit. An investigator told him to his face that a security team was already on the way from Uzbekistan to arrest him.</p><p dir="ltr">A Russian court ruled that Bakhodir should be detained and he spent seven months and ten days in pre-trial detention. In the end, the extradition was dropped after a check on him failed to unearth any irregularities. The Karimovs believe he was just lucky.</p><p dir="ltr">On 19 January 2015, Bakhodir was released. There was a car waiting practically outside the detention centre door. “We immediately realised that this was not good,” Tanya tells me. “We called friends to help us, surrounded Bakhodir and sat him in the car in such a way that it was captured on CCTV. The police car trailed us right across town, and we were so scared! I even threw my phone out of the car from fright.”</p><p dir="ltr">While he was detained, Bakhodir re-applied for asylum, and was turned down again. He was even refused temporary residence; his temporary registration and work permit weren’t extended – Tanya’s husband had become an illegal immigrant. All this time he was also receiving threats. In the end he stopped going out, even to local shops.</p><p dir="ltr">“In 2016 we applied yet again for temporary asylum,” Tanya continues. “I was pregnant at the time. The woman who accepted our application forms at the Migration Service was sure that we wouldn’t be turned down, especially given that we were expecting a child.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Karimovs started getting calls from the migration service at the end of December 2016, when Tanya was six months pregnant, and her husband began to be summoned again for “chats”. In January, Tanya went there alone, with a power of attorney: it was too risky for Bakhodir to go.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Thanks to those people, we lost our child and I nearly died”</p><p dir="ltr">“When I turned up at the migration service, two big Slavic-looking men were waiting for me,” Tanya tells me. “A police officer approached me and asked me into an office. I was threatened and accused of harbouring my husband, who was living in Russia illegally. The conversation was conducted in raised voices, and at the end a statement was drawn up. It was terrifying: my head was spinning and I felt sick. They kept me, a pregnant woman, trapped in an airless office for two hours, and I went home in a state of utter terror.”</p><p dir="ltr">Tanya can’t talk any further, tears are welling up in her eyes. Bakhodir gives her some water. He tells me that his mother-in-law gave her camomile tea, took her blood pressure and tried to calm her down. “But during the night of 31 January-1 February we called an ambulance. Her blood pressure was very high. The baby couldn’t get enough oxygen and suffocated.”</p><p dir="ltr">“My baby died, and I was in a coma for three days. My kidneys packed in. Thanks to those people, we lost our child and I almost died. I just hate them now,” says Tanya.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Russia is a prison</h2><p dir="ltr">In May, Bakhodir was given refugee status after a private meeting with an official from the UN Refugee Agency. A third country was found that would accept the Karimovs. But here the couple encountered a new legal hitch: Russia won’t allow Uzbek citizens to cross its border without an exit visa, which they can only acquire in their home country. This is a condition of the border agreement between Russia and Uzbekistan.</p><p dir="ltr">With help from the human rights specialists, Bakhodir received a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_laissez-passer">laissez-passer</a> travel document and the UN Refugee Agency sent an official request to Russia’s Foreign Ministry to allow him to leave the country. There was no response for five months. “I was in danger all that time,” he says. “People fleeing from Uzbekistan are often abducted in Russia. And at home, they are, at best, given long prison sentences and, at worst, carried out in coffins.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Russia won’t allow Uzbek citizens to cross its border without an exit visa, which they can only acquire in their home country</p><p dir="ltr">The Karimovs have now been able to leave Russia. The couple have emigrated to an EU country and are hoping to make a new start with a clean slate.</p><p dir="ltr">“Our family in Uzbekistan are still called ‘enemies of the people’,” Bakhodir tells me. “They lead my mother, who is in her seventies, into the middle of the street, gather all the neighbours and condemn her in public. ‘You’ve brought up enemies of the people,’ they say. Even my sister’s underage children get summoned for questioning. They said that things would be different under Shavkat Mirziyoyev [who became president of Uzbekistan in 2016]. But we’ve heard from friends that nothing has changed. Law enforcement still patrol the streets, hunting for enemies and putting pressure on family members. In Uzbekistan, people are treated worse than cattle. And those who try to stand up for their rights pay dearly for it. It’s better to be an insect than to live there.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">A shameful agreement</h2><p dir="ltr">Svetlana Gannushkina, who heads Civil Assistance, knows the Karimovs well: she advised the couple on safety issues and helped them fight for the right to leave Russia. She tells me that the visa problem faced by Uzbek nationals in Russia goes back to 2000, when the two countries signed a bilateral agreement about rules for moving from one country to the other. The document stated that the two sides would observe procedures as recognised in the two signatory states. In other words, Russia would permit Uzbek citizens to leave their country under Uzbek rules, and Uzbekistan would permit Russians to leave Russia under Russian rules.</p><p dir="ltr">It all sounds quite innocuous, but Russia has in fact become a trap for Uzbeks, as Gannushkina explains: “Russia’s constitution states that ‘Any citizen has the freedom to leave Russia’. In other words, the Russo-Uzbek agreement places no restrictions on the movement of Russian citizens. But under Uzbek law, for an Uzbek citizen to travel outside the CIS [<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth_of_Independent_States">Commonwealth of Independent States</a>], he or she needs a stamped exit sticker, which they can only get in Uzbekistan. Most of our clients don’t have an exit sticker, so they simply can’t go home.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_3204126.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_3204126.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The detainee of the FSB of Russia is a member of the cell of the Islamic state group in the Moscow region. Still image with video provided by the FSB. Photo: RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>This situation used to be resolved if a third country was willing to offer Uzbeks a visa and asylum. But that option is no longer available, Gannushkina tells me: “With the breakdown in relations with the west, Russia has started not just observing the agreement, but giving it greater force than the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which states that countries should respect the will of other states when offering people asylum. So Russia now considers a totally shameful agreement with Uzbekistan a higher authority than the UN Convention.”</p><p dir="ltr">Gannushkina stresses that Russia is not a safe country for Uzbek citizens. Uzbekistan’s security services are completely at home here and support their Russian colleagues in every way, although often with strings attached.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Forced return</h2><p dir="ltr">Bakhodir Karinov was lucky. Thanks to his own competence and help from rights campaigners and his wife he managed to avoid extradition to Uzbekistan. But many refugees are illegally “returned” to their own country.</p><p dir="ltr">One common means of “return” involves a request for extradition. The person’s home country opens a criminal case against them and sends the Russian authorities a request for their extradition, whereupon they are taken into custody by the police. “In cases like this, we apply to the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR], arguing that in their home country they might be subjected to torture and asking the ECHR to use its<a href="http://www.no-deportations.org.uk/Resources/Rule%2039.html"> Article 39</a>,” Gannushkina explains. “This is a preventive measure, forbidding countries to carry out actions that might cause substantial harm to life and limb, which includes extradition.”</p><p dir="ltr">In most cases, Russia doesn’t challenge ECHR rulings, and the person involved is released from custody. But here other mechanisms can come into play. “As soon as they are released from detention, they are arrested by the police, who find irregularities in their ID papers and rule to deport them under Article 18.8 of the Administrative Offences Code [‘Infringement by a foreign citizen or stateless person of the regulations governing entry into the Russian Federation or residence therein’],” says Gannushkina. “The court then acts as if Article 39 doesn’t exist. Our courts are in the habit of pretending that extradition isn’t possible, but deportation is. The ECHR has often said that you can’t unlawfully extradite someone under the guise of deportation, but the practice continues.”</p><p dir="ltr">The security services often stoop to simple kidnappings. In 2014, for example, Mirsobir Khamidkariyev, the producer of a film about corruption in Uzbekistan, was abducted from Russia. His country couldn’t forgive him, and he was accused of religious extremism. “We directed him to the migration service, where he could apply for refugee status, but he was turned down,” Svetlana Gannushkina recalls. “We went to court with him, assuming that he would be refused there as well, but, to our amazement, the court didn’t just rule that it was unlawful to refuse Khamidakariyev refugee status, but ordered the migration service to give him this status.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 15.22.53.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="324" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mirsobir Khamidkariyev. Courtesy Photo. </span></span></span>A week later, Mirsobir was abducted. He had called a taxi and was travelling in it with his wife and small child. The two of them needed to drop in at a chemist’s on the way – when they came out the car and Khamidakariyev had disappeared. A chance witness reported that several people had got in the “taxi” and it had sped off.</p><p dir="ltr">“We asked around everywhere and searched the airports, but Mirosobir had disappeared. However, he soon turned up in a Tashkent prison,” Gannushkina tells us. “Our lawyer saw how thin this tall, strong man had become: he weighed just 48 kilogrammes. After repeated beatings, he ended up signing some papers.” </p><p dir="ltr">“There was just one witness at his trial, who claimed that Mirsobir was calling on women to cover their heads, and on that basis he was sentenced to eight years in an Uzbek prison. He had been flown from Russia on an ordinary flight – in other words, everyone on the plane, from the FSB through the border service to the cabin staff were involved in his abduction. Now a video has appeared, in which he admits to planning a terrorist act. He’s evidently having a hard time in jail.”</p><p dir="ltr">Another client of Civic Assistance also fled to Russia after he was forced to sign a document in Uzbekistan, promising to act as an informer. But the security services caught up with him. One day someone called him on his mobile, saying that he had won a fancy phone. But his wife was suspicious – as Gannushkina says, it could have been a trap: “She went with him to collect his prize, and if it hadn’t been for her he would have been immediately expelled from Russia. When they got into the car waiting for them, his wife literally clung onto him. There were officers from both the Uzbek and Russian security services sitting in it, and he was driven off to a police station, from where we were able to rescue him.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Enemies of the state</h2><p dir="ltr">A year and a half ago, Rakhmetdin Kamolov was pushed into a car right in the centre of Moscow and taken to Domodedovo airport for a flight to Uzbekistan. In Russia, Kamolov worked for the “Pomoshch” [Help] organisation headed by human rights activist Bakhrom Khamroyev. Rakhmetdin looked after the NGO’s work with Uzbeks and Tajiks who were experiencing politically-motivated persecution. He hadn’t been back in Uzbekistan for several years.</p><p dir="ltr">“First they tried to persuade him to go voluntarily,” Khamroyev tells me. “They promised that he could just sign some papers and come back. But that was a lie. I’ve never seen an Uzbek seized in Russia who ever returned here. They’re all in Uzbek prisons.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_11maxresdefault_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_11maxresdefault_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bakhrom Khamroyev. Source: Youtube.</span></span></span>With Khamroyev’s help, Kamolov avoided abduction, but then the disappointed Uzbek security service officers took him to a Moscow police station. Meanwhile, in Uzbekistan Kamolov was retrospectively charged under Articles 159 (an attack on the country’s constitutional order) and 244 (preparation of materials threatening public safety). Kamolov was placed on an international wanted list, and arrested as soon as he arrived at the police station.</p><p dir="ltr">The day after his arrest, Kamolov’s 18 year old brother, who was living in Uzbekistan at the time, was imprisoned in the basement of the SNB (Uzbekistan’s equivalent of the FSB). “They basically murdered him there,” says Khamroyev. “When they had finished with him, he came out onto the street and collapsed. He was taken to the nearest accident and emergency department but died. This was done to put pressure on Rakhmetdin.”</p><p dir="ltr">Kamolov’s extradition case went on for a year and a half. After unsuccessful attempts to find a reason to hand him over to the Uzbek authorities, they opened another case against him – this time in Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">“He was charged under Article 205.5, Part 1 [membership of a banned organisation], although there had never been any evidence of such membership,” Khamroyev tells me. “The investigators claimed that Kamolov had been the active head of communications of some group. Recordings were made of conversations where he talked about organising iftars [meals that break the fast during Ramadan] as well as barbecues in the country and so on. Anyone who actively leads a conversation can be regarded as a head of communications, but Kamolov got 16 years in jail for it.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Work for the camera</h2><p dir="ltr">In June 2017, Russian news agencies <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hc9CYf1_PvQ">revealed</a> the latest victory over terrorism. An alleged IS recruiter, Zokhid Aslonov, had been found and neutralised in the Tula region. The operation had been huge, with the FSB, police and National Guard all involved. The terrorist was so dangerous that officers had to take bulletproof shields, flickering torches to disorientate him and even a battering ram with them, as well as their standard helmets and body armour (you can watch a video of the operation <a href="http://www.ntv.ru/novosti/1822645/">here</a>). </p><p></p><p dir="ltr">“Zokhid, without any trial or investigation, was immediately declared a dangerous recruiter,” says his lawyer Ahmed Kostoyev. “He had worked at the market, at the same stall, for 11 years, and everyone liked him. He had been renting the flat where he was ‘seized’ for seven years, and his landlady not only knew the family, but often dropped in unannounced for a cup of tea.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">For some people, Russia has become a real prison; for others it is a branch of the Uzbek security services</p><p dir="ltr">Aslonov was convicted of charges under Articles 222 and 228 – possession of arms and narcotics. But, as Kostoyev points out, “this was after the whole country had seen him on TV, suspected of being a terrorist and ISIS recruiter.”</p><p dir="ltr">Zokhid Aslonov was sentenced to four years behind bars and his family was forced to move away from the Tula region. They couldn’t stay there after the NTV report.</p><p dir="ltr">A similar incident happened to Aleksandr Galambitsa, a convert to Islam – Russia’s Channel One showed footage of his arrest in 2013. According to TV reports, Galambitsa recruited women to ISIS. “As a supposed recruiter, he was arrested with quite some pomp, and they found ‘the works’ on him: narcotics, arms, banned literature. But the recruitment bit somehow disappeared from the charge sheet, and he was just convicted over the arms and drugs,” says his lawyer Timofey Shirokov.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Russia won’t help you</h2><p dir="ltr">Bakhodir Karimov was lucky, he was saved from abduction and prison. Others were less fortunate. For some people, Russia has become a real prison; for others it is more a branch of the Uzbek security services.</p><p dir="ltr">“In 2017 alone, 18 people were extradited to Uzbekistan from Russia, and most of them were given between six and 18 years under Article 244 of the Uzbek Criminal Code, although most of them weren’t practicing Muslims [Article 244 provides for prosecution for creating and disseminating propaganda materials, including religious ones, that infringe public order, as well as for membership of extremist and separatist organisations]”, Bakhrom Khamroyev tells me. “They were drinking vodka here! And talking about it openly. But they still got put behind bars as Islamic extremists.” Khamroyev took the cases of 25 people who were abducted up with the prosecutor’s office and the Russian Investigative Committee, but despite the availability of documents and witnesses, no charges were made.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Russia doesn’t provide any mechanisms for Uzbeks who want to receive asylum here</p><p dir="ltr">“Uzbekistan has a blacklist. Anyone on it has very little chance of escape. The hunting down of Uzbeks and Tajiks in Russia is just a test run,” he believes. “No one is talking about pressure on them, which suggests a pretext for future repressions against any Russian citizen.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Russia doesn’t provide any mechanisms for Uzbeks who want to receive asylum here,” Svetlana Gannushkina tells me. “The only thing that works is the ECHR, but there are rumours going around now that its rulings will no longer be recognised. And that will be a catastrophe for refugees.”</p><p dir="ltr">Human rights campaigners and lawyers have only one piece of advice: if someone tries to grab you on the street, shout! Sometimes it might just protect your freedom or even your life. Today, it’s only migrants that are regarded as outcasts&nbsp;– tomorrow, ordinary citizens might well be treated the same way.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/edward-lemon/long-arm-of-despot">The long arm of the despot</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tamara-grigoryeva-ismail-djalilov/no-place-is-a-safe-haven">For Eurasia’s activists, no place is a safe haven </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-slavina/new-casualties-of-russia-s-war-on-terror">The new casualties of Russia’s war on terror</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/syrian-refugees-in-russia">Syrian refugees in Russia have to fight for their rights</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-yasin/by-defending-russian-journalist-ali-feruz-we-defend-ourselves-now-we-need-to-re">By defending Russian journalist Ali Feruz, we defend ourselves. Now we need to repeat it</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/grigory-tumanov/kidnap-trail-to-central-asia">The kidnap trail to Central Asia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-slavina/tortured-terrorised-russian-muslim-facing-deportation">Tortured and terrorised by the state, this Russian Muslim now faces deportation </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ekaterina Neroznikova Uzbekistan Human rights Wed, 21 Mar 2018 05:27:41 +0000 Ekaterina Neroznikova 116760 at https://www.opendemocracy.net For Eurasia’s activists, no place is a safe haven https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamara-grigoryeva-ismail-djalilov/no-place-is-a-safe-haven <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Existence of regional safety hubs is key to alleviating Eurasia’s human rights crisis.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 11.49.24.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="349" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zhanara Akhmet at Kyiv regional court, January 2018. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>In March 2017, Zhanara Akhmet packed two rucksacks: one for herself and one for her 10-year-old son. Soon afterward, Zhanara and her son left their home in Almaty, Kazakhstan. If she didn’t, her lawyers told her, the journalist would soon be arrested for her reporting. As they were walking out, she looked into her son’s eyes, squeezed his hand and tried to smile reassuringly. Akhmet hugged him and promised they’d find a safe place.</p><p dir="ltr">They spent the next 65 hours on the run. </p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“We first went to the border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It took us almost one full day to cross it. We were hiding nearby, looking for a place to cross. The guards with guns, flashlights and dogs, were in the vicinity and could get us any time. My son became so scared, he had a panic attack. I tried to calm him down… We found a smuggler who helped us cross the border by river. He carried my son, and I carried our bags. My legs were freezing as we waded through the icy water. I could barely move my feet, but I didn’t stop… Once in Kyrgyzstan, we caught a plane to Istanbul, and then on to Kyiv. We spent a day at acquaintances’ house, and then rented an apartment.”</p><p dir="ltr">Since 2013, when she started covering the activities of Kazakh human rights defender <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/asia/2016/02/crackdown-dissent-kazakhstan-economy-slumps-160211175726278.html">Yermek Narymbayev</a>, Akhmet had been frequently harassed by the government for her work. But in 2017, the Kazakh authorities launched three administrative and two criminal cases against her, including charges of political extremism, for her investigative reporting and news coverage, as well as jaywalking, for good measure. </p><p dir="ltr">Akhmet’s case is one of many in Eurasia. According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2018 <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2018">report,</a> most Eurasian countries are at the very bottom of the list in terms of fundamental freedom indicators. With the rise of authoritarianism, the guardians of those fundamental freedoms – human rights activists, journalists, lawyers and other civil society actors – are increasingly becoming targets of state harassment. Unable to reinforce the rule of law and protection mechanisms at home, in some of the gravest cases civil society members have no other way but to flee in search of safety. </p><p dir="ltr">Unfortunately, the number of safe havens is rapidly dropping. </p><h2>Regional safe havens</h2><p dir="ltr">Ironically, the Iron Curtain may have fallen long ago for everyone except civil society actors – people who advocate for the values espoused by western states. No matter how grave the threats, without a Schengen visa, activists often have few options left. In Eurasia, possible destinations include Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Georgia – states that are somewhat more democratic and respectful of the rule of law, according to Human Rights Watch’s <a href="https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018">World Report</a>. But recent developments show that these states are also failing to provide safety and protection to fleeing civil society actors. </p><p dir="ltr">Richard Kauzlarich, a former US ambassador to Azerbaijan and Distinguished Visiting Professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, says that authoritarian governments “don’t really feel constrained by national boundaries so that people who are unable to function in their home country are no longer safe in neighbouring countries.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Kauzlarich, human rights and fundamental freedoms across the region are at stake when countries like Georgia or Ukraine, for which there was “some hope in the west that the political process was moving in the right direction”, renege on their human rights commitments. </p><h2>Georgia: a drowning island </h2><p dir="ltr">On a gloomy morning in late May 2017, Leyla Mustafayeva woke up in her Tbilisi apartment with an uneasy feeling that something was wrong. Mustafayeva, who’d been living in the city for more than two years, is a journalist and wife of Azerbaijani investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli.</p><p dir="ltr">“I realised Afgan wasn’t home. When I saw that his side of the bed was untouched, I became frantic. I called our friends with whom my husband went to dinner the night before, and they told me they’d parted company in the early evening.” </p><p dir="ltr">Mustafayeva rushed to the local police station a few blocks away. Walking briskly up – and downhill through the windy streets, she tried to comfort herself thinking they’d lived in a part of town very close to the city centre. The area was littered with video surveillance cameras trained in every direction, the majority operated by the Georgian police. On the way to the station, Mustafayeva passed a large number of restaurants, banks and small shops in this lively part of Tbilisi that was just waking up, taking mental note of their own surveillance cameras. </p><p dir="ltr">“I realised my husband was taken, and when I went to the police asking them for help, they played along, feigning concern and ignorance, and promised to help.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Afgan_Mukhtarli_5_0_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Afgan_Mukhtarli_5_0_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Afgan Mukhtarli in Tbilisi. Image via Kavkazskiye Novosti / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“When the inquiries were made later with the police as to the footage recorded by the surveillance cameras belonging to them,” Mustafayeva adds, with notes of resignation and frustration in her voice, “the response was that there was no footage at the time of the kidnapping because the cameras were being upgraded. In addition, the border post [between Georgia and Azerbaijan through which Mukhtarli is believed to have been <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">forcibly taken out of the country</a>] still hadn’t supplied us with their footage. It shows that this kidnapping operation was organised at the level of the [Georgian] government. The police went to the shops that had their own surveillance cameras and erased the footage from them too.”</p><p dir="ltr">In the immediate aftermath of the disappearance of Mukhtarli, who exposed high-ranking corruption and foreign assets belonging to the Azerbaijani regime, the Georgian government’s official response closely mirrored their counterparts across the Azerbaijani border: “They [the Georgian government] even wanted to launch a criminal investigation similar to the one already launched in Azerbaijan regarding the illegal border crossing by Afgan, but when the issue drew public attention, I think it made them change their minds.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">“We had chosen Georgia as a place to stay permanently. Since 2016, the situation started to change”</span></p><p dir="ltr">Mustafayeva looks pained as she recalls the immediate aftermath of her <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border">husband’s disappearance</a> from the downtown of the capital of a state where they thought they had finally found safety. From the modest surroundings of her kitchen in Germany where she had to urgently flee and subsequently seek asylum, she remembers feeling scared: “I was followed. After Afgan’s kidnapping, we forwarded the pictures of the people following me in the streets to the prosecutor’s office. These pictures were taken by my friends. But we received no response as to these people’s identities or motives.” </p><p dir="ltr">Unlike law enforcement, Georgia’s civil society reacted strongly to the prosecution of Afgan Mukhtarli. Natia Tavberidze, coordinator at <a href="http://humanrightshouse.org/Members/Georgia/index.html">Human Rights House Tbilisi</a>, says that the incident was on top of the agenda for the civil society. </p><p dir="ltr">“The government saw how civil society reacted,” Tavberidze adds, noting that before the apparent kidnapping, the issue of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Azerbaijani activists living in Georgia</a> wasn’t a prominent one. But while Georgian civil society was strongly supportive, Azerbaijani dissidents <a href="http://iphronline.org/repression-beyond-borders-exiled-azerbaijanis-georgia.html">started reporting</a> that they didn’t feel safe in Georgia anymore. To many, this posed a question whether Georgia was no longer a safe hub for the fleeing activists. </p><p dir="ltr">Svitlana Valko, manager of Tbilisi City Shelter, a non-profit that hosts activists and journalists from Eurasia and MENA regions, says there are nuances. “If we look at hubs as a temporary place to make a stop and restore your resources in order to return to one’s home country and continue work, they’re there. If we talk about moving for good, it’s another issue altogether. Bishkek, Kyiv and Tbilisi are still hubs,” Valko says, adding, “…if you follow certain security measures and follow certain rules, everything will be fine if you are there temporarily.”</p><p dir="ltr">But for Mustafayeva, hunched over her notebook in a kitchen in Germany where she and her daughter are just starting to feel at home, the situation in Georgia looks less nuanced. “We had chosen Georgia as a place to stay permanently. Since 2016, the situation started to change. We started feeling that the government wasn’t too amenable to us staying there, but they couldn’t also directly tell us to leave because they didn’t have any legal grounds for that. In 2016, the first ‘soft rejection’ came with regards to the permanent residency. I’d officially applied for [it], and in spite of the fact that I had previously been granted such a permit twice, the third time, I was denied.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Leyla Mustafayeva and Afgan Mukhtarli, 2016. Source: Author's personal archive.</span></span></span>Asked to explain the reasons for this change, Mustafayeva pauses. Her tone exudes quiet confidence; her deliberate and contemplative speech mixed with detached melancholy betrays no doubt: “When the Georgian Dream party came to power, the situation changed drastically.” She said that the fact that pro-Russian politicians have replaced the pro-European wing in the Georgian state “will make these safe islands [in Georgia] drown.”</p><p dir="ltr">But Georgia is not the only safe haven where things started changing. </p><h2>Ukraine: abusive security services, supportive civil society </h2><p dir="ltr">On 21 October 2017, Zhanara Akhmet was reading in her apartment in Kyiv, Ukraine when the lights suddenly went off. </p><p dir="ltr">“I thought, this is weird. I opened the door to look into the hallway, and suddenly somebody grabbed my arm above the elbow and dragged me out. There were a few men in plain clothes, they forced me to follow them to the courtyard downstairs where there were two cars. These men started twisting my arms, pushing me into one of the cars and telling me there is an Interpol Red Notice on me. I started screaming for help, and at that time, my son who was playing in the courtyard, heard my voice and ran to me. I remember seeing horror in his eyes,” she says gasping, her voice trembling. </p><p dir="ltr">The men didn’t provide any credentials, so Akhmet screamed at the top of her lungs until the apartment complex’s security arrived, and then she asked to call the police. When the police came, Akhmet was taken to a detention centre. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“These men started twisting my arms, pushing me into one of the cars and telling me there is an Interpol Red Notice on me. I started screaming for help”</p><p dir="ltr">Ukraine is perceived as a “more or less democratic country in the post-Soviet space, but, unfortunately, there were recently a number of cases where bilateral agreements and Interpol Red Notices were used by authoritarian governments to harass activists that found refuge here,” explains Maria Tomak from the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/MediaInitiativeForHumanRights/">Media Initiative for Human Rights</a> in Kyiv. Red Notice is an alert system that Interpol member countries’ law-enforcement agencies use to put criminals on “wanted” lists. Authoritarian regimes <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/revenge-by-red-notice-how-azerbaijan-targets-its-critics-abroad">use this system to hunt critics</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">Ukraine is a member of the Minsk Convention (for Eurasia region states) and the European Convention (for European states), explains Boris Zakharov, director of the Lawyers Center of the Ukraine Helsinki Union for Human Rights, adding that Ukrainian authorities claim that they only abide by the European Convention. </p><p dir="ltr">According to this convention, a person can be detained for 18 days until the country that submitted documents with Interpol for a Red Notice provides further clarifications and evidence. Also, according to Ukrainian legislation, temporary arrest is compulsory and cannot be substituted with a fine or a release on bail. After temporary arrest comes extradition arrest, which usually lasts for two months, but can be replaced by release on bail. </p><p dir="ltr">However, Zakharov says, when processes are happening “within the law [as is the case with Red Notices],” then “we can fight, and we haven’t lost a single case, even during president Viktor Yanukovych’s time.” The biggest problem, he says, is “the formal and informal collaboration between post-Soviet security services. We have lots of such cases. And we see that Ukraine's security services are for some reason interested in this”.</p><p dir="ltr">Zakharov cites the case of Fikret Huseynli, an Azerbaijani dissident who became a Dutch citizen, as an example of cooperation between the security services of Eurasian states. “He came to Kyiv on 7 October 2017, to open the office of the opposition <a href="https://www.facebook.com/turantvaz/">Turan TV</a>. On 10 October, the Azerbaijani authorities filed a Red Notice against him, and he was detained on 13 October.” After being trapped for months in Ukraine, Huseynli was <a href="https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/azerbaijani-dissident-fears-kidnapping-kyiv-attack.html">viciously attacked</a> at his Kyiv apartment on 5 March in a kidnapping attempt by men who presented themselves as Ukrainian police.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/huseynli.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/huseynli.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="299" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fikret Huseynli. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>Speaking of Zhanara Akhmet’s case, Zakharov says when Kazakh authorities filed a Red Notice against her, “they knew her exact Ukrainian address and other details of her whereabouts. Such factors either mean that Ukrainian security services are so arrogant they don’t see their colleagues from neighbouring countries operating on their soil, or, which is more likely, that they cooperate.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“While Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies sometimes don’t know how to deal with such cases, we see good support from Ukrainian civil society and media”</p><p dir="ltr">Maria Tomak, who has also encountered these kind of cases in her work, adds that “while Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies sometimes don’t know how to deal with such cases, we see good support from Ukrainian civil society and media.” Akhmet echoes Tomak’s praise for Ukraine’s supportive civil society , but says her case was a vivid example of the Kazakh government’s involvement and pressure. “I was released, but I rarely go out these days. I don’t walk outside in the evenings. I don’t feel safe,” she adds. </p><p dir="ltr">Back in Germany, Mustafayeva is wondering whether there’s any place where dissidents feel safe.</p><p dir="ltr">“The deaths of Daphnie [<a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/02/who-murdered-daphne-caruana-galizia/552623/">Caruana Galizia</a>] and <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/jan-kuciak-murder-slovakia-shaken-to-the-core-after-mafia-structures-revealed/a-42833645">Jan Kuciak</a> several days ago,” she says, referring to the investigative journalists from Malta and Slovakia, “showed that even in Europe itself it’s meaningless to look for safe hubs. If a criminal group or a corrupt government get it in their heads that a journalist must be killed, they can carry it out regardless of the location.” </p><p dir="ltr">One of the most vivid examples of an authoritarian regime targeting activists inside the EU is Turkey. </p><h2>The long arm of Erdoğan</h2><p dir="ltr">The Turkish government, notorious for its determination to target dissidents globally and particularly in the EU, went to a new extreme in late February. Turkey’s authorities <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/turkey-asks-germany-to-extradite-syrian-kurdish-leader-salih-muslim/a-42833078">issued</a> an Interpol Red Notice that resulted in Czech authorities arresting Salih Muslim, former head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party in Syria and a Syrian citizen. </p><p dir="ltr">A Czech court <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/czech-releases-salih-muslim-preventing-extradition-turkey-180227105106092.html">released</a> Muslim several days later, but Rosa Burç, editor at Kurdish media outlet <a href="http://theregion.org/">theregion.org</a> and a political scientist at the University of Bonn, calls Muslim’s arrest outrageous. “He is a Syrian citizen, he has been in Europe for two and a half years, he is participating in various international conferences, he is a very public and civil person, while they accused him of being a terrorist. He was released, yet it was possible for the Turkish government to at least detain and yank him into the courtroom.” </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-21347346.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-21347346.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>PYD leader Salih Muslim marches during a rally in support of Kobane in November 2014 in Paris. (c) Apaydin Alain/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>According to Burç, Turkey now not only prosecutes its own citizens, but even those of other countries. She adds that it was clear that nothing would come of this as the charges were fabricated. “Muslim was one of the people who mediated between the YPG and Turkey, he was in Ankara, he was welcomed, but now the narrative changed, and now anyone in his situation is being accused,” she adds.</p><p dir="ltr">Jens Uwe Thomas from Reporters without Borders says the German government is generally very careful when it comes to Interpol’s requests for arrests. He says due to the high presence of Turkish dissidents in Germany and their active advocacy directed at the German authorities, the government has been continuously supportive. Thomas cites two recent cases in which the German government was actively involved – one of Turkish-German writer <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/20/german-writer-held-in-spain-on-turkish-warrant-granted-conditional-release-dogan-akhanli">Doğan Akhanlı</a>, who was released after being detained in Spain, and that of <a href="https://ipi.media/die-welt-turkey-correspondent-deniz-yucel-to-be-released-on-bail-after-a-year-in-prison/">Deniz Yücel</a>, the recently released Turkish German Die Welt journalist<a href="https://ipi.media/die-welt-turkey-correspondent-deniz-yucel-to-be-released-on-bail-after-a-year-in-prison/">. </a></p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Now our project is to get every Turkish journalist a German passport”</p><p dir="ltr">But Can Dündar, one of Turkey’s most prominent dissident journalists and editor of the Ozguruz media outlet, recalls that these two individuals were German citizens. He wonders about the “many other voiceless imprisoned activists or prosecuted dissidents”, joking: “now our project is to get every Turkish journalist a German passport.”</p><p dir="ltr">But while Germany is one of those countries taking a strong stand on Turkey’s crackdown, many other countries continuously abuse the system in order to further prosecute activists. Valko, who calls Interpol a “large, fat, clumsy machine”, says the organisation needs to review some of its practices. </p><h2>Interpol: a large, fat, clumsy machine? </h2><p dir="ltr">Bruno Min, Legal and Policy officer at Fair Trials, a London-based NGO that closely works with the Interpol, says that there have been some positive reforms at the organisation and cites <a href="https://www.fairtrials.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Strengthening-INTERPOL-update.pdf">Fair Trials’ 2017 report</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">“In 2016, Interpol introduced timeframes. Now, requests for access to information sent to them have to be considered within four months, and requests for removals of the names from the Red Notices lists within nine months,” he says, adding that before one could wait for years prior to hearing back from the organisation. Another change is related to the organisation’s refugee policy. Now, if a person is granted a refugee status in the country to where they fled, the Red Notice against them that originated in the country they had fled is deleted. </p><p dir="ltr">If a Red Notice is issued concurrently with the person’s asylum application, “there’s no procedure for that case, but an argument can be made,” Min says, adding that the Interpol also has political neutrality and respect for human rights provisions under which it operates. </p><p dir="ltr">He also says that the Interpol is often misinterpreted, and what stands behind the Red Notices is really just the issuing country. According to Min, countries don’t always act on every Red Notice they receive, and often it “has no grounds, the situation gets resolved quickly, like in the case of Salih Muslim.” </p><p dir="ltr">Among solutions to the Red Notice dilemma, Min suggests closer interactions with Interpol, pointing to the increasing number of extradition lawyers who are concerned with the existing procedures. </p><p dir="ltr">Zhanara Akhmet, whom Fair Trials helped remove her name from the Interpol list, however, says that the solution has to be more complex than simply addressing the Red Notice system, and include multiple components that would help strengthen regional safe hubs. </p><h2>Publicity, reforms and accountability </h2><p>Civil society actors, victims and western diplomats involved in this process echo Akhmet’s concern. Interpol is only one of the many tools dictators use to reach activists: kidnappings, surveillance, loopholes in other countries’ legislation and close cooperation between law enforcement agencies have been used in multiple cases as well. </p><p dir="ltr">Valko, with Tbilisi Shelter, says that, in order to make the hubs stable, the support of the host nation’s government is essential. “We work with the office of the [Georgian] ombudsman and are trying to cooperate with the municipal government. If this works out, we will be more protected in terms of the status and reputation.”</p><p dir="ltr">In cases of arrests and other attacks, Rosa Burç says, public support from local communities (whether in Prague, Berlin or Kyiv) could change things for the better. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“You never know why someone is crossing the border and why he or she is coming into the country this way”</p><p dir="ltr">Oleksiy Skobrach, a Ukrainian lawyer who often works with persecuted dissidents, recommends reforms to Ukraine’s legislation on refugees and asylum, revisiting the arrest and detention procedures as well as increasing the accountability of the law-enforcement agencies involved. Boris Zakharov, on the other hand, says reforms of the national security agencies are essential: “They should be dealing with matters of national security, and not like now, with every sphere.” </p><p dir="ltr">Tavberidze wants to see a Georgia where there are no illegal migrants: “In Georgia, it’s a criminal act if someone crosses the border illegally, but I don’t think it should be criminalised. You never know why someone is crossing the border and why he or she is coming into the country this way.”</p><p dir="ltr">Ali Feruz, the Uzbek journalist who spent months in Russian prison in fear of extradition to Uzbekistan, and was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-yasin/by-defending-russian-journalist-ali-feruz-we-defend-ourselves-now-we-need-to-re">finally able to leave for Germany in February 2018</a>, says he’s been waiting for his Schengen visa forever, and therefore simpler visa procedures and local safe hubs in Eurasia are important. </p><p dir="ltr">Back in her apartment in Germany, Leyla Mustafayeva dreams about what improvements she would want to see if she were granted a wish with an unexpected laughter: “Of course, first, we would have changed the situation in our own country.” Suddenly, the well-suppressed notes of worry return: “If there’s no normal government, no democratic government at home, you can go wherever you want, reach whatever safe hub you want, those tyrants will reach you there with their long arms.” </p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><em><a href="https://fpc.org.uk/publications/closing-the-door/">Closing the door: the challenge facing activists from the former Soviet Union seeking asylum or refuge</a>&nbsp;</em>- this Foreign Policy Centre publication examines how countries, particularly in Europe, are making it more difficult for activists and others from the former Soviet Union to seek temporary refuge or secure asylum.<em>&nbsp;</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tamara-grigoreva-ismail-djalilov/new-era-of-crimes-against-humanity-in-eurasia">A new era of crimes against humanity in Eurasia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/revenge-by-red-notice-how-azerbaijan-targets-its-critics-abroad">Revenge by red notice: how Azerbaijan targets its critics abroad</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/the-chechen-watcher%20">The Chechen watcher</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-shabnam-khudoydodova/what-kind-of-terrorist-am-i-tajikistan">“What kind of terrorist am I?”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/edward-lemon/long-arm-of-despot">The long arm of the despot</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ismail Djalilov Tamara Grigoryeva Human rights Mon, 12 Mar 2018 05:23:23 +0000 Tamara Grigoryeva and Ismail Djalilov 116604 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A new era of crimes against humanity in Eurasia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamara-grigoreva-ismail-djalilov/new-era-of-crimes-against-humanity-in-eurasia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A wave of brutal crackdowns on LGBT communities in the post-Soviet space has exposed civil society’s shortcomings — and destroyed lives.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/2 copy.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration: <a href=https://www.behance.net/nnnccn>Anastasia Vikulova</a>. </span></span></span>Every day, before leaving the house, Milan zips his jacket all the way up to his chin. He puts on his sunglasses, hat and earphones with the volume cranked up to the max and walks to a language class.</p><p dir="ltr">“People can barely see my face that way, and I can barely hear what is happening around me. I go to class, and then sometimes I meet with the social worker or go to the doctor. Then I have something to eat and set off to walk around the city until I’m so exhausted I can barely walk. Only then do I go home,” Milan says, adding that the thing he is most afraid of is closing his eyes and not being able to fall asleep.</p><p dir="ltr">“This is why I prefer to come home so tired that I literally pass out. Otherwise, every time I close my eyes, I feel the cold concrete floor against my stomach, I can taste the blood on my tongue, hear the shouting of the guards and see those smeared walls.”</p><p dir="ltr">Almost a year after Russia’s <em>Novaya Gazeta</em> <a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/04/01/71983-ubiystvo-chesti">broke</a> horrific accounts of the roundups and severe torture that gay men were subjected to in Chechnya (the exact number of deaths remains unknown), the crisis is far from over. Though many gay men in Chechnya, like Milan, fled abroad with the help of Russian LGBT rights defenders, they still have to hide their real identities and locations to prevent possible harassment from the Chechen intelligence — just like in Chechnya. Over the summer of 2017, reports of similar crimes across the North Caucasus increased, and in September, reports of similar roundups, humiliation and torture against LGBT people (who allegedly had STDs and were involved in sex work) <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/we-don-t-want-to-be-invisible-meaning-of-azerbaijan-s-lgbt-purge">emerged from Azerbaijan</a> — and in October, Tajikistan <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-lgbt-registry/28800614.html">created</a> a registry of LGBT citizens after police conducted operations to identity them.</p><p dir="ltr">While each crisis had its specifics, they all were used by the authorities to demonstrate their ability to crush any vulnerable community in an atmosphere of impunity, as well as to divert attention from other issues and extort money from the victims. The crises also exposed weak points, such as the lack of evacuation mechanisms, the fragility of the LGBT communities in question and inadequate collaboration between LGBT rights and general civil society groups in Eurasia.</p><h2>Copy-paste crimes</h2><p dir="ltr">“The crisis is ongoing, we definitely receive more casefiles and requests. Not on the scale of last year, but there are still many cases that get referred to us,” says a spokesperson for LGBT Network, the rights group in Russia that handled the majority of the cases of Chechen gay victims in 2017.</p><p dir="ltr">“We are receiving requests for help not only from Chechnya, but also other neighboring republics in the North Caucasus: Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and beyond. We are still not sure what to make of it. Was that the overall situation in the North Caucasus on the eve of the last year’s crisis, or did the other republics in the region simply adopt the pattern of the Chechen authorities? The attention created by the crisis is fading away, but it’s still ongoing.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">While these crises share similarities, the causes are not necessarily the same</p><p dir="ltr">Gulnara Mehdiyeva, an Azerbaijani LGBT rights defender, also cites ongoing problems in her work with victims of Azerbaijan’s LGBT purge. “Now, a few months after these roundups in Baku, the risks for the LGBT community aren’t as high as before. But those whom we helped back in September say they are continuously receiving threats and being targeted by the law enforcement.”</p><p dir="ltr">In Tajikistan, the news that the General Prosecutor’s Office had created a list of “proven LGBT people” with hundreds of names was more a confirmation of existing information, according to Dilrabo Samadova, a Dushanbe-based human rights lawyer.This list first came out in 2015 after Tajik officials went after sex workers, “uncovering” the country’s LGBT community in the process.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/content_map_2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="291" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Former military offices in Argun, Chechnya, where gay men were detained, humiliated, tortured and subject to extortion in 2017. Image: </span></span></span>Following Tajikistan, the news of similar attacks on a smaller scale started to pop up elsewhere across Eurasian.“Any such negative developments tend to have a negative effect and find their way across the region at some point. We’ve seen that with the ‘gay propaganda’ law and other similar events,” says Kyrgyz Indigo’s activist Amir Mukhambetov, commenting on <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/04/kyrgyzstan-lgbt-community-fear-attacks-russia">Kyrgyzstan’s 2014 gay propaganda law</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">But while these crises share similarities, the causes are not necessarily the same.</p><h2>Show of power and corruption</h2><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/dmitry-dubrovsky">Dmitry Dubrovsky</a> with Saint Petersburg’s Human Rights Council says it’s hard to explain why the attacks on gay people happened in Chechnya. Dubrovsky says that previously, for example, honour killings of women were widespread in Chechnya, but “they were carried out by the families, while gays were targeted by the Chechen authorities.” He adds that “homophobia in general in Russia is quite high”, citing a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/19/homophobic-video-warns-russians-of-dangers-of-not-voting">recent homophobic video on social media</a> that called on Russians to participate in the March 2018 presidential elections as an example.</p><p dir="ltr">“The Chechen authorities were always hostile towards anyone who could be labeled as ‘the other,’” says the LGBT network spokesperson, adding that the LGBT people had always suffered physical attacks in the past, as well as attempts to extort money from them.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_ copy 2.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="290" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration: <a href=https://www.behance.net/nnnccn>Anastasia Vikulova</a>. </span></span></span>“This is the first time it was so massive. In an instant, the gays became the whole focus of the Chechen authorities… What we’ve learned is that it just happens in Chechnya that someone, some group just becomes ‘the other’ at one point or the other: drug users, traffic violators, etc. There's no one who is on the safe side living in that area, anyone can easily become a victim,” she adds.</p><p dir="ltr">In Dushanbe, Samadova also cites the rise of homophobia and says events like the crackdown in Chechnya or Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law affect the state of LGBT rights in Tajikistan. “The government harasses the LGBT community to extort money. However, interestingly, the harassment partially comes from the State Committee on National Security [known by the abbreviation GKNB] and if GKNB does it, it means the state is portraying the LGBT community as a threat to national security.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Right now, this [the evacuations] is happening ad-hoc, which is not helpful in terms of security. There’s a need for fast evacuation routes”</p><p dir="ltr">In Azerbaijan, according to Mehdiyeva, there were dozens of explanations floating around regarding the reasons for the crackdown, but she attributes the situation in October to corruption, adding that “the LGBT people who had an STD at the time of an arrest had already been registered with the Ministry of Health. Also, in Azerbaijan, if anyone in any district wants to do any kind of work, the police know about it. The same is true of sex work. They [the police] were told to catch the LGBT people, so they caught the ones they already knew and demanded others’ phone numbers from them, and then engaged in extortion.”</p><p dir="ltr">But no matter what the causes, these crises have exposed major problem areas.</p><h2>Exposing the fault lines</h2><p dir="ltr">One of the biggest problems that these crises faced was the lack of swift and well thought-out evacuation mechanisms for victims. Referring to his own experience of observing evacuations of LGBT Chechens, Dubrovsky says “there were no mechanisms that worked well. Right now, this [the evacuations] is happening ad-hoc, which is not helpful in terms of security. There’s a need for fast evacuation routes in the cases when there are threats to one’s freedom and/or life.”</p><p dir="ltr">Another problem is that the “public narrative in many of these cases is such that it’s the victims’ fault,” says Amir Mukhambetov.</p><p dir="ltr">In Azerbaijan, Mehdiyeva says the narrative fits the same pattern, noting that “the officials caught those who were too loud in the streets, or had STDs.” Unlike Chechnya, Mehdiyeva adds, the victims of the LGBT crackdown in Azerbaijan didn’t receive a lot of help in terms of relocation to safety. However, she links the lack of assistance to the fact that in Chechnya there were instances of people dying as the result of torture, and “in Azerbaijan, the worst we had was the use of a taser.”</p><p dir="ltr">The spokesperson for the Russian LGBT Network says their organisation, on the contrary, had seen a lot of support from the international community, including help with ensuring safety. However, “there were a lot of governments that were hesitant to address this crisis in public speeches or take it up with president Putin. There was a lot of back channeling, but some were hesitant to speak out publicly. [Had they done so,] more countries could have opened their borders and accepted more refugees.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_ copy_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration: <a href=https://www.behance.net/nnnccn>Anastasia Vikulova</a>. </span></span></span>Mehdiyeva says in Azerbaijan, the lack of support on behalf of civil society at large was obvious. “The public thought that there was really some crisis as it was portrayed by the Ministry of Health. Members of civil society at large could have said something, but they chose to remain silent.” Mehdiyeva mentions that the international media’s attention to the matter was much higher than their local counterparts, though the Azerbaijani Service of the BBC, as well as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Germany-based Meydan TV later started reporting as well.</p><p dir="ltr">Samad Rahimli, a human rights lawyer based in Baku who <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/azerbaijans-unlucky-lawyers">represented a number of the victims in court</a>, describes Azerbaijani civil society’s reaction as “less than desirable”. “On the one hand, there was no condemnation, and on the other, a small part of civil society reacted with homophobic statements.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“In a nation like Azerbaijan, where homophobia runs high, the political opposition cannot touch the issue or support it”</p><p>Rahimli adds that the situation did not pertain solely to the LGBT community. “Since we witnessed blatant discrimination on the one hand, and violation of fundamental rights such as the use of torture, restriction of the right to liberty and due process, it was directly within the purview of the civil society groups and organisations.”</p><p dir="ltr">“The potential reasons for such a reaction,” Rahimli adds, “is the fact that, quite unfortunately, a sizable portion of the civil society organisations see themselves as part of the political opposition and identify with them. In a nation like Azerbaijan, where homophobia runs high, the political opposition cannot touch the issue or support it. They are afraid to lose votes and are wary of the people’s reaction or that the government would use their support in a smear campaign. Civil society, sadly, shares this hesitation.”</p><p dir="ltr">In Russia, the situation has developed along a somewhat different path. The LGBT Network’s spokesperson calls the current state of things “a new era of human rights-related crimes” and adds that the shift towards severe attacks on communities has shown that “we are not protected anymore”, and “there should be more unity in resolving such crises.”</p><h2>Unity is key</h2><p dir="ltr">The same spokesperson with the LGBT Network in Russia says they’d like to see more of Russian civil society at large addressing LGBT issues.</p><p>“In Russia, we still have the ‘normal’ people’s rights and the rights of LGBT,” they say, adding that a number of civil society groups “started to make a huge leap towards appreciating the need for supporting the LGBT people in Chechnya, as well as acknowledging their existence in the first place.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“There is a clear need for more communication and collaboration between the LGBT rights community and the civil society at large”</p><p dir="ltr">However, both the LGBT Network and Dmitry Dubrovsky state that in Russia speaking out about the violations of the rights of the LGBT community can at any time be interpreted as LGBT propaganda, which is punishable under the provisions of the notorious gay propaganda law of 2013.</p><p dir="ltr">“There is a clear need for more communication and collaboration between the LGBT rights community and the civil society at large,” says Dubrovsky, pointing out that “the LGBT rights community is a group of self-defense, and the rights defenders at large are more a group formed around principles. These groups have a lot of common points, but also conceptual differences. It is important to understand that their strategic goals are not always the same. For example, from the point of view of the rights defenders, discrimination at a university must be publicized, but from the point of view of a student, this will greatly complicate their life.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/9_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="251" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Maxim Lapunov, centre, who <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/victim-of-chechnyas-anti-gay-purge-seeks-justice>came forward publicly to seek justice</a> after he was detained and tortured by Chechen police. Source: Human Rights Watch. </span></span></span>Existing personal relationships help collaboration at the time of crises like the one in Chechnya, says the LGBT Network’s spokesperson, adding that it’s important to “at least try to establish our points of collaboration”.</p><p dir="ltr">One of the frequently mentioned areas for collaboration is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map">research</a>. Going forward, those knowledgeable of the issue point out that conducting research on LGBT topics could help push for change.</p><h2>Lack of research</h2><p dir="ltr">Recent crises have shown that there’s little systematic data on the issue of the LGBT rights or communities in general across Eurasia, and all that’s available is anecdotal data. “When there’s a more systematic data, then these issues are taken more seriously,” Dubrovsky says.</p><p dir="ltr">Mehdiyeva agrees that substantial research would help in the areas such as litigation, legislative changes and advocacy. Rahimli also mentions the lack of any substantive public opinion data or research in the country. He cites a public attitudes study carried out by ILGA-Europe, a leading LGBT rights advocacy group based in Brussels, which <a href="https://www.ilga-europe.org/sites/default/files/Attachments/side_a_rainbow_europe_map_2016_a3_small.pdf">described Azerbaijan as the worst place to be gay in Europe</a> in its LGBTI index of 2016.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Milan and most other victims will continue living in hiding and in fear that something similar could happen again</p><p>“Only after such a study is conducted can we talk about creating a sound framework to address the LGBT issues in Azerbaijan, such as strategic litigation, the scope and size of discrimination faced by the members of the community or enacting anti-discrimination legislation,” Rahimli says.</p><p dir="ltr">A year later, the world has moved on to address other challenges. Milan has moved on too — after he managed to relocate. His steps brisk, his shoulders wavering and long arms flapping, is yet again on one of his walks “till exhaustion” when his phone rings. He says he understands that the world can’t be transfixed with Chechnya forever, but “you all need to know this crisis isn’t over.”</p><p dir="ltr">Milan and most other victims will continue living in hiding and in fear that something similar could happen again. In an environment of impunity and lack of local and international accountability mechanisms, further spread of such attacks on other countries and other vulnerable communities is inevitable.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">What is being done right now, Milan says, only addresses the immediate aftermath of the attacks, but “there should be something else. So that the government knows they can’t treat people like they’ve treated me. There should be some sort of retaliation. If it is not punished, the government will do something like this again.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/we-don-t-want-to-be-invisible-meaning-of-azerbaijan-s-lgbt-purge">“We don’t want to be invisible”: the meaning of Azerbaijan’s LGBT purge</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/anti-lgbt-violence-in-chechnya-when-filing-official-complaints-isn-t-option">Anti-LGBT violence in Chechnya: when filing “official complaints” isn’t an option</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">“Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-shupac/lgbt-lives-in-moldova">LGBT lives in Moldova</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kondakov-evgeny-shtorn/charting-russia-s-most-dangerous-cities-for-lgbt-people">Charting Russia’s most dangerous cities for LGBT people</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/victim-of-chechnyas-anti-gay-purge-seeks-justice">Victim of Chechnya’s anti-LGBT purge seeks justice</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Tamara Grigoryeva Ismail Djalilov Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Human rights Chechnya Azerbaijan Tue, 27 Feb 2018 05:45:51 +0000 Ismail Djalilov and Tamara Grigoryeva 116342 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Svetlana Sidorkina: “Defending the innocent is the most difficult thing of all” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/svetlana-sidorkina <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Svetlana Sidorkina, one of Russia’s leading human rights lawyers, talks about how hard the Russian justice system can be to beat.&nbsp;<em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/zaschischat-nevinovnyx-slozhnee-vsego" target="_self">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_dsc00758_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_dsc00758_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina and Alexander Kolchenko. Photo: Anton Naumlyuk. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Russian investigators are <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/26-march-russia-protest">becoming ever more skilled</a> at prosecuting citizens for political reasons. Every new criminal case launched against Russian protesters means more experience for the law enforcement apparatus, but diminishing interest from the wider public. </p><p dir="ltr">Svetlana Sidorkina, a lawyer for the <a href="http://en.agora.legal">Agora</a> international human rights group, has been defending people who have fallen victim to politically motivated prosecutions throughout her entire career. Sidorkina’s clients have included public figures, social commentators, political activists of various stripes, individuals who played a part in the 2012 Bolotnaya Square protests and the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/26-march-russia-protest">March 2017 anti-corruption rally</a>, as well as those who have been imprisoned for <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-yudina/got-tagged-get-fined-russia-s-battle-against-digital-extremism">reposting content on social media</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">As part of oDR’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/russia/topics/human-rights-lawyers-in-their-own-words">series on human rights lawyers</a> in the post-Soviet space, I spoke to Svetlana Sidorkina about her career, her defendants and how Russia’s law enforcement are upping their game. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You’re a historian by training. How did you end up in the legal profession?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Before entering the History and Philology Faculty at Mari State University, I’d applied to the Law Faculty at Kazan — but didn’t get in. There were a hundred candidates per place. History was a subject I’d always loved, and I went down the history route so as not to lose any time. Doing law was my biggest dream after leaving school, so I subsequently retrained and worked my way into the profession I was initially desperate to enter.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>When you chose law, did you have an idea of what your work would specifically involve? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">No. When I was finishing school, I didn’t have a clue what being a lawyer entailed. My parents were ordinary people: my mother worked as an accountant all her life, my father was a mechanical engineer, and they had no links to the legal profession. My ideas about the work of a lawyer came from novels, they were little more than childish pipe dreams about good and justice and helping people out. Now I see things entirely differently. The work is very challenging. If I’d had a better understanding of how things really were, perhaps I’d never have gone into the profession. Only half of what I dreamed of came true. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What cases have proven the most challenging for you? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">The case of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/man-in-black-interview-with-russian-anarchist-dmitry-buchenkov">Dmitry Buchenkov</a>, the last of the Bolotnaya Square defendants, was one of the most difficult [Buchenkov fled Russia in November 2017]. It was difficult because he’s innocent! Dima didn’t do the things he stood accused of doing, and defending an innocent man is the hardest thing of all. The burden of responsibility for the court’s eventual ruling lies on you. One would think that the final word doesn’t rest with the defence, but, in presenting the defendant’s alibi and arguing his innocence, you nonetheless take on a very significant degree of responsibility — more so than if you knew that the person had actually committed some sort of act.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_EX-uVRX2nU_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_EX-uVRX2nU_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dmitry Buchenkov. Source: Vkontakte.</span></span></span>In cases like this you make the highest demands on yourself. Even the knowledge that you’ve done everything in your power in the given situation isn’t enough to settle your mind. An internal struggle plays itself out inside your head — you can’t help but think you could have done more.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>From the point of view of Russian legislation, will he ever be able to return to Russia?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">No. Dmitry has said that he’s requested political asylum in an EU country. The very essence of political asylum testifies to this fact — it is intended to protect people who cannot return to their native country because they risk prosecution there.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How do you assess the role of public campaigns in Buchenkov’s case?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I believe that in this particular instance the public campaign could have been broader and further-reaching. But the Bolotnaya Square case is now in its fifth year and I completely understand that people are tired of following it. Even the Bolotnaya defendants who’ve already been released rarely attended the trial — people find it hard to dive into those events all over again.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">I believe the judge would have returned a guilty verdict to Buchenkov</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Buchenkov was released from jail and put under house arrest. How do you interpret this change of sanction on Dmitry?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">We made repeated reference to the violations that occurred when his detention term was extended. Plus there was the <a href="https://zona.media/news/2017/11/24/espc-buchenkov">ECHR ruling regarding Buchenkov</a>. The ECHR invoked Russian judicial practices in other cases and, reasoning by analogy, ruled that extending the preventive measure in the form of detention would be unlawful. All this was articulated at the court hearing.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Dadin_ildar_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Dadin_ildar_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ildar Dadin. Photo CC BY-SA 3.0: Wiki. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ildar-dadin/letter-from-prison">high-profile case of Ildar Dadin</a> was going on at the same time, and it played its own role — Dadin was acquitted. By the spring of 2017, the investigation into the Buchenkov case was almost over, and there were no compelling reasons for further detention. In commuting Buchenkov’s detention to house arrest, the court invoked both Russian practice, which exists in the national courts, and the practice of the ECHR. As I see it, all these factors played a collective role.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>There was a good deal of talk back then to the effect that this was a politically motivated decision linked to the fact that Sergey Kirienko had joined the Presidential Administration. What’s your take on such speculation?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, that sort of talk did occur, but in Buchenkov’s case I’m inclined to believe that the court made a decision based on legal grounds. In the autumn of 2017, however, the judge began to rush things along — he wouldn’t let the defence present the full volume of the scheduled evidence. The court set about creating obstacles for the defence. I came to believe that the judge was siding with the prosecution — this opinion was based on the manner of the questioning and on how often the defence’s motions were being rejected. I believe the judge would have returned a guilty verdict to Buchenkov.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Have you been involved in any other cases where person in the dock was completely innocent?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, there was a robbery case I came to be involved in at the stage of appeal. The accused wasn’t even at the crime scene but still ended up being sentenced to eight years in prison </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You’ve often defended individuals with leftist and anti-fascist views. Do you share in their convictions and values?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I’ve had many left-leaning clients, that’s true. If anything, though, this is down to the fact that until recently it is leftists who’ve been at the vanguard of dissent and who’ve adopted active civic stances. As for me, I don’t subscribe to any particular political views. I set store by universal humanistic convictions. Convictions intrinsic to all and sundry. Convictions that concern peace on earth, however banal that may sound. I care about ecology; I care about the rights of society’s most vulnerable people. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Have you had any clients whose views didn’t coincide with yours?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There was the journalist <a href="http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1492290067">Boris Stomakhin</a>, whose views I don’t share. But the very long sentence meted out to him — equivalent to sentences given for violent offences, for crimes against life and health — was unjust [Stomakhin received a five-year sentence for inciting hatred and making defamatory statements]. Everyone has the right to a subjective opinion — something I took care to stress when defending him.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The most difficult place to uphold justice is Mordovia — there’s a very strong clan culture there and it evolves from generation to generation</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Can it be argued that the volume of politically motivated cases increased at some particular juncture?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">That’s correct, yes. First and foremost this is to do with the fact that the situation in the country at large has changed. I’ve been working as a lawyer since 2002. One of the first politically motivated cases was that of the Mari priest Vitaly Tanakov, convicted under Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as abasement of dignity of a person or a group of persons on the basis of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, or attitude to religion). Tanakov was sentenced to 120 hours’ compulsory labour for distributing a tract entitled “A Priest Speaks”. Back then, people charged under this article wouldn’t be imprisoned — you’d be looking at a suspended sentence or forced labour. Now we think of that period as the “vegetarian era”.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How do you assess the role of the ECHR over the past ten years?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The ECHR has a certain category of priority cases, the Bolotnaya Square and Pussy Riot cases among them. In my opinion, the ECHR responds to developments in Russia without undue delay. But the real problem lies elsewhere. Everyone was waiting to see what ruling would be made by Russia’s Supreme Court in the case of Bolotnaya Square defendant Yaroslav Belousov. The European Court <a href="https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#%7B%22itemid%22:[%22001-166937%22]%7D">acknowledged</a> that the trial of Belousov was marred by violations. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court <a href="https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2017/10/04/736457-verhovnii-prigovor">failed</a> to take the ECHR’s arguments into account. I fully endorse the stance of lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky, who maintains that this is unlawful. I’d like to see Russia observe and fully implement the international treaties it has signed within the framework of the Convention on Human Rights.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>2017 saw you defend the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/26-march-russia-protest">participants of the anti-corruption rally of 26 March</a>. How far did this differ from the Bolotnaya Square trials?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">As a result of the experience they gained during their work on Bolotnaya Square, the investigators completely changed their tactics when it came to the 26 March case, taking into account all the failings that were allowed to take place during the preliminary investigation stage. In the Bolotnaya Square case, the defence team repeatedly drew the court’s attention to the fact that the investigation used video evidence obtained in violation of the requirements of the Criminal Procedure Code. In the 26 March case, meanwhile, on-the-ground footage was captured by operatives of the Main Directorate of the Internal Affairs Ministry — there was an entire unit operating on the streets. They needed the footage so they could subsequently use it as evidence for each of the subsequent proceedings that were disjoined from the parent case.</p><p dir="ltr">The arguments put forward by the defence regarding the video material were taken into account by the investigation. Today it is very difficult to challenge the arguments based on the Internal Affairs Ministry footage. And so the argument I used in the Stanislav Zimovets case was that the investigators took a video clip from an extensive volume of video footage without checking whether any editing had or had not taken place. But the court still rejected my motion and ruled that these videos constituted admissible evidence.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/-el8gtafuda.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/-el8gtafuda.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Stanislav Zimovets. Source: VKontakte.</span></span></span>After the spring protests, the investigation also realised that if this turned into a high-profile criminal case à la Bolotnaya Square, it would provoke a major public reaction, which could influence the trial itself. Therefore, given the large number of defendants, they split it into individual cases and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/26-march-russia-protest">brought charges only under Article 318 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation</a> (“use of violence that does not endanger human life or health, or threats to use violence against a representative of the authority, or his relatives, in connection with the discharge by his official duties”).</p><p dir="ltr">In terms of Bolotnaya Square, we also discussed the fact that the guys who’d already served their time were unlawfully charged under Article 212, Part 2 of the Criminal Code (involvement in mass riots), since in fact there were no riots on Bolotnaya Square on 6 May 2012. If you want an example of a riot, think back to the events on Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square in 2010. Bolotnaya Square, conversely, was full of peaceful civilians defending themselves against the police.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do human rights defenders and activists enjoy tried-and-tested assistance mechanisms?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, after the events on Bolotnaya Square, we managed to consolidate the efforts of those who help individuals convicted for “political” offences. The Stanislav Zimovets case is emblematic in this respect. Zimovets is from a low-income family, and his relatives had no material resources to support him. And so help came pouring in from all and sundry. Human rights organisations and civil activists contributed money, sent care packages and wrote letters, with OVD-Info, the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission, Agora and Open Russia all lending their assistance.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">After the events on Bolotnaya Square, we managed to consolidate the efforts of those who help individuals convicted for “political” offences</p><p dir="ltr">This came as a total surprise for Zimovets, who thought that he was completely on his own. There was a court-appointed lawyer at the investigation stage and for a long time Zimovets could not be found, his relatives were helpless. And when he found out that people were looking for him, that many wanted to lend a hand, it was a total shock for him! Why do total strangers come to the assistance of someone from out in the sticks? This was an absolute tonic for him, of course, and served to bolster his convictions, which, though perhaps a little confused and naive, remain highly sincere nonetheless. He’s currently serving time in Correctional Colony No. 12, in Volgograd oblast.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You were not allowed to visit Zimovets in prison for a long time. Why?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There have been two situations where I found myself officially barred from seeing my clients. Representatives of the Investigative Committee forbade me from visiting Buchenkov, while the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) stopped me from seeing Stanislav Zimovets. The latter alleged that I had to present documents certifying that I was his defence counsel. This is absolutely contrary to the law. The Moscow Bar Association has been doing battle with the Federal Penitentiary Service over this issue for a long time now, but FSIN continues to demand that, when visiting detention centres in Moscow, lawyers obtain certification from the investigation or the court that we’re involved in the case in question. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do comparable problems arise when it comes to visiting prison colonies?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I’ve visited a good many of them, including colonies in Komi, in the Kirov, Bryansk, Ryazan, Yaroslavl, Tver, Arkhangelsk and Irkutsk oblasts, as well as those in the Republic of Mordovia and other regions of Russia. Each place has its own idiosyncrasies. The most difficult place to uphold justice is Mordovia — there’s a very strong clan culture there and it evolves from generation to generation. They’ll tell you in almost every colony that their fathers, mothers, grandfathers worked here. Family ties are very strong. And the arrival of a Moscow lawyer raises many questions, as in, why make such a long journey? They start checking the lawyer database, and this takes a long time: until they check your personal info, you won’t be allowed to see the client.</p><p dir="ltr">On the other hand, there’s Mordovia’s colony No. 10 — in terms of granting lawyers access to their clients, it serves as an example for the rest. When you’re dealing with that particular colony, you don’t need to spend a lot of time preparing your documentation and getting it green-lighted. But at the same time, there’s been a lot of complaints from prisoners about working conditions and detention conditions in cell-type units (PKTs).</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Over the course of your work, have you encountered fair-minded judges, investigators and prosecutors?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Fair-minded investigators and judges do exist, of course. But unfortunately neither the investigation nor the court are independent. The investigator says that he’s acting under the orders of his superiors, while the judge is dependent on rulings made by the higher courts. And in high-profile cases you can really feel this. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/state-society-and-individual-in-russian-courtroom">State, society and the individual in the Russian courtroom </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/26-march-russia-protest">The 26 March case: how Russia is cracking down on freedom of assembly</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/man-in-black-interview-with-russian-anarchist-dmitry-buchenkov">The man in black: interview with Russian anarchist Dmitry Buchenkov</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/andrei-sabinin-russia-human-rights-lawyer">Andrei Sabinin: “You have to immerse yourself in the lives of strangers”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/pavel-chikov/russia-s-managed-thaw">Russia’s “managed thaw”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tatyana Dvornikova Russia Human rights Thu, 08 Feb 2018 13:01:46 +0000 Tatyana Dvornikova 116018 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Azerbaijan’s authoritarianism goes digital https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla-hebib-muntezir/azerbaijans-authoritarianism-goes-digital <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>2018 is an election year in Azerbaijan. The authorities may have the streets on lockdown, but the fight against dissent in cyberspace is just beginning.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Loading.gif" height="250" width="460" frameborder="0" /></p><p dir="ltr">Last week, somebody broke into MeydanTV’s Facebook. By Monday, the Berlin-based online news platform finally restored its access to the page — but had lost years of posts and nearly 100,000 subscribers (the publication had experienced a series of DDoS attacks on its site earlier in January). Anybody who knows the parlous state of freedom of speech in Azerbaijan knows of <a href="http://meydan.tv">MeydanTV</a>. The site’s independent journalism has won it no friends in the South Caucasus state, where its journalists are routinely harassed.</p><p dir="ltr">In recent weeks, reports have abounded of DDoS attacks and hacking of Facebook and email accounts of Azerbaijani dissidents and their supporters. Both of us can attest from personal experience that the attackers have upped their game — using surveillance technologies such as Deep Packet Inspection (DIP) and <a href="https://www.wired.com/2015/04/hacker-lexicon-spear-phishing/">spearphishing attempts</a>. As we enter 2018 and a presidential (re)election in October, these moves attest to a digital crackdown in Azerbaijan – policing the internet and deterring online activism. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The block doctrine</h2><p dir="ltr">One development at the end of last year showed a new stage of regime mobilisation against online dissent. A <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2017/azerbaijan">legal amendment</a> last year allowed Azerbaijan’s state institutions to block websites on the grounds of national security — and MeydanTV’s was among them.</p><p dir="ltr">Furious, five blocked media outlets contested the ruling. During an appeals hearing on 19 December 2017, &nbsp;a representative from the Ministry of Communication (the government body that carried out the blocking) said the websites were blocked not at his ministry’s orders, but by the prosecutor’s office.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-01-31_at_18.07.18.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-01-31_at_18.07.18.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>MeydanTV’s website as accessed from outside Azerbaijan</span></span></span>Bakhtiyar Mammadov, who testified on behalf of the ministry, declared Meydan TV, Radio Azatliq (RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service), and the independent Azadliq newspaper (unrelated to Azadliq Radio), Turan TV, and Azerbaijan Hour were to be the first on the list of websites to be blocked following the amendments. “We received a letter from the prosecutor’s office telling us to take immediate measures against these websites,” <a href="https://www.azadliq.org/a/azadliq-sayt-blok-qadaga/28927052.html">said</a> Mammadov.</p><p dir="ltr">While Mammadov urged the judge to dismiss the lawyers’ appeal to unblock the websites, he argued that blocking only boosted their readership, and that dedicated users can still find ways to access them. At the end of the day, the court in Baku ruled against unblocking the online news outlets.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Hacking away at the opposition</h2><p dir="ltr">With the right know-how, getting around a block isn’t too difficult — you can use a VPN or a mirrored website. Too bad that the authorities are eager to target those who’d want to do so.</p><p dir="ltr">In a recent interview, a dissident activist from Azerbaijan told us of two types of politically-motivated hacking that the regime uses today. Firstly, there’s hacking of Armenian websites (Azerbaijan technically remains at war with its western neighbour over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh), secondly, there’s the hacking of civil society activists’ email and social media accounts. In the case of civil society activists, a hacker picks his target, acquires access to just one account and once in, has access to emails and contacts of everyone else in the contact list. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center" style="color: #666666; font-size: 22px; font-weight: bold; text-align: center;">It seems clear that the authorities have stepped up their internet policing measures ahead of elections in October</span></p><p dir="ltr">Hacking Facebook accounts isn’t too difficult, as most accounts are linked to a phone number and therefore a mobile network operator. In a country where these firms are under the watchful eye of the authorities, requesting a password via mobile device to reset the password is simple. With one SMS, the hacker gets hold of the account and the damage is done.</p><p dir="ltr">Recent examples include the hacking of Facebook profiles and pages &nbsp;of political figures Ali Karimli and Camil Hasanli. As former presidential candidate Hasanli put it, the damage inflicted was extensive. He lost 75,000 of his 108,350 subscribers, as well as all the posts, photos, videos, and articles he’d shared since 2013.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Meydan_Azerbaijan.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Meydan_Azerbaijan.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="768"/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>MeydanTV’s website as accessed from inside Azerbaijan</span></span></span></p> <p dir="ltr">This wasn’t the first time Hasanli has been hacked, but he believes the hackers have now raised the stakes. “My accounts were hacked one year ago, around the time of a [opposition] political rally, but I was able to quickly regain access to my account,” he recalls. This time, says Hasanli, the hacker got back into his pages several times before finally being shut out. He believes this was more than an ordinary hacker attack, and suspects that updated technology was used.</p><p dir="ltr">The possibility of new technology is something for forensic specialists to establish. But to any observer, it seems clear that the authorities have stepped up their internet policing measures ahead of elections in October, and are ready to deploy all kinds of tricks to keep dissident voices muted offline and online. &nbsp;</p><h2 dir="ltr">Denial of service, denial of dissent</h2><p dir="ltr">In this March 2017 <a href="https://www.qurium.org/news-media-websites-attacked-from-governmental-infrastructure-in-azerbaijan/">report</a>, the secure hosting service VirtualRoad analysed the types and frequency of DDoS attacks in Azerbaijan. A DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service attack is an attempt to make an online service (often a bank or news website) unavailable, by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources. </p><p dir="ltr">VirtualRoad states that all DDoS attacks observed between October 2016 and March 2017 originated from dedicated servers operated by Azerbaijani system administrators, which made VirtualRoad conclude that the attackers were close to the country’s cybersecurity community. VirtualRoad also discovered botnet attacks against the small independent news website abzas.net and azadliq.info before these websites were blocked. </p><p dir="ltr">The DDoS attacks Meydan TV experienced in January of this year, however, point to new revelations. MeydanTV’s website managers tracked the sources of the DDoS attacks and discovered that this time they were carried out from from India, Vietnam, Romania, Brazil, and Indonesia. And this time, defending the website was much harder.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">Now that much of Azerbaijan’s civil society is out of the picture, the goal is to render the opposition totally harmless</span></p><p dir="ltr">As a result, Meydan TV’s mirror website was disabled in the first DDoS attack of this style. Not even the site’s Cloudflare service (which provides DDoS protection and firewall) were enough to keep the website secure. As the attacks continued over several days, it was difficult for the news outlet to continue the work as usual. </p><p dir="ltr">In addition to DDoS attacks, Azerbaijani activists have been subject to other forms of intimidation and surveillance including <a href="http://www.wired.co.uk/article/how-deep-packet-inspection-works">Deep Packet Inspection</a> (DPI) — also known as information extraction, which in normal circumstances is used for innocuous reasons, but in the wrong hands can be used for surveillance, and snooping over personal content, spear phishing, and the creation of impersonating accounts. </p><p dir="ltr">In 2014, Citizen Lab revealed Azerbaijan was among the customers of Hacking Team, from which the country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs had <a href="https://citizenlab.ca/2014/02/mapping-hacking-teams-untraceable-spyware/">bought</a> Remote Control Spyware (RCS) technology. In <a href="https://medium.com/amnesty-insights/false-friends-how-fake-accounts-and-crude-malware-targeted-dissidents-in-azerbaijan-9b6594cafe60">research</a> published last March, Amnesty International concluded that spearphishing and other forms of attacks against Azerbaijani dissidents began in November 2015, the year when Azerbaijan had its parliamentary elections — and when the regime woke up to what was happening online. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The calm before the fraud?</h2><p dir="ltr">With presidential elections scheduled for 17 October, Azerbaijan’s political arena is going to be on lockdown. The elected president will stay in power for the next seven years based on the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future">29 amendments voted through via a country-wide referendum</a> two years ago. </p><p dir="ltr">The new president will also have a range of powers, including dismissing parliament and calling for early presidential elections. The current head of state, president Ilham Aliyev, took power in 2003, secured a second presidential term in 2008 and in 2009 scrapped presidential term limits all together — this allowed him to run and successfully win the presidential elections in 2013. Following the 2016 referendum, Aliyev appointed his wife Mehriban Aliyeva to the position of the country’s First Vice President, a seat in the government also made possible by the 2016 referendum. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Azerbaijani_President_Ilham_Aliyev_attended_Strategic_Outlook_Eurasia_session_during_World_Economic_Forum_2018_in_Davos.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Azerbaijani_President_Ilham_Aliyev_attended_Strategic_Outlook_Eurasia_session_during_World_Economic_Forum_2018_in_Davos.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilham Aliyev. Photo CC BY 4.0: Wiki. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The country’s &nbsp;electoral history is marred by vote rigging and ballot stuffing, to name a few. Elections are held in an unequal environment where activists, dissidents and civil society representatives were and are harassed, intimidated and silenced. Aliyev has won every single presidential election with an over 80% majority since taking the seat from his father, the late Heydar Aliyev, and Yeni Azerbaijan, the ruling party, has managed to win majority in all parliamentary elections since the Aliyev family took over the presidency. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Camil Hasanli, the political, social and economic environment established in Azerbaijan is an unequal playing field. The opposition does not have access to television (which remains a key point of news access among wider population); civil society has been silenced; independent media is blocked and so is the opposition media; while critical voices have been either arrested or forced out of the country. “In this environment, the only place remaining for influencing public opinion is Facebook,” notes Hasanli. And so it is not surprising that the authorities are using various methods against online dissidence to take the remaining free space. Scores of Azerbaijani citizens have been questioned for posting critical commentary on Facebook, or simply liking a social media status, or clicking “attend” for political rallies. There are currently four bloggers who are serving a prison term. Even <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/azerbaijan-diplomat-corruption-charges-facebook-criticism/27185331.html">diplomats</a> have paid a heavy price for voicing their concerns on social media. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">While Azerbaijan is certainly far from Russia’s troll factories, it is catching up &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">A number of political figures and experts interviewed for this story commented that attacks on the internet usually take place during certain political events, elections, rallies and protests. And given this year is too an election year it is not totally surprising to see more online activity taking place and new targets selected. Now that much of Azerbaijan’s civil society is out of the picture, the goal is to render the opposition totally harmless. This includes hacking of political leaders’ Facebook pages and their accounts, as well as pressure against prominent dissident bloggers, using their families as baits. </p><p dir="ltr">Two prominent cases involve video bloggers Orduhan Temirhan and Mammad Mirza, both of whom live abroad. In June 2017, some 12 members of Orduhan’s family members were <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83906">detained</a>, questioned and asked to demand the Netherlands-based Temirhan stop his activism in an exchange for their freedom. While in January this year, Mirza’s father was briefly <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/az/site/news/26889/">detained</a> and then released in an exchange for his brother-in-law. The family has denounced Mirza while the blogger is refusing to stop any of his work. Mirza in an interview with Meydan TV said he has no intention of stopping and plans to attend a rally in Strasbourg in February to speak of the threats against his family. </p><p dir="ltr">While Mirza and Ordukhan are committed to their cause, so are Azerbaijani trolls who are committed to the jobs they have been given. Anecdotal evidence suggests some of these fierce online commentators are civil servants, pro-government journalists and members of the ruling party branch. Often their comments are copy paste or excerpts from statements made by the President and other government officials. Their ability to engage in a healthy debate online is weak say political activists often subject to their harassment. There are users with assigned user accounts, but there are also users that operate more than one account disguised under different names. </p><p dir="ltr">While Azerbaijan is certainly far from Russia’s troll factories, it is catching up. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan-patriotic-trolls">In the crosshairs of Azerbaijan’s patriotic trolls</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mike-runey/afgan-mukhtarli-not-forgotten">Afgan Mukhtarli: behind bars, but not forgotten</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-yudina/got-tagged-get-fined-russia-s-battle-against-digital-extremism">Got tagged? Get fined! Russia’s battle against “digital extremism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Hebib Muntezir Arzu Geybulla Human rights Azerbaijan Fri, 02 Feb 2018 06:02:21 +0000 Arzu Geybulla and Hebib Muntezir 115920 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Afgan Mukhtarli: behind bars, but not forgotten https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mike-runey/afgan-mukhtarli-not-forgotten <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Runey_Mike_opEd.jpg" alt="" width="80" />Last year, this fearless journalist was abducted from the streets of Tbilisi and wound up in an Azerbaijani jail cell. We need more like him.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Afgan_Mukhtarli_5_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Afgan_Mukhtarli_5_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Afgan Mukhtarli in Tbilisi. Image via Kavkazskiye Novosti / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Afgan Mukhtarli and I first met in early 2015, at Prospero’s cafe in central Tbilisi. We were both recent arrivals to Georgia: I was here because an upstart Azerbaijani media outlet had failed to attract a more qualified candidate, and Afgan because his investigative reporting — particularly on the corruption of the country’s military and its ruling Aliyev family — had forced him to flee neighbouring Azerbaijan to end the government’s harassment of him and his family.</p><p dir="ltr">However, it didn’t stop. Family members who remained in Azerbaijan were still threatened, still followed, and still harassed. Neither did Afgan, who kept reporting, supporting struggling members of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Tbilisi’s then-thriving Azerbaijani exile community</a>, and kept protesting. Then in May of last year, the Azerbaijani government escalated their war on Afgan by having him abducted from the streets of Tbilisi and whisked away to a prison in Baku. Earlier this month, he was <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30793">sentenced to six years in prison</a>.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Where silence is golden</h2><p dir="ltr">The Azerbaijani state’s attacks on its discontents are always deeply personal. One journalist saw her brother, a rural day labourer whom she credibly believed had never read a word she’d written, sent to prison for a year on fabricated drug charges. Afgan was no exception. He had volunteered to fight in the Nagorno Karabakh War as a young man, and it clearly bothered him that the same state he had once risked his life for was now doing its utmost to destroy him and his family.</p><p dir="ltr">Afgan’s legendary stubbornness served him well as an investigative reporter, but it also roused the ire of certain parts of the Georgian state. There was no protest he wouldn’t attend — there is a picture, lost somewhere deep in Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm, of Afgan protesting the sentence of youth activist Qiyas Ibragimov with a group of Georgian street punks half his age - and both the Georgian police and the quasi-official security contractors hired by SOCAR, the Azerbaijani took notice.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Why, in a country as rich in oil and natural gas as Azerbaijan, are its people still reliant on dangerous gas stoves or&nbsp;burning hazelnuts&nbsp;to keep warm?</p><p dir="ltr">In the same cafe where Afgan and I first met, less than a year and a half later, Afgan’s wife Leyla Mustafayeva would be interviewed about <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">how the Georgian state abducted Mukhtarli</a> and arranged for him to be “caught” by Azerbaijani border guards while smuggling over $10,000 across the border, in the middle of the night and without his passport. Six months and multiple indignities passed before Afgan was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of smuggling and illegal border crossing. His lawyers are appealing, but much damage has already been done.</p><p dir="ltr">He has been denied proper medical care for his type two diabetes while in custody, and the Azerbaijani court declined to permit him to travel to the funeral for his sister, niece, and nephew in the town of Zaqatala, <a href="https://jam-news.net/?p=79314">who died in their sleep</a> after wind extinguished the flame of the gas heater the family used in lieu of central heating.</p><p dir="ltr">Due to the government’s decision to try him in a court in Balakan, six hours by car northwest of Baku, for no apparent reason other than to inconvenience his lawyers and discourage journalists from attending the trial, the funeral was less than an hour’s drive away. </p><p dir="ltr">The sad and tragic death of his relatives was one of the grim outcomes of entrenched elite corruption that Mukhtarli sought to expose as a journalist. Why, in a country as rich in oil and natural gas as Azerbaijan, are its people still reliant on dangerous gas stoves or <a href="https://www.azernews.az/lifestyle/122005.html">burning hazelnuts</a> to keep warm?</p><h2 dir="ltr">A state of impunity</h2><p dir="ltr">In most countries, the sentencing of a journalist — or anyone, regardless of occupation — on such absurd charges would be a major story in and of itself. In Azerbaijan it barely counts as news.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2017 alone, a photojournalist and blogger was sentenced <a href="https://www.civilrightsdefenders.org/sv/news/journalist-mehman-huseynov-sentenced-to-two-years-on-fabricated-charges/">to two years</a> for slander for accurately describing his torture by Baku police, and another received <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/304334/">seven years</a> for extortion for reporting on police-protected brothels. Another managed <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/303722/">to lose all his teeth</a> during a month-long stint for failing to obey police instructions, and three months into pretrial detention over a Facebook post, <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/22657/">yet another inexplicably hung himself</a> in his cell. </p><p dir="ltr">If we were to start counting beyond the legal system, we would note <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/25504/">the case of Ilqar Valiyev</a>, who was abducted and tortured by Azerbaijani servicemen near the line of contact with the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. They had assumed he was an Armenian spy. Valiyev is now in a third country, but he escaped Azerbaijan via Georgia, where Mukhtarli helped him get medical care.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/images-cms-image-000031350.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/images-cms-image-000031350.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="263" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Journalist Ilqar Valiyev. Source: meydan.tv</span></span></span>Although his case has caught by far the most international attention, Mukhtarli’s kidnapping is part of a trend of closer ties between two South Caucasus countries that are often held up as the poster children for everything that can go right and wrong in “European integration”. Georgia celebrated its long-awaited goal of visa-free travel to the EU last March, while Azerbaijan’s year was marred by the <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/">Azerbaijani Laundromat</a> revelations and the delay of the signing of a new partnership agreement with the EU. From Brussels or Berlin, one could be forgiven for believing the two post-Soviet states were moving in opposite directions.</p><p dir="ltr">It isn’t the case. A recent <a href="https://puerrtto.livejournal.com/979192.html">blog post</a> by Alexander Lapshin, an Israeli-Russian travel writer who ran afoul of the Azerbaijani authorities about evidence submitted during his prosecution, revealed that Georgia responded to a request for information on his entry and exit from the country with a wealth of supplementary information. This ranged from property Lapshin owned in Batumi to data on those who happened to cross the Armenian border shortly before or after him in late 2016. As most other countries ignored Azerbaijan’s requests — even a friendly state would probably question why the request was not sent via Interpol — it raised questions about what prompted Georgia’s enthusiasm.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">On a macroeconomic level, Azerbaijan is the biggest source of foreign direct investment in Georgia</p><p dir="ltr">On a macroeconomic level, Azerbaijan is the <a href="http://www.geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&amp;p_id=2231&amp;lang=eng">biggest source of foreign direct investment in Georgia</a>, investing more than twice as much as any European state, and as of this year, its <a href="http://georgiatoday.ge/news/8714/Georgia-Not-To-Purchase-Gas-from-Russia-in-2018">sole supplier of natural gas</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">In a deal that raised eyebrows internationally and sparked protests among the domestic opposition, last January the Georgian government and Russia’s Gazprom renegotiated how Gazprom pays Georgia for use of its pipeline for transferring natural gas to Armenia. In the past, Gazprom compensated Georgia with an in-kind payment of 10% of the gas that entered its territory, but the new arrangement <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/georgia-russia-gas-agreement-armenia/28256580.html">stated</a> Georgia would receive cash instead. Neither side has revealed the final terms. As the price is likely tied to the heavily subsidised prices Gazprom charges Armenia, it’s hardly likely the deal was favourable to Georgia.</p><p dir="ltr">In April, then-Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/caucasus-report-georgia-gas-agreement-azerbaijan-gazprom/28439726.html">announced another deal</a> with Azerbaijan’s SOCAR to increase Azerbaijani gas sales to Georgia to replace the lost Russian gas. As with the Gazprom deal, the financial terms were not disclosed, and the result was Azerbaijan now provides 99% of Georgia’s natural gas. Less than two months later, Afgan Mukhtarli would disappear from the streets of Tbilisi.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Where guests are sacred</h2><p dir="ltr">News of Afgan’s arrest spread quickly across social media, leading to <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-40606599">on-air protests by journalists</a> and demands for accountability from ordinary Georgians, many of whom saw their government’s complicity in Mukhtarli’s disappearance <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/georgia-fears-reputation-for-hospitality-at-risk-over-azerbaijani-journalists-kidnapping">as a betrayal of deeply-held beliefs</a> about hospitality and protection of guests. “What if they kill him? What are we going to tell his wife? This is medieval! What kind of Georgian would give his guest, no matter who he is, to an enemy?” said Tbilisi shopkeeper Meda Aslamazishvili to <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/georgia-fears-reputation-for-hospitality-at-risk-over-azerbaijani-journalists-kidnapping">Eurasianet’s Giorgi Lomsadze</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the furore, Georgia’s official investigation never got off the ground. <a href="http://rustavi2.ge/en/news/78347">Local investigative journalists</a> and <a href="https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/curious-case-afgan-mukhtarli">members of the OCCRP network</a> quickly discovered that both the security cameras in central Tbilisi and along the Azerbaijani border that would have recorded either Mukhtarli’s abduction or attempt to cross illegally had been either deactivated or their footage deleted.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Leyla Mustafayeva and Afgan Mukhtarli, 2016. Source: Mustafayeva's personal archive. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">It has been months since the Georgian government has offered any updates, and fearing for her own safety, Mukhtarli’s wife Leyla Mustafeyeva <a href="https://eurasianet.org/node/85541">took her daughter and fled to Germany</a>. In doing so, she became the latest Azerbaijani dissident or journalist to be forced out of Georgia in the last eighteen months.</p><p dir="ltr">Beginning in late 2016, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-georgia-election/ruling-party-in-georgia-decisively-wins-parliament-vote-idUSKCN1272AT">shortly before elections</a> that granted the ruling Georgian Dream party a constitutional supermajority, several exiled Azerbaijanis who had filed routine paperwork renewing their residence permits received letters from the Georgian government informing them they would not be renewed on national security grounds. None of them could realistically expect to return to Azerbaijan without facing immediate arrest, and most had no choice by to try their luck at asylum in the European Union.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Georgia, which had long tolerated a sizable Azerbaijani expatriate community of dissidents, has unsubtly been pushing them to leave</p><p dir="ltr">Some were lucky enough to have behind-the-scenes help from a friendly embassy, and others, such as composer and intellectual Elmir Mirzoyev, resigned themselves <a href="http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/ein-gefluechteter-komponist-berichtet-aus-dem-leben-eines-lagerinsassen/14690850.html">to the realities of a refugee camp</a> and the risk of refusal and deportation. Georgia, which had long tolerated a sizable Azerbaijani expatriate community of dissidents, intellectuals, and journalists, was unsubtly pushing them to leave.</p><p dir="ltr">Some who noticed the refusal letters did not seem to be based on Georgian law opted to try to fight the government for permission to stay. One such couple was Afgan Mukhtarli and Lelya Mustafayeva.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A time to shout</h2><p dir="ltr">Mukhtarli’s sentencing is not the end of the story. His lawyers are appealing, and the case is ripe for the European Court of Human Rights. The Georgian officials who signed off on Mukhtarli’s kidnapping will know that when his term is over — either in six years, or possibly earlier, given Ilham Aliyev’s practice of showing clemency with mass pardons during Nowruz, the Azerbaijani New Year — the notoriously feisty journalist will have a story to tell.</p><p dir="ltr">Azerbaijan has long escaped significant international pressure for its human rights abuses, both in part due to its relatively low international profile and a moderately successful campaign to buy some of the west’s <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/corruptistan/azerbaijan/2015/06/22/profile-of-an-undercover-lobbyist-for-azerbaijan.en.html">less scrupulous academics</a> and <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/azerbaijans-high-profile-beneficiaries">public figures</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-33484359.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-33484359.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Azerbaijani opposition supporters hold Azerbaijani flag and EU flags during a protest against corruption and political repression at Mahsul Stadium, Baku, October 2017. Photo (c): Aziz Karimov/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">But rights advocates are not without leverage — Azerbaijan has still not managed to secure all necessary financing for the Southern Gas Corridor, and the European Investment Bank recently <a href="https://euobserver.com/tickers/140259">delayed a final decision</a> on a €1.5 billion loan for “due diligence” issues after months of campaigning by environmental groups. </p><p dir="ltr">Azerbaijan’s longstanding refusal to comply with a judgement by the European Court of Human Rights and <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/azerbaijan-threatened-with-expulsion-from-council-of-europe">release opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov</a> has finally escalated to the point where it is <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/azerbaijan-threatened-with-expulsion-from-council-of-europe">risking expulsion or suspension</a> from the Council of Europe. Baku could opt to quit the Council and leave Mammadov in prison, but in doing so would sacrifice much of the international support it would need to see the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Republic reintegrated into Azerbaijan.</p><p dir="ltr">One day Afgan will be free and resume his quest, to <a href="https://www.civilrightsdefenders.org/news/statements/journalists-conviction-a-black-eye-for-azerbaijan-and-georgia/">paraphrase his words on the day of his sentencing</a>, to have the last word until the end of his life. It is a dark time for journalism and human rights across the world, but rather than despair, it is the responsibility of those who are free to keep working, writing, arguing, and being the inconvenient citizens that refuse to leave the corrupt and powerful be.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/walking-free-in-azerbaijan">Walking free in Azerbaijan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat">Stopping the spin from Azerbaijan’s very special laundromat</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Mike Runey Human rights Georgia Caucasus Azerbaijan Mon, 29 Jan 2018 12:50:00 +0000 Mike Runey 115876 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “We refused everything France wanted to give us”: Oksana Shalygina’s first post-prison interview https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/oksana-shalyginas-first-post-prison-interview <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This time last year, performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky and Oksana Shalygina fled Russia under threat of prosecution. Now they’re facing arson charges in Paris. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatiana-dvornikova/shalygina-turma" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Eclairage.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Eclairage.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image courtesy of Pyotr Pavlensky.</span></span></span>Russian performance artist and political activist Pyotr Pavlensky is spending his fourth month in Paris’ Fleury-Mérogis prison. In January 2017, Pavlensky and his associate Oksana Shalygina <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-pavlensky-rape-allegation-flees-russia-artist/28236176.html">left Russia</a> after law enforcement questioned him over a rape allegation. But after <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-41650245">performing an action</a> at a branch of the Banque de France on Paris’ Place de la Bastille in October 2017, Pavlensky was arrested and sent to an isolation unit. Here, he is denied the opportunity to interact with other prisoners, and letters reach him only after considerable delay. All correspondence is checked by the court authorities, and translating Russian letters into French takes time.</p><p dir="ltr">“The Bastille was destroyed by a people in revolution; the people destroyed its symbol of despotism and power. The Banque de France has taken the place of the Bastille, and bankers have taken the place of monarchs” - this was how Pavlensky <a href="https://twitter.com/femeninna/status/919836564372512768">explained</a> rationale behind the action. </p><p dir="ltr">The dangerous property damage case against Pavlensky is being heard in camera, prompting Pavlensky to stage a dry hunger strike (refusing both food and water) last autumn. Nevertheless, Pavlensky’s close friend Oksana Shalygina, who helped Pavlensky organise the stunt and who has also been charged with arson, was released on 5 January. Shalygina remains under investigation and cannot leave France. She and Pavlensky both face up to ten years in prison.</p><p dir="ltr">I visited Shalygina for her first post-release interview.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Why were you released?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">When I was detained, one of the reasons for my detention was that I had neither an address nor a phone number. I didn’t give them our address because telling them where we lived was undesirable. But how would the police search for me in that case? They were afraid we’d do a runner. Then my friends found me an apartment so as to obviate the formal grounds for my detention. A major exhibition was held at the Saatchi Gallery around the same time. Our lawyer brought back some exhibition materials to show the judge, who examined the list of exhibition participants and eventually ruled that I had to be released. This came as a surprise, even the lawyer had no idea it would happen.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Why hadn’t an apartment been rented for you earlier?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There was no opportunity. Some Russian friends who live here helped us out. They decided the best help they could offer would be to try and secure my release, because I have children and I’d be of more use on the outside. The arrest itself was terrible — we were both of us arrested and separated from our children and each other. Throughout the first month we could communicate only with our lawyer. I needed to get out. The person who was looking after our children throughout that whole period ended up completely overwhelmed. He works, he’s got children of his own. It was a great feat on his part to take care of our kids during those three months. I’m very grateful to him.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Why wasn’t Pyotr released for the same reason?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The application documents were filed for me only. Pyotr doesn’t want to compromise with the judicial system in any way, shape or form — and therefore found the release conditions unacceptable.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Will an application be filed for him as well?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">That’ll depend on him. It’s possible that he’ll remain in prison while the investigation is ongoing. Very soon, in mid-February, there’ll be a hearing to decide whether to extend Pyotr’s detention or release him. We’re going to insist on a public hearing.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But in terms of what happens to you, he’s ok with these kind of compromises?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, he is. I only agreed to this course of action because, number one, we have children, and number two, it doesn’t conflict with his views or mine in this particular instance.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You weren’t planning on being detained?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I was involved in the technical preparation for the action and physically didn’t have time to make myself scarce. I didn’t want to appear in shot because I don’t like publicity. But we were clean out of luck because the police materialised literally 20 seconds or so after we started — they were driving across the square and stopped by the bank. The French journos ended up behaving in extremely unscrupulous and unprofessional manner, they violated our agreement regarding the format of the video that was set to be appear online. Ditto the copyright of the photos. Everything should be freely available, with no names on the photos.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">If journalists can’t call me Pyotr’s friend, it’s better to be known as his “associate” than as his “wife” or “common-law wife”</p><p dir="ltr">Furthermore, they spilled the beans to the police, threw in the towel straight away. But that’s very much the French spirit — the French in general live with fear permanently etched in their eyes.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>So that means only Pyotr should have been visible in shot?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes. But I was also captured in CCTV footage and stills. That said, I was difficult to recognise as I was wearing a wig and glasses. I was paying homage to Jacques Mesrine, a French criminal and legend who had his own way of dealing with banks — he robbed them. He resisted his whole life long, refusing to live the life of a slave. He was called a man with a thousand faces, he constantly altered his appearance. By the way, he too was incarcerated in the Fleury-Mérogis prison, where Pyotr is now.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Within the domain of the media, if not elsewhere, you identify as an “associate” of Pyotr’s, and not as an independent artist. Why?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The whole “Pyotr’s associate” label emerged to prevent people from calling me his wife. This isn’t some kind of life stance or role. If journalists can’t call me his partner, it’s better to be known as his “associate” than as his “wife” or “common-law wife”. As for Pyotr himself, he calls me his closest friend. I’m in the business of political propaganda and identify as the head of the Political Propaganda publishing house. I’m not an artist or a performance artist. I’m involved in Pyotr’s stunts in the same way as he’s involved in the publication of the magazine.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How’s your magazine evolving now?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">It’s changed massively since launching online in 2012. We’re now bringing out titles by interesting authors via our publishing house. There’s been one constant throughout this period: the magazine has remained absolutely non-buyable and non-saleable. It’s extremely important for us to contribute to the development of the gift economy, so the magazine is free. I had a new book ready for release last autumn, and my arrest came at an extremely inopportune time. That was the last publication we had in the works before we left Russia, and we needed to see it through to the end. It’s intended for a Russian audience. Now we have to resume the publication process, find money to print it, relaunch the site (which stopped working while I was in custody), and arrange a presentation in Russia.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The local bodies prosecuting you both aren’t making any distinctions between you. As far the public sphere is concerned, however, this was Pyotr’s action rather than a joint endeavour. Does this not irk you?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">That’s the way it should be — it doesn’t violate our arrangements in any way. If I’d stood beside him during the action and he alone ended up being talked about, that’d be another matter. But I’d no intention of playing a visible role in the stunt. I help Pyotr as far as I’m able to, and that’s as far as it goes. This isn’t an act of self-actualisation for me, I’m not an artist. Pyotr is an artist who’s making political art.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What’s your current status, and what restrictions are you under?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I’m under investigation, Pyotr and I have been charged under the same article. I cannot leave French territory, nor can I set foot in the 11th and 4th arrondissements (where the action took place), although my children go to school in the 11th. The inconsistency and stupidity of the system made itself felt in this respect as well. I need to check in with the police twice a week. There are no other restrictions.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Your arrest wasn’t captured on video. How did it did take place and what happened afterwards?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I wasn’t allowed to be filmed, and I’m glad that in this respect our arrangements were respected. I was handcuffed, bundled into a car and driven to a police station on the Place de la Bastille. The following day I was taken to another station in the 19th. They drew up some documents, took my fingerprints, took some photographs. The way they arrested Pyotr was more brutal. We were driven to the station in separate cars. They put us in the same corridor but in separate cells. The grime was horrific, I hadn’t seen anything like it for a long time. Conditions in the cell were fairly harsh — you couldn’t stretch your legs, the bed was two foot long. You go to the toilet and there’s a cop standing over you. Takes getting used to.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What form did the interrogations take?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">They took place in the presence of my lawyer, but they’ve got a slightly different system here: in contrast to the way it normally happens in Russia, you can’t consult your lawyer during the course of the interrogation — he can only advise you beforehand. The investigators quickly ascertained who Pyotr was — and, as it seems to me, treated us differently as a result. If he wasn’t an artist, I think he’d have been slapped with terrorism charges. But they didn’t go to that extreme.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">I don’t go around asking them why they’re so fat yet work for the police. I for one don’t think this is acceptable</p><p dir="ltr">During the interrogations I was asked about why we had no permanent official address, work, or telephone numbers. To add to that, an interview that came out two weeks prior to our arrest featured Pyotr talking about our life in Paris, about how we got our food, where we were living, why we weren’t paying for anything. I refused to answer such questions — after all, I don’t go around asking them why they’re so fat yet work for the police. I for one don’t think this is acceptable. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What does the courtroom look like?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">It’s a small space. You’ve got the judge, prosecutor and clerk, with a cop standing behind along with the individual under investigation and their lawyer. It’s reminiscent of Stalinist times: the trial takes place behind closed doors. When I came to court in November and demanded a public trial, the judge said she would under no circumstances provide me with a platform for my political pronouncements.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Did you and Pyotr manage to talk prior to being imprisoned?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">We talked when we were sitting in a prison truck, and I knew that he’d gone on hunger strike. He told the judge that he was outraged that the principle of transparency had been violated and demanded a public trial. The judge just laughed in response. As a result, he kept up his hunger strike for thirteen days. And then he was put in a restraint bed. He yanked out his IVs and bled everywhere. He was then forcibly fed through IVs for two days. It was clear that they’d broken his hunger strike and that there was no point trying to keep it up any longer. He started eating and drinking again.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Is there a possibility that you’ll go back to Russia?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There isn’t, no. We can’t be deported. The maximum sentence we face is 10 years’ imprisonment.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>This is your first experience of prison. What did you go through when you wound up in a French jail?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Initially it was difficult — I spent the first month alone in a two-person cell and was allowed no visitors whatsoever. I couldn’t even communicate with my kids. The authorities wanted to turn up the heat on us, which is why we were kept in isolation. And Pyotr is still in a solitary-confinement cell today. When they tried to make him eat, he retaliated. He was initially put into a disciplinary cell and then into solitary.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What conditions were you kept in?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">What prevailed initially was a day-to-day vacuum: no books, nothing to do. There was just a TV in the cell, and you were given two envelopes and a couples of sheets of paper. It was up to the inmate to order more paper, and it’d never arrive quickly. There was no shampoo or deodorant either, which made life a challenge on a run-of-the-mill kind of level — you were issued only with a toothbrush and toothpaste (both unfit for purpose) plus shower gel. Which was all meant to make you feel that even everyday trivialities were beyond your control.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The maximum sentence we face is 10 years’ imprisonment</p><p dir="ltr">There’s no cash in French prisons, everyone’s got an account. The money I had on me was transferred into my account, but it didn’t go through immediately, which meant problems with food. Overall, the food on offer was fine. You could order food from the shop — you’d get a list of items you could choose from. But if you had no money for the shop, you could get by well on enough on prison food as well.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Did you interact with anyone?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I interacted with everyone I happened to encounter — there’s a real dearth of basic human communication in prison. This normally happens during assemblies, when you’re awaiting yet another bureaucratic procedure, at the medical station, or when you’re on your way to court.</p><p dir="ltr">These conversations can be pivotal. For example, you can find out what the deal is with the mobile situation. Smuggling an ordinary mobile into prison costs 200 euros, while smuggling in a smartphone costs 800.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/oxsh_pp.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Pyotr Pavlensky and Oksana Shalygina in Paris. Image courtesy of Pyotr Pavlensky.</span></span></span>These subtleties, which you’re initially unfamiliar with and which can only be grasped by way of face-to-face contact, are many and various.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Were you asked about your crime?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Not so much about my crime as about what I was there for. When I began to explain that banks are the new prisons, people immediately understood and agreed. Some only managed to grasp the second time around what political art was and what purpose it actually served.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What about time in the open air?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I didn’t go out that often as I didn’t find it particularly stimulating. When you’re confined in a small space for a long time, you hardly move about at all. And when you emerge in the open air you start feeling dizzy and tired. There was stuff to do inside — you could read books and learn French and English. I devoted a lot of time in prison to studying French. There was a library, but I only got access to it a month in. Literature-wise things weren’t great. There were only five books in Russian — a couple of God-awful novels and some poetry: Mandelstam, Babel. I devoured it all straight away.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Did you interact with the warders?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">When I first arrived, I was received by five people — they noticed that I was missing a finger, which never catches anyone’s attention. I reckon they must’ve known what happened, and they received me very hospitably, if you can speak about prison in such terms. They don’t interact with arrestees, though, but only with long-term inmates who do tasks such as cleaning the premises and handing round food. Prisoners who do this sort of thing are known in Russia as kozly [literally “goats”, slang for inmates who collaborate with the prison authorities].</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What’s the makeup of the prison population?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The inmates were almost all foreign: people of colour, Arabs, Romanians, Serbians, Italians, Brazilians. Many had been arrested on terrorism charges. There was a Serbian girl named Esmeralda Medovic who’d served 17 stints in Fleury-Mérogis. There was a woman who knifed her friend because he raped her kid — and she was happy she’d done it, happy she’d dealt with the problem herself. Two Russian speakers were brought in just before I was released. Generally, you’re laughing and joking around a lot with your fellow inmates, and if you’re looking down someone will always ask what happened and try and cheer you up. It’s a sisterhood of sorts. During yard time you’re often all singing or even dancing. Makes your heart melt.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Who were your cellmates?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">My first one had had a mental breakdown. She refused to talk to me and would do nothing but eat, sleep, relieve herself and lie on her bed. Co-existing with her in a cell that measured three metres by four was a challenge. You need to be exchanging words here and there throughout the day, otherwise you’re inviting tension. If I asked her a question she wouldn’t reply — but if she wanted to tell me something she’d frequently scream. That really got to me. I spent a week getting the measure of her — and then solved the problem: breaking a mop against her did the trick.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">We don’t need any help from the state. The state is power, and we want nothing to do with that power</p><p dir="ltr">Then they paired me up with a decent Romanian girl. We communicated in a mixture of English and French and got on like a house on fire.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Was there anything to do other than watch TV?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">You could sign up to do work, to play sport, and there was a bunch of clubs to join as well. I went for sport — there was a huge hall where you could do tennis, yoga, boxing, karate. It made a nice change from the dullness of everyday prison existence. But I only went for a week. I was released after that.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Which country has the easier prison conditions, Russia or France?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">France, of course. By Russian standards this is a veritable holiday retreat. Yes, you’re a prisoner, you’re limited in what you can do, but you’re still a human being. The warders are polite and keep their distance.</p><p dir="ltr">You got political asylum here, and many people began to use this fact as the main plank in their criticism: France isn’t Russia, you’ve analogised structurally different entities, and at any rate, it’s uncalled-for to bite the hand that feeds you.</p><p dir="ltr">First of all, we refused everything France wanted to give us. In fact, all we actually accepted from France were our identity cards. We refused all social security benefits, refused their offers of financial assistance and accommodation. We don’t need any help from the state. The state is power, and we want nothing to do with that power.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Eclairage_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Eclairage_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image courtesy of Pyotr Pavlensky.</span></span></span>The action also came in for criticism from erstwhile supporters of yours. Many thought it strange that you decided to attack a bank in a country that isn’t the principal stronghold of capitalism.</p><p dir="ltr">We made a lot of enemies on leaving Russia and now seem to have even more. But I’ve heard many words of support from those who understand us — and this is more important for me than the mass of people who are just lazily chewing this over. If you’re a worthy human being, I can hear out your opinion. I don’t think there’s any principal stronghold. People wanted to heroise Pyotr but didn’t succeed in doing so. I can’t speak for Pyotr, there’s a text accompanying the action where he explains everything in detail. In my view, though, it was a truly leftist stunt against the backdrop of the advancing right-wing narrative that is taking over the world. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>When you were leaving Russia, you said you didn’t want to put your children at risk — if you were to be prosecuted, they could be sent away to an orphanage. When you wound up behind bars here in France, your children were left all alone. Do you not think this puts them in jeopardy?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">If we thought this way, we’d never have achieved anything whatsoever in our lives. We don’t regard our children as something through which we can be manipulated. If we did, they’d cease to be our beloved children and become levers of control. We cannot be manipulated. And it wasn’t for the sake of our kids that we left Russia — we left because we didn’t want to serve time for a crime we didn’t commit. Now the situation is fundamentally different: we’re not about to take off anywhere. </p><p dir="ltr">The children are attending school here purely so they can learn French. When they’ve mastered the language, they may well stop attending – that’ll depend on what they decide. But if do they decide to stop going to school, we’ll only support them in their decision. In my opinion, their minds are atrophying there — the school doesn’t offer them any depth of knowledge. Pyotr and I got them studying serious disciplines: drawing, literature, poetry, chess, boxing.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do you have any desire to return to Russia?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">When we left for Europe, we weren’t labouring under any illusions. We knew we weren’t swapping hell for heaven. Our life hasn’t changed in any way, and it’s all the same to us where we’re based. We’ve got a baseline of life, a set of principles we live by: never work for anyone, use your precious time usefully, carry on the work begun in 2012. We might well want to return, but we can’t, so we won’t. And so we entertain no emotions in this regard. It is what it is. It makes no difference what country we’re in.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translated by Leo Shtutin. </em></p><p dir="ltr"><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kalikh/hope-for-russias-hopeless-elections">Hope for Russia’s hopeless elections</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-inside-story-of-russias-failed-social-media-revolution">The inside story of Russia’s failed social media revolution</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/on-prison-and-liberty-interview-with-pyotr-pavlensky">On prison and liberty: an interview with Pyotr Pavlensky</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tatyana Dvornikova Human rights Cultural politics Thu, 25 Jan 2018 11:10:05 +0000 Tatyana Dvornikova 115811 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “I got called in by the KGB. They said there were no LGBT people in Transnistria” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/katya-myachina/they-said-there-were-no-lgbt-people-in-transnistria <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Transnistria, an unrecognised territory between Moldova and Ukraine, documentary photography is becoming one of the most effective tools for talking about taboo and controversial subjects. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/katya-myachina/mne-skazali-chto-lgbt-v-pridnestrovie" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DUC_nosilence-2_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DUC_nosilence-2_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="299" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Karolina Dutka, photo from the project "No silence". Published with the permission of the author.</span></span></span>In October 2016, photographer Carolina Dutca was preparing for the opening of an exhibition of her work in Tiraspol’s Club 19. But after she posted an announcement about it online, she was asked to visit Transnistria’s security services. </p><p dir="ltr">Dutca’s <a href="http://nosilence.tilda.ws/">No Silence</a> photo project was the first public declaration that an LGBT community exists in the unrecognised republic, and the authorities were not happy with it. Pressure from law enforcement agencies ensured that the exhibition did not take place.</p><p dir="ltr">A year later, the project had been exhibited in Ukraine, Moldova and the Czech Republic, while almost anyone with an internet connection in her own republic knew about her work as well. Since then Carolina has completed several photo projects on subjects that no one in Transnistria is yet prepared to talk about. Now she’s planning to put all her efforts into covering social issues and setting up a creative community that she hopes will help develop civil society in Transnistria. </p><p dir="ltr">I met up with Carolina to talk about how art can be the most effective way to start a conversation about sensitive subjects.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tell me in some more detail about what happened with your LGBT exhibition?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>CD:</strong> I hid the fact that I was working on a project on LGBT issues until the very last moment, because I knew there might be problems. A day before the KGB contacted me I posted an announcement about the exhibition on “Typical Transnistria”, our most popular VKontakte social media group. Overnight, about 700 comments appeared, with hate speech going viral. I started getting anonymous threats, and someone rang my doorbell and ran away. Then I got called in by the KGB. They told me that there were no LGBT people in Transnistria and that my photos were fakes, so I had to cancel the show. They also said that if I refused, they couldn’t answer for anything that might happen to me. And they threatened that my parents might have problems at work.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What triggered the idea for the project?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>CD:</strong> About three years ago I got to know a young man who turned out to be gay. He told me about the discrimination he faced, and this was an eye-opener for me — I had never thought about LGBT issues in Transnistria before.</p><p dir="ltr">The thing is that the issue is swept completely under the carpet. There is just nowhere where LGBT people can get together. There’s one social media group, “Rainbow Transnistria”, and that’s it. LGBT issues are totally off people’s radar, so my project was the first ever mention of the subject in the public sphere. Because it’s never mentioned, a lot of people think there are just no LGBT people here. Naturally, there have been no opinion polls on the subject. In Chișinău, there is, on the other hand, an organisation called <a href="https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ro&amp;u=https://gdm.md/&amp;prev=search">Genderdoc-M</a>, which runs Pride rallies and workshops and carries out research into LGBT issues. But not everyone in Transnistria can go there, for reasons of distance as well as other obstacles.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">With no information around, many believe that there are simply no LGBT people here</p><p dir="ltr">In Chișinău you can at least go to a Pride rally or hold hands with someone on the street, and nothing will happen to you. People may look askance, but you won’t be in danger. Whereas, I can’t even imagine that happening in Tiraspol.</p><p dir="ltr">Many people I know thought I was crazy for raising the subject at all; they believed I was just trying to shock. But I think that we need to talk about the issue. Through VKontakte, I wrote to everyone who subscribed to Rainbow Transnistria, but out of 150 people, only 16 were prepared to participate in the project. Now, post factum, I’ve met lots of people whom I had asked to take part and they have told me that they really wanted to help but were too scared. Many weren’t even ready to meet me, because five or so years ago thugs used social media to set up meetings with LGBT people and then beat them up.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How did the exhibition story end?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>CD: </strong>I decided to abandon the idea. Club 19, the space where it was due to take place, was ready to organise it regardless and even suggested taking it over, as though it had been their own initiative. But the bottom line for me was the safety of my parents. I know what leverage the local special services can use against people. If I lived on my own I would definitely have gone ahead with it.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DUC_nosilence2_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DUC_nosilence2_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Karolina Dutka, photo from the project "No silence". Published with the permission of the author.</span></span></span>I did, however, exhibit the project several times in Odesa, Chișinău and Prague. When I was taking my photos across Transnistria’s border with Ukraine, I was really worried that I would have problems during the security checks, but everything went smoothly. No Silence hung in the US Embassy’s Resource Centre in Chișinău all during Pride Month and was visited by around 1,000 people. The centre’s staff were slightly worried about having an exhibition on such a controversial subject on their hands, but I don’t like raising such issues just for a narrow circle of “people like us” — that has no effect at all. My main targets are the people who would naturally avoid such subjects like the plague.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Thanks to all the fuss around the exhibition, a lot more people learned about the subject than if it had taken place</p><p dir="ltr">I think that the ban on the exhibition meant that a lot of those people became engaged with the issue. Club 19 is the only free space in Tiraspol, and I can imagine that if it had gone ahead, it would have been mostly visited by people who knew me and were well acquainted with LGBT matters. But thanks to all the fuss, a lot more people learned about the subject than if the exhibition had taken place.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>After the exhibition ban, did you find any other people in Transnistria who were prepared to take part in a dialogue on sensitive social issues?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>CD:</strong> No, for the moment I’m the only documentary photographer involved in studying and working with social issues here. There are other documentary photographers around, but they have a different focus and way of working. They are interested in more everyday subjects: they shoot stories about all the stuff that comes into your head when you think about Moldova and Transnistria — villages, children, nature and so on. And then there is Ramin Mazur, who creates photo projects about Moldovan prisoners serving life sentences. He was born in Transnistria, in Rybnitsa, but works mostly in Moldova.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Weren’t you afraid to get involved in sensitive issues after you’d been questioned by the KGB?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>CD:</strong> I did think there might be problems from the authorities, but I was probably already prepared for that. I think that if I’d been hauled in again, my previous experience with them would have given me the confidence to have a different kind of conversation. Immediately after No Silence, I started on a project called <a href="http://theplacesofviolence.tilda.ws/">The Places of Violence</a>, about domestic violence against women, but the KGB showed no further interest in me. Women’s rights are not a taboo subject in Transnistria, but they are still a very sensitive one. While in Russia, domestic violence has just <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/antonina-vikhrest/victims-of-russia-s-ultra-conservatism-are-russian-people-themselves">recently been decriminalised</a>, here it was never criminalised in the first place, so there is no legislation on it at all.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DUC_nosilence-3_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DUC_nosilence-3_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Karolina Dutka, photo from the project "No silence". Published with the permission of the author.</span></span></span>The problem with the LGBT thing was that there were no statistics on the subject, so I couldn’t argue with the KGB about whether there were such people in Transnistria. Domestic violence is a different matter, as we do have figures for it. Last year, for example, a woman was murdered by her live-in partner in a fit of jealousy and became a statistic on the Department of Internal Affairs database, so the KGB couldn’t deny the existence of the issue even if they wanted to.</p><p dir="ltr">One of my aims in The Places of Violence was to talk about organisations that support women who have experienced domestic violence, so that people would know where to turn if they needed help. We have organisations like this, but they are very few and almost invisible. We have, for example, only one women’s shelter in the whole of Transnistria, in Bender.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Why did you decide to get involved with this particular issue?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>CD:</strong> It was because I had experienced domestic violence myself. Only once — I walked out immediately, so it wasn’t a long lasting thing, but it did happen to me. I think it’s important to show women who have faced this issue that there is no shame in it, at the very least.</p><p dir="ltr">In general, if an issue doesn’t touch me closely, I won’t be able to get other people involved in it because I haven’t had that personal experience. I always start from my own experience or the experience of people close to me and then look for others who have been through the same thing and use their help to get my head round the subject.</p><p dir="ltr">I was more pleased with the results of The Places of Violence than with any previous project. I had problems finding people to take part in it, and had to pester organisations that support women with violent partners and trawl social media in search of stories. In the end I found 10 women who had experienced long term violence and cruelty. The project was also hard for me psychologically, because I can’t listen to a survivor of domestic violence and then just walk away: I can’t be dispassionate about it.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DUC_nosilence-4_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DUC_nosilence-4_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="322" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Karolina Dutka, photo from the project "No silence". Published with the permission of the author.</span></span></span>Because this was a multimedia project, I had to absorb the hours-long tapes of our conversations that by the end I felt I knew by heart. I know that my task is to bring these stories to public attention, but when I’m actually with a specific woman and she is telling me how her husband beat her senseless and then poured cold water over her and beat her some more, I want to help her as an individual but I realise that I can’t do that. After this, I feel I need psychological help myself.</p><p dir="ltr">But I was so happy to see so many people, and so many of them men, at all three exhibitions and discussions that we ran alongside the project in various towns and cities in Transnistria. Most of the men took part in the discussions and argued with me about the importance of the project, which I didn’t find easy. But what I wanted to do with this project was to plant some thoughts in people’s heads, so that they would start thinking about the issue for themselves.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The censorship and general political situation in Transnistria evidently means that art is the only means people have of expressing their civic consciousness. Has this always been the case or is it something recent?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>CD:</strong> It’s just a recent thing, and I think that this interest in art and documentary photography arose about five years ago, when the first independent spaces where anyone could organise an event began to appear. </p><p dir="ltr">It all started with Club 19 in Tiraspol, where my LGBT exhibition was supposed to take place, but now there are similar clubs in Rybnitsa and Dubăsari. And their independent stance means that they face the same kind of harassment from the KGB. The woman who ran Club 19, for example, was recently forced to emigrate after unknown assailants beat up her son and took care to mention his parents as they did so. </p><p dir="ltr">But at least these spaces provide interesting events that stimulate other people to put their ideas into practice. So something is happening: a lot of people have told me, for example, that my projects have inspired them to try something out.</p><p dir="ltr">I am always ready to help aspiring photographers and other creative people, because I believe that the appearance of a creative environment that challenges people to ask questions about social issues is a crucial element in the development of civil society.</p><p dir="ltr">In Transnistria, political and social questions are usually debated in round table discussions among members of different organisations, but I’m not sure whether this is a useful means of reaching the wider public. We need to talk to people using accessible language and an attractive format, and I feel that photography and art are very powerful tools for changing society and try to use them for that purpose. There are innumerable beautiful photographs in the world — you can go on Google and admire them — but photography for its own sake doesn’t interest me.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Many people of your age dream of leaving Transnistria. Have you thought about doing that?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>CD: </strong>I used to. Things aren’t easy here and I would have so many more opportunities abroad. But emigration is a difficult subject now. I just can’t see anyone around me who would be prepared to shake the people here up, and they certainly need shaking. We have very fertile ground for development here: everything is just at an embryonic stage. I also know the area: I find it easy and interesting to study — you could say I’ve lived through everything that goes on here. Every now and then I go away for a short time, to recharge my batteries, but I always come back with renewed energy and new ideas.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translated by Liz Barnes.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>The article was drawn up as a part of the "Conflict transformation in the post-Soviet space" research project. The project was supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany and carried out by the Center for Independent Social Research (CISR e.V. Berlin)</em></p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/fighting-impunity-in-moldova-and-transnistria">Fighting impunity in Moldova and Transnistria</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/viktoria-pashentseva/tough-lessons-in-transnistria">Tough lessons in Transnistria</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map">Putting Russia’s homophobic violence on the map</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-antonova/we-have-lift-off-on-speaking-out-on-sexual-violence">We have lift-off on speaking out on sexual violence</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-shupac/lgbt-lives-in-moldova">LGBT lives in Moldova</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/antonina-vikhrest/victims-of-russia-s-ultra-conservatism-are-russian-people-themselves">The victims of Russia’s ultra-conservatism are the Russian people themselves</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Katya Myachina Russia Moldova Human rights Wed, 24 Jan 2018 13:10:39 +0000 Katya Myachina 115766 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Who killed Iryna Nozdrovska? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/valeria-costa-kostritsky/who-killed-irina-nozdrovska <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The murder of a prominent female lawyer in Ukraine questions the progress of reform and revolution.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_1317.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The murder of Iryna Nozdrovska has been seen as a litmus test for justice sector reform. Image courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>On the day she disappeared, Iryna Nozdrovska took a bus from the Heroes of the Dnipro metro station in north Kyiv to the village of Demydiv, where she lived with her elderly parents and 18 year-old daughter Anastasiya. Two days before, Nozdrovska had sat in a court that blocked the amnesty of Dmytro Rossoshansky, the man who had been convicted for running over and killing Iryna’s younger sister Svitlana two years before. At the time of Svitlana’s death, Dmytro’s great uncle, a judge, was the head of a local district court. In Ukraine, police reform has been heralded as one of Maidan’s flagship reforms, one that would get rid of endemic corruption and selective justice — but it has faced mounting public criticism, especially in light of the Nozdrovska case.</p><p dir="ltr">The seven-year sentence against Rossoshansky was the result of a long fight which had seen Iryna quit her job to concentrate on a case she felt the police and the court were intent on burying. According to Ukrainian MP<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Mustafanayyem/posts/10211573284273754?pnref=story"> Mustafa Nayyem</a>, a member of Petro Poroshenko Bloc, Dmytro Rossoshansky’s father had threatened Nozdrovska during the court session, telling her: “You will come to a bad end.” Iryna had a car, but lately the 38-year-old lawyer hadn’t been using it, her parents told me, as she was saving on petrol. Buses to Demydiv drive north through Kyiv, first going past high rises and then through expanses of forest. They play shanson or contemporary pop songs. The ride itself takes about half an hour. People say the road is good: it leads to Mezhyhirya, what used to be former president Viktor Yanukovych’s luxury estate.</p><p dir="ltr">When I visited Iryna’s relatives on the Sunday following her funeral, it was snowing. Two policemen had been dispatched to ensure the family’s protection. There’s two houses on the property. A smaller, antiquated one, where the parents live, and a new one, where Iryna lived with her daughter. Sitting in a room full of children toys, where the TV, the mirrors and the icons were covered with towels, Iryna’s parents seemed to have been made smaller by grief. Still, they were intent on speaking. Kateryna, Iryna’s 62-year-old mother, who would sometimes stop talking to sob against the back of the sofa where we are sitting, tells me that on 29 December she had called her daughter at 4:30pm. “She said she was in Petrivtsi, which meant she’d be home in 20 minutes, but she never arrived. And the next time I called there was no answer.” </p><p dir="ltr">That was unusual. The family, who claim that over the years they had repeatedly been threatened by Rossoshansky’s family and his friends, were immediately worried. Iryna’s father, Serhiy, told me that they had all walked to the bus stop to meet her, stood there as two or three buses went past, but they couldn’t find any trace of Iryna. By then, night had fallen. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“People identified with what happened to Svitlana and with her sister’s fight. We all think it could happen to us”</p><p dir="ltr">Anastasiya told me: “It took two hours for the police to come. They seemed not to want to do anything about her disappearance. They asked if we were sure it wasn’t a PR stunt.” The police only issued a missing person notice on the following day, publishing it on Facebook.</p><p dir="ltr">Facing the apparent inertia of the police, Iryna’s family and friends took matters in their own hands. They immediately shared the news of her disappearance on social media, asking for help in finding her. According to Anastasiya, around 100 people gathered on 1 January, at 12pm. “We were still waiting for more people to arrive when we were told that a body had been found.” A man walking his dog had called the police after finding the naked body of a woman in the river. The police later confirmed this was Iryna Nozdrovska’s body. She had been stabbed 15 times and died on 29 December.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_1330.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="314" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>The news of Nozdrovska’s murder went viral. On 2 January, people <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/04/ukraine-killing-of-rights-lawyer-sparks-protests-against-criminal-system">protested</a> in front of Kyiv’s National Police headquarters. The US embassy in Ukraine expressed shock over the killing and said those responsible should be brought to justice. “News of someone powerful killing a passerby at the wheel without any investigation taking place are so common,” Tetiana Pechonchyk, a member of Ukraine’s Human Rights Information Centre, explains why the case has provoked such strong feelings. “People identified with what happened to Svitlana and with her sister’s fight. We all think it could happen to us. That’s why I’m so careful when I cross the street. This is something people get furious about.”</p><p dir="ltr">On 9 January, the day of Iryna’s funeral, a crowd of journalists followed an excruciating ceremony where her father kept shouting “Monsters, monsters, junkies killed my daughter!” while her mother called “Don’u!”, the intimate name given to one’s daughter in Ukrainian. Iryna’s friend Vitalii stepped away to smoke a cigarette and told me, absentmindedly, as we stared at the family’s backyard: “I saw her at the morgue. They did the best job possible with her body... Considering...” Later, a procession walked across the village, stopping for a moment at the spot where Svitlana had been run over by Dmytro Rossoshansky while walking to the bus stop at eight in the morning. In the cemetery, they buried Iryna next to her sister, each grave headed by the photo of a blonde woman, smiling.</p><p dir="ltr">Lidia Goncharenko, whom I met at the funeral, held a one woman protest in front of Kyiv’s Prosecutor’s Office the following day. Goncharenko is part of the<a href="https://m.facebook.com/groups/198565087266397"> Andriyivsky Citizen Action group</a>, and told me Iryna had contacted her, asking for help with her sister’s case. “In Vyshgorod district, no one listened to her for two years. She claimed that Rossoshansky’s blood test had been tainted, that the blood sample wasn’t his and that he had been driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. She said she could prove it. She discovered he had a track record including car theft, robbery and driving on drugs, but had never been convicted. She managed to obtain a change of venue for the trial, arguing of a risk of conflict of interest. That’s when things started moving forward. What she wanted was for a retrial to establish that Rossoshansky had failed to call emergency services. That way he wouldn’t be eligible for an amnesty. Everyone says the system is guilty but you’re part of the system, so you have to change yourself.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_in_funeral.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>In the waiting room of the Prosecutor’s office, an older woman called Natalia told me she would always be grateful to Iryna for helping her with her own case. She depicted a judicial system in complete failure: “Very often, the relatives of someone who has been killed will want to act in the weeks that follow the death. That’s when they get a lawyer. But then, very often, witnesses are paid, they retract their statement, and people don’t have the energy to push through. Iryna kept at it because Rossoshansky’s relatives said her sister had thrown herself under the wheels of his car. It’s bad enough when there’s a tragedy. It becomes unbearable if you add insult to it.”</p><p dir="ltr">Most members of the Andriyivsky group campaign for increased accountability and against what they say are illegal constructions in one of Kyiv’s oldest neighbourhoods. Yulia Didenko, part of the Andriyivsky group, attended a few of the Maidan trials, which are judging individuals accused of having killed, beaten or framed Maidan supporters. She says it’s important to monitor them and believes that the people responsible will be let off the hook if there’s no public interest — many of them are still in power, in the police and the security services. As we walk towards Klovska metro station, Didenko points at a huge building recently erected opposite her house, on Mechnykova Street, which she claims breaches all regulations: “This chaos is just how those who have power live. This chaos is their life.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“To understand who she was I think you’d have to go through the amount of loss she experienced. You didn’t have to like her, no. But to kill her for that?”</p><p dir="ltr">In the flurry of articles that followed her death, Iryna has often been referred to as a civil rights defender. “What kind of civil rights defender was she, though?” a friend who works in the field mused, while munching on a salad. “One who called anyone who stood in her way a junkie or a drunk? Who wanted for a man to sit in jail as long as possible? Wasn’t she mostly working on her sister’s case and seeking vengeance?” Always contrarian, video blogger and troll Anatolii Sharii seemed to take pleasure in posting videos he claimed challenged Nozdrovska’s credibility, for instance raw footage filmed by a member of the Rossoshansky family during a skirmish which showed Iryna and her mother howling “Murderer!” </p><p dir="ltr">Rossoshansky’s family said Dmytro had stopped drinking in 2015. He qualified for an amnesty because he suffers from cirrhosis and hepatitis. Nozdrovska also seemed to have had a taste for litigation. She claimed the fact her sister’s widower had signed a statement renouncing any claims against Dmytro Rossoshansky showed he had been scared or bought off. In 2016, Iryna’s parents<a href="https://strana.ua/articles/rassledovania/115489-delo-zhizni-i-smerti-ukrainskoj-pravozaashchitnitsy-iriny-nozdrovskoj.html"> sued him</a> to obtain visiting rights and she represented them in court. She tried to show her sister’s widower didn’t fulfil his parental duties and to discredit his current partner, and failed to do so. The man claimed he hadn’t been visiting his son’s grandparents because the family lived in an atmosphere that was tense and aggressive.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_1393.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anastasiya Nozdrovska. Image courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>“My mum understood that for a case not to be forgotten you have to call the press, so she got in touch with all the outlets she could, the good ones, the bad ones, everything,” Anastasiya tells me, as we sit on the huge bed that seems to have become her refuge and her office. Iryna took part in a TV show called <a href="http://ekstrasens.stb.ua/ru/">“The Investigation Is Conducted by Psychics”</a> where a woman claiming to be a medium retraced her sister’s last steps with her. “I can feel a dark masculine energy,” the woman says as they reached the spot where Svitlana had been killed, before urging Iryna to let go of her anger. “We also got invited to a talk show, and they promised only our family would be there. But when we arrived the Rossoshansky family occupied half the studio. They called me again this time but I’m not going back. I just want to talk to journalists who are interested in finding out what happened,” Anastasiya says.</p><p dir="ltr">Journalist Volodymyr Timofiychuk met Iryna while covering her sister’s death for a <a href="https://2plus2.ua/lyustrator-762">sensationalist TV show</a>. Timofiychuk now works for Ukraine TV channel. We meet in the cafeteria, after he made sure I wasn’t working for a pro-Russian outlet. He tells me Iryna had found out Rossoshansky had been admitted to the hospital with “white fever” (delirium tremens) six months before running over Svitlana. He says: “I bonded with Iryna because we both refuse corruption. We both refuse to pay when we’re asked to. I’m the guy who reminds the marshrutka drivers that when pensioners ask if they can travel for free they can’t say no. Because there’s a law that guarantees that. You can even read it in the texts plastered inside the car. No one likes you for doing that. Iryna was the same. She knew existing laws. But she would bump into people who would tell her that these laws didn’t matter. That would make me shout. She shouted. But to understand who she was I think you’d have to go through the amount of loss she experienced. You didn’t have to like her, no. But to kill her for that?”</p><p dir="ltr">On the evening of 8 January, the police arrested a man in connection with Nozdrovska’s murder. This was later revealed to be Yuriy Rossoshansky, Dmytro Rossoshansky’s father, who had confessed to the lawyer’s murder. He said he had met Iryna at the bus stop while drunk and carrying a knife, had a violent discussion with her, stabbed her and carried her body to the river, where he had thrown her after taking off her clothes which he later burnt. By then, most people didn’t believe the version of the police.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“In a country where things work normally, she wouldn’t have had to investigate her sister’s killing. The police investigator would have done that”</p><p dir="ltr">On 11 January, Anastasiya and the four lawyers working pro bono on her mother’s murder held a press conference asking for transparency, lamenting the fact the prosecution hadn’t shared all the evidence with them (this, however, seems standard before an investigation is over). By then, the murder seemed to have become the talk of every household in the city and everyone was playing detective. My flatmate tells me the killer’s methods, undressing the victim, getting rid of her phone and burning her clothes, reminded her of contract killings that 1990s television series are full of. Timofiychuk has questions: “Rossoshansky’s father said he stabbed her at the bus stop. Where is the blood then? And where is Iryna’s bag?” According to Nozdrovska’s parents, Rossoshansky’s wife claimed the police had made her husband confess in exchange for the promised amnesty of his son.</p><p dir="ltr">Mikhail Krivoruchkin, from Donetsk, met Iryna during Maidan, when she came to the anti-corruption bureau he had opened with friends. Sitting in her parents’ living room, looking wary, Krivoruchkin tells me of all the enemies she could have made, of all the people she had bothered. “There’s the police officers she got fired for faulty procedure,” Mikhail says. “There’s these friends of Rossoshansky who sat at the trial and looked like they had done time in jail,” Iryna’s father tells me. “My mum had been investigating tenders, a case where the director of a school put money in her pocket. I think that when money is involved people can do everything,” Anastasiya says. For now, members of Iryna’s close circle believe someone could have used Yuriy Rossoshansky’s well-known enmity with Iryna to kill her and frame him. None of them had any trust in the police. President Petro Poroshenko’s congratulations to the police, <a href="http://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/shvidka-reakciya-u-poshuku-ta-zatrimannya-pidozryuvanogo-ye-45370">claiming</a> that “such a fast crime solution indicates the extremely high potential of the reformed National Police”, only made things worse. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_demydiv.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_demydiv.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Demydiv village. Image courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>For Mikhail, who cannot go back to Donetsk to see his mother after he fought on the pro-Ukrainian side, has seen friends die, has no home and no job, the hopes raised by the Maidan revolution have soured. Iryna’s daughter told me her mother had been very involved in Maidan, following what was happening avidly, constantly worrying, bringing cigarettes and food to the square. </p><p dir="ltr">“The whole country had hoped it could change its course, through blood, the blood shed on Maidan,” Anastasiya says. But Iryna’s mother told me her daughter had recently asked her: “Why did we stand on Maidan? What good did it do?” Katerina adds: “What we wanted was for things to get better. They only got worse.” In Demydiv, the old sovkhoz, or state-owned farm, closed long ago. There’s no jobs and many people drink. Liberal policies favoured by pro-European politicians like Nayyem are unlikely to make life better in this kind of village. Anastasiya hopes the family can sell what they have and raise enough money to move to Kyiv while she continues her legal studies to become a lawyer, like her mum. “When everything slows down, it will sink in, what happened,” she says.</p><p dir="ltr">Before leaving Kyiv, I spoke to a journalist who claimed that an aide to the Minister of Internal Affairs leaked police evidence to them. “Something quite ironic is happening, really. The police failed so monumentally in this case [at the start] that now that they’ve actually worked hard and seemed to come up with the culprit, but no one believes them anymore. It’s karma.” They add: “The Ministry’s communication has been so bad for so long— they seem to have been barking at us since Arsen Avakov’s appointment — that they don’t know how to communicate anymore so they leak documents to journalists instead.” The evidence, the journalist claimed, was quite compelling. “During the murder’s reconstruction, they used a mannequin as well as a body double for Iryna. Yuriy Rossoshansky is tall and seems strong. He didn’t have any trouble carrying the woman to the bridge where he says he dropped Iryna’s body. And she said she had been scared.” According to the journalist, during the police reconstruction Iryna’s bank card and second phone were also found.</p><p dir="ltr">“Iryna didn’t only work as a lawyer on her sister’s case,” the journalist adds. “The situation made her investigate all the case by herself. The investigator did nothing. So she served him motions, to make him work. In a country where things work normally, she wouldn’t have had to investigate her sister’s killing. The police investigator would have done that. And if Rossoshansky’s family had had any resentment, any hatred, it would have been directed at the police. Instead, all the evil thoughts were directed at Iryna and there was no fear to kill her.”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/isobel-koshiw-anastasia-vlasova/growing-up-apolitical-in-ukraine-s-war-zone">Growing up apolitical in Ukraine’s war zone</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/peace-building-versus-human-rights-in-ukraines-donbas">Peace-building versus human rights in Ukraine’s Donbas</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/isobel-koshiw/grift-graft-saakashvili-anticorruption-poroshenko">Grift, graft, and the Saakashvili show </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergii-leshchenko/defending-ukraines-revolution-against-ukraines-leaders">Defending Ukraine’s revolution against Ukraine’s leaders</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Valeria Costa-Kostritsky Ukraine Human rights Tue, 23 Jan 2018 21:42:04 +0000 Valeria Costa-Kostritsky 115764 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Igor Yasin: “If there’s no freedom of assembly for LGBT, there’s none for anyone else” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/igor-yasin-lgbt <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Russian activist Igor Yasin on attitudes towards LGBT in Russia’s regions, why the opposition has a homophobia problem, and how to assert your rights — and still be heard. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/lgbt-aktivism-v-rossii" target="_self">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_3287-014_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_3287-014_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Igor Yasin. Photo(c): Yulia Koroleva. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Life isn’t easy for representatives of Russia’s LGBT community who don’t hide their sexual orientation. A 2013 law on “gay propaganda” has, in effect, legalised LGBT discrimination. Today, when Russian courts<a href="https://meduza.io/feature/2017/10/31/kak-vy-nadoeli-so-svoey-golubiznoy"> examine</a> offences committed against LGBT people, they often do not even establish hate as a motivating factor.</p><p dir="ltr">As part of oDR’s series on Russian civic activists (check out our other articles <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/could-elections-wake-up-kalmykia-navalny">here</a> and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-rebrov/yulia-galyamina">here</a>), I spoke to Igor Yasin, one of the leaders of the Rainbow Association, an organiser of public meetings in support of LGBT and co-chair of the Union of Journalists, about attitudes towards LGBT in Russia’s regions, why the Russian opposition has a homophobia problem and how to speak about your rights and be heard.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How did you come to activism?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Igor Yasin:</strong> I was finishing my undergraduate degree in Egypt, at Cairo University, where I got interested in politics. I first took part in street protest in 2003, in anti-war demonstrations. When I returned to Russia, I decided to figure out what was happening here politically. At that point, I’d already realised left-wing views chimed with mine. I began searching online about organisations and found AKM [Avantgarde of Red Youth, the youth wing of Working Russia; its leader is Sergey Udaltsov - ed.], and spoke to a few of its activists. Later, I found Socialist Resistance, which was then renamed to the Committee for the Workers’ International. Back then, this was one of the few organisations that was organising in support of LGBT rights.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What did your activism consist of at the beginning?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY:</strong> At first, I took part in demonstrations against Russian military actions in Chechnya, and later, against the monetisation of benefits in 2005. In autumn 2006, we organised an anti-fascist campaign against celebrating Unity Day, a new Russian public holiday which the ultra-right was using to its own ends. Public actions in support of LGBT rights started in 2006, and at that time the GayRussia organisation tried to hold its first pride event. This provoked a public discussion, including among Russian leftists. It turned out that not everyone in our society was a homophobe. That’s when I found out we had a lot in common and began to work together.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Was Russian society ready to discuss LGBT rights back then?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY:</strong> People’s ideas about LGBT people were formed by the Russian tabloid press: they wrote about LGBT people as some kind of freaks, they wrote about sex, but not about rights or politics. We wanted to change this, to start a discussion about real problems. And it was hard. We had hopes that holding a pride event would help change the situation in Russia, but we were disillusioned fairly quickly. This was mostly due to personal circumstances, but everything played its own role — there was no escape from discussing LGBT rights.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The state and the authorities have created an atmosphere of impunity, in which attacks and crimes against LGBT people aren’t investigated</p><p dir="ltr">In 2010, we started a campaign for a “March of Equality” — an attempt to unite various social groups in the fight for universal equality. At its base, the march was organised around LGBT and feminist ideas. That’s when Russia had the first attempts to pass a law banning propagandising homosexuality among underage children.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What’s wrong with pride events? Why didn’t it work out?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY:</strong> The head of GayRussia, who was trying to organise the pride event, wasn’t planning to build a movement like Harvey Milk. There were a lot of arguments, discussions inside the community about whether was even worth going to public actions. This wasn’t a question for me. But the approach of the pride organisers led to a situation where people simply stopped seeing the reason for going out onto the street. Too many people were detained and beaten up. People began to perceive all of this activity as a provocation. Thankfully, now less and less people think that public LGBT actions are bad. But attitudes used to be quite negative.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>When different Russian regions started passing laws against “homosexual propaganda” and LGBT communities, was there an understanding of what to do with this?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY:</strong> Everything started with the Arkhangelsk regional assembly’s<a href="http://barentsobserver.com/en/society/arkhangelsk-gay-law-be-challenged-strasbourg-06-07"> law on “protecting the morals and health of children”</a> — this was in July 2011. In response, we went to picket the headquarters of Arkhangelsk regon in Moscow, and were pleasantly surprised how many people turned out. Before that, it seemed that we didn’t exist as a civic force in Russia. But by that time activism had already achieved something, although it was still at an early stage. In 2011, when the wave of protests against electoral falsification started, we went out to protest with everyone else, but a strong rainbow column had already formed.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In Russia, LGBT activists who aren’t afraid to go out onto the street are often attacked. Who are the attackers? Did you understand that you were taking a risk when you went out with a rainbow badge or banner?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY: </strong>It’s mostly groups of young far-right people. We always prepared ourselves for this kind of aggression. Safety is a priority for us. It even got to the point where a group of comrades started going to self-defence courses. At big events, there were always people walking next to our column who were on the look-out safety-wise. But at big events there hasn’t been much in the way of attacks, it’s become safer.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Did you know who organised these attacks, the beating of activists on the streets?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY:</strong> We don’t have any documentary evidence to suggest who’s directing these attacks. But the state and the authorities have created an atmosphere of impunity, whereby attacks and crimes against LGBT people aren’t investigated. They gave these aggressive groups carte-blanche to do what they want. At the start, it was some kind of fascist and football fan groups. Then the Orthodox groups turned out, “God’s Will”, for example. Then the “Occupy Paedophile” movement after the laws against homosexual propaganda were passed. Even if no one was directly managing the attacks, they still had the opportunity to hurt people without fear of investigation.</p><p dir="ltr">After all, apart from LGBT, foreign students and migrants have also been subject to attacks…</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Given this atmosphere of hate, is a public conversation about LGBT rights even possible?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY:</strong> The situation was worse before this. Before, we didn’t even exist in the public debate.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In April this year, an article in Novaya Gazeta<a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/04/01/71983-ubiystvo-chesti"> stated</a> that people in Chechnya had been subject to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">mass persecution</a> on the grounds of their sexual orientation.</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY: </strong>At the time, many activists didn’t even believe that this kind of thing was possible. It was so terrible, they said that it had to be overstated. We weren’t that familiar with the situation in Chechnya. But the reality is that in Chechnya, just like in other regions, there are men who are gay, and women who are lesbian. They didn’t talk about this publicly or openly, but then they had their private lives exposed, via their mobile phones, and repressions and purges were organised. This proved a sad fact: in Russia, you don’t even have to “do anything”, they’ll still come for you. After all, many people say that “If you don’t provoke us, you’ll be left alone.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/content_map_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="291" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Former military offices in Argun, Chechnya, which was used as a secret prison to detain and torture gay men in February 2017. Image: Novaya Gazeta.</span></span></span>In the beginning, we didn’t know how to react. The main thing was not to make it worse. We understand that people there [in Chechnya] were basically hostages. I spent a lot of time on a gay dating app, I used a fake GPS to create an account in the centre of Grozny. I tried to talk to people. Everyone there uses a pseudonym. In the end, I managed to start some conversations. People told me that they was no way out: “I can’t do anything with myself, but I understand I can’t live how I want to openly. I love my family and I understand them all-too well that they won’t accept this. There’s no way out — either a double-life or suicide.”</p><p dir="ltr">One person wrote that he’d rather take his own life, so that no one from his own family would have to do it and then have to go to prison. Several people thought: now all the Chechens will go to the west on the pretext that they’re being persecuted. This is rubbish: for them, to be openly gay is basically like suicide.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">If the authorities didn’t try and create confusion, an atmosphere of hate and didn’t hamper activism, then the situation inside the LGBT community would be different today</p><p dir="ltr">We created a<a href="https://www.change.org/p/%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B1%D1%83%D0%B5%D0%BC-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B8-%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%81%D1%81%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%B4%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5-%D0%BC%D0%B0%D1%81%D1%81%D0%BE%D0%B2%D1%8B%D1%85-%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%81%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%B2-%D0%B8-%D1%83%D0%B1%D0%B8%D0%B9%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B2-%D0%B2-%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%87%D0%BD%D0%B5-chechen100"> petition</a> in support of Chechnya’s LGBT community. We demanded a real investigation into the murders and torture. It got over 500,000 signatures, we didn’t think it would get that kind of reaction.</p><p dir="ltr">We were also afraid of getting stuck in the swamp of prejudice. We decided to emphasise the fact that gay people are just another social group who are persecuted in Chechnya. In the past, there were many people who were detained on the pretext of extremism: people who broke traffic laws, people who use recreational drugs, alcohol, women who don’t dress “properly”. We didn’t hide the fact that the campaign was in support of gay people, but stressed that this was a violation of an human’s main right — to life. We managed to make sure this aspect wasn’t lost. Sure, the problem hasn’t gone away. But it has become a little bit safer.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>So, creating noise is the only way of guaranteeing safety for LGBT people right now?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY:</strong> Human rights defenders told us: we’ve been fighting for years to attract attention to problems in Chechnya. And the LGBT community was successful.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What’s the situation like for LGBT people in other Russian regions today?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY:</strong> Nowadays, there are really active groups in many cities: for example, Arkhangelsk, Tomsk, Omsk, Ekaterinburg. The North Caucasus is a different story. But the situation is worst in Chechnya. I’m sure that this isn’t connected so much to Chechen traditions, but rather the Kadyrov regime. Without Kadyrov, this kind of tragedy would never have happened. In Russia, the problem with LGBT rights isn’t that society is rude — although that, and people’s prejudices against LGBT aren’t going anywhere any time soon. But the Russian state’s policies only aid the growth and actions of marginal and aggressive conservative homophobes, who feel themselves to be outside the law. And people think that these groups communicate some kind of public mood. But that’s not the case. They just communicate the mood of their own marginal group.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/imageedit_3_6533094990_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/imageedit_3_6533094990_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="377" height="270" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Igor Yasin. Photo(c): Yulia Koroleva. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>On the whole, I think that the majority of people in Russia are indifferent towards LGBT people. If the authorities didn’t try and create confusion, an atmosphere of hate and didn’t hamper activism, then the situation inside the LGBT community would be different today.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But are there some positive signs in comparison with the early 2000s?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY:</strong> Back then, there wasn’t even a serious discussion about LGBT rights, nor any open activism. Now<a href="http://www.bok-o-bok.ru/"> Side-by-side</a>, the LGBT film festival, brings together hundreds of people from across the country. The language around LGBT has even changed in official media — at least, you come across texts where there’s an attempt at covering LGBT communities neutrally. Russian media have learnt the LGBT abbreviation and use it widely — that’s already an achievement. We’ve got new allies, human rights defenders, who are ready to step up in order to defend out rights. In the past, the discussions among Russian liberals and leftists were rather embittered. But now these groups accept the fact that LGBT people exist, there’s no way of avoiding them. If the authorities didn’t interfere, then we could have got even bigger results. I’m not talking about legalising gay marriage, but at least limitations to discriminations in various spheres such as work or freedom of assembly. And we could show that you could hold pride events in Russia, and it wouldn’t be met with such disgust in society.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Our position is this: to connect our demands with general civil society, to show that there’s no contradiction between them</p><p dir="ltr">Another positive example: before, gay men were banned from giving blood in Russia. This was revoked a few years ago. Perhaps this wasn’t connected directly to activism. But we were against this discriminatory measure. And this is an indicator of what we can do.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How do you prepare to fight for your civil rights? For instance, to gain access to a partner who’s in hospital? What other rights are LGBT people deprived of in Russia?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY:</strong> Russia has not developed any anti-discrimination legislation. It’s important not only to make sure laws are passed, but that they’re enforced, too. As to the law on homosexual propaganda, then we need to focus on getting it revoked. It’s also important to ensure that courts start taking into account homophobia as a motivating factor in violent crimes — this still doesn’t exist, because LGBT aren’t considered a social group. In my opinion, these changes are quite realistic. We’re fighting to set up crisis centres across the country and the possibility of opening access to victims of violence. Our position is this: to connect our demands with general civil society, to show that there’s no contradiction between them. If there’s no freedom of assembly for LGBT, then there’s no freedom of assembly for anyone else.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Why don’t prominent people — actors, directors and other cultural figures, as well as other high-placed people — speak about their attitude towards LGBT?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY: </strong>They’re just afraid to lose their capital — both symbolic and financial. The situation won’t change when someone famous comes out publicly, but when the LGBT movement will achieve certain goals. It’s the same in the west: for instance, Ricky Martin came out very recently, in historical terms. Although I personally thought it would be a lot worse in Russia — several Russian celebrities behave well, they come out against homophobia.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What do you mean about people losing capital?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY:</strong> It’s just about money. If they start openly supporting LGBT, certain doors will start closing for them in Russia.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In your opinion, how effective is the practice of forcing people to come out? When activists publish the names of high-placed public officials who are gay.</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY: </strong>It’s very dangerous, and it goes against our aims. Our goal is to fight prejudice. We can’t use homophobia against homophobes.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>There’s a lot of homophobes in your circles, that is, leftists. Many leftists have split over attitudes towards LGBT, including anarchist groups.</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>IY:</strong> I’m confident that the real aim of leftists is to liberate people from any form of subjugation. This is why real leftists can’t be homophobes. But we live in a real society, and prejudices also affect people in leftist circles. Many leftists say: “If we’re going to support LGBT, then simple workers won’t understand us.” But that’s like saying 100 years ago: “We shouldn’t come out against anti-semitism and pogroms, because then the peasants and workers won’t understand us.”</p><p dir="ltr">The issue is also that LGBT people have become a favourite target for the Russian authorities. So when leftists or liberals come out against LGBT, then they place themselves on the side of the authorities. Over the past few years, the activities of LGBT people have given the Russian opposition a choice: either you’re on the side of the authorities in their policies against LGBT, or you’re on the side of LGBT.</p><p dir="ltr">Not everyone who found themselves in this situation quickly took the side of LGBT, but many were moved to rethinking their old positions. For some people, it’s enough just to find out more about what LGBT activists are really fighting for. Others have at least begun to doubt their prejudices — and that’s a good thing. You can sum LGBT activism up in the following phrase: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-rebrov/yulia-galyamina">Yulia Galyamina: “Party politics has exhausted itself”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map">Putting Russia’s homophobic violence on the map</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/could-elections-wake-up-kalmykia-navalny">Could Russia’s presidential elections wake up Kalmykia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ali-gubashev/chechens-alienated-amidst-gay-persecutions">Chechens alienated amidst gay persecutions</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kirill-guskov/i-spoke-to-four-russian-gay-men-on-discrimination-rights-and-vladimir-putin-">&quot;You have to start improving yourself to improve Russia&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">“Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Igor Yasin Ekaterina Fomina Russia Human rights Wed, 13 Dec 2017 20:14:11 +0000 Ekaterina Fomina and Igor Yasin 115277 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A birthday in the Urals https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-novikova/a-birthday-in-the-urals-oleksandr-kolchenko <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Oleksandr Kolchenko, a Crimean anarchist, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence in Russia. There’s much to learn from his activism.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/sasha.jpg" alt="" title="" width="400" height="266" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oleksandr Kolchenko, date unknown. </span></span></span>This November, Crimean anarchist Oleksandr Kolchenko is celebrating his 28th birthday in a prison in Chelyabinsk, in Russia’s Ural region. The story of Kolchenko’s arrest and trial reminds me of reports by Luke Harding about Russia during the 2000s. But what happened to Kolchenko, and Crimean film director Oleg Sentsov, is actually a story of how the Russian Federation began to act outside its borders — and the bounds of international law. </p><p dir="ltr">Oleksandr studied in Taurida National University, Simferopol. In Autumn 2011, when former Ukraine’s Minister of Education Dmytro Tabachnyk introduced fees for a range of activities at universities, Kolchenko, together with other anarchists and anti-fascists, protested against the commercialisation of education in Ukraine. Kolchenko and his friends, their faces covered, carried the red-and-black flag. Later, he participated in protests against changes to Ukraine’s Labour Code, which would have restricted the rights of working people, as well as taking part in feminist actions, environmental events and anti-fascist demonstrations.</p><p dir="ltr">After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Kolchenko was accused of belonging to the Ukrainian far-right organisation Right Sector. Initially, it was hard to say whether this was irony or a joke, a lack of political education or just Ukraine’s weak party system, which still can’t set firm ideological boundaries for political parties. The answer, however, turned out to be rather simple. Kolchenko and Sentsov were accused of belonging to a “terrorist group” that had allegedly set fire to the Simferopol offices of the Russian Community in Crimea organisation and the United Russia party. This, according to investigators, was the work of the so-called “Sentsov group”, whose leader was declared to be the Crimean director. Representatives of the Russian authorities, who had occupied public administration buildings in the city, started their tried and tested scenario for neutralising political opponents — they accused them of terrorism, thereby placing the security of Crimea’s residents in doubt. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Russia considers Kolchenko and Sentsov Russian citizens, although neither of them surrendered their Ukrainian citizenship, nor did they take Russian passports</p><p dir="ltr">Kolchenko, just like Oleg Sentsov, was tortured, though he didn’t reveal this in the beginning. At the initial interrogation session, which was not entered into Kolchenko’s arrest file, he was beaten in the face and body. He didn’t talk about this because, on finding out <a href="http://en.odfoundation.eu/a/3973,the-case-of-oleg-sentsov-russian-fsb-tortured-pro-ukrainian-activists-from-the-crimea-into-confession">what happened to Sentsov</a>, he decided that the violence he’d experienced was insignificant and not worth talking about. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 12.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="253" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko sing the Ukrainian national anthem during sentencing in August 2015. Source: Euronews / Youtube. </span></span></span>Court sessions followed, and in August 2015 the North Caucasus Military District Court sentenced Oleksandr to 10 years in prison, and Oleg - 20 years. After an appeal filed by the defendants’ lawyers in 2015, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation declined it. Russia considers Kolchenko and Sentsov Russian citizens, although neither of them surrendered their Ukrainian citizenship, nor did they take Russian passports. Kolchenko himself on several occasions has affirmed he is a citizen of Ukraine. </p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, as an anarchist, he had to accept the primacy of law when he confirmed his citizenship in court. This meant foregoing his principles and convictions, and putting ideology to one side. This is the reality in which Kolchenko found himself.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Kolchenko’s anarchist and anti-fascist views have become an important example of how, if you’re left-wing in Ukraine, that doesn’t mean you’re a separatist or abetting the Kremlin</p><p dir="ltr">Kolchenko’s anarchist and anti-fascist views have become an important example of how, if you’re left-wing in Ukraine, that doesn’t mean you’re a separatist or abetting the Kremlin. The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory is currently <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/per-rudling-tarik-amar-jared-mcbride/ukraine-s-struggle-with-past-is-ours-too">trying to re-write Ukrainian history</a> — for the most part, only ultra-nationalists as heroic examples will remain. This year, Nikita Kadan, a Ukrainian artist, created an exhibition at Lviv’s Center for Urban History called <a href="http://www.lvivcenter.org/en/exhibitions/historical/178-17-09-07-unidentified/">“(Un)named”</a>, about contemporary Ukrainian historical memory. The exhibition was based on Kadan’s work with archive photographs of the 1941 pogrom in Lviv and the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrii-portnov/clash-of-victimhood-1943-volhynian-massacre-in-polish-and-ukrainian-culture">1943 Volyn tragedy</a>. Kadan says that the discourse of the Institute of National Memory only concerns a number of “Bolshevik-Polish bands”, it lacks information about the crimes of Ukrainian military formations during World War Two. There can’t be Ukrainians who committed crimes, their line goes, and if there are, they weren’t true patriots. You can’t be a true Ukrainian if you aren’t a patriot. </p><p dir="ltr">In investigative detention in Moscow, Oleksandr Kolchenko wrote that he had been re-reading Mikhail Bakunin, Lesya Ukrainka and Ivan Franko. He doesn’t always receive letters, but those he does - he answers. Given that the range of topics you can speak about in prison is restricted, even the names of books or bands (written, for example, in English), aren’t permitted. As an anarchist from Crimea, Kolchenko isn’t often mentioned by politicians or the media. But Kolchenko demonstrated more democracy in his social activism and position on events in Ukraine than those who constantly speak about it today. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/oleg-sentsov-and-aleksandr-kolchenko-prisoners-of-conscien">Oleg Sentsov and Aleksandr Kolchenko: prisoners of conscience</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/making-them-pay-for-maidan">Making them pay for Maidan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/liberal-democracy-hard-choice-for-ukraine">Liberal democracy: a hard choice for Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/crimea-peninsula-of-torture">Crimea: peninsula of torture</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/letter-from-the-crimean-border">Letter from the Crimean border</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ekaterina Novikova Ukraine Human rights Fri, 24 Nov 2017 06:58:23 +0000 Ekaterina Novikova 114856 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Chechen watcher https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/the-chechen-watcher%20 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Hundreds of desperate Chechen refugees are still stranded on the Belarusian border, waiting to enter the EU. Many locals are sceptical of the newcomers — but some have stood up to help. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/kak-chechenskie-bezhenzy-pytautsya-sbeghat-v-evropu">RU</a>, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/aniol-stroz-czeczenow-pl" target="_blank">Polski</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Brest_Railway_Station.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Brest_Railway_Station.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Brest railway station. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It’s night in Brest. At this hour there isn’t a soul on the streets of this small Belarusian town just a few kilometers from the Polish border. Two men silently exchange glances and cross the bridge over the railway tracks, braving the strong wind. Down there, from the immense Stalin-era railway station, they look like two black dots. </p><p dir="ltr">They stop in the hall of the railway station. At first glance, it seems like the place is empty, but wait a moment and you’ll distinguish the figures of women in hijabs, surrounded by a flock of children, among the slender rows of benches in the waiting room. They’re trying to sleep, but every few hours the security guard wakes them. It’ll be a long night.</p><p dir="ltr">European attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis of migration is mostly focused on the Mediterranean. The situation on the European Union’s eastern border barely gets a look-in. Every day, roughly one hundred people fleeing the repressive rule of Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya try their luck here, hoping to enter the EU along the so-called Eastern Route through Belarus. Most of them are turned back by Polish border guards and have to stay in Belarus. </p><p>At the crack of dawn, a woman in her early sixties approaches one of the families, gives them train tickets from Brest to the Polish border town of Terespol and explains how to behave at the border crossing point. The children listen attentively. Early in the morning they will head for Poland again, hoping never to return to Chechnya. This isn’t their first attempt, and it probably won't be their last.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The Chechen Watcher</h2><p dir="ltr">Whenever Viachaslau Panasiuk enters Brest railway station, people take notice. The human rights defender is well known here; some Chechens are always on the lookout for him. </p><p dir="ltr">Panasiuk, 22, is coordinator of the legal department of the Refugees Rescue Mission in Brest, established by a human rights organisation <a href="https://www.humanconstanta.by">Human Constanta</a>. He hasn’t left Brest since his arrival in September 2016. Back then, he didn’t know whether he was up to the task. Now one could call him The Chechen Watcher. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_panasiuk_brest.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_panasiuk_brest.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Viachaslau Panasiuk. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Viachaslau and I are sitting in a cafe near the station. He points at a waitress: “You see her? When the station was totally packed, the refugees asked her for hot water, but she wouldn't give them any. I spent the whole night carrying thermos flasks for them.”</p><p dir="ltr">“As for the security guards,” he adds, “they’re usually okay with Chechen refugees. At least they don't throw them out. Well, not always. Once a Chechen prayed right in the station building. I had to distract the guards while he was praying.”<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Viachaslau admits he knew nothing about Chechens when he first arrived here. Two years ago, he was a third-year student of the University of Minsk. However, he wasn't able to receive his bachelor’s degree: he was expelled from the university for political reasons. As a “political undesirable” of sorts himself, it may be no surprise that Viachaslau found common cause with the Chechens.</p><p dir="ltr">He’s developed a taste for the songs of Chechen militant and bard Timur Mutsurayev, a phenomenon of the Chechen war. Viachaslau sings along to “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbVWjNY-rcM">Welcome to Hell</a>”, and tells me he’s become slightly Chechen himself.</p><p dir="ltr">So, why did Panasiuk decide to help these Chechens?</p><p dir="ltr">“Seventy years ago, they defended Brest against the Nazis — the city is now in their debt,” he responds. “But now that the city doesn’t protect them now, we do instead.”<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2 dir="ltr">Invisible refugees</h2><p dir="ltr">Panasiuk buys a ticket for the earliest train from Brest to Terespol. Chechen refugees use this commuter train to enter the EU and apply for refugee status. Bearded men, women in headscarves and little children gather at the platform at around 8 AM. None of them have Schengen visas. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Two carriages are allocated specially for the refugees, but cashiers at the station refuse to sell them tickets. They try to explain: “No! It’s for your own good. Why on Earth do you want to travel with them?”</p><p dir="ltr">As of this month, Human Constanta estimates that up to 100 people attempt to cross the Polish border to seek asylum every day. Panasiuk adds that if six months ago, two to four families succeeded, now only one family is not turned away by border police. </p><p dir="ltr">With every attempt to cross, resources dwindle. Most refugees in Brest live in rented apartments; however, they run out of money slowly, so they are eventually forced to leave for the train station.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">As of this month, up to 100 people attempt to cross the Polish border to seek asylum every day</p><p dir="ltr">When commenting on the situation on the border, the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Poland Mariusz Blaszczak said he would not let the influx of Muslims happen and <a href="https://www.tvn24.pl/wiadomosci-z-kraju,3/szef-mswia-mariusz-blaszczak-o-czeczenach-na-polskiej-granicy,672450.html">Poland would not surrender to those prompting the migration crisis</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Many refugees told us that while on the border, guards drew attention to their being Muslims (which in today’s political atmosphere in Poland means a security threat). Others said some guards even drew a pair of horns in someone’s passport. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">“We helped one refugee whom the border guards said that they could tell by his face that he was a bad person,” sighs Panasiuk.</p><p dir="ltr">In June 2017, Polish and Belarusian lawyers and activists sent complaints to the European Court of Human Rights about the actions of Polish border guards against asylum seekers. </p><p dir="ltr">After this, the ECHR decided that Poland should not return a refugee who wanted to submit an application for international protection at the Poland-Belarus border. However, Polish authorities <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/15/poland-ignores-european-court-over-return-asylum-seeker">ignored the binding European Court of Human Rights interim orders</a> and put him on a train back to Belarus. </p><p dir="ltr">Earlier this year, Mariusz Blaszczak proposed amendments to the Law on Foreigners that would allow rejected asylum seekers to be deported without the possibility to appeal their deportation decisions. </p><p dir="ltr">The new amendments proposed by Blaszczak in January also introduced the possibility for the government to establish a list of safe countries of origin and safe third countries. In its report, <a href="https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/10/24/eroding-checks-and-balances/rule-law-and-human-rights-under-attack-poland">Human Rights Watch dismissed the idea</a> that Belarus, Ukraine and Russia could be designated as such. “Such possible designations could result in the authorities ruling all asylum claims inadmissible without considering the merits of the claims”, concluded the document.<br /><br class="kix-line-break" />Yesterday, a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/hfhrpl/photos/a.130813724398.104434.90194404398/10155880752804399/?type=3&amp;theater">court in Warsaw ruled</a> that Polish border guards must now allow those in the Chechens’ position full access to the formal asylum seeking procedure. A small relief, given what they’re fleeing from.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2 dir="ltr">A distant dictatorship</h2><p dir="ltr">The capital of Chechnya, Grozny, appears on Russian TV channels as a well-developed city with a beautiful avenue named after Putin, one of the largest mosques in Europe, and a sophisticated modus vivendi. They don’t mention that people in Chechnya live in constant fear.</p><p dir="ltr">“A terrorist underground in Chechnya is practically non-existent. Nonetheless, the human rights system which is being established in the republic now aims at the cultivation of terrorists.” explains Oleg Khabibrakhmanov, a member of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture. “In one sense, the North Caucasus is peaceful these days, but only because of an indiscriminate anti-terror policy.” Two years ago the committee’s office in Chechnya was burnt down and now human rights activists are afraid to hang around there for long. The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, accused the organisation of “stoking fear and trying to trigger civil unrest in Grozny.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Oleg_Khabibrakhmanov.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Oleg_Khabibrakhmanov.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oleg Khabibrakhmanov. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Currently, Russia is among the top ten countries by number of applicants for refugee status in Europe, and 80% of Russian asylum-seekers are from Chechnya. <a href="https://www.easo.europa.eu/information-analysis/analysis-and-statistics/latest-asylum-trends">According to EASO</a>, during the first nine months of 2017, 16,245 Russian citizens applied for international protection in the EU.</p><p dir="ltr">“Chechens cherish their homeland more than any other nation”, Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Civic Assistance Committee, an NGO which aids migrants. “If they leave, there surely are solid reasons. Because there's corruption everywhere. Because you have to surrender part of your salary to your superiors. Because the level of fear in Chechnya today is like back in the Stalin era.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">City of love and hate</h2><p dir="ltr">Many people call Belarus “the last corner of the Soviet Union”. President Alexander Lukashenka’s rule certainly reminds one of late Soviet “stability”, and consciously romanticises the Soviet past in this manner. </p><p dir="ltr">So, too, do a pair of elderly women killing time by the station doors, talking about good people and good deeds. I cautiously listen in on the conversation, with Viachaslau’s example on my mind. Other Brest citizens also help the refugees: giving them shelter, warm clothes, and food. Panasiuk also told me about a priest in Brest who helps Chechen refugees, and is criticised for helping non-Christians.</p><p dir="ltr">These two women are just as sceptical. “I don’t understand those who help these Chechens. If they really were refugees, they would find jobs in Belarus,” one of the elderly women says to me. “We have plenty of decrepit villages here in Belarus, so come here to work and live from hand to mouth. They go to Europe not to work but to get better welfare payments. Smart alecs! Besides, their country and religion are very dangerous” — she whispers.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“I know many of them have tried to live in Belarus — even in China and Kazakhstan — but Kadyrov’s men found them even there”</p><p dir="ltr">“I know many of them have tried to live in Belarus — even in China and Kazakhstan — but Kadyrov’s men found them even there”, I respond.</p><p dir="ltr">“Yeah, yeah, Trotsky was killed with an axe in Mexico” she snaps. “I get itnobody’s beyond their reach!”</p><p dir="ltr">“You think they'd better stay in Chechnya and wait until a mother finds her son killed after yet another torture session?” I exclaim, but she interrupts me.</p><p dir="ltr">“Maybe I could go abroad. But I don’t want to leave my homeland. Back in USSR, we were all poor, but we were all friends. Now all anybody thinks about is money” — she responds, waving her hands in the air to signal an end to this unpleasant conversation. A handful of people are sleeping in the bus station nearby, and she’s still turning the clock back to times past.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the marble waiting room of the Brest railway station begins coming to life. In a few hours, classes of the so-called democratic school will begin. On weekends Marina Hulia, a teacher from Poland, visits the Chechen children with a bag of presents and a portion of new knowledge. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Chechens_Brest_Starodubtseva.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Chechens_Brest_Starodubtseva.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“I begin every morning with a prayer; I open the Quran, children stand in a circle with me and we pray. We sing the unofficial anthem of Chechnya in Сhechen, then we have Russian and Polish language classes. I teach children that being cheerful isn't shameful. A place of schooling is irrelevant; if it happens to be a train station, alright, let’s do our best to make it lively,” says Hulia.</p><p dir="ltr">“Unlike others, these Chechen children want to go to school. They want to go to Poland, so their mothers would stop crying, so their fathers wouldn't feel helpless, so they wouldn’t live off porridge and potatoes.”</p><p dir="ltr">But over time, the lessons are getting smaller. As more refugees are turned away by the border police, more families return to Chechnya in despair. Yet Marina is determined to hold her classes, come what may.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Beehive Nation</h2><p dir="ltr">Outside the central market in Chechnya’s capital of Grozny stands a minibus advertising trips to Brest. Four women sit nearby with huge bags. They don’t answer questions. A little further is the so-called “taxi to Europe.” To see Paris, a Chechen needs to pay 400 Euros.</p><p dir="ltr">Even after leaving Chechnya, refugees still live in fear. They fear not for their lives, but for those of their relatives who remain in the republic. Refugees in Brest say their relatives are interrogated for information on their whereabouts. They don’t feel safe in Brest either.</p><p dir="ltr">Saida sits in a café near the Brest train station. Due to their fear of persecution by the Chechen authorities, refugees hide their real names, and some even wear masks. Saida wears a black headscarf. Before speaking, she anxiously glances around her and suggests we go to her home. “They’re looking for us,” she says, as she shuts the front door of her small apartment.</p><p dir="ltr">A year ago, her son went missing in Chechnya. Saida found him three days later— lying at her doorstep, bloodstained and unconscious.</p><p dir="ltr">“When my son was a small boy during the Second Chechen War, a bomb went off in our yard and he was severely burnt. When we revived him after his torture, he said they had beat his scars, asking him where they were from, and where he made and stored explosives.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">After torture sessions, Kadyrov’s men send their victims photos to remind them of the ordeal</p><p dir="ltr">Her son later told her that he would kill himself so that the military would leave his family alone.</p><p dir="ltr">Saida’s son has attempted to obtain a refugee status in Poland 65 times. All his attempts have come to nothing, and the family is running out of money. Soon, they won’t be able to pay their rent. Saida’s husband has liver cancer.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Panasiuk, after torture sessions Kadyrov’s men send their victims photos to emind them of the ordeal. “In 70% of all cases, the tortured men were sexually assaulted. Not a single Chechen will tell anyone he has been assaulted this way”, adds Viachaslau.</p><p dir="ltr">As a former soldier, Mahmud says he finds it shameful to complain. During the Ukrainian crisis he, along with his platoon, went to fight in the Donbas. “The conditions were as follows: we were fired from our jobs, so that we could go as volunteers and then we would come back a find jobs again. We were promised $100 per day.” Mahmud recalls.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_1072941.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_1072941.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Members of the patriotic club "Ramzan" during the festive procession dedicated to the Day of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic, 2012. Photo (c): Said Tsarnaev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>After he refused to go and fight in Ukraine, Mahmud was accused of anti-Russian sentiments and demoted. </p><p dir="ltr">“I was then ordered to eliminate a family, the father of which was an armed gang member. His name was Sheikh Buryatsky, we liquidated him six years ago. I knew this family and I knew they weren’t involved in any radical activity, so I refused. I understood that the family’s land was in a good location — at the crossroads, where a hotel could be built. I knew the bureaucrats wanted it in their hands.”</p><p dir="ltr">Mahmud was taken to the Internal Investigations Division where he was warned and accused of being an armed gang member. A criminal case was opened. Then the tortures began.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Chechnya can be described as a dictatorship under a splendid disguise</p><p dir="ltr">“I was taken to a basement, where they sort of crucified me — there were four metal rings, two on the ceiling, two on the floor. Two masked men came in and told me that if I didn’t confess, they would beat these confessions out of me. They beat me with rubber batons,” Mahmud recalls. Then he unzips his hoodie and shows the scars.</p><p dir="ltr">“They began to pull out my toenails with pliers. I can show them as well, I have no nails on my little toes. At that moment I was ready to confess to Lincoln’s assassination, to say the least.” </p><p dir="ltr">When I last spoke to Mahmud in March, he and his wife had made thirteen attempts to cross the border, but every time they were stopped by the border guards and sent back where they came from. The Chechen authorities are searching for him; he shows me a text message which reads: “I will find you and shoot you like a dog.”</p><p dir="ltr">“I’m ashamed to admit this, but I’m very scared,” he says.</p><p dir="ltr">“Chechnya can be described as a dictatorship under a splendid disguise. People won’t let his [Kadyrov’s] henchmen live for long, because they have brought too much pain and suffering in our land. Right after Putin resigns, our people will eliminate Kadyrov. They’re waiting for it. They have gathered together like bees in a beehive and they are at the limit of their patience,” a refugee currently hiding in Brest tells me.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Shadows, but not forgotten</h2><p dir="ltr">“Every day when I help another family, I make a choice. If I send a volunteer, I tell him “You decide who’ll get killed last.” You always assess families according to certain criteria; you have to decide who is in a greater need of help,” Viachaslau says. Every evening he talks to dozens of Chechen families. He tries to keep his emotions under control and refrain himself from giving them too much hope. Sometimes, he fails.</p><p dir="ltr">“I remember one family that lived on the border between Chechnya and Dagestan. The brother went to a Wahhabi camp in the mountains, and came back home for food twice a day. It was unthinkable for the family not to feed him, he was a family member, after all. So the family was tortured. They fled, spent four months in Brest, and made 67 unsuccessful attempts to cross the border. They gave up, and returned to Chechnya, where the father killed. The mother with her children fled to Brest again. This time, they let her cross the border pretty quickly. The children still think their father is alive, that he’s just still in Brest. Does somebody in a family have to die before the rest can cross the border?” asks Panasiuk.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Itum-Kale_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Itum-Kale_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Itum-Kale village, southern Chechnya, 2011. Photo CC-by-2.0: Vladimir Varfolomeev / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">He frequently goes to the balcony for a smoke. A dim light is visible in the house opposite, where a Chechen refugee family lives. In the evening, one can usually see silhouettes of the children, sitting at the window, waiting. When Viachaslau appears on the balcony, the whole family gathers at the window and they greet each other. They don’t know each other personally, but this ritual takes place every evening.</p><p dir="ltr">“One family fled to Moscow. We kept in touch via WhatsApp for two days. Then they messaged me and said, “They’ve found us, we are finished, thank you for everything you’ve done for us.” They attempted to flee to Poland 50 times. When they fail they don’t know where to go anymore and are ready to die. I know of at least two families whom we couldn’t help and the members of which got killed upon arrival back in Chechnya. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">I know of more than twenty families who came back to Chechnya, from whom I haven’t received a single message</span></p><p dir="ltr">I know of more than twenty families who came back to Chechnya, from whom I haven’t received a single message. They swore to me they would establish contact with me when they are there. I can think of a reason for all this – the whole family was eliminated at once,” he says, then keeps silent for about a minute and pulls out another cigarette.</p><p dir="ltr">Viachaslau says goodbye to one more Chechen family, his last for today. He switches off his phone and closes the balcony door – a gust of the sharp wind finds its way into the room; in a matter of several minutes it’s completely dispersed in the warmth. The children’s silhouettes in the opposite window fade away, absorbed by darkness.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Editor’s note: Viachaslau Panasiuk has now left Belarus, and his relatives have been interrogated. Affected by his work with Chechen refugees in Brest, Panasiuk has undergone a rehabilitation course for human rights defenders, and hopes to continue helping the asylum seekers. Since his departure from the country, the situation at Brest station has deteriorated significantly.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/agnieszka-pikulicka-wilczewska/women-of-brest-station">The women of Brest Station</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/chechnya-dead-europeans-are-only-news-sometimes">Chechnya: dead Europeans are only sometimes news</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland">Second-hand Europe: Ukrainian immigrants in Poland</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/kasia-narkowicz-konrad-pedziwiatr/why-are-polish-people-so-wrong-about-muslims-in">Why are Polish people so wrong about Muslims in their country?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/yulia-gorbunova/we-have-nothing-else-to-sell-but-our-teeth">We have nothing else to sell but our teeth</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Marina Starodubtseva Migration matters Human rights Chechnya Belarus Thu, 23 Nov 2017 12:27:51 +0000 Marina Starodubtseva 114852 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia’s “foreign agents” law is bankrupting campaigners and activists https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexei-kozlov/russias-foreign-agents-law <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ruinous fines levied against Russian NGO heads are destroying the civil sector and pushing campaigners to the brink of survival. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexey-kozlov/inostrannye-agenty" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/OlgaPitsunovaVk_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/OlgaPitsunovaVk_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Olga Pitsunova. Photo from personal Vkontakte account.</span></span></span><br />Russia’s “foreign agents” law passed in 2012 has been a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">major hindrance for many NGOs</a> by making their work illegal or cutting off their sources of funding. As a reminder, the law mandates that NGOs receiving financial support from abroad while engaging in “political activity” (a phrase clarified in 2015 to include virtually the entire spectrum of public work) must register as “foreign agents”. In 2014, the Russian Ministry of Justice was given, through an annex to the law, the right to enter NGOs on the register unilaterally.</p><p dir="ltr">Since the law’s entry into force, NGOs and their heads have been fined tens of millions of roubles, dozens of NGOs have shut down because of unmanageable fines, while many NGO leaders have had to pay the fines out of their own pockets. Olga Pitsunova, an ecological campaigner from the Volga town of Saratov, has been driven to the brink of survival.</p><p dir="ltr">Pitsunova is a well-known green campaigner who has organised and taken part in dozens of ecological campaigns and events, playing an active role in the activities of the Social-Ecological Union. For many years, Pitsunova led the Partnership for Development association (PfD), which was known for its environmental and educational programmes. Recently, Pitsunova was involved in a civic campaign against plans to increase the generating capacity of the Balakov nuclear power plant and discharge of water from the power plant’s cooling pond directly into the Volga River, against the expansion of the temporary nuclear storage facility of the Saratov branch of RosRAO in the Tatishchevsk area and its conversion into a permanent repository. She fought against real estate development in the Kumysnaya polyana nature reserve in the city bounds and against efforts to cut down trees in Saratov.</p><p dir="ltr">For many years, despite her outspoken views on environmental and anti-corruption issues, Olga Pitsunova and her organisation avoided conflicts with the authorities: PfD collaborated with Saratov regional Civic Chamber and sat on several public advisory boards for regional ministries. Moreover, in 2015 the Association received the National Ecological Prize.</p><p dir="ltr">Olga’s first major run-in with the authorities took place in the summer of 2014 in connection with the “foreign agents” law. In early July, the Saratov region prosecutor’s office received an anonymous complaint demanding an “investigation into whether the Partnership for Development association is indeed funded by a foreign organisation and uses these funds for its social and political attacks against our authorities and the state, in which case why is it that no one has yet asked who it is that she works for”.</p><p dir="ltr">In theory, an anonymous complaint can only trigger an inspection if it involves a major criminal act rather than, as in PfD’s case, an administrative infraction. But in this case the Saratov prosecutors’ office was willing to make an exception.</p><p dir="ltr">The situation developed rapidly. On 21 July 2014, the authorities ordered an expert review, which was completed the same day. On 22 July, acting district attorney Laptev concluded that there had been an administrative infraction and tried to force Pitsunova to acknowledge this in writing right in his office, where she came to file a motion to postpone the court hearing in order to familiarize herself with the charges.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A “geopolitical” review</h2><p dir="ltr">Indeed, the expert review — the document that kicked off proceedings against Olga Pitsunova — is worth examining in detail. </p><p dir="ltr">To begin with, the choice of its author was far from random. Viktor Kupin is a professor in the department of theoretical and applied political sciences of the Saratov State Academy of Law. By background, Kupin is a political officer who “majored in military pedagogy in social sciences”, although on his page on the Saratov State Academy of Law website this speciality has transformed into “social philosophy”. Similarly, the website shortens the title of Kupin’s doctoral thesis (“The social foundations of strengthening the combat capabilities of the armed forces of the socialist national state”) — it sheds the “socialist national state” part. Kupin defended his thesis at the Lenin Military-Political Academy (with a concentration in the theory of scientific communism). </p><p dir="ltr">In 2004, Kupin completed a higher doctorate in St Petersburg, specialising in social philosophy with a thesis on the subject of “The geopolitical imperatives of global security: a sociophilosophical analysis”. To understand his approach, it is worth quoting one of the conclusions of the thesis: </p><p dir="ltr">“The rapidly changing world of the twenty-first century is creating new threats and dangers to all of humanity, many of which Russia is already facing. One of the chief threats to national and global security is the desire of the West and especially the US to once again divide the global geopolitical space by force to its own benefit.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_00998059.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_00998059.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="320" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Moscow office of the Golos (‘Voice’) association. The NGO was declared a “foreign agent”, becoming the first NGO with this status in accordance with the new law. (c) Aleksandr Vilf / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">In his expert review of the Partnership for Development association and its activities, Kupin did not bother to describe his methods and cites just one source. None of this stops him from arriving at a clear-cut conclusion, which is what you might expect given the expert’s education and previous publications:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“The de facto ecological activities of the Partnership for Development association and its head O.N. Pitsunova, which intentionally forms negative opinions in regards to ecological safety in the region’s energy sector, is directly linked to and threatens the geopolitical interests of Russia and the Eurasian Union. This interest in the Saratov oblast is driven by its special role and exception geopolitical location within Russia as a link within the developing Eurasian Union of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan. Weakening the above-named Union is one of the chief geopolitical aims of the US and its NATO partners”.</p><p dir="ltr">Kupin was in full agreement with the Saratov prosecutor’s somewhat leading question: </p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“Are the project itself, the implementation of the School of Civil Activism project, and reports on its outcomes, addressed by Partnership for Development association head O.N. Pitsunova to representatives of the US Government, linked to the efforts to expand the base of political influence on public opinion in the region in the interests of a foreign sponsor (the US Government) or to the geopolitical weakening of Russia, in its role as the main core of the Eurasian Union, in its struggle against the dictatorship of a unipolar world led by the US?”</p><h2 dir="ltr">How much does it cost to become an “agent”?</h2><p dir="ltr">On 4 August 2014, judge Sedova presided over a hearing where, having ignored an alternative expert review prepared by the ecologists, she sentenced the PfD to a fine of 300,000 roubles. In her decision, the judge relied on the results of a search undertaken by the police, which is not permitted for administrative cases. Professor Kupin’s expert review was the main document used to label the PfD a “foreign agent”, with much of its text included in the final court decision. PfD was found guilty of failing to register as a “foreign agent” on its own.</p><p dir="ltr">On 8 August, Olga Pitsunova, as the head of the PfD, was found guilty of failing to register a “foreign agent” and fined 100,000 roubles. The ecologists were unable to have the fines overturned. Moreover, paying them proved impossible as well. As Olga Pitsunova says:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“I never received the bank account details that I would need to voluntarily pay the fine following the court’s decision. This was the case both for the first fine of 100,000 and the subsequent fine of 200,000. They did not give the details to me on purpose so I could not pay the fine voluntarily before enforcement proceedings. In the end, we had to pay the fine into the bank account supplied by the Bailiffs Service. This was their plan all along. Which is why after I paid the fine they broke into my apartment and escorted me to the court with an armed guard to levy a second fine, double the amount of the first. All the while they knew I had neither property nor the financial means to pay the fine. I asked, in the circumstances, to sentence me to 15 days in prison. That was not what they wanted. The main thing was to make sure I couldn’t get away from them. In my case, this meant keeping me under financial pressure. A trial by levy.”</p><p dir="ltr">Following its inclusion on the register of “foreign agents”, the association’s board of governance decided to disband. The PfD was finally dissolved in 2015 by the Ministry of Justice.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-15239185 (1)_3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-15239185 (1)_3.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>If a foreign agent fails to label all of the materials it produces and distributes to the public at its events, in the media, or online, it is liable to be fined. (c) Ivan Sekretarev /AP/ Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">The court hearing on the second fine was held on 28 January 2015, with the judge doubling the fine despite Olga’s financial troubles and the fact that the first fine had been paid on 13 January 2013. Attempts to find out the transfer account details for the second fine through the court and Sberbank went nowhere. Olga had to wait for enforcement proceedings again. The Bailiffs Service arrested Olga Pitsunova’s pension account and began to withhold 50% of all payments, including her disability pension. Even that was not enough for the Russian government, which decided to increase the financial pressure on Olga Pitsunova.</p><p dir="ltr">On 3 November 2016, Olga was informed that 100% of her pension will be arrested and withheld. Pitsunova petitioned the head of the local branch of the Federal Service of Court Bailiffs to reverse that decision and return the illegally withheld funds:</p><p dir="ltr">“Withholding even 50% of my pension pushed me to the brink of poverty, as the remaining sum of 6,100 rubles is far below the fixed minimum subsistence level. Withholding 100% of my entire income is not only degrading, but also poses a danger to my life, because I have no means to purchase either medicines or food.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The ecologists were unable to have the fines overturned. Moreover, paying them proved impossible as well.</p><p dir="ltr">The bailiffs service is perfectly capable of finding information about all my accounts and sources of income, including their status and where the funds come from. They are also have every opportunity (not to mention duty) to familiarize themselves with Russian legislation. Despite this, the actions of the bailiffs of the Saratov regional branch of the Federal Service of Court Bailiffs violate my rights as a citizen of the Russian Federation, are degrading to me as a human being, pose a danger to my life and health, and are in gross violation of the federal law “On enforcement procedures” as well as the administrative and the civil procedure rules. I therefore believe that in this case we are dealing with a conscious and targeted campaign in violation of the law,” Olga wrote in her petition.</p><p dir="ltr">The Bailiffs Service did not respond to the petition, but a week later returned the money and went back to withholding 50% of the income. Perhaps they were nudged by the racket kicked up by activists and publications in the press.</p><p dir="ltr">The situation repeated itself in spring of 2017, when the bailiffs service again began to withhold 100% of the pension but reverted to their original plan of action following an outcry. So exactly a half of Olga Pitsunova’s pension payments goes to cover the enormous fine. It should be noted that the remaining amount is below the minimum subsistence level.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.49.52.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.49.52.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="276" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Register of NGOs that carry out the functions of foreign agents. Source: Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Obviously, aside from the emotional and physical harm suffered by Olga throughout this prolonged ordeal, we must take note of her exclusion from civil society. One could hardly expect her to continue with her social activism in the wake of such pressure and financial loss. Moreover, Pitsunova’s case had a knock-on effect on other NGOs in the region.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Bailiffs Service arrested Olga Pitsunova’s pension account and withheld 50% of all income, including her disability pension</p><p dir="ltr">“Because I have been forced to dial down my involvement in social causes (because of the courts and the need to deal with bailiffs as well as, unfortunately, health issues), the Social Ecological Council of the Saratov oblast (an independent grassroots organization created by heads of ecological NGOs) shut down, some ecological NGOs dissolved to avoid repeating our fate, others have become less active”, Olga Pitsunova told oDR in an interview. </p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“Generally, we could say that in three years the authorities have almost entirely replaced the actors in the public ecological sphere: established ecological NGOs were pushed out by new ecological organisations and quasi-NGOs, often created at the behest of the authorities or loyal to United Russia, which do not get in anyone’s way and/or carry out orders from above. This is how the state or those who make use of the law protect their interests.”</p><p dir="ltr">The ruinous fines levied on heads of NGOs that criticise the Russian authorities’ record on human rights, environmental protection, and so on are yet to become widespread in practice, but we are aware of at least ten such cases. Until now, Olga Pitsunova’s case has been the only one to go this far. This does not mean it will be the last.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translated by Alexander Iosad</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">Five years of Russia’s Foreign Agent law</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/helping-hand-at-russia-s-protests">A helping hand at Russia’s protests</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/law-beyond-improvement">A law beyond improvement</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-volosomoeva/valentina-cherevatenko-i-am-convinced-that-war-will-affect-us-all">Valentina Cherevatenko: “I am convinced that the war will affect us all”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Alexei Kozlov Russia Human rights Fri, 10 Nov 2017 21:03:33 +0000 Alexei Kozlov 114570 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “Ukraine’s veterans don’t need sympathy, they need dignity” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/michael-colborne/ukraines-veterans-dont-need-sympathy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ukraine needs a public conversation about its veterans.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1rsz_pa-20602819.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1rsz_pa-20602819.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Negative media coverage of Ukraine's veterans can take a toll. (c) Sergii Kharchenko/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Ukrainians will never know most of their names. In Kharkiv, one of them had just <a href="http://www.mediaport.ua/samoubiystvo-uchastnika-ato-v-harkove-policiya-rasskazala-detali">celebrated</a> his 23rd birthday with friends. In the<a href="https://www.facebook.com/police.kharkov/posts/1472039686227324"> stairwell</a> of the apartment block he lived in with his family, holding a grenade, he took his own life.</p><p dir="ltr">In Kyiv, a 55-year-old man<a href="https://www.obozrevatel.com/kiyany/crime/49852-v-kieve-ot-vzryiva-granatyi-pogib-voennyij-opublikovanyi-foto.htm"> called his son</a> to tell him to be a good son. The next day in a park in Kyiv he took his own life. He’d left a note. “It’s nobody’s fault. Simply put, nobody needs me,” it read.</p><p dir="ltr">In a village in the Kherson region near Crimea, a young man<a href="https://www.facebook.com/4udinovi4/posts/1594297980601130"> reportedly</a> went to visit a local priest. Then he<a href="https://apostrophe.ua/news/society/accidents/2017-07-18/pod-hersonom-boets-ato-povesilsya-posle-ispovedi-u-svyaschennika-separatista-/101807"> hanged</a> himself. The priest he visited wouldn’t let him be<a href="https://www.obozrevatel.com/ukr/crime/10593-atoshnik-povisivsya-pislya-spovidi-na-hersonschini-rozgorivsya-skandal-z-popom-agentom-rpts.htm"> buried</a> anywhere but on the edge of the village cemetery.</p><p dir="ltr">While his family was buying a handful of ubiquitous blue Kyiv metro tokens, Mykola Sydorchuk, 23 — unlike those above, one of the few to actually be named in Ukrainian news reports —<a href="https://inforesist.org/v-metro-kieva-samoubiystvo-sovershil-boets-ato-smi-rasskazali-ego-istoriyu/"> jumped</a> in front of a train.</p><p dir="ltr">In western Ukraine, a funeral was held in August for Bogdan Bogdanovich, a popular 36-year-old. Like all these men, Bogdanovich was a veteran of the war in Donbas. Like them, he also took his life.</p><p dir="ltr">“In his family it seemed like everything was normal,” Oleksandr Pisarenko, Bogdanovich’s battalion commander, was<a href="http://korrespondent.net/ukraine/3875339-na-lvovschyne-sovershyl-samoubyistvo-yzvestnyi-veteran-ato"> quoted</a> as saying. “He was a good man, a company commander. But it happened. Unfortunately, that’s life.”</p><p dir="ltr">Veterans like Bogdanovich, Sydorchuk and tens of thousands of others might have been feted as heroes when they left for the frontline in eastern Ukraine. But they are coming back to friends, family and a society that doesn’t know how to deal with them. For some of them, it’s too much to bear.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Starting from zero</h2><p dir="ltr">According to Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, approximately<a href="http://www.pravda.com.ua/rus/articles/2017/06/22/7147619/"> 500</a> Ukrainian veterans of the war in Donbas against combined Russian-separatist forces have taken their lives since 2014. The real figure, however, is likely higher: Avakov’s figure, which he said came from Ukraine’s military prosecutor’s office, doesn’t include deaths by suicide before or during deployment, nor does it take into account hidden suicides, like car accidents or drug/alcohol overdoses.</p><p dir="ltr">Ihor Kholodylo spent almost two years at the front, and came back to nightmares and flashbacks he wasn’t ready for. The military medic, 52, tells me that Ukrainian society, not to mention veterans themselves and their families, have no idea what it’s like for them to return home. “Society isn’t ready to accept these guys,” says Kholodylo, who now works as a trainer with <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pobratymy.training/">Pobratymy </a>(Brothers in Arms), a volunteer organisation that works with veterans. “It’s a big problem.”</p><p dir="ltr">Veterans coming home from war don’t get nearly enough help to help them cope with the horrors many have seen, Kholodylo tells me. The support offered by the state to veterans and their families is minimal, and other support services are inconsistent in quality and availability. In a <a href="http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/571011497962214803/Conflict-in-Ukraine-socio-economic-impacts-of-internal-displacement-and-veteran-return-summary-report-May-2017">World Bank</a> survey of 317 Ukrainian veterans in May 2017, more than a third of soldiers expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of psychologists’ work in Ukraine, while half of them suggested they didn’t use psychological services because they simply weren’t available. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/29550021.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/29550021.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>December 2016: a disabled veteran in action during a CrossFit competition for former soldiers injured in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, in Kyiv. (c) Maxym Marusenko/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">The strong stigma attached to mental health issues also makes many veterans, especially men, reticent to seek professional help in the first place, says Kholodylo. The path quickly becomes a dark one for some. “It becomes much easier for these guys to face death,” Kholodylo explains. “They faced death every day on the front, and got used to it.”</p><p dir="ltr">As a result, many of Ukraine’s veterans can experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — it’s one factor among many, from family breakup and unemployment to alcohol and drug addictions, that pushes some towards suicide. Ukrainian government sources <a href="http://tyzhden.ua/News/200810">estimate</a> more than one in four Ukrainian veterans of Donbas suffer from PTSD, though the exact figures are disputed.</p><p dir="ltr">People like John Quinn, an American physician and conflict medicine specialist who has worked in Donbas, have been pushing Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Social Policy (which is responsible for veterans after demobilisation) to acknowledge the brutal power of PTSD and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4194258/">“sub-threshold PTSD”</a> — instances where a traumatised individual meets most, but not all the criteria to be diagnosed with PTSD. “We’ve presented reports and recommendations with ‘addressing PTSD’ high up on the list,” says Quinn. “But it keeps getting pushed down the Defence Ministry’s list of priorities.”</p><p dir="ltr">Quinn does stress that there’s been a “massive evolution” in approaches to mental health in Ukraine since the war. More and more people have recognised the need to move away from the Soviet-era approach that has long stigmatised mental health issues, and shift towards using evidence-based best practices such as counselling and therapy. Much of the work over the course of the war, Quinn says, has come from a committed corps of volunteers, though he worries that they’re not always following international best practice.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">There is no preventative discharge programme for soldiers and their families, says Chellew, to prepare them for the impact of demobilisation</p><p dir="ltr">One thing there’s still not enough of, Quinn notes, is prevention. Ukraine needs more thorough pre-deployment training, says Quinn, to ensure soldiers are well-prepared for the impact being on the frontlines will have on their mental health. Something as simple as a two-hour classroom session for soldiers and their families about what to expect when they come back, he says, would help: “A pinch of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”</p><p dir="ltr">This extends to when soldiers are sent home from the front. Ukrainian soldiers don’t go through anything like what happens in western states, where soldiers being discharged or demobilised have to go through a lengthy discharge process that includes debriefing and counseling. While Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence has <a href="http://tyzhden.ua/News/200810">provided</a> psychological assistance to several thousand soldiers since the beginning of 2017, most of these psychologists are only <a href="https://www.politico.eu/article/ukraine-war-trauma-treatment-battle/">available </a>in the war zone, and other assistance involves in-patient, “sanatorium and spa” services only available once soldiers have already presented for treatment. There is no preventative discharge programme for soldiers and their families, says Chellew, to prepare them for the impact of demobilisation.</p><p dir="ltr">“You can basically walk off the front, hand in your weapon and the base and go home,” says Chellew, a Kyiv-based American medic who has worked in Donbas. “You can be on the front and then 12 hours later be sitting at a bar in Kyiv,” he adds, noting that alcohol is still the only way many people in Ukraine, especially men, cope with mental health issues.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Negative media coverage of veterans takes a toll </h2><p dir="ltr">Another issue is how Ukrainians and the media talk about veterans. The image that most people have of veterans is far from a positive one, Kholodylo says, and it’s an image that pushes some veterans to the brink. Veterans are often stereotyped as drunks, abusers (reports of domestic violence have<a href="https://womennewsnetwork.net/2017/04/11/war-ukraine-domestic-violence/"> increased</a> since 2014) and generally violent, dangerous people. “Our media needs to present the veteran’s image in a correct way,” Chellew, the medic, says.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s something that also rankles Kholodylo’s colleague, Ivona Kostyna, who heads up Pobratymy. Kostyna says part of the problem is that the word “veteran” in Ukrainian evokes something very different from today’s veterans. Since the Second World War, says Kostyna, “there’s never really been the concept of a ‘veteran’ in Ukraine.” Even Ukrainian soldiers who fought in Afghanistan for the Soviet Union in the 1980s, she says, didn’t return home carrying the label of “veteran”.</p><p dir="ltr">“A veteran, really, is associated in people’s minds here with World War Two vets,” Kostyna adds, “with old men marching on Victory Day,” the 9 May holiday commemorating Soviet victory over the Nazis.</p><p dir="ltr">The new image that’s being painted of veterans, Kostyna says, isn’t a pretty one. She recounts how, in 2014 and 2015, she would search online for information about veterans in Ukraine. The results that came back, she tells me, were shocking. Veterans were almost uniformly painted as dangerous drunks, says Kostyna, and a threat to the people around them. “There was just so much that would demoralise an actual veteran looking at this,” she says.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“What’s needed is to tell veterans ‘you’re not alone,’ and give people a true understanding the barriers these men and women are up against”</p><p dir="ltr">Unfortunately, some of Ukraine’s top military brass are the ones doing the demoralising. In September 2017, Colonel Oleh Druz, the chief psychiatrist of the Ukrainian defense ministry’s clinical hospital,<a href="https://www.unian.info/politics/2146696-chief-military-psychiatrist-suspended-for-calling-war-veterans-a-threat-to-society.html"> told</a> members of Ukraine’s parliament that almost 93% of the veterans in Ukraine are a hazard to society, a “hidden enemy” because of their mental health issues.</p><p dir="ltr">“Participants in the hostilities can become a threat both to their own families and to entire society after they end their service,” Druz reported to parliamentarians at the committee meeting. “Soldiers’ disorders are characterised by high levels of proneness to conflict, increased aggression, low operability, exacerbation of chronic diseases, alcohol and drug abuse, antisocial behavior, increased levels of suicide, and a reduction in life expectancy.”</p><p dir="ltr">Veterans didn’t take too kindly to Druz’s comments: the phrase “One of the 93%” took off among veterans on social media. Druz was quickly<a href="https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/ukrainian-war-veteran-blows-kharkiv.html"> suspended</a> from duty for his comments.</p><p dir="ltr">But it’ll take more than a suspension to help brighten the image of veterans in Ukraine. John Quinn suggests that a countrywide public health campaign could not only help improve the image of Ukraine’s veterans, but help them better settle back into society after their service is done.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/20994357_1129285913838293_7096166575364812821_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Morning exercise for veterans with Pobratimy organisation. Source: "Pobratimy".</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">“What’s needed is to tell veterans “you’re not alone,” and give people a true understanding the barriers these men and women are up against,” Quinn says. This kind of campaign should try to reinforce coping strategies among veterans and let veterans know that millions like them in other countries face the same issues, he says. “They need to know they’re not alone, in every sense of the word.”</p><p dir="ltr">It’ll be a tough battle, as even the people fighting it acknowledge. Kholodylo notes that it took the United States more than a decade to fully come to terms with and deal with its own veterans after the Vietnam War. “We’re starting from zero,” he says.</p><p dir="ltr">“Within a year or two, expect a tsunami,” Kholodylo says, warning that full scope of the issue won’t reveal itself until long after many of the these veterans have come home.</p><p dir="ltr">But for Kholodylo, it’s also an opportunity. Embracing Ukraine’s veterans, he says, can act as a way to help Ukrainian society as a whole deal with the legacy of decades of unresolved historical trauma, from the Holodomor and World War Two right up to the still-hot war on the country’s own territory. Embracing veterans and coping collectively with the traumas they’ve witnessed and experienced, says Kholodylo, is a way to help Ukraine as a country heal and move forward after decades of trauma.</p><p dir="ltr">“Veterans don’t need sympathy,” Kholodylo adds. “They need dignity.”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>If you or someone you know is struggling emotionally or thinking of suicide, please get in touch with a crisis line in your country. A list of some crisis lines can be found<a href="https://www.facebook.com/help/103883219702654/"> here</a> and<a href="http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html"> here</a>. </em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>In Ukraine, additional resources can be found at the <a href="http://integration.kiev.ua/">Integration Center</a> and the Mental Health and Trauma Therapy Center <a href="http://www.enmentalhealth.ipz.org.ua/">“Space of Hope”</a>. </em></p><p dir="ltr"><em><strong>If you or someone you know is currently in danger, please dial the emergency number in your country immediately.</strong></em></p><p dir="ltr"><em><strong><br /></strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-how-war-in-donbas-has-affected-ukraine">Disconnected society: how the war in the Donbas has affected Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/michael-colborne/women-at-centre-of-ukraine-s-resurgent-hiv-epidemic">Meet the women at the centre of Ukraine’s resurgent HIV epidemic</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-tucker/ukraine-s-unwanted-orphans">What does the future hold for Ukraine&#039;s children in care? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/isobel-koshiw-anastasia-vlasova/growing-up-apolitical-in-ukraine-s-war-zone">Growing up apolitical in Ukraine’s war zone</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/gabriel-levy/eastern-ukraine-we-need-new-ways-of-organising">Eastern Ukraine: “We need new ways of organising”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Michael Colborne Ukraine Human rights Wed, 08 Nov 2017 13:20:55 +0000 Michael Colborne 114529 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Pyotr Ryabov: “Prison is the ideal model for the state” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/prison-is-the-ideal-model-for-the-state <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Russian anarchist writer Pyotr Ryabov was recently imprisoned and deported from Belarus. I asked him about freedom of assembly, the power of the hunger strike and why history lectures are a threat to authoritarian rule. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/turma-eto-idealnoe-stroenie-gosudarstva" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/wi12NNNw8kU.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/wi12NNNw8kU.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="322" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Pyotr Ryabov. Source: “Vkontakte”.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">The space for public discussion in Belarus is contracting. The news on 11 October that a Belarusian court had arrested Pyotr Ryabov, a Russian historian and member of the self-styled anarcho-communist alliance<a href="https://avtonom.org/en"> “Autonomous Action”</a>. Ryabov was convicted of “petty hooliganism” and banned from entering the country for ten years for supposedly using abusive language and distributing extremist material. This is not the first time the authorities have shown an interest in Ryabov: he has previously been detained for picketing and prior to public lectures. </p><p dir="ltr">Pyotr Ryabov has a PhD in philosophy and is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Philosophy at Moscow’s Lenin State Pedagogical University. He lectures on Ancient Greece at Moscow’s <a href="http://arhe.msk.ru/">Arhe cultural and educational centre</a> and researches the history and philosophy of Anarchism. He is the author of several books on anarchism, history and Ancient Greece. At first glance, this looks ike a purely academic career, but Ryabov still posed a danger to Alexander Lukashenka’s regime.</p><p dir="ltr">Since August this year, Belarus has seen a <a href="https://pramen.io/ru/2017/10/v-minske-spetsnaz-atakoval-antifashistskij-kontsert/https://pramen.io/ru/2017/10/v-minske-spetsnaz-atakoval-antifashistskij-kontsert)">punk concert</a> disrupted, a lecture by a Moscow anti-fascist activist <a href="https://pramen.io/ru/2017/08/vse-zaderzhannye-v-baranovichah-na-svobode/">interrupted</a> by police, and police have <a href="https://abc-belarus.org/?p=8418">searched</a> the homes of anarchists in Hrodna and <a href="http://spring96.org/ru/news/87928">confiscated computers</a> at a Minsk cooperative. What is it about your history lectures that makes the authorities so concerned?</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pyotr Ryabov:</strong> I intended to give a lecture on late 20th century libertarian philosophy, but 14 minutes into it, as I was speaking about existentialism, the riot police interrupted. They closed off all the exits, and some people were detained. I was also supposed to give a lecture in Baranavichy, about anarchists during the Russian Revolution. But after the security organs got involved, the event turned into a tiny gathering in a flat.</p><p dir="ltr">The reaction has been surprising, but I suspect it’s not the police that were behind this, but the local KGB. The lectures I give when I travel around Russia have never provoked this kind of response. The state has overestimated my contribution to revolutionary propaganda: several of my lectures would have caused less fuss than if they’d been banned. I think the reason here is the word “anarchism”. The authorities remember both the fact that anarchists were sentenced for an arson attack on the Russian consulate in 2010, and that they, in many cases, led the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/devin-ackles/understanding-belarus-s-protests">recent protests against Belarus’ “parasite law”</a>. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You’ve previously been detained for participating in rallies, and now you’ve just spent almost a week in jail. What do you think about hospitality, Lukashenka-style?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>PR: </strong>I spent those six days, as any academic would — I wrote more than 100 pages analysing what was happening from an anthropological perspective. This is perhaps why the prison staff and inmates called me “professor”, and I didn’t try to stop them. It was an excellent opportunity for intensive anthropological observation, a kind of excursion to the repressive facilities that I hadn’t been in for a long time.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/zatrymanni_grodna_9_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/zatrymanni_grodna_9_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="290" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Belarusian police at Center of City Life in Hrodno. Source: Social networks.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">In a cell, your whole life is structured down to the last minute, but the prisoners have not only not set up this timetable, but don’t even have watches or clocks to follow it. It’s not just a forced system of control over a person’s time: it recalls Kafka’s castle. A pre-trial remand prison has similarly strict rules which are, however, unknown to its inmates and therefore can’t be obeyed. It reminded me, in a way, of life in Belarus in general, as local activists had described it to me.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Russian consul even came to see me: the first time he had ever visited a fellow-citizen behind bars</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Who were your cellmates? How did you get on with them?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>PR: </strong>There are a lot of broken people there. One man, for example, has been waiting a month and a half to be expelled from the country, but is afraid to bring the subject up and doesn’t want to file a complaint, although the official date for his expulsion has long since passed. On the other hand, I got to know hardened thieves, awaiting transfer to prison colonies, who gave me moral support and shared their coffee. Given how cold it was in the building (it is unheated, and the temperature fell below zero at night), this was a real sign of solidarity. In other words, everything is designed to humiliate and break people. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that many of the other inmates will have to spend years in these intolerable and inhuman conditions. On the other hand, is it very different from life on the outside?</p><p dir="ltr">The “regulars”, however, told me that this remand prison was much better than the others. And in general, I had privileged conditions there, thanks to pickets outside Belarusian embassies in other countries and letters from friends and articles in the media about the police interrupting my lectures. The Russian consul even came to see me: the first time he had ever visited a fellow-citizen behind bars. All this attention meant that the warders didn’t humiliate me more than they had to and observed all the formalities: they even let me see a doctor, who shared his meagre stock of medication with me. They also gave me sheets, which a lightning poll I conducted told me were unavailable to anyone else, and, best of all, they sometimes gave me hot water, an unheard of luxury. And this was all because I was, supposedly, a professor.</p><p dir="ltr">The prison staff also refrained from using the f-word to me: this was particularly funny because it forced them to choose their words carefully (and because one of the offences I was charged with was the use of foul language in a public space). And I had a cell to myself, with books and notebooks, so it wasn’t so bad: I was able to engage in fieldwork in unfamiliar conditions, an un-academic setting that in fact inclined me to reflection.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You are a populariser of the anarchist ideas of Pyotr Kropotkin, Nestor Makhno and Emma Goldman, all of whom spent time in prison for their views. Did you find any parallels with your situation in their memoirs?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>PR:</strong> Well, this isn’t the first time I’ve been in prison. I served six days back in 1996 for taking part in an unsanctioned opposition march in Minsk; they squeezed twenty people into one cell and we slept side by side on planks. Now they usually have bunks, which are still uncomfortable but at least they are individual. In those days we also just had a hole in the corner for a toilet; now there’s a proper flush lavatory and even a basin in a walled off area.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Life in the remand prison reminded me, in a way, of life in Belarus in general, as local activists had described it to me</p><p dir="ltr">When I felt depressed, my mind went back to the hardships endured by anarchists, populists and revolutionaries in Tsarist Russia. I remembered the Decembrists exiled to Siberia for 20 years and thought, “Hey, I’ve only got a week to serve”. I certainly thought about the historical parallels and recalled passages from Kropotkin. It was his advice that decided me to work out every day. I also remembered Emma Goldman’s memoirs and her thoughts on how to avoid getting depressed in prison.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/755078986834703_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/755078986834703_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="285" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Picket in support of Ryabov at Belarusian Embassy, Moscow. Source: rbc.ru. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Prison is the ideal model for the state. When you write a book on this subject you become an academic theoretician who finds himself beginning to forget the meaning of the words he uses. In prison, everything is concentrated and tangible at a sensory level, whereas I would recall the views of Anarchist ideologists about prison on a more existential level, in a context of resistance. Twenty years ago I wrote an article about the hunger strike as a tool of resistance, and now I had a chance to try it out in practice.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You declared a hunger strike in court. Was this a protest at your imprisonment? What made you decide to do this?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>PR:</strong> A hunger strike is a completely natural action, and not even because some famous political prisoners have done the same thing in their time. And not because people will feel sorry for you and the regime will be shamed. That is all completely unimportant. What was important to me was to somehow make a stand against the unjust actions of the Special Services. I wanted to protest, but how could I do it? Once you have been convicted of a crime, you become just a body flung into a dungeon without daylight.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Hunger strike is an attempt to prove that I’m not just a thing. I can take decisions for myself</p><p dir="ltr">My hunger strike is an attempt to prove that I’m not just a thing: I can take decisions for myself. A hunger strike is a weapon for the weaponless; a way to remain normal when everything around is abnormal. It is an inner need for resistance when there are no other means of resistance. It’s not hard to stop eating, and everything can go smoothly when your motivation is clear. I’d never done it before, but it wasn’t a dry fast — I did drink water.</p><p dir="ltr">The only thing was that I had a cold. Being in a prison without warm clothing and food didn’t help, and I was afraid that my cold might turn into pneumonia. So I hardly slept the whole time. I was short of breath all night, from coughing and being chilled. And of course I remembered<a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/02/russia-court-offers-chink-of-light-in-case-brought-by-jailed-protester-ildar-dadin/"> Ildar Dadin</a>, who has now been forgotten, but who was a real hero who fought for months, and eventually managed, to overturn an earlier reading of the law on picketing.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You are not only a teacher of, and writer on, philosophy, but also part of Russia’s anarchist movement. On the basis of your experience of a Belarusian jail and that of your ideological associates in Russia, are there comparisons you could draw between the repressive systems in the two countries?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>PR:</strong> I have certainly spent a lot of time with people who have unfortunately experienced prison conditions in both countries. It’s a question of nuances. In one sense, President Lukashenka’s police state is worse than Vladimir Putin’s rule in Russia. Legislation is harsher there: in Russia, using foul language in a public space can lead to a caution or a fine; in Byelorussia it’s a sentence of up to 15 days, and local people say it happens all the time.</p><p dir="ltr">On the other hand, where Russia is concerned I only have the experience of anarchist friends in Moscow and St Petersburg to go on. In the regions, pressure on social activists from the police and the Internal Ministry’s Centre for Combating Extremism is much stronger: there have been notable cases of harassment and threats against activists from the security services in Irkutsk and Nizhny Novgorod, for example. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">We, as anarchists, must in any case take part in any mass demonstrations that take place and try to steer them towards self-organisation and direct democracy</p><p dir="ltr">Many activists have been forced to emigrate and others imprisoned after the<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolotnaya_Square_case"> Bolotnaya Square Case</a> — Alexey Gaskarov, for instance, who served a prison sentence for alleged “incitement to mass riots”, and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/man-in-black-interview-with-russian-anarchist-dmitry-buchenkov">Dmitri Buchenkov</a>, who is still awaiting sentencing. So, despite their mutual antagonism, there’s little to choose between them in terms of abuse of power. In Belarus, someone was recently given a two year sentence for taking part in anti-corruption protests — all this is going on in the background and seems to have become “normal”. On the other hand, there you can buy tickets for public transport without showing your ID and you can walk in and out of university buildings without a pass, whereas in Russia that hasn’t been possible for a long time as part of a public control system.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Have you taken anything positive out of your various adventures?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>PR:</strong> The main thing is an incredible feeling of solidarity — people wrote to me in prison and picketed embassies; journalists publicised my case; historians organised “solidarity evenings”. I’d like to have 100 arms, to hug everyone that helped me. If there hasn’t been any clear political solution, media attention is</p><p dir="ltr">However, if the Belarusian government exaggerated the danger I presented, other people have been overestimating the importance of what happened to me. Dozens of people are in prison for their political activities and they, alas, won’t be out after a week. Both anarchists as individuals and<a href="https://avtonom.org/en"> Autonomous Action</a>, of which I have been a member, could have fought this. Unfortunately, however, we can only speak in the past tense: it has had a long history, but has now folded.</p><p dir="ltr">We, as anarchists, must in any case take part in any mass demonstrations that take place and try to steer them towards self-organisation and direct democracy, and away from the control exercised by politicians like Alexey Navalny.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/how-to-make-whole-generation-apolitical-interview-with-bel">How to make an entire generation apolitical: an interview with Belarusian anarchist Mikola Dedok</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/devin-ackles/understanding-belarus-s-protests">We are not parasites: understanding Belarus’s protests</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/%E2%80%98parasite-law%E2%80%99-in-belarus">The ‘parasite law’ in Belarus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach/anarchism-in-makhno%E2%80%99s-homeland-adventures-of-red-and-black-flag">Anarchism in Makhno’s homeland: adventures of the red-and-black flag</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/alexei-navalnys-campaign-effective-management-or-grassroots-movement">Alexei Navalny&#039;s campaign: effective management or grassroots movement?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Dmitry Okrest Human rights Fri, 03 Nov 2017 21:13:39 +0000 Dmitry Okrest 114427 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Syrian refugees in Russia have to fight for their rights https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/syrian-refugees-in-russia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Syrian citizens are fleeing from their war-torn homeland, and some of them have chosen Russia as their country of asylum. But life for them here is also a struggle. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/siriyzy-v-rossii-drugaya-voina" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/5564-12-Refugees1-472x310_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/5564-12-Refugees1-472x310_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="302" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Free integration courses for refugees in the "Civic Assistance Committee". Source: refugee.ru. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Russia’s support for Syria, in fact, only extends to its armed forces, and the country’s civilian population has received less and less attention as the years pass. In July 2017, only two Syrian citizens were given refugee status in Russia. In January 2017, 1,317 Syrian citizens were given temporary asylum, but by summer the number had fallen to 1,301. And although Russia is one of a handful of countries to issue visas to Syrians ‚ and with it the right to legally escape the war — the situation of displaced people in Russia is far from enviable.</p><p dir="ltr">Svetlana Gannushkina and Natalya Gontsova of the<a href="http://refugee.ru/en/"> Civic Assistance Committee</a>, a Russian NGO that supports refugees and forcibly displaced persons, spoke to oDR about the problems they face in Russia.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How many Syrians are currently living in Russia?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Svetlana Gannushkina:</strong> According to official figures, there are now roughly 7,000 Syrians in Russia. That’s a small number for the whole of Russia, but a significant burden for our organisation. At my count, there are 2,000 Syrians living here permanently and with legal status. Another 1,300 have temporary asylum, and only two people have refugee status. This is not surprising: only 589 people overall have refugee status in Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">About 5,000 Syrians are, however, in limbo — these are the people who turn to us for help. Many of them live in the Moscow region, in the towns of Losino-Petrovsky and Noginsk. We are also approached by people whose temporary asylum status hasn’t been renewed, a situation that has recently become the norm.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Are there specific criteria for assigning Syrian citizens who have fled their country refugee status?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Natalya Gontsova:</strong> The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees considers all Syrians to be refugees, since they are fleeing from a war.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1img_5038_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1img_5038_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="448" height="346" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Svetlana Gannushkina, Chairperson of the Committee, and Natalya Gontsova, Counselor for Migration Issues. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Why do Syrians choose Russia as their country of asylum? It doesn’t seem like an obvious choice.</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG: </strong>First, Russia is one of the few countries that still issues Syrians with tourist entry visas. In the second, some Syrians have connections here. Aleppo, for example, was historically famous for its garment industry. Before the war, successful business people from the city opened clothing factories in Russia and recruit fellow Syrians to work in them. Some people, for example, had already set up shop in Russia in 2011, and then, when they realised they couldn’t return home, they settled here and invited their families to join them. That’s what has happened in Noginsk. A few young Syrian men settled there, gave their brothers or fathers power of attorney so they could marry a Syrian woman. After the marriage was officially registered in Syria, their brides could join them here.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"Visas play a role here. Russian consulates hand them out pretty easily. And people flee to whatever country accepts them"</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SG:</strong> Yes, visas play a role here. Russian consulates hand them out pretty easily. And people flee to whatever country accepts them. We recently helped a family from Syria, a mother and two children. When I asked how they had come to Russia, the woman said that they had paid $3,000 each for tourist visas. Of course, every consul is well aware that if someone is coming from Syria or Yemen, which are experiencing conflict, they will request asylum. But there’s no consistency about what happens next: Russia’s Foreign Ministry, which issues the visas, knowing that these people are not coming as tourists, has one policy; the Internal Ministry, meanwhile, has another, and refuses them asylum.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Where does this attitude come from?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SG:</strong> I think this cruelty is forced on them from the top. Russia doesn’t need migrants — this is what the government believes, and explains it by suggesting that “the people won’t like it”. The argument goes like this: if we give asylum to someone today, there’ll be another crowd banging on the door tomorrow. Europe is in shock and doesn’t know what to do next. </p><p dir="ltr">But who are these “people” they talk about? I’m part of the people. The intelligentsia are also part of it, and don’t try to deny that. I don’t live on benefits: I’ve worked all my life, just like my ancestors. Everybody has their own perception of “the people” — i.e. others who are like themselves. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"Refugees here see Russia as a wheel which you need to keep constantly spinning in order to survive"</p><p dir="ltr">I make frequent trips to Europe and have never seen any shocked-looking Europeans — we <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-zhilin/warped-mirror-how-russian-media-covers-europe%E2%80%99s-refugee-crisis">only see them on our TV screens</a>. In Germany, they recently published an electoral map showing where people had voted for Alternative for Germany, whose policies are based on anti-migrant/refugee ideas. Interestingly enough, AfD won the most votes in regions with very few migrants — unfortunately, mainly in the former GDR.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do refugees in Russia see the country as a temporary home or are they interested in settling here?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> There are various types of refugees and migrants. Some are families: the husband comes first and the family follows. They settle down here, learn Russian, get used to life here and want to stay, so they do all they can to get permanent residence status. But there are also young unmarried men who are more mobile, see no prospects in Russia and would happily move on if they could. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC09513_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC09513_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Civic Assistance Committee opened courses for Syrian refugees, children and adults in Noginsk. Photo: Polina Rukavichkina / refugee.ru. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">In general, of course, refugees here see Russia as a wheel which you need to keep constantly spinning in order to survive. It’s hard psychologically, so they dream about moving to somewhere where they’ll have a better reception. Some people hope for help from members of their own community, but are abandoned. Half of them have told me how they paid several thousand dollars to other Syrians in Russia to organise temporary residence permits, and then discovered that their “helpers” just disappeared with the money.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"Refugees who are refused legal status — and that’s the majority — can expect to be expelled from Russia. But people somehow find ways to live under the radar for years, and sometimes decades"</p><p dir="ltr">Many are prepared to stay because they have no choice: they have nowhere to go back to. Refugees often say to me: if it wasn’t for the children, I’d rather go back to Syria and die there than suffer here. It’s usually older people who tell me this. I immediately remember my own grandfather: he never left his home village, but was keen to see his daughters, at least, leave for the city. It’s the same for elderly Syrians: they don’t want anything for themselves and everything they do is for their families’ future. People are the same everywhere.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SG:</strong> At the same time, refugees who are refused legal status — and that’s the majority — can expect to be expelled from Russia. But people somehow find ways to live under the radar for years, and sometimes decades. This is a peculiar thing about Russia. I know one man — not, it’s true, from Syria — who was ordered to be expelled by a court. But he has lived very well for 20 years in Russia. He has a wife and child, and works informally, off the books. His mother-in-law, admittedly, can’t understand why he and his wife have never formally married — she doesn’t know he has no official ID papers. But he pays the police off any time he’s challenged about it. Not everyone, of course, has such phenomenal charm and chutzpah. </p><p dir="ltr">Most refugees are fleeced by the police, ripped off or worked into the ground by their employers and remanded in custody when the courts decide to expel them. There have been real cases of Syrians being expelled, but more recently, appeal courts have been overturning expulsion orders.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But where did the rumour come from that you can buy refugee status with a bribe?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> Syrians have told us that there was a woman working in the Directorate for Migration Affairs who took money for organising residence permits. She was an intermediary between the migrants and the official who took the decisions, and was the person who actually handed people the papers they had paid for. But then it was discovered that many of those whom she had “helped” weren’t even in the migrant database.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What does a Syrian, or any other refugee in Russia, need to do to get some official status and become a legal resident here?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> The first thing they need to do is visit the Directorate for Migration Affairs and fill in an application form. That’s the theory, anyway. But in Russia they still have to fight for this application form to be accepted. Even trying to hand in the documents you need to apply for refugee status is no easy matter. The staff at the Directorate immediately try to put you off: “It’s too much of a hassle, and they’ll refuse you anyway.”</p><p dir="ltr">We had a case recently where a family — a mother and her two adult sons — arrived from Syria, and one of our volunteers went to the directorate with them. Initially the staff wouldn’t accept their application form for refugee status, but the volunteer persuaded them to take it. And how did it all end? A couple of months later their application, both for refugee status and temporary asylum was refused.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But how could they refuse them this status? Surely there is a UN Refugee Agency directive on this.</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> They say that everything is fine in Syria, that international agreements are being signed everywhere and the situation is being normalised. But our Directorate for Migration Affairs doesn’t pay much attention to UN directives and international agreements. Its reference point is Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the arguments put forward for refusing a given person refugee status are based on information coming from that ministry.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"As for supporting refugees, we can say that the institution of asylum doesn’t actually exist in Russia. No one pays any attention to people here — and this applies not just to asylum seekers, but our own citizens"</p><p dir="ltr">They often write, for example, that “most of our population have difficulties of some kind: this applicant’s difficulties are nothing out of the ordinary”. In other words: “everybody suffers here, and you have to suffer as well”. </p><p dir="ltr">Applications are also turned down on the grounds that a person has come to Russia to improve his material situation, because of financial problems back home and not because it’s dangerous there — as though there’s nothing dangerous about having no work and nothing to eat. Maybe the bombs are no longer exploding every few minutes, but there’s still plenty of danger.</p><p dir="ltr">Refusals are often couched in absurd language. A young man applies for asylum, for example, and his elderly mother is still in Syria. The refusal document reads: “It is possible for him to return home, because he has family there, and his family members can help him.” But who is going to provide any support for him? His elderly mother, whom he may not even be able to find any more?”</p><p dir="ltr">Here is an extract from a refusal of temporary asylum in Russia to a 19-year old Syrian woman:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">According to the information bulletin of the Russian Centre for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties in Syria, issued on 4 July 2017 within the framework of the implementation of the Memorandum on the Creation of De-escalation Zones in Syria, signed by the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran on 4 May 2017, inspection teams are continuing to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire regime. The situation in the de-escalation zones is considered to be stable. The number of populated localities that have joined the reconciliation process has reached 1871, while the number of armed formations that have expressed their approval of the acceptance and implementation of the ceasefire conditions has reached 228. Negotiations are also continuing with armed opposition groups over acceptance of the ceasefire conditions in the Governorates of Aleppo, Ildib, Damascus, Hama, Homs and El Quneitra. The Centre for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties is carrying out humanitarian operations in the city of Aleppo, where the local population is receiving food parcels. Taking all this into account, there are grounds for believing that conditions in the home country of this applicant have stabilised considerably [emphasis added].</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But given that Russia provides Syria with military support, why can’t we give asylum to its people fleeing from the war?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SG:</strong> No, we don’t support Syria: we support its regime, which is not supported by the Syrian people. We don’t support the country, but government is friendly with it. Our governments are friendly with one another, but it’s really dangerous when governments talk to one another behind our backs.</p><p dir="ltr">As for supporting refugees, we can say that the institution of asylum doesn’t actually exist in Russia. No one pays any attention to people here — and this applies not just to asylum seekers, but our own citizens. Legalising migrants would be good for us as well as them: they would pay taxes, send their children to school, have vaccinations and visit their doctors to avoid becoming carriers of disease. They would also learn our language and culture and become a source of this language and culture, wherever they happened to be. It’s not military power and bombs that spread Russia’s influence in the world: it’s our language and culture.</p><p dir="ltr">Our citizens are perfectly capable of realising this. They just need to have it explained to them that these people are already in Russia, and the question of whether they should be doesn’t arise. Do we want them to live here legally, or to live here anyway, but as illegals? And that would mean an increase in corruption, a fall in wages and salaries, children aimlessly wandering the streets and getting drawn into a criminal environment.</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, you can do what you like with an illegal worker, “squeeze the crap out of him”, as <a href="https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xd5q47/the-best-of-vladimir-zhirinovsky-russias-craziest-politician">Vladimir Zhirinovsky</a> puts it. You can squeeze him, and then throw away the crap - and there’ll be a queue of people to replace him waiting behind the door. What we have is a slave labour system. These powerless migrants, who can be underpaid or not paid at all, are a gift for dishonest employers. One of the things we do at Civic Assistance is to help these migrant labourers, which isn’t easy. We phone employers and ask them to pay the workers the money they have earned but unfortunately, we can think ourselves lucky if we get half of it back. We also try to defend the migrants’ interests in court, but there’s often nothing that can be done as there’s no proof of any formal working relationship.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>If a refugee or migrant has no formal status or has lost it, what can he or she do?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> Theoretically, they should leave Russian territory within 48 hours. But they have a month to lodge a complaint with the Internal Ministry. If that is declined, they can take the matter to a district court, and if there are turned down there, they can go to appeal.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"Refugees spend thousands on roubles on bribes: one person demands one here, another one there. People call them 'fines', but we know that they aren't"</p><p dir="ltr">If they lose their case at a Moscow City or Moscow Region Court, that’s basically the end of the line and they become illegal. They can’t leave Russia either — no other country will take them. So they go off to complete another application form, and the system gears up again: when a migrant turns up at the Directorate for Migration Affairs to make a second application, the police are called and they are taken to the nearest police station, where an officer draws up a charge sheet stating that they have “infringed the Russian Federation’s visa regulations”. The case then goes to court, and the court decides whether to expel them or not. And even if the judge decides to let them stay, they still have to pay a 5,000 rouble (£65) fine. And police practice in the Moscow region is that a repeat residence application can’t be filed until the fine is paid. But if the fine hasn’t been paid after 14 days, it’s back to the police station.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How long does it take to process an appeal?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> The whole process can take up to a year and while it’s going on the person has the legal right to remain in Russia. The police, however, take no notice of this rule, and if someone’s stopped on the street, it’s straight to the police station. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"People complain that they are forever getting stopped on the street by the police — even those who could 'pass' as Russians"</p><p dir="ltr">To live for a year in this state of suspense is really stressful. Let’s assume the refugees are not living in Moscow. They’ll have to travel there and back more than 11 times to go through the process of applying for documents and appealing when they’re turned down, and each time stand in a queue and be sworn at and even called “terrorists” and asked “what they’re doing here?” It’s not easy. They are continually being stopped on the street. Refugees spend thousands on roubles on bribes: one person demands one here, another one there. People call them “fines”, but we know that they aren’t.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But if refugees manage to jump through all these hoops and finally get a document giving them temporary asylum, can they then walk along a street without any fear?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> To be completely legal, you have to be registered at a given address. And that’s another circle of hell: you need to find accommodation and a landlady who’ll agree to register such a “peculiar” tenant.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>And who will agree to let rooms to refugees in Russia?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> That’s another massive problem, and many people refuse, but greed is a powerful persuader. Landowners bump their prices up by several hundred percent. Families look for flats; single people rent a bed in a shared room. It’s hard to convince owners that registering tenants doesn’t mean giving them official residence rights. And even if they do convince them, there’s yet another hurdle: the Directorate for Migration Affairs requires flat or house owners to come with the tenants to have them registered, and the owners get their share of insults and xenophobic remarks as they stand in the queue with the refugees.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Is it possible to assess the numbers of refugees and migrants in Russia?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG: </strong>It used to be easy: the figures would be on the Directorate’s site. But now the Internal Ministry is responsible for the issue, and they aren’t publishing them anymore. We use Federal Statistics Office figures in our work.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But judging by those figures, there are only two Syrians with refugee status in the whole of Russia. Do you know who they are?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> We have no idea who they are. Why should they turn to us if everything is going so well for them? I’ve been working at Civic Assistance for two years now, and the figures haven’t changed – there are still just two Syrian refugees.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But in the last six months, the number of Syrians who have been given temporary asylum in Russia has also dropped (to 16). What’s that about?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> Temporary asylum is only given for a year, or sometimes less, whereas you can hold refugee status for three years. Then you need to renew it. Exactly a month before your refugee status runs out, you have to go to the Directorate and “re-register”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1445100157_676779_89_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1445100157_676779_89_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="341" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>More than a month the family of Syrian refugees with four children lived in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo Airport. After all, they didn't receive refugee status. Photo: Ekaterina Fomina / Novaya Gazeta. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">For a long time, the people working at the Directorate were very laid back about it all: a lot of refugees would turn up just ten days before the expiry of their status. But now if they re-apply even 29 days before, rather than 30, they are immediately refused any extension and reported as having missed their deadline. This year we have won a number of cases relating to asylum application renewal, all of them heard in Lyubertsy, in the Moscow Region, where the court officials were sympathetic to the plight of Syrian women and children.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How do refugees find out about Civic Assistance?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> Unfortunately, many of them still don’t know about us. Information about the committee is spread through the grapevine, but there are people who know about us but don’t come to us for help because they know that we can only help in isolated cases. We explain to people how they can act within the law, but often they don’t get the outcomes they’re hoping for. So people get disillusioned with the system, and sometimes with us as well.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SG:</strong> But it’s not just Civic Assistance that helps refugees. We have the Memorial Human Rights’ Centre’s Migration and Law network operating out of our offices. The network has several dozen legal advice points around Russia, from its western borders to the Far East.</p><p dir="ltr">The Migration and Law network has been going for more than 20 years now, despite a desperate lack of resources. When we don’t have enough money to pay our legal experts, they mostly go on working for us for free. We have a collective of like-minded people who meet up for seminars twice a year to discuss issues around migration and our work. We also invite people from the Directorate for Migration Affairs and other government bodies, as it’s absolutely essential that we work together. It’s obvious that NGOs can’t solve the problems of migration on their own.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>If Syrians are fortunate enough to get refugee status, what help can they expect from the Russian authorities?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> Firstly, the right to work. Then the opportunity to live in a temporary accommodation facility (of which there are five or six across Russia) and money for their journey. Those who have only just applied for refugee status and are waiting for a decision have the right to a one-off payment of 100 roubles (£1.30) and Compulsory Health Insurance.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What medical services can they access?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> If they are at death’s door, or about to give birth, they’ll get an emergency ambulance. The fact that they don’t know they have the right to dial the emergency services is another matter. But if they don’t have Compulsory Health Insurance, the hospital will try to throw them out as quickly as they can. The UN Refugee Agency has a partner, the Health and Life charity, which has an agreement with a private clinic in Noginsk (where the largest number of Syrian refugees live), and they run a clinic twice a month (but only for those who are in the process of applying for refugee status).</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Getting some kind of official status involves an enormous amount of hassle — all that running around from one government office to another, and then several appeals. Do refugees share their experiences with you? How do they stand the constant stress?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> People complain that they are forever getting stopped on the street by the police — even those who could “pass” as Russians. In small towns like Noginsk, if police officers see a light haired lad in the company of migrants — that’s his reputation gone.</p><p dir="ltr">We’ve asked men about attacks, hate crimes. They’ve told us about insults and beatings. But they don’t complain: it would take pliers to drag any information out of them. Women are much more sensitive to xenophobia. They also stand out more on the street — most of them wear hijab. And local children don’t want to play with their children. But there’s an additional problem in Noginsk: most of the children aren’t given places in school, although in Russia, education is universal by law.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"In our government's eyes, we are, unfortunately, a 'foreign agent'. It would probably prefer that we didn’t exist"</p><p dir="ltr">I can tell you about one situation I witnessed myself: I went to the local education authority offices with two mothers, to get their children places at school. I sat them down on a bench opposite the director’s office, while I waited in the reception area. Suddenly an agitated woman flew into the office and started shouting, “Was it you who came with them? Ask them to stop talking in their language. Don’t they know where they are?” She was literally screeching that she couldn’t stand them speaking in Arabic.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s very unpleasant for Syrian women to be treated in such a way. At home in Syria, many of them were respected figures, but here they can be insulted, held by the police without food for several days and laughed at. Russians in general treat them like dirt.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How do you fund your work?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SG:</strong> We are funded by foundations in other countries and have partnership support from the UN Refugee Agency. But they can’t give us as much money as in the past: the refugee issue is an enormous global problem, and Russia is doing very little to combat it. Ukrainian refugees are the exception: over the last four years around 200,000 Ukrainians have received Russian citizenship; a slightly larger number, temporary asylum, and 300 people have even been given refugee status. But this is a special case, which we aren’t discussing here.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What is the Russian government’s attitude to you?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SG:</strong> In our government’s eyes, we are, unfortunately, a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">“foreign agent”</a>. It would probably prefer that we didn’t exist. They imagine that since we receive grants, the grant givers call the tune, whereas in fact the tune is called by international law and the people who ask for our help. </p><p dir="ltr">In January this year, our government passed legislation on organisations “engaged in socially useful functions”, and it is now preparing to support them by creating a register of these NGOs. But the same legislation states that those NGOs that the Ministry of Justice has included in the “Foreign Agent” register will not be eligible to be included in the “socially useful “one. </p><p dir="ltr">This is sad. But our work is needed and people are ready to help us, so for the moment we shall carry on.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasia-platonova/russia-refugee-children-school">Not in my classroom: Russia’s refugee children struggle to get to school</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/neil-hauer/to-victors-ruins-challenges-of-russia-s-reconstruction-in-syria">To the victors, the ruins: the challenges of Russia’s reconstruction in Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/refugee-family-s-ordeal-in-russia">A refugee family’s ordeal in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/syriauntold-editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/why-are-russians-indifferent-to-syrian-conflic">Why are Russians indifferent to the Syrian conflict?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia North-Africa West-Asia oD Russia Ekaterina Fomina Migration matters Russia Human rights Thu, 02 Nov 2017 07:40:29 +0000 Ekaterina Fomina 114405 at https://www.opendemocracy.net "Тюрьма — это идеальное строение государства" https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/turma-eto-idealnoe-stroenie-gosudarstva <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>oDR поговорил с Петром Рябовым — российским историком античности, проведшим неделю в белорусской тюрьме. Петр рассказал нам о работе в заключении, o голодовке и о том, почему исторические лекции — это угроза авторитаризму. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/prison-is%20the-ideal-model-for-the-state" target="_self"><em><strong>English</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/wi12NNNw8kU.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="322" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Петр Рябов. Источник: "ВКонтакте".</span></span></span>Общественное поле для дискуссии в Белоруссии сокращается — еще одним свидетельством этого явления стала новость о том, что 11 октября белорусский суд арестовал российского историка и участника "<a href="https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%90%D0%B2%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%BC%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B5_%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%B9%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%B8%D0%B5">Автономного действия</a>" Петра Рябова на шесть суток после срыва двух его лекций. Рябова осудили по&nbsp;ст. 17.1 КоАП Белоруссии (мелкое хулиганство) и запретили посещать страну в ближайшие 10 лет за то, что он якобы ругался матом и распространял экстремистские материалы. Это не первое внимание органов к Рябову — ранее его кратковременно задерживали на пикетах и накануне лекций.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://common.place/ryabov/">Петр Рябов</a> — кандидат философских наук, доцент кафедры философии Московского педагогического государственного университета имени Ленина, читает лекции о Древней Греции в <a href="http://arhe.msk.ru/">образовательном центре "Архэ"</a>, исследует историю и философию анархизма. Рябов написал книги "Краткий очерк истории анархизма в XIX–XX веках", "История русского народа и российского государства" и "Культура Эллады". На первый взгляд — чисто академическая карьера. И тем не менее, Рябов оказался опасен для режима Лукашенко.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>С августа в Белоруссии разогнали <a href="https://pramen.io/ru/2017/10/v-minske-spetsnaz-atakoval-antifashistskij-kontsert/https://pramen.io/ru/2017/10/v-minske-spetsnaz-atakoval-antifashistskij-kontsert)">панк-концерт</a>, сорвали <a href="https://pramen.io/ru/2017/08/vse-zaderzhannye-v-baranovichah-na-svobode/">лекцию московского антифашиста</a>, провели <a href="https://abc-belarus.org/?p=8418">обыски у гродненских анархистов </a>и изъяли технику у <a href="http://spring96.org/ru/news/87928">минского кооператива</a>. Почему Ваши исторические лекции вызвали такой ажиотаж у органов?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Я собирался читать в Гродно лекцию про либертарную философию последний трети&nbsp;XX&nbsp;века — и на 14 минуте на словах про экзистенциализм лекцию прервал ОМОН. Все прикрыли, а людей задержали. Лекция в Барановичах должна была быть про анархистов во время Русской революции, но после всех манипуляций органов пришлось рассказывать не в культурном центре, а в узком кругу слушателей на подпольной квартире.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Несколько моих лекций произвели бы меньше шумихи, чем их запрет</p><p dir="ltr">Такая реакция властей для меня загадка, но за таким вниманием стояла не милиция, а местное КГБ. Мои в целом академические лекции, когда я путешествую по России, прежде не вызывали такого ответа. Государство переоценило мой вклад в революционную пропаганду: несколько моих лекций произвели бы меньше шумихи, чем их запрет. Думаю, что все дело в термине "анархизм". Власти помнят, и то, что анархистов осудили за поджог посольства России в 2010 году, и то, что анархисты во многих случаях возглавили массовый протест против закона о тунеядстве.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Вас ранее задерживали за участия в акциях, теперь вы почти неделю провели в заключении. Какие впечатления от подобного гостеприимства со стороны режима Лукашенко?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">За время заключения я, как всякий интеллигент, исписал более 100 страниц, чтобы осознать происходящее с антропологической точки зрения. Может быть, поэтому сотрудники и заключенные меня называли профессором, ну а я не стал опровергать. Это была хорошая возможность включенного антропологического наблюдения, некой экскурсии по репрессивным заведениям, в которых я давно не бывал. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/zatrymanni_grodna_9_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/zatrymanni_grodna_9_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Белорусская полиция в "Центре городской жизни", Гродно. Фото из социальной сети. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Вся жизнь в камере строится по точному расписанию, но при этом заключенные не только не составляли это расписание, но у них даже нет часов, чтобы ему следовать. Это не просто навязанная система контроля за временем человека. Это отсылка к замку Кафки. В изоляторе точно так же точные правила неведомы, следовательно, соблюдать их невозможно. Отчасти это напоминало вообще жизнь в Белоруссии, как мне ее описывали местные активисты. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Когда становилось плохо, то я вспоминал анархистов, народников и революционеров царской России</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>А кем были ваши сокамерники? Удалось наладить отношения?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">В изоляторе много забитых людей. Например, один мой сокамерник уже полтора месяца ждет высылки из страны, но боится об этом напомнить лишний раз и не хочет написать жалобу, хотя срок-то давно кончился. С другой стороны, я познакомился с привычными ко всему ворами, ожидающих заключения. Они морально поддержали меня и делились кофе. В условиях неприятного холода это было самым большим знаком солидарности, ведь в помещении не топят и ночью температура меньше нуля. Короче, все продумано так, чтобы человека унизить и сломать. Меня постоянно ужасала мысль, что многие в таких условиях живут годами. Тамошняя обстановка невыносима и бесчеловечна. Другое дело, чем это отличается от жизни по другую сторону решетки?</p><p dir="ltr">Впрочем, этот изолятор, как говорили бывалые, гораздо лучше, чем остальные. В целом, у меня были привилегированные условия благодаря пикетам напротив посольств Белоруссии, письмам друзей и заметкам журналистов о срыве моих лекций. В итоге ко мне даже приехал российский консул, хотя прежде он никогда не посещал в изоляторе сограждан. Из-за этого охрана не унижала меня больше необходимого и соблюдала все формальности: например, даже допустили к врачу, и он поделился лекарствами из скудной аптечки. Еще мне выдали белье, которого другие, судя по моему блиц-опросу, были лишены. Мало того – мне давали иногда горячую воду, а это невиданное для остальных богатство. И все потому что я якобы профессор! </p><p dir="ltr">Еще в отношении меня сотрудники ни разу не матерились: это особенно смешно, потому что им специально приходилось подбирать слова. И это при том, что меня-то как раз осудили за брань в публичном месте. Потом я сидел в одиночке, у меня были тетради и книги, поэтому все было не так уж и плохо, ведь я мог заниматься полевой работой в необычных для себя условиях – иная, неакадемическая обстановка. Такая обстановка располагала к размышлениям.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Вы — популяризатор идей Петра Кропоткина, Нестора Махно и Эммы Гольдман. Каждый из них сидел. К вам приходили в голову какие-то параллели, почерпнутые из их мемуаров?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Ну все-таки это не мое первое заключение. В 1996 году в Минске я попал на шесть суток после несанкционированного оппозиционного шествия. Тогда набили 20 человек в камеру, и мы спали вповалку на полатях. Сегодня же почти везде нары, пусть и неудобные, зато индивидуальные. Тогда было очко в углу, а теперь обнесенный стенкой унитаз и даже раковина.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Жизнь в изоляторе напоминала вообще жизнь в Белоруссии, как мне ее описывали местные активисты</p><p dir="ltr">Когда становилось плохо, то я вспоминал анархистов, народников и революционеров царской России. Я сразу вспомнил про 20 лет Сибири у декабристов и думал: "Батюшки, а меня-то лишь неделя заключения". Мне безусловно приходили в голову исторические параллели: я вспоминал соответствующие страницы из книги Петра Кропоткина. Именно по его совету я решил делать каждый день зарядку. Вспоминал также мемуары Эммы Гольдман о том, как правильно себя вести в заключении, чтобы не приуныть. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/755078986834703.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/755078986834703.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Пикет в поддержку Рябова около посольства Белорусии. Источник: rbc.ru. Все права защищены.</span></span></span>Тюрьма — это идеальное строение государства, когда пишешь об этом книги, то становишься академическим теоретиком, который начинает забывать смысл произнесенных слов. В тюрьме же все концентрированно и осязаемо на чувственном уровне. В целом, я вспоминал тезисы идеологов анархизма про тюрьму скорее на экзистенциальном уровне —&nbsp; в контексте сопротивления. 20 лет назад я писал статью про голодовку, и вот теперь представился шанс попробовать ее на практике.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Да, на суде вы объявили о голодовке. Это был протест против вашего заключения? Почему вы решили избрать такой способ сопротивления?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Голодовка — это совершенно естественный шаг, и даже не потому, что кто-то из известных политзаключенных когда-то подобное дело делал. И не потому, что люди посочувствуют, а режим устыдится. Вовсе нет — это все совсем неважно. Важно было то, что хотелось хоть как-то сопротивляться несправедливому решению органов. Хотелось протестовать — но как? Из осужденного делают тело, которое взяли и засунули в каземат без дневного света.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Голодовка — попытка доказать, что я не просто вещь, а могу решать сам</p><p dir="ltr">Голодовка — попытка доказать, что я не просто вещь, а могу решать сам. Голодовка — это оружие безоружных, когда все ненормально — это возможность остаться нормальным. Это внутренняя потребность сопротивления, когда других возможностей нет. Голодать несложно, и все может быть органично, когда у тебя есть четкая мотивация. Я делал это в первый раз, но это была не сухая голодовка, и я пил воду.</p><p dir="ltr">Единственное, что я был болен, а в изоляторе без теплых вещей и еды было неприятно, и поэтому я боялся, что простуда приведет к воспалению легких. В итоге я практически не спал все эти дни, так как ночью задыхался от кашля и холода. Конечно, я вспоминал ныне уже забытого Ильдара Дадина. Вот он-то настоящий герой, который на протяжении многих месяцев боролся и смог отменить прежнее толкование закона. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Вы не только преподаватель и автор книг о философии, но также и участник анархистского движения России. Могли бы сравнить репрессивные системы обоих государств, учитывая ваш опыт в белорусской тюрьме и впечатления идейных соратников из России?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Безусловно я много общался с людьми, которые оказались, к сожалению, в заключении – и в России, и в Белоруссии. Скажем так, весь вопрос в нюансах. В какой-то мере полицейское государство президента Лукашенко превосходит российскую систему Владимира Путина. Например, там жестче законодательство: все-таки у нас за мат можно получить либо предупреждение, либо штраф, а в Белоруссии до 15 суток и таких случаев множество, утверждают местные.</p><p dir="ltr">Но опять же, я исхожу из опыта знакомых анархистов Москвы и Питера. В регионах давление на социальных активистов со стороны полиции и Центра по противодействию экстремизму серьезнее, если вспомнить прессинг <a href="https://zona.media/article/2017/14/04/irkfreedom">иркутских</a> и нижегородских силовиков. При этом многих выдавили в эмиграцию или посадили благодаря "Болотному делу" — например, Алексея Гаскарова или <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/interview-buchenkov">Дмитрия Бученкова</a>, который ждет приговора. В этом случае две части союзного государства при всем антагонизме гармонично соответствуют друг другу. Недавно человеку дали два года за участие в митингах против коррупции — все это идет в фоновом режиме и как будто стало нормой. С другой стороны, в Белоруссии все еще можно покупать билеты на транспорт без паспорта и зайти в вуз без пропуска — у нас давно все это запрещено с целью контроля над гражданами.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Вы получили какой-то позитивный результат после всех этих приключений?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Прежде всего, это невероятно ощущение чувства солидарности — мне писали письма в тюрьму, люди пикетировали посольства, журналисты рассказывали об этом, историки организовали <a href="https://vk.com/ryabov_anarchism">вечер солидарности</a>. Мне хотелось иметь сто рук, чтобы обнять всех, кто помог. Если нет открытого политического решения, то медиашум — это важная гиря на весах.</p><p>Впрочем, как белорусское государство преувеличило мою опасность, так и люди переоценили важность того, что случилось со мной. Не один десяток человек сидит в тюрьмах за свою политическую деятельность и, увы, они не выйдут на свободу через неделю. Этому могли бы противостоять и анархисты, и <a href="https://avtonom.org/">"Автономное действие"</a>, в котором я состоял. Другое дело, что об "Автономном действии", несмотря на многолетнюю историю, можно говорить лишь в прошлом времени. Как сеть организаций она уже не действует. </p><p>В любом случае, мы как анархисты при начале массовых выступлений должны в них, конечно, участвовать. Мы должны попытаться придать протестам формат самоорганизации и прямой демократии, чтобы уйти от контроля со стороны политиков типа Навального.</p><p><em>От редакции: в материале сохранено авторское правописание.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/pavlensky">Сила сопротивления: Петр Павленский о тюрьме и свободе</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikola-dzyadok-interview-belarus">Как сделать аполитичным целое поколение. Интервью с арестованным анархистом Миколой Дедком</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%81-%D0%B3%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%B1%D0%B0%D1%87/%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%85%D0%B8%D0%B7%D0%BC-%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0%B5-%D0%BC%D0%B0%D1%85%D0%BD%D0%BE-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%BB%D1%8E%D1%87%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F-%D0%BA%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%81%D0%BD%D0%BE-%D1%87%D1%91%D1%80%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%BE-%D1%84%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B3%D0%B0">Анархизм на родине Махно: приключения красно-чёрного флага</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/interview-buchenkov">Тень человека в черном. Интервью с обвиняемым по &quot;болотному делу&quot; анархистом Дмитрием Бученковым</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Дмитрий Окрест oDR Русский Human rights Mon, 30 Oct 2017 10:24:19 +0000 Дмитрий Окрест 114351 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Плохой мир: почему миротворцам и правозащитникам трудно договориться о судьбе Донбасса https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-goncharuk/plohoy-mir-donbass <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/13654189_1762518223963655_138236124276395719_n.jpg" alt="13654189_1762518223963655_138236124276395719_n.jpg" width="80" />Пока украинские политики и международные организации отказываются открыто признать конфликт с Россией полноценной войной, на востоке страны продолжают гибнуть люди. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/peace-building-versus-human-rights-in-ukraines-donbas" target="_blank">English</a></em></strong><em><strong></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-20992372_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-20992372_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Сентябрь 2014: сгоревшие ракетные установки и остатки боеприпасов лежат среди обломков полевого лагеря украинских вооруженных сил вблизи Дмитриевки на севере Луганской области, Украина. (c) Jan A. Nicolas / DPA / PA Images. Все права защищены.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Где есть война – там нет прав человека. Военные действия на территории Украины (Донбасс) продолжаются уже четвертый год. Разрешить и стабилизировать ситуацию пытаются как представители гражданского общества Украины, правозащитники, так и международные организации (представительство ООН в Украине, ОБСЕ). Несмотря на то, что конфликт один, видения его разрешения – разные. Мнения также расходятся и относительно тех территорий, которые контролируются незаконными вооруженными формированиями: так называемых "ЛНР" и "ДНР".</p><p dir="ltr">На данный момент в Украине (непосредственно в зоне проведения антитеррористической операции – АТО) ведут свою работу ОБСЕ и Мониторинговая миссия ООН. Задача ООН – мониторинг общей ситуации в зоне АТО. Функция ОБСЕ – наблюдение и фиксирование нарушений на Донбассе, а также посредничество в переговорном процессе. По словам украинских правозащитников, которые регулярно выезжают в зону боевых действий и занимаются там документированием нарушений прав человека, представители ОБСЕ не всегда фиксируют явные факты нарушения суверенитета Украины и доказательства российской агрессии. В чем же причина: в нежелании признать очевидный факт войны – или в чем-то другом?</p><p dir="ltr">На мой взгляд, ключевой точкой расхождения между правозащитниками и миротворческими организациями в лице ООН и ОБСЕ является смещение акцента с внешней агрессии на внутренний конфликт. В то время как правозащитники фиксируют нарушение суверенитета Украины и международного права, представители ООН и ОБСЕ пытаются исходить из реальной ситуации и занимаются "построением мира". </p><p dir="ltr">Международные организации и европейское сообщество предпочитают видеть в Украине в большей степени внутренний конфликт и противостояние внутри страны, чем признать необходимость более жесткого противодействия реальному агрессору – Российской Федерации. Миротворческие организации продолжают популяризировать идею о том, что есть "проукраински настроенные украинцы" и "пророссийские украинцы", где одни хотят в Европу, а другие – в Россию. Один из инструментов разрешения ситуации, предлагаемый ими – примирять украинцев друг с другом, строить диалог внутри страны, проводить медиации и встречи в контексте трансформации конфликта между украинцами, оказавшимися по разные стороны. По мнению международных организаций, один из возможных путей разрешения конфликта на Донбассе – это повторить сценарий Приднестровья. Главное, чтобы не стреляли и было спокойно. </p><p dir="ltr">Устраивает ли этот сценарий правозащитников, регулярно выезжающих в зону боевых действий, волонтеров АТО, гражданских активистов? Не думаю. Правозащитники более категоричны: факт нарушения украинского суверенитета является для них неоспоримым. Международное право также не соблюдается и переживает кризис. Подписав <a href="https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%91%D1%83%D0%B4%D0%B0%D0%BF%D0%B5%D1%88%D1%82%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%B9_%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%BC%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B4%D1%83%D0%BC">Будапештские договоренности</a> после распада СССР, Украина под давлением США и России отказалась от ядерного оружия (по объему которого она была на тот момент второй страной в мире) взамен на гарантии безопасности в случае угрозы государственному суверенитету. Гарантии были подписаны все теми же США и Россией, а также Великобританией, Францией и Китаем. Сегодня договоренности остаются на бумаге, а страны-гаранты делают вид, что ничего особенного не происходит.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Минские договоренности не смогли существенно повлиять на ситуацию на востоке Украины. </p><p dir="ltr">Минские договоренности также не смогли существенно повлиять на ситуацию. Украинские правозащитники продолжают фиксировать множественные факты нарушения прав человека, бесчеловечного обращения (в частности по отношению к людям – военным или мирным жителям – попавшим в плен), нарушения государственного суверенитета Украины и открытой агрессии со стороны соседнего государства – Российской Федерации. Согласно международным договоренностям, во время войны мирное население не может быть подвержено пыткам или взято в плен. Однако ситуация на Донбассе свидетельствует о противоположном: в плен к незаконным вооруженным формированиям, руководство которыми осуществляется из России, попадают не только военные, но и простые жители прифронтовых территорий. Ведутся длительные процессы по обмену пленных. И не всегда они успешны.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">В Украине нет террористов. Вместо этого есть много спекуляций, пропаганды и игры в дипломатию в контексте темы Донбасса.</p><p dir="ltr">Важнее всего, по мнению украинских правозащитников, воздействовать на саму причину нестабильной ситуации на Донбассе – агрессию РФ. Необходимо прекратить финансовую поддержку и поставку оружия боевикам самопровозглашенных "ЛНР" и "ДНР" в расчете на то, что в отсутствии ресурсов так называемые республики добровольно свернут свою деятельность. По крайней мере, существует большая вероятность, что это произойдет, – утверждают украинские правозащитники.</p><p dir="ltr">Ситуация осложняется еще и тем, что украинское правительство за все годы войны боится (или не хочет) официально признать факт вооруженной агрессии России, называя происходящее Антитеррористической операцией (АТО). К счастью, в Украине нет террористов. Вместо этого есть много спекуляций, пропаганды и игры в дипломатию в контексте темы Донбасса. Совсем недавно Верховная Рада поддержала в первом чтении законопроект президента <a href="http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?pf3511=62638">"О реинтеграции Донбасса"</a>, который предполагает официальное признание Украиной факта того, что Российская Федерация осуществляет на ее территории вооруженную агрессию и оккупацию части восточных территорий.</p><p dir="ltr">Дискуссии между депутатами не утихают; главным образом парламентарии спекулируют на теме "минских договоренностей": стоит ли на них ссылаться в тексте законопроекта или нет. Те, кто за, аргументируют тем, что это позволит Украине ввести на свою территорию Миротворцев ООН и полностью закрыть границу. Те, кто против – настаивают на том, чтобы не упоминать в тексте закона о "минских договоренностях", поскольку это является "консервацией путинской агрессии".</p><p dir="ltr">В правозащитных кругах, где тоже идут дискуссии, введение Миротворческой миссии ООН расценивается как необходимый шаг. Обсуждается и вопрос о том, вводить миротворцев ООН только со стороны границы между Украиной и Россией или также вдоль линии разграничения? </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Каждый день на войне или из-за войны гибнут простые люди, мирное население, ставшие заложниками ситуации.</p><p dir="ltr">Придут ли в Украину голубые каски и повторит ли Донбасс путь Приднестровья в процессе урегулирования конфликта – вопросы, ответы на которые даст время. А пока украинские депутаты спорят о способах реинтеграции Донбасса и международные организации занимаются так называемым построением мира, Российская Федерация вывозит нелегально донбасский уголь и упражняется в виртуозности пропаганды. </p><p dir="ltr">Каждый день на войне или из-за войны гибнут простые люди, мирное население, ставшие заложниками ситуации. Боевики "ЛНР" и "ДНР" по-прежнему ведут обстрелы не только по украинским военным, но и по мирному населению. Пока политики играют в дипломатию, Украина несет как экономические, так и человеческие потери. Тысячи украинских военных возвращается домой с пост-травматическим синдромом, с покалеченными телами и душами. Миллионы людей лишились своих домов и были вынуждены покинуть родные Луганск и Донецк. Каждый день гибнут реальные люди с реальными судьбами – мужчины, женщины, дети. </p><p dir="ltr">Выход из ситуации для Украины – открыто противостоять России, официально признав ее вооруженное вторжение и настоятельно требуя взять ответственность за последствия. Это решение должно сопровождаться реальными реформами внутри страны и грамотной информационной политикой украинского правительства в ответ на пропаганду РФ.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oles-petik-galina-gerasym/mirotvorets-utechka">#Зрада журналистов: &quot;миротворческие&quot; поиски врагов народа</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-portnov/kak-nachinalas-voina">Как начиналась война на востоке Украины</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-donbas">Разрозненное общество: как война на Донбассе повлияла на украинцев</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatiana-goncharuk/ATO-donbas">&quot;Мы привыкли, что каждую ночь стреляют&quot;</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia ukraine Татьяна Гончарук oDR Русский Human rights Fri, 20 Oct 2017 11:46:15 +0000 Татьяна Гончарук 114157 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Peace-building versus human rights in Ukraine’s Donbas https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/peace-building-versus-human-rights-in-ukraines-donbas <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/13654189_1762518223963655_138236124276395719_n.jpg" alt="13654189_1762518223963655_138236124276395719_n.jpg" width="80" />Diplomatic games are being played in and around Ukraine. But officially recognising a Russian invasion is the only way toward peace. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-goncharuk/plohoy-mir-donbass" target="_self">RU</a></strong></em></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-20992372.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-20992372.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>September 2014: Burnt out rocket launchers and the remains of munitions lie amongst the rubble of a Ukrainian Armed Forces field camp near Dmitrivka in the north of Lugansk Oblast, Ukraine. (c) Jan A. Nicolas/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Human rights don’t exist in a warzone. The conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region is now in its fourth year. Ukrainian civil society, human rights activists and international organisations such as the UN and OSCE are trying to solve and stabilise the situation. But despite the fact there is only one conflict, there are different views on how to resolve it. There are also different views regarding the territories controlled by illegal armed groups under the guise of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic”.</p><p dir="ltr">Currently, the OSCE and UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission operate in the territory of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) in the Donbas. The UN’s mission is to monitor the general situation in the ATO zone. The OSCE monitors and records violations in the Donbas, as well as acts as a mediator in negotiations. According to Ukrainian human rights defenders who regularly travel to the conflict zone in order to document human rights violations, representatives of the OSCE don’t always record instances where Ukrainian sovereignty is violated, as well as evidence of Russian state aggression. What is the reason for this: a lack of desire to recognise the obvious fact of war? Or is it something else? </p><p dir="ltr">In my view, the key point of contention between human rights defenders and peacebuilders at the UN and OSCE has to do with the shift in emphasis from external aggression to internal conflict. While rights defenders are recording violations of sovereignty and international law, the UN and OSCE are trying to “build peace”. </p><p dir="ltr">International organisations and the European community prefer to see the conflict in Ukraine as a largely internal one, rather than admit that there needs to be harsher resistance to the real aggressor, the Russian Federation. Peacekeeping organisations still popularise the idea that there are “pro-Ukrainian Ukrainians” and “pro-Russian Ukrainians”, with the former wanting to join Europe while the latter - Russia. For them, one of the solutions to the conflict is helping Ukrainian citizens reconcile their differences with one another, establishing a dialogue within the country and holding mediation meetings with Ukrainian citizens who have found themselves on the opposite sides of the conflict. They see the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vladimir-soloviev/ideal-conflict-on-dniester">Transnistria scenario</a> in Moldova as a possible model for resolution. Stopping the violence and creating peace is the top priority.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Minsk Protocols have failed to significantly influence the situation</p><p dir="ltr">Does this scenario satisfy human rights defenders and volunteers who travel to the ATO? I don’t think so. Human rights defenders are more categorical in their thinking: for them, the fact that Ukrainian sovereignty has been violated is an undeniable fact. Likewise, international law is not being enforced and is, in fact, in crisis. After Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum in 1994, it gave up its nuclear weapons under pressure from the US and Russia (at that moment, Ukraine had the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal) in exchange for safety guarantees should its sovereignty be threatened. The US, Russia, Great Britain, France and China all signed up to guarantee Ukraine’s safety. Today, this memorandum exists on paper only, while the guarantors are trying to pretend that nothing’s happening. </p><p dir="ltr">The Minsk Protocols have failed to significantly influence the situation. Ukrainian rights activists continue to record numerous human rights violations, inhumane treatment (especially toward both military and civilian prisoners), violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and open acts of aggression by the Russian Federation. According to international accords, civilians cannot be tortured and cannot be held prisoner during times of war. Yet the situation in the Donbas testifies to the opposite: local residents are regularly detained by armed groups whose actions are controlled from Russia. Long negotiations on prisoner exchanges take place, but they are not always successful. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Ukrainian rights activists, the most important thing is to try and influence the real cause of destabilisation of the Donbas — Russian aggression. <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83791">Financial support</a> and arms shipments to the self-proclaimed “DNR” and “LNR” must stop. These so-called republics will shut down should they no longer have resources. At the very least, there is a high degree of probability that this will happen, Ukrainian rights activists tell me.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">We have a lot of speculation, propaganda and diplomatic games related to the Donbas</p><p dir="ltr">The current situation is further complicated by the fact that the Ukrainian government, after all of these years of war, is afraid to (or else simply doesn’t want to) officially recognise Russia’s armed aggression. This is why it calls its campaign an <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maryna-stavniichuk/ukraine-s-rulers-are-backing-themselves-into-corner">“Anti-Terrorist Operation”</a>. Thankfully, there aren’t any terrorists in Ukraine. Instead, we have a lot of speculation, propaganda and diplomatic games related to the Donbas.</p><p dir="ltr">The Ukrainian parliament recently voted to approve the President Poroshenko’s law on <a href="http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?pf3511=62638">Donbas reintegration</a> in its first reading. This legislation involves officially recognising the Russian Federation’s armed aggression on Ukrainian territory, as well as Russian occupation of parts of eastern Ukraine.</p><p dir="ltr">Discussions between Ukrainian MPs are yet to die down. Our parliamentarians are now speculating on the Minsk Protocols and whether they should be referred to in the text of the new legislation or not. Those who are for inclusion of the protocols argue that this will enable Ukraine to call in UN peacekeepers and seal the border. Those against it point out that their inclusion will “conserve Putin’s aggression”. </p><p dir="ltr">In Ukraine’s human rights community, people are also discussing this topic. Here, the introduction of a UN peacekeeping force is seen as a necessary step. The discussion also includes the following question: should UN peacekeeping forces be stationed on the border between Russia and Ukraine or on the border between Ukraine and the self-proclaimed “republics” too?</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Every day, civilians held hostage by the current situation —real people with real stories — are dying in the war or because of it</p><p dir="ltr">Will the UN’s blue helmets arrive in Ukraine and will the Donbas duplicate the experience of Transnistria? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, as Ukrainian MPs argue about how to reintegrate the Donbas and international organisations engage in so-called peace-building, the Russian Federation <a href="https://jamestown.org/program/coal-smuggled-ukraines-occupied-donbas-ends-poland/">illegally transports coal out of the Donbas</a> and showcases new feats of propaganda.</p><p dir="ltr">Every day, civilians held hostage by the current situation — real people with real stories — are dying in the war or because of it. “DNR” and “LNR” militants still target Ukrainian military personnel and the civilian population with shelling. </p><p dir="ltr">While diplomatic games continue to be played, Ukraine <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/donbas-we-re-used-to-shelling">suffers from economic and human losses</a>. Thousands of Ukrainian servicemen return home with post-traumatic stress syndrome, with mangled bodies and souls. Millions of people have lost their homes and were forced to abandon their native Donetsk and Luhansk. </p><p dir="ltr">The only way out for Ukraine is this: openly resist Russia after officially recognising an armed invasion and urging everyone involved to take responsibility for the consequences, as well as real reforms in the country, not to mention a realistic information policy to counter Russian propaganda.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/isobel-koshiw-anastasia-vlasova/growing-up-apolitical-in-ukraine-s-war-zone">Growing up apolitical in Ukraine’s war zone</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/gabriel-levy/eastern-ukraine-we-need-new-ways-of-organising">Eastern Ukraine: “We need new ways of organising”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/aleksey-matsuka/no-way-out-for-bloggers-in-ukraine-s-donbas">No way out for bloggers in Ukraine’s Donbas</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-how-war-in-donbas-has-affected-ukraine">Disconnected society: how the war in the Donbas has affected Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/donbas-we-re-used-to-shelling">Donbas: “We’re used to the shelling”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia ukraine Tetiana Goncharuk Ukraine Human rights Thu, 19 Oct 2017 22:20:31 +0000 Tetiana Goncharuk 114142 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Victim of Chechnya’s anti-LGBT purge seeks justice https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/victim-of-chechnyas-anti-gay-purge-seeks-justice <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p lang="en-US">But will the Russian authorities deliver on their pledges to Investigate?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/9.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="251" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Maxim Lapunov, centre, at a news conference in the office of Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Moscow. Image: Human Rights Watch. </span></span></span>Yesterday, I <span><a class="western" href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/news/2017/10/16/136184-geroy-rassledovaniya-novoy-gazety-publichno-rasskazal-o-pytkah-v-sekretnoy-tyurme-dlya-geev-v-chechne">ran a news-conference</a></span> at which a man described how he was rounded up and tortured during <span><a class="western" href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/05/26/russia-anti-gay-purge-chechnya">Chechnya’s anti-gay purge</a></span> in the spring. One of dozens of victims of this large-scale “cleansing” operation against gay people in Chechnya, Maxim Lapunov, 30, is the only one who has dared to file an official complaint with the Russian authorities and then talk to the media, without hiding his face or real name. He is also the only non-Chechen local security officials had targeted because of his homosexuality.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> <span><a class="western" href="https://youtu.be/TgCE9IPL3KE">As Lapunov spoke to a roomful of journalists</a></span>, reliving the horrific experience of beatings and humiliation during his 12-day confinement in a dark, fetid basement, his hands shook and he had to stop several times to regain composure. On 16 March, security officials dragged him into a car in central Grozny, where he had been selling bright, festive balloons, took him to a police compound, pulled out several grisly torture devices, threatened to use them on him and to “tear him apart”. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> The officials forced Lapunnov to call a gay acquaintance and invite him to a “meeting” — in fact a set-up with security officials waiting. Lapunov slept on the blood-stained floor of a tiny basement cell. He was beaten, and witnessed and heard as security officials beat and tortured other men presumed to be gay with electric shocks. Close to 30 others assumed to be gay were held at the facility during his time there — along with other detainees who weren’t part of the anti-gay round-ups.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" lang="en-US">Lapunov needs justice. The Russian authorities have no excuse not to deliver it to him and to the rest of the victims of Chechnya’s anti-gay purge</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Lapunov did not expect to survive. His legs, buttocks, ribs and back were all black and blue. When his torturers finally released him, he “could barely crawl”. Six months later, he still wakes up in a cold sweat from the piercing screams of other detainees in his nightmares. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Facing a broad international outcry over the purge, the Kremlin gradually moved from <span><a class="western" href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/13/chechnyas-gay-purge-should-spark-international-action">shrugging off the allegations</a></span> to <span><a class="western" href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/news/2017/04/06/130527-moskalkova-poobeschala-napravit-zapros-v-genprokuraturu-o-presledovanii-geev-v-chechne">pledging to conduct an effective investigation</a></span> and opening a federal-level inquest. However, high-level officials repeatedly <span><a class="western" href="https://ria.ru/society/20170615/1496549885.html">flagged that not a single victim had stepped forward</a></span>. They did not acknowledge the depth and legitimacy of victims’ fears about coming forward but rather used this to justify the investigation’s apparent lack of progress. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Like the rest of the victims, Lapunov had every reason to fear retaliation by Chechen authorities, especially as the security officials who released him warned him to keep silent. But, as a Russian man from Siberia who had gone to Chechnya for work, Lapunov did not have to face <span><a class="western" href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/20/gay-men-are-detained-and-killed-chechnya-kremlin-slow-respond">what every Chechen man caught</a></span> in the purge feared: being targeted by his own relatives for “tarnishing family honour” or exposing his entire family to overwhelming stigma because of his homosexuality. It took Lapunov months to reach a decision, but ultimately he felt that no matter the risk of retaliation, he could not live without justice.</p> <p lang="en-US">In August, with the help of Russian human rights lawyers, Lapunov met with the federal ombudsperson, Tatiana Moskalkova, who in May had <span><a class="western" href="http://www.rosbalt.ru/russia/2017/05/16/1615502.html">stressed her readiness to speak to “anyone who wants protection and official investigation.”</a></span> On 22 September, Moskalkova forwarded his statement to federal investigative authorities. Lapunov and his lawyers had several meetings with investigators and asked to travel to Chechnya with the investigative team to examine sites and interview alleged suspects and witnesses. Lapunov kept it quiet from the media, giving the investigation ample time to take some meaningful steps. But after almost a month, nothing happened. He requested government protection, but the investigation has made no arrangements to accommodate his request. Lapunov and his lawyers believe that media exposure is their only hope to get the system to budge.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Since Lapunov started his quest for justice, he has received threats from Chechnya. Nevertheless, he perseveres. “We all have rights…,” he said, “If we just let it be [in Chechnya], it’ll start happening across the country… and we’ll never know whose son or daughter will be taken next.”</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Lapunov needs justice. The Russian authorities have no excuse not to deliver it to him and to the rest of the victims of Chechnya’s anti-gay purge.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">“Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kondakov-evgeny-shtorn/charting-russia-s-most-dangerous-cities-for-lgbt-people">Charting Russia’s most dangerous cities for LGBT people</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/anti-lgbt-violence-in-chechnya-when-filing-official-complaints-isn-t-option">Anti-LGBT violence in Chechnya: when filing “official complaints” isn’t an option</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kirill-guskov/i-spoke-to-four-russian-gay-men-on-discrimination-rights-and-vladimir-putin-">&quot;You have to start improving yourself to improve Russia&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map">Putting Russia’s homophobic violence on the map</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tanya Lokshina Russia Human rights Wed, 18 Oct 2017 13:16:58 +0000 Tanya Lokshina 114103 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How to hide evidence of torture inside Russia’s prison system https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasia-zotova/stop-torture-in-russian-prisons <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Russia, law enforcement quickly puts pressure on prisoners who come forward about torture inside the prison system. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasia-zotova/davlenie-i-ugrozy" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/maxresdefault_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/maxresdefault_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Alexey Galkin. Photo: Youtube. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>If you try typing “torture in Russian prison colonies” into any Russian search engine, you immediately get a vast number of hits. They won’t just be video clips and articles describing violence, but a catalogue of “types” of torture published by glossy magazines. Just about anyone who lives in provincial Russia will tell you that prisoners are beaten up, and that this is “normal” — it’s always happened and always will. Physical abuse of inmates has been part of our reality for a long time, and it doesn’t bother anyone except human rights campaigners and, of course, the prisoners themselves.</p><p dir="ltr">The<a href="http://stop-torture.info/en/"> Torture Territory</a> project, which helps prisoners combat illegal violence against them, has been going in Russia since December 2016. Together with the<a href="http://www.zaprava.ru/"> “For Human Rights”</a> movement and the<a href="http://www.zashita-zk.org/9F33175"> “Defence of Prisoners’ Rights Foundation”</a> (which have had a much longer involvement in this field), we organise visits to prisons by lawyers. These are specialists with considerable experience who are able not only to assert their rights when dealing with prison administrators, but can tell whether there has indeed been mass violence against inmates in this or that jail, or it’s just an excuse for prisoners to get free legal advice.</p><p dir="ltr">If a lawyer believes that inmates’ complaints have a basis in reality, we write to the Investigative Committee, Russia’s main federal investigating authority, and the Prosecutor General’s Office, asking them to check the torture claims and penalise sadistic prison officers. We also continue to work with the lawyer, attempting to bring charges to courts at various levels.</p><p dir="ltr">However, despite all our efforts, not a Russian single prison officer whom we suspect of torture has been disciplined in any way — charged with an offence, undergone a criminal trial or been put behind bars. I should note that if the Territory of Torture project has been operating less than a year, then the Defence of Prisoners’ Rights Foundation has been working on these issues for more than a decade. And if it was possible to get results before (a criminal investigation, convictions), then over the past year the situation has changed quite sharply, and Russia’s Federal Penitentiary System has turned out to be completely unaccountable to civil society. Legal counsels are now the last form of defence for prisoners under pressure.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Russia’s Federal Penitentiary System has turned out to be completely unaccountable to civil society. Legal counsels are now the last form of defence for prisoners under pressure</p><p dir="ltr">You can accuse the Investigative Committee and the Procurator General’s Office for this inaction: these bodies are, in theory, responsible for investigating breaches of the law, but in fact do nothing but pass the buck around. The prisoners themselves are often part of the problem, dropping their claims because of either threats or promises of “favours”.</p><p dir="ltr">One <a href="http://stop-torture.info/po-izbieniyu-zaklyuchyonnyx-v-kolonii-ik-1-bryanskoj-oblasti-ne-vozbudyat-ugolovnoe-delo/">recent example</a> of this took place in the Bryansk region. In July 2017, we received a collective letter from several dozen inmates of Colony IK-1, stating that they had been subjected to physical abuse by prison staff. Some of them, we were told, were forced to do the splits, and had paper bags put on their heads and their mouths taped up. All this is, not surprisingly, illegal. Here’s an excerpt from one of the prisoners’ letters: </p><p dir="ltr" class="blockquote-new">“They made us stand with our faces to the wall and started hitting us on our bodies and legs. They formed two lines and ordered us to run between them to the toilet block, with our arms behind our backs and our heads bent. Then they beat us as we ran. When we got to the toilets, they shaved us — our heads, our beards. I’m bald, so they shaved off my eyebrows. After the shaving, we had to run back. Then they brought a bucket of water in and made us wash the floor with our clothes, and after that the stood us against the wall and started beating us on the legs again.”</p><p dir="ltr">We immediately attempted to send lawyers into this prison, but none of them were allowed near the prisoners for more than two weeks. (This is absolutely against Russian law.) And when they were eventually let in, many of the complainants refused to testify about the torture. Only six men (out of more than 50 initial complainants) made statements about the illegal physical abuse they had suffered.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/19059218_1592363807460934_8731928805528236610_n_1_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/19059218_1592363807460934_8731928805528236610_n_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Discussion in the Public Chamber about the protection of prisoners' rights. Photo: Facebook. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The Investigative Committee and the Procurator General’s Office immediately refused to bring any criminal charges: neither the prison staff nor the inmates would confirm that any violence had been used. So, nothing illegal had taken place.</p><p dir="ltr">We have no hard evidence of how the prisoners were “persuaded” to withdraw their complaints. It could have been threats, or blackmail, or perhaps the promise of “favours”. This last seems the most likely, since this autumn we have been asked by the families of the prisoners in Bryansk Colony IK-1to stop making a fuss — everything’s “fine there now”.</p><p dir="ltr">The pressure put on prisoners who complain can be clearly seen from a case in the Kirov Region, where several clients of Torture Territory are serving their sentences. Alexey Galkin, a prisoner in Colony IK-20, <a href="http://stop-torture.info/delo-alekseya-galkina/">claimed </a>that a member of staff beat him up. Galkin had been beaten in prison before and even lost two ribs, but this time his patience had evidently run out and in March 2016, during a short stay in hospital, he wrote a complaint to the Investigative Committee against his assailant, a Major Kovrov.</p><p dir="ltr">The major’s illegal use of violence was not hard to prove: Galkin had bruises on his face for several days after the beating, and they were even on record, since by chance he had to have his photograph taken that week for a new passport. Galkin’s cellmate could also confirm that he had been beaten. In the end, though, it was Galkin who faced a charge — of a false denunciation. The prisoner was released in January 2017, but in April he was remanded in custody again while the “denunciation” was investigated. And his cellmate was hastily transferred to a colony in Tver, so that he couldn’t be questioned.</p><p dir="ltr"><iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GaKhNr6o878?rel=0" height="259" width="460"></iframe><span style="font-style: italic;">Alexey Galkin shows worms found in Kirov region pre-trial detention as evidence of the conditions there.</span></p><p dir="ltr">On 17 June, Judge Pantyukhin, a former Kirov police detective,<a href="http://stop-torture.info/delo-alekseya-galkina/"> sentenced Galkin to a further two years in jail</a> — the maximum sentence for a “false denunciation”. An appeal hearing on 13 September confirmed the sentence. Experts from the For Human Rights foundation will obviously challenge the court’s decision, but other convicts wanting to assert their rights are being intimidated by this precedent: “you’ll just spend another two years behind bars”. </p><p dir="ltr">And it is an effective deterrent.</p><p dir="ltr">Another of our clients, Eduard Gorbunov, has reported the illegal use of force in Kirov Regional Colony IK-6, claiming that he was subjected to sexual abuse by prison staff, including the colony’s head. He has proof in the form of a medical certificate listing the injuries he received.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/2017-08-01_18-22-12.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/2017-08-01_18-22-12.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="283" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Eduard Gorbunov is 40 years old, he was convicted of fraud. In 2009, he was sent to colony No. 27 in the Verkhnekamsky district of the Kirov region.</span></span></span>In fact, local lawyers have over the years accumulated a whole stack of complaints lodged against IK-6 Colony staff. Some prisoners have even died in the prison: Aleksandr P., for example, was found hanged after he complained about beatings and torture in 2014. But numerous inspections have failed to uncover a single reason to open a criminal case against the sadistic prison staff.</p><p dir="ltr">After Gorbunov complained about his ill-treatment he, like Galkin, was <a href="http://stop-torture.info/zayavlenie-ot-e-gorbunova-ik-6-kirovskoj-oblasti-i-advokata/">charged</a> with making a false denunciation, and his case is going through the courts now. At one court session, on 7 September, his cellmate Aleksey Gabin was put on the stand as a witness for the prosecution: he was supposed to testify that no torture ever took place in Colony IK-6. But instead, he told the court that he had witnessed<a href="http://stop-torture.info/en/torture-in-ik-6-in-kirov/"> the same type of abuse</a> as that described by Gorbunov. Gabov then asked the judge and public prosecutor to assure his safety: prison staff had threatened him with physical injury if he spoke out. But neither the judge nor the prosecutor took any notice of his request.</p><p dir="ltr">At the next court session, on 22 September, Gabov was recalled as a witness, but this time he denied that any anyone was tortured in Colony IK-6, and said he had just made the whole story up. What triggered his volte-face is anyone’s guess, but it’s likely that prison staff had had another “little chat” with him.</p><p dir="ltr">A similar case took place in the Karelian Republic. On 30 January 2017 Hazbulat Gabzayev, a prisoner who had made a number of formal complaints against warders, was <a href="http://stop-torture.info/v-karelii-na-rasskazavshego-o-pytkax-zaklyuchennogo-ik-7-zaveli-delo/">charged</a> with “assaulting prison staff”. And another inmate of the same colony,<a href="http://stop-torture.info/en/totrures-in-karelia-report/"> Koba Shurgay</a>, was accused of the prison administrations’ favourite crime, making a false denunciation. And this was despite the fact that in both cases there were witnesses who could testify that illegal force had been used against the prisoners. One of Shurgay’s legs, for example, became very swollen after a beating more than six months ago, and the swelling has not yet gone down. Not that this bothers the prison administration, which is claiming that Shurgay has had this swelling from his schooldays, when he studied dance. And no charge has been lodged against their sadistic staff.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Prison staff, while seeing themselves as crime fighters, become criminals themselves, and also instill in their “charges” the idea that no one respects the law</p><p dir="ltr">Human rights campaigners in Sverdlovsk region have, however, succeeded in initiating a criminal investigation of abuse of prisoners in Colony IK-5 in the town of Nizhny Tagil, where there have been many complaints from inmates about illegal force being used against them. In May 2017 Farukh Berdiyev, a prisoner there, <a href="http://stop-torture.info/pravozashhitniki-zapisali-video-s-osuzhdyonnym-vognavshim-v-svoyo-lyogkoe-igolku/">announced</a> that he had cut open his abdomen to make the warders stop torturing him. In June, Russia’s Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against staff at the colony, charging them with “exceeding their official authority in use of force”. By law, Berdiyev was then supposed to be taken to the pre-trial remand centre in Ekaterinburg, to give evidence to detectives.</p><p dir="ltr">In September, Berdiyev was, however, <a href="http://stop-torture.info/poterpevshego-iz-ik-5-sverdlovskoj-oblasti-pereveli-v-drugoj-region/">transferred</a> to Colony IK-44 in the Kemerovo region, almost 2,000km away. One might think that this was for his own safety, but the local human rights campaigners believe that the prison service was just trying to complicate the investigation, since it would be highly inconvenient for an investigator to travel so far to question the accused officers’ chief victim. Berdiyev then <a href="http://stop-torture.info/zaklyuchennyj-kotorogo-pereveli-v-ik-5-nizhnego-tagila-podvergaetsya-psixologicheskomu-vozdejstviyu/">stated</a> that he’d been under pressure (to cooperate with the prison administration, threats of being “made into a homosexual”). Thanks to the interference of rights defenders, Berdiev managed to return to Sverdlovsk region. </p><p dir="ltr">And yet <a href="http://stop-torture.info/ik-37-kemerovskoj-oblasti-izdevatelstva-nad-zaklyuchyonnymi/">another drama</a> is unfolding in Colony IK-37 in the village of Yaya, also in the Kemerovo region, where the Investigative Committee is carrying out an inspection after a suicide attempt by over ten prisoners who complained about their intolerable conditions there.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">If the aim of the correctional system is to correct convicts’ behaviour, torture is unlikely to help</p><p dir="ltr">The prisoners sent to IK-37 have reported that they were forced to sign statements about “cooperation”, and those who refused were threatened with various punishments. At the beginning of September lawyer Ekaterina Selivanova, prisoner Panikorovsky’s defence counsel, said that “Prison staff took his trousers off and stuck a bottle brush into his anus.” After being threatened with rape, Panikorovsky signed every piece of paper he was given, without even looking at them. And prisoner Krasilnikov told his lawyer Tatyana Menshikova that he had been subjected to violent sexual abuse.</p><p dir="ltr">Menshikova videoed Krasilnikov’s story during a meeting with him, but at the end of the meeting prison staff grabbed her and took the tape. And Selivanova was refused permission for a private meeting with Krasilnikov — a breach of lawyer-client privilege. Since then all lawyers trying to video meetings on their phones have had the phones confiscated. And prisoners are also complaining that staff at IK-37 try to pressurise them, to make the investigators’ work harder.</p><p dir="ltr">People serving custodial sentences are obviously no angels. They weren’t thinking about human rights when they stole handbags or robbed flats. But if the aim of the correctional system is to correct convicts’ behaviour, torture is unlikely to help. Russian prison service staff, while seeing themselves as crime fighters, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/russia-s-prison-service-is-keeping-its-abuses-under-lock-and-key">become criminals themselves</a>, and also instill in their “charges” the idea that no one respects the law, not even those who enforce it.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-zotova/inside-russia-s-new-gulag">Inside Russia’s new Gulag</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/everyday-violence-in-russia-s-prison-system-has-to-stop">The everyday violence in Russia’s prison system has to stop</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/badma-biurchiev/no-rules-in-russia-system-turns-on-defenceless">The red zone</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/russia-s-prison-service-is-keeping-its-abuses-under-lock-and-key">Russia’s prison service is keeping its abuses under lock and key</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-zotova/this-is-karelia-tortured-voices-from-russia-s-prison-system">This is Karelia: tortured voices from Russia’s prison system</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vyacheslav-kozlov/working-in-gulag">Working in the Gulag</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia human rights Anastasiya Zotova Russia Human rights Tue, 17 Oct 2017 22:09:40 +0000 Anastasiya Zotova 114078 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/Screen%20Shot%202017-10-13%20at%2010.jpg" alt="Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 10.jpg" width="80" />My husband was kidnapped on the streets of Tbilisi and ended up in an Azerbaijani jail cell. Four months on, I’ve got no answers — only more questions.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Leyla Mustafayeva and Afgan Mukhtarli, 2016. Source: Author's personal archive. </span></span></span>Four months have now passed since my husband, the Azerbaijani investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border">abducted from Tbilisi</a> and illegally delivered into the hands of the Azerbaijani government. Initially, this case was investigated by Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. Now it is under the purview of the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia. But despite the efforts of these two state agencies, the Georgian authorities have still not released any finding related to my husband’s abduction. I’m not sure they ever seriously intended to.</p><p dir="ltr">Afgan fled to Georgia in January 2015 as a result of prosecution against him. In late 2014, he conducted a series of investigations into <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/3626/">high-level corruption in the Azerbaijani army</a> and other state agencies. When Afgan moved to Georgia, he started to investigate the investments of Azerbaijan’s ruling family, the Aliyevs, in Georgia — he was the first Azerbaijani journalist to do so. As Afgan revealed, the first family of Azerbaijan, namely <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/8759/">Ilham Aliyev’s daughters Arzu and Leyla Aliyeva</a> have<a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/society/9330/"> a stake</a> in Georgia’s banking sector. The family also own tourism and cargo companies operating in Georgia. My husband’s last article was about politically motivated abductions that he faced four months after publication.</p><p dir="ltr">Recently, we met with some investigators in the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office regarding Afgan’s abduction case. The investigators said that they have sent CCTV videos for forensic examination in order to identify car license plate numbers involved in the abduction — several videos are of low quality and were recorded from a distance. I told the investigators that they don’t need to make their job too difficult.</p><p dir="ltr">As Afgan has <a href="http://1tv.ge/en/news/view/163596.html">said</a>, several Georgian-speaking men wearing Georgian police uniforms detained him on Niaghvari Street in central Tbilisi, beat him in a car on adjoining Ukleba Street in front of a small grocery shop, then turned the car back to Niaghvari Street, drove up to Daniel Chonqadze Street and took him through Shio Chitadze street where Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Italian Embassy are situated. These ministry and embassy buildings both have high resolution cameras. Investigators can easily see the license plate numbers of the cars from these videos. The investigation has to look into the car which transported Afgan to Chitadze Street.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">I believe that the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office is prolonging these procedures on purpose. They are working slowly, and this is to the advantage of the Azerbaijani Prosecutors’ Office</span></p><p dir="ltr">I believe that the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office is prolonging these procedures on purpose. They are working slowly, and this is to the advantage of the Azerbaijani Prosecutors’ Office, which continues to press trumped-up charges against Afgan. The current investigation in Azerbaijan claims that Afgan, currently in jail in Baku, crossed the Azerbaijani border illegally, smuggled €10,000 and attacked an Azerbaijani border service official. Here, Georgia is caught between two dilemmas. The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office cannot “prove” whether Afgan Mukhtarli crossed the border illegally or was abducted. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">When the investigation was under the control of the Georgian police, the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that CCTV under the control of the police were switched off during the hours when abduction happened. The police had already <a href="http://iphronline.org/repression-beyond-borders-exiled-azerbaijanis-georgia.html">intruded and doctored CCTV videos from private businesses</a>, as the Rustavi 2 television channel has reported. </p><p dir="ltr">Ten days after the allegation about the involvement of Georgian police officers in Afgan Mukhtarli’s abduction, the First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Besik Amiranashvili, who heads up the Georgian police, was <a href="http://rustavi2.ge/en/news/77651">dismissed</a> from his post without any explanation. Then, later, the Head of Georgia’s Border Police and Chief of Georgian Counter Intelligence Agency were<a href="http://agenda.ge/news/83856/eng"> dismissed</a> from their posts temporarily. Georgia’s Interior Minister <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/83856/eng">stressed</a> this step was taken to “exclude any questions in the case”. However, we still haven’t been able to find answers to our questions.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/images-cms-image-000033736_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Afghan Mukhtarli has been charged with smuggling in Baku after being kidnapped in Tbilisi. Image: <a href=www.meydan.tv>MeydanTV</a>.</span></span></span>Dismissing these officials on its own does not make any sense. Afgan claims that he was forced to cross the border checkpoint without his passport. Actually, the border police officials who allowed it should have been immediately involved in the investigation, interrogated and necessary measures implemented. But this didn’t happen.</p><p dir="ltr">Before 22 July, when the Georgian Chief Prosecutor’s Office took the case under investigation, we had already submitted photographs of the people who had followed Afgan prior to his abduction, but the police did not identify these people. They only surfaced after we published their photos on social media.</p><p dir="ltr">Georgian police investigators informed us that the recording mechanism of the border checkpoint CCTV did not work during the hours when the abduction happened. Then, after four months, the videos from border check point somehow “surfaced”. The Prosecutor’s Office stated (but did not show us) that they have the relevant border checkpoint videos in their possession and that there is no evidence of violence and abduction.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Whatever happened to us has already happened. But what will happen to the Georgian people?</p><p dir="ltr">Regarding the videos of the unknown people who surveilled Afgan and his friend Dashqin Aghalarli, an Azerbaijani opposition activist in exile in Tbilisi, investigators from the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office said that about four months had passed and they can not obtain videos from private businesses as they have been deleted.</p><p dir="ltr">The criminal case on Afgan’s abduction was launched after I made a complaint to the Georgian police in reference to Article 143.1 (Illegal limitation of freedom) of the Criminal Code of Georgia. We demand that Articles 143.2, 143.3, 143.4 also be added into the criminal case: the crime has been committed by taking the victim abroad with a prior agreement by a group using violence. This is about more than just the illegal deprivation of freedom.</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mULfXgJWJgE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><p dir="ltr"><br />Neither Afgan, nor myself have yet been granted official victim status. Legally, this means that no one has suffered, and the abduction is not a serious crime. Georgian investigators claim there is not enough evidence to add the above articles to the criminal case. And unless these articles are added to the criminal case materials, none of us can be granted victim status. Neither I, nor my legal counsel have yet been able to read the criminal case materials relating to Afgan’s abduction in full.</p><p dir="ltr">The surveillance of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Azerbaijani dissidents living in Georgia</a> continues even after Afgan’s abduction — indeed, <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/azerbaijan-muxtarli-wife-mustafayeva-flees-georgia/28789847.html" target="_blank">I have now left Georgia due to concerns for my safety</a>. On 29 June, in a Tbilisi café, an unknown man placed a laptop bag on the sofa as soon as I left my seat to visit the bathroom. The video that we watched in the Prosecutor’s Office showed that this man approached the table, put the bag on the sofa and left the place. It is obvious that he put the bag on the sofa by purpose.</p><p dir="ltr">But the investigators started to defend this individual, saying that he is a solid person, a professor who speaks multiple languages. I found it interesting that this “polyglot professor” was walking around Tbilisi with an empty bag and, when I asked him “Whose bag is this?”, could not find any language to respond. He just explained me with gestures that the bag belonged him, grabbed the bag from my hands and moved away extremely quickly.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/20156047_1794766803871955_5385920858339400145_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>22 July, 2017: Leyla Mustafayeva and others protest the detentions of Azerbaijani journalists in Tbilisi. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>I checked the above bag when I took it in my hands and it was empty. I suspected that there could have been a listening device inside — why else would someone have placed the bag near a table where complete strangers were sitting? He placed the bag on the sofa so professionally that Dashqin Aghalarli, Afgan’s friend who was also sitting at the table, didn’t notice him — he was busy on his mobile phone.</p><p dir="ltr">Surveillance intensified after Azerbaijani’s Ministry of Interior Affairs <a href="http://en.axar.az/news/society/196126.html">visited</a> Georgia in early August. We delivered the photos and videos of the men whom we suspected of following us again when I was out walking with Dashqin Aghalarli and my four–year-old daughter. We wrote to the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office regarding this surveillance on 7 August, 2017. Two months on, they have not yet identified them.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Who ordered Afgan’s abduction? Why were the CCTVs under the control of the Georgian Ministry of Interior Affairs switched off during the hours when abduction took place? Why has nobody been detained in this case yet?</p><p dir="ltr">As to the people who followed Afghan, Dashqin, I and Rahim Shaliyev, one of the witnesses who saw Afgan last, on 19 September <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1859508930731075&amp;set=a.108657322482920.16377.100000159571507&amp;type=3">I published their photographs on Facebook</a> in order to identify them. These men then surfaced as a result. Before then, the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office had no information about them. We provided the Georgian investigators with their names.</p><p dir="ltr">The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office does not have Afgan’s testimony. They claim they have applied to Azerbaijani Chief Prosecutor’s Office to interrogate him. However, no response has been received, investigators claim. This month, when the OSCE Media Representative Harlem Desir visited Georgia, the First Vice-Speaker of Georgia Tamar Chugoshvili <a href="http://www.interpressnews.ge/ge/politika/455547-eutho-s-tsarmomadgeneli-mediis-thavisuflebis-sakithkhebshi-thamar-chugoshvilthan-shekhvedrisas-afgan-mukhtharlis-saqmith-dainteresda.html">stated </a>that the results of the investigation into the abduction also depend on the Prosecutor’s Office of Azerbaijan. However, the Georgian side has not carried out a proper investigation. The abduction happened on Georgian territory. Afgan claims that the group of people who abducted him were reporting to someone occasionally in Georgian. These people beat and tortured him by putting a bag on his head. They wore Georgian police uniforms. Who ordered Afgan’s abduction? Why were the CCTVs under the control of the Georgian Ministry of Interior Affairs switched off during the hours when abduction took place? Why has nobody been detained in this case yet?</p><p dir="ltr">As it happens, Azerbaijan’s Channel One and Elman Nasirov, an Azerbaijani MP, have answered some of these questions, <a href="http://dfwatch.net/azerbaijani-mp-georgian-intel-abduction-48710">saying</a> that Afgan Mukhtarli was brought to Azerbaijan as a result of a joint operation of the special forces of Azerbaijan and Georgia. The Georgian State Security Service <a href="http://ssg.gov.ge/en/news/248/saxelmtsifo-usafrtxoebis-samsaxuris-gancxadeba">denies</a> this. </p><p dir="ltr">Afgan’s abduction has led to grave consequences for Georgia. There is now a <a href="http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2017-0267+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN">Resolution of the European Parliament</a> on this case, a <a href="https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/06/271551.htm">statement of the US Department of State</a> and statements by other European institutions. Indeed, the resolution of the<a href="http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&amp;reference=P8-RC-2017-0414&amp;format=XML&amp;language=EN"> European Parliament</a> says that the Georgian authorities have to clarify beyond doubt all suspicion regarding the involvement of Georgian state agents in the forced disappearance of Afghan. Any illegal act committed in order to maintain a good relationship with Azerbaijan or violate the rights of a foreign citizen means that Georgia’s current government is ready to violate the rule of law in the <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-tyrants-reach-knows-no-borders/2017/09/28/b95f9946-a2e9-11e7-b14f-f41773cd5a14_story.html?utm_term=.42a83d94afe2">interest of a tyrant</a>. Whatever happened to us has already happened. But what will happen to the Georgian people?</p><p dir="ltr">The more this investigation is slowed down, the more suspicion arises regarding the involvement of Georgian officials in the abduction of Afgan Mukhtarli, who today sits in pre-trial detention in Azerbaijan.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border">Azerbaijani journalist kidnapped across Georgia-Azerbaijan border</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country">Forced limbo: how Azerbaijan prevents journalists from leaving the country</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">Release Ilgar Mammadov</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat">Stopping the spin from Azerbaijan’s very special laundromat</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/casey-michel/eurasia-incredible-spin-men-press">The rearguard battle against Eurasia’s incredible spin-men</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Leyla Mustafayeva Human rights Georgia Azerbaijan Fri, 13 Oct 2017 09:15:35 +0000 Leyla Mustafayeva 113986 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Как закон об "иностранных агентах" разоряет активистов https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexey-kozlov/inostrannye-agenty <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Разорительные штрафы по отношению к руководителям НКО, разрушают гражданский сектор и ставят активистов на грань выживания. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexei-kozlov/russias-foreign-agents-law" target="_self"><em><strong>English</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/OlgaPitsunovaVk.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/OlgaPitsunovaVk.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ольга Пицунова. Фото: личная страница "Вконтакте".</span></span></span>Принятый в 2012 году закон об "иностранных агентах" <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daria-skibo/foreign-agents-pravila">существенно затруднил работу многих российских НКО</a>, сделав их деятельность нелегальной или лишив их источников финансирования. Напомним: закон предписывает НКО, которые получают финансовую поддержку из–за рубежа, а также занимаются "политической деятельностью" (термин "политическая деятельность" был <a href="http://www.article20.org/ru/content/advokat-olga-gnezdilova-doklad-o-svobode-obedinenii-v-2015-g#.WcIxFHZJaHs">уточнен </a>в 2015 году и включает в себя практически весь спектр общественной активности), войти в <a href="http://unro.minjust.ru/NKOForeignAgent.aspx">реестр</a> "иностранных агентов". В 2014 году Министерство юстиции РФ получило (через дополнение к закону) возможность включать НКО в реестр <a href="http://mhg-main.org/sites/default/files/files/doklad-prava-cheloveka-rf-2015-ru.pdf">принудительно</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">За время действия закона НКО и их руководители были оштрафованы на десятки миллионов рублей, десятки НКО закрылись из–за неподъемных штрафов, многим руководителям НКО пришлось выплачивать их из своего кармана. Саратовский эколог Ольга Пицунова оказалась на грани выживания. </p><p dir="ltr">Пицунова – известный саратовский активист–эколог, она организовала и приняла участие в десятках экологических акций, мероприятий, активно участвовала в деятельности Социально–экологического Союза. В течении многих лет Пицунова возглавляла <a href="https://zachestnyibiznes.ru/company/ul/1026402679148_6452043709_ASSOCIACIYa-PARTNERSTVO-DLYa-RAZVITIYa">Ассоциацию "Партнёрство для развития"</a>, которая с момента основания активно участвовала в природозащитной и образовательной деятельности. Были у ПДР и антикоррупционные <a href="http://anticor.wildfield.ru/">проекты</a>. В течение последних лет Пицунова участвовала в кампании против увеличения мощности Балаковской АЭС и слива воды из пруда–охладителя АЭС напрямую в Волгу, против расширения временного хранилища радиоактивных отходов Саратовского филиала РосРАО в Татищевском районе и превращения его в могильник. Боролась с <a href="http://news.sarbc.ru/main/2016/06/07/183980.html">застройкой природного парка Кумысная поляна в черте города</a>, против вырубки городских деревьев.</p><p dir="ltr">В течение многих лет, несмотря на активную позицию по вопросам защиты окружающей среды и коррупции, конфликтов с властями у Ольги Пицуновой и ее организации не было: ПДР активно сотрудничала с Общественной палатой Саратовской области и входила в несколько общественных советов при региональных ведомствах. Более того, в 2015 году Ассоциация стала лауреатом <a href="https://www.asi.org.ru/news/2015/06/05/v-moskve-vruchili-natsionalnuyu-ekologicheskuyu-premiyu/">Национальной экологической премии</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Серьезные проблемы с властями начались у Ольги летом 2014 года в связи с законом об "иностранных агентах". В начале июля в прокуратуру Саратовской области поступило анонимное заявление с требованием буквально "проверить, если Ассоциация "Партнёрство для развития", возглавляемая Ольгой Пицуновой, действительно финансируется иностранной стороной, и на эти деньги проводит свои общественно–политические выступления против наших властей и государства, то почему до сих пор никто не поинтересуется, а на кого же она работает". </p><p dir="ltr">Само рассмотрение анонимного заявления как основания для проверки возможно только при сообщении о тяжком уголовном преступлении, а не административном, как в случае ПДР. Но для экологов Саратовская прокуратура сделала исключение.</p><p dir="ltr">Далее события развиваются стремительно. 21 июля 2014 года назначается проведение экспертизы, экспертиза проводится за один день. На следующий день, 22 июля, и.о. районного прокурора Лаптев выносит постановление об административном нарушении – и пытается заставить Пицунову подписать его прямо в своем кабинете, когда она принесла ходатайства об отложении рассмотрения дела для ознакомления с материалами.</p><h2 dir="ltr">"Геополитическая" экспертиза</h2><p dir="ltr">Сама экспертиза, которая по–прежнему является основным документом, давшим старт всем нарушениям в отношении Ольги Пицуновой, достойна отдельного изучения.</p><p dir="ltr">Во–первых, автор – профессор кафедры теоретической и прикладной политологии ФГБОУ ВПО "Саратовская государственная юридическая академия" Виктор Купин – для такой экспертизы был выбран не случайно. По образованию Купин – офицер–политработник с "военно–педагогической специальностью в общественных науках", хотя на сайте Саратовской Государственной Юридической Академии эта специальность превратилась в <a href="http://xn--80af5bzc.xn--p1ai/about/history/item/5033-kupin-viktor-nikolaevich">"Социальную философию"</a>. Так же там сократилось название его кандидатской диссертации "Социальные основы укрепления боевого потенциала вооружённых сил социалистического общенародного государства" (отпало социалистическое народное государство), защищенной в Военно–политической академии им. Ленина (специальность – теория научного коммунизма). В 2004 году Купин защищает в Санкт–Петербурге докторскую диссертацию (специализация – социальная философия) "Геополитические императивы глобальной безопасности: социально–философский анализ". Для понимания подхода к предмету стоит процитировать один из выводов диссертации: "Стремительно меняющийся мир XXI века, порождает все новые угрозы и опасности всему человечеству, со многими из которых уже столкнулась Россия. Одной из главных угроз национальной и глобальной безопасности является стремление Запада во главе с США к новому силовому переделу глобального геополитического пространства в свою пользу".</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00998059.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00998059.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Московский офис ассосиации "Голос". НКО признали «иностранным агентом». Таким образом, она стала первой НКО, получившей такое определение в рамках принятого закона. Фото (c): Александр Вильф / РИА Новости. Все права защищены.</span></span></span>В своей экспертизе деятельности Ассоциации "Партнёрство для развития" Купин не утруждает себя указанием методики, по которой проводится экспертиза, и указывает всего один источник. Тем не менее, все это не мешает ему прийти к однозначным выводам, которые можно было вполне ожидать, учитывая образование и публикации эксперта: </p><p dir="ltr">"Фактическая экологическая деятельность Ассоциации "Партнёрство для развития" и еe руководителя Пицуновой О.Н., формирующая направленное мнение о негативном состоянии энергетической экологической безопасности в регионе, напрямую связана и представляет угрозу геополитическим интересам России и Евразийского союза. Интерес к Саратовской области обусловлен еe особым местом и исключительным геополитическим положением в России в качестве связующего звена, формирующегося Евразийского союза – Россия – Беларусь – Казахстан. Ослабление данного Союза – одна из важнейших геополитических целей США и их партнёров по НАТО". </p><p dir="ltr">На наводящий вопрос прокуратуры: "Насколько проект, работа по проекту "Школа гражданского активизма" и отчеты о его выполнении, направленные руководителем Ассоциации "Партнёрство для развития" Пуцуновой О.Н. представителям Правительства США, связаны с расширение базы политического влияния на общественное мнение в регионе в интересах иностранного спонсора (Правительства США) либо геополитическим ослаблением России, как главного ядра Евразийского союза, в противодействии диктатуре однополярного мира, возглавляемого США?" профессор Купин отвечает утвердительно.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Как становятся "агентами" и сколько это стоит</h2><p dir="ltr">4 августа 2014 года прошло судебное заседание, на котором судья Седова, проигнорировав альтернативную экспертизу, подготовленную экологами, вынесла постановление о штрафе ПДР в 300 000 руб. Судья Седова для обоснования своей позиции использовала материалы оперативно–розыскных мероприятий, что является недопустимым для административного процесса. Упомянутая выше экспертиза профессора Купина была основным документом, использованным для признания ПДР "иностранным агентом", почти весь ее текст был включен в постановление о штрафе. Т.о. ПДР была признана виновной в том, что не зарегистрировалась самостоятельно в качестве "иностранного агента".</p><p dir="ltr">8 августа Ольга Пицунова, как руководитель ПДР была признана виновной в нерегистрации "иностранного агента" и оштрафована на 100 000 рублей.</p><p dir="ltr">Обжаловать постановления о штрафах экологам не удалось. Но оказалось, что и выплатить их невозможно. Как <a href="http://activatica.org/blogs/view/id/2892/title/zashchitnicu-kumysnoy-polyany-ostavili-bez-pensii-i-na-polnom-nule">говорит</a> Ольга Пицунова: </p><p dir="ltr">"Реквизиты, по которым мне надо было платить добровольно штраф после решения суда, мне так и не дали. Ни по первому штрафу в 100 тысяч, ни по последующему штрафу в 200 тысяч. Специально не давали реквизитов, по которым можно было бы заплатить добровольно по решению суда до возбуждения исполнительного производства. В результате нам пришлось заплатить штраф на основании реквизитов, предоставленных службой приставов. Именно этого они и добивались. И потому после уплаты штрафа они штурмом взяли квартиру и под конвоем доставили меня в суд для наложения нового двойного штрафа. При этом они знали, что ни имущества, ни средств для выплаты штрафа у меня нет. Я просила по этим основаниям дать 15 суток. Но их это не устроило. Главным было – чтобы не сорвалась с крючка. В моем случае – это был крючок экономического давления. Испытание "сумой"".</p><p dir="ltr">После внесения в реестр "иностранных агентов" правление Ассоциации приняло решение о ликвидации. Окончательно ПДР была ликивдирована в 2015 году решением Минюста.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-15239185 (1)_3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-15239185 (1)_3.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Если иностранный агент не маркирует все материалы, которые он производит и публично распространяет на своих мероприятиях, в СМИ или через Интернет, он может быть оштрафован. Фото (c): Ivan Sekretarev /AP/ Press Association Images. Все права защищены.</span></span></span>Суд по второму штрафу прошел 28 января 2015 года, судья удвоил сумму, игнорируя экономические возможности Ольги, уплата первого штрафа 13 января 2013 не помогла. Обращения в суд и в Сбербанк не помогли выяснить необходимые реквизиты. Ольге вновь пришлось дожидаться исполнительного производства. Служба приставов арестовала пенсионный счет Ольги Пицуновой и удерживала 50% поступлений, включая пенсии по инвалидности. Но и этим российские власти не удовлетворились и решили усилить экономическое давление на Ольгу Пицунову.</p><p dir="ltr">3 ноября 2016 года Ольга получила сообщение об аресте и удержании 100% пенсии. Пицунова обратилась к главе УФССП с просьбой снять арест с ее пенсионного счета и вернуть незаконно отчужденные средства: </p><p dir="ltr">"Даже удержание 50% пенсии ставило меня на грань нищеты, так как оставшаяся сумма в размере 6100 существенно меньше установленного прожиточного минимума. Взыскание 100% всех моих доходов не только унижает мое человеческое достоинство, но и угрожает моей жизни, так как не имею возможности приобрести ни лекарства, ни продукты питания.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Обжаловать постановления о штрафах экологам не удалось. Но оказалось, что и выплатить их невозможно</p><p dir="ltr">У службы приставов имеются достаточные возможности получить информацию о всех счетах и источниках дохода, а также о их статусе и источниках поступления средств. Также имеется полная возможность (и обязанность) ознакомиться с российским законодательством. Но при этом, действия приставов Кировского РОСП (УФССП по Саратовской области) нарушают мои права как гражданина РФ, унижают мое человеческое достоинство, ставят под угрозу мою жизнь и здоровье, грубо нарушают федеральный закон „Об исполнительном производстве", Административный и Гражданско–процессуальный Кодексы РФ. Таким образом, я считаю, что в данном случае идет речь о сознательном и целенаправленном давлении в нарушение закона", – пишет Ольга в своей жалобе.</p><p dir="ltr">Жалоба была оставлена Службой приставов без ответа, но через неделю деньги вернули и стали вновь списывать 50%. Вероятно, помогли поднятый активистами шум и публикации в прессе.</p><p dir="ltr">Ситуация повторилась весной 2017 года, когда служба приставов вновь начала списывать 100% пенсии, но после возмущений и обращений вернулась к прежней схеме. Т.о. половина пенсионных выплат Ольги Пицуновой уходят на уплату непомерного штрафа. Следует отметить, что остающиеся после выплаты средства – меньше прожиточного минимума.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.49.52.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.49.52.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Реестр НКО, выполняющих функции иностранного агента. Источник: Министерство юстиции Российской Федерации.</span></span></span>Очевидно, что помимо душевных и физических страданий, которые принесла Ольгe эта затянувшаяся ситуация, необходимо говорить и о выключении человека из общественной деятельности. Понятно, что ожидать после такого давления и материального ущерба серьезной гражданской активности не приходится. Более того, дело Пицуновой негативно сказалось на деятельности других НКО в регионе.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Служба приставов арестовала пенсионный счет Ольги Пицуновой и удерживала 50% поступлений, включая пенсии по инвалидности</p><p>– Из–за вынужденного снижения мною общественной активности (из–за судов и разборок с приставам, а также, увы, из–за здоровья), перестал работать Общественный экологический совет Саратовской области (независимая созданная снизу лидерами эко–НКО структура), часть эко–НКО закрылись под угрозой повторения нашего сценария, другие стали менее активны, – сказала Ольга Пицунова в интервью для oDR. – В целом можно сказать, что за три года власти почти удалось провести замещение игроков в общественном эко–секторе: независимые эко–НКо старой формации вытеснены новыми, часто создающимися с подачи власти или лояльными Единой России, никому не мешающими и/или выполняющими определенный заказ экологическими организациями, квази–НКо или ГОНКО. Таким образом государство или или те, кто использует закон, защищают свои интересы.</p><p>Из–за вынужденного снижения мною общественной активности перестал работать Общественный экологический совет Саратовской областРазорительные штрафы по отношению к руководителям НКО, которые критикуют российские власти в сфере прав человека, защиты окружающей среды и т.д., пока не стали повсеместной практикой, но нам известны не менее <a href="http://article20.org/ru/content/2016-svoboda-sobranii-i-obedinenii-v-tsifrakh-2016-versammlu#.Wcyydmi0OHs">10 таких случаев</a>. Пока только случай Ольги Пицуновой был доведен властями до крайности. Но это не значит, что он останется единственным.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/daria-skibo/foreign-agents-pravila">Правила жизни иностранного агента</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oksana-bocharova/pochemu_levada">Почему России нужен Левада-центр</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-yablokov/neetichno-konspirologichno">Неэтично и конспирологично</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kirill-kobrin/nostalgia-atomov">Ностальгия атомов по молекулам: российское общество после СССР</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Алексей Козлов oDR Русский Russia Human rights Mon, 02 Oct 2017 22:48:25 +0000 Алексей Козлов 113748 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Inside Ingushetia’s anti-extremism centre: torture, extortion, murder https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yegor-skovoroda-sergei-smirnov/inside-ingushetia-anti-extremism-torture-extortion <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Russia’s anti-extremism centres are notorious for their brutal torture. Here are the stories of its victims in Ingushetia, where for the first time, some of the organisation’s operatives face trial for their crimes.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Doliev_Magomed.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Doliev_Magomed.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="279" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Magomed Doliev, murdered at Ingushetia’s Centre E. Photo (c): Sergei Smirnov / MediaZona. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong><em>This article <a href="https://zona.media/article/2017/06/20/eshechki " target="_blank">originally appeared in Russian on MediaZona</a>. We are grateful for their permission to publish a translation of it here.</em></strong></p><p>At the end of March 2017, Yunus-Bek Evkurov, head of the Republic of Ingushetia, a region in Russia’s North Caucasus, visited a pre-trial detention centre in Karabulak. As the website of Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service <a href="http://www.fsin.su/news/index.php?ELEMENT_ID=308614" target="_blank">puts it</a>, Evkurov “visited the main buildings of the detention facility and spoke with suspects, detainees and convicts [incarcerated there].” Evkurov was apparently “interested in issues of access to medical treatment, nutrition and whether the rights and lawful interests of those held in custody were being respected.”</p><p>It’s unclear who exactly Evkurov spoke to. Timur Khamkhoev, former head of Ingushetia’s Centre for Combating Extremism (“<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/grigory-tumanov/dark-doings-of-russia%E2%80%99s-centre-e" target="_blank">Centre E</a>”), and several of his subordinates are currently behind bars at Karabulak. They face charges of extorting and torturing people in detention.&nbsp;</p><p>Ingushetia’s Centre E has long had a reputation for torture and murder. The notorious Timur Khamkhoev has led it since October 2013. “I swear — you won’t find anybody worse, anybody dirtier in this republic than that jackal. Did they know about it? I swear on all that’s holy — they all did. From the head [of the republic] to the janitors, they knew all about it!” seethes Akhmed-Bashir Aushev, elder of the Aushev <em>teip </em>(Chechen and Ingush clan - ed.) Two of Aushev’s relatives suffered at the hands of Khamkhoev and his men, both named Magomed Aushev.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“I swear on all that’s holy — they all knew. From the head of the republic to the janitors, they knew all about the torture!”</p><p>Relatives of the victims of Ingushetia’s Centre E say that they complained to Evkurov about police brutality more than once, but he dismissed their concerns. Akhmed-Bashir Aushev claims that in 2014, he personally showed the head of Ingushetia photographs of Magomed Aushev, who then lay in hospital after a severe beating.</p><p>“He told me that I should tell the story again when I turn up in court for slandering our police! Imagine that, the head of our republic said this, Yunus-Bek Bamatgireyevich!” Such was Evkurov’s response, in the words of Aushev, when confronted with evidence of torture by the republic’s Centre E. Three years passed before, in May 2017, the Investigative Committee finally brought charges against Centre E’s 44 year-old director Timur Khamkhoev and departmental head Andrei Beznosyuk, on suspicion of using extreme force against Magomed Aushev.</p><h2>“They never took a break”: the Aushev family</h2><p>Magomed Aushev, 25, came to the attention of the republic’s Centre E after his cousin’s wedding, at which he, in his own words, fired two or three shots into the air with a non-lethal pistol. “Rumours soon started that I had fired rounds from a gilded machine-gun,” says Aushev, finding the right words in Russian with difficulty. This, Aushev believes, explains the police’s interest in him. On 20 December 2014, Magomed and his lawyer entered the police station and presented his non-lethal pistol, upon which Aushev was interrogated in connection with illegal arms trafficking. “They just said ‘Hey, why have you brought us a <em>travmat</em> pistol, where’s the machine gun?’ And I told them that I didn’t have one,” continues Aushev.&nbsp;</p><p>Night fell, and investigator Akhmed Kotiev told Aushev that he was being detained for 48 hours and would now be taken to a temporary detention facility. At the back door of the police station, Kotiev handed the young man over to two people in masks. “They immediately put a bag over my head, shoved me into a car and brought me straight to Centre E.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Aushev.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Aushev.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="279" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Magomed Aushev, one of Centre E’s victims in Ingushetia who now demands that his torturers be brought to justice. Photo (c): Sergei Smirnov / MediaZona. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Ingushetia’s Centre E is located in Nazran, the former capital of Ingushetia. Number seven Ozdoev Street is an unassuming two-storey structure, surrounded by a ten metre high metal mesh fence higher than the building itself. This was where they started beating Aushev, “demanding to see the gilded machine-gun.” “They beat me all night — they never took a break. They electrocuted me, they beat me in the groin, on the head. They beat me in the kidneys, they beat me in the knees. At times, I caught a glimpse of them through the bag over my head. At one point, they removed it to give me some water.” And now, three years on, Magomed Aushev has identified Timur Khamkhoev and several of his subordinates as those who tortured him.</p><p>On the second day, he was taken to a prison cell, and from there to the court, where Aushev started to feel unwell. He was then hospitalised. “I could barely walk. I passed out and only regained consciousness in hospital,” he remembers. He’s none the wiser as to the criminal case concerning his “gilded machine-gun”, which was the pretext for his torture. After being discharged from hospital, Aushev spent another two months in prison and was then simply released. In January 2015 he was recognised as a victim of a violent abuse of authority (Section three, Article 286 of Russia’s Criminal Code), but the investigation into his cases was suspended. It was only resumed this January, after several operatives of Centre E had already been arrested.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“They came to his mother’s house&nbsp;— with three armoured personnel carriers! On leaving, one of the armed men told her to ‘complain less’”</p><p>After this, Magomed Aushev was questioned once again, and identified five operatives who had tortured him. However, Aushev’s family was intimidated in an effort to scare him into silence. “They came to his mother’s house — and brought three armoured personnel carriers with them! They were masked, armed, in front of small children! They started to search around, frisking everybody. His poor family was terrified — they never expected anything like this!” exclaims Akhmed-Bashir Aushev. He states that upon leaving, one of the armed men said “you should complain less.”</p><p>The other Magomed Aushev wound up at Centre E on 16 June 2016, on suspicion of involvement in a car bomb which targeted Ibragim Belkhoroev, one of the leaders of the “Batalkhadzhintsy”. </p><p class="blockquote-new"><strong>Who are the Batalkhadzhintsy?<br /></strong><br />The Batalkhadzhintsy are an Ingush Muslim religious group mostly residing in the village of Surkhakhi, infamous for their close ties to the leadership of neighbouring Chechnya. The current leader of the movement, Sultan Belkhoroev, has described Chechnya’s dictator Ramzan Kadyrov as a “messiah and imam who will lead [his people] out of darkness.”<br /><br />The group came to international notoriety when their involvement in the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/10/journalists-beaten-and-bus-torched-on-chechnya-tour-say-activists" target="_blank">attack on a bus of journalists and human rights defenders</a> on 9 March 2016 at the Chechnya-Ingushetia border became known. The vehicle was set ablaze, killing everybody inside. According to <a href="https://russiangate.com/person/samyy-blizkiy-drug/" target="_blank">one source</a> in the Russiangate dossier, the attack was ordered by Adam Delimkhanov, a cousin and close associate of Kadyrov and member of the Duma.</p><p>Magomed Aushev’s mother, Aza Ausheva, recalls how the police came knocking early in the morning, though they didn’t find anything incriminating during a search of the house. They then headed down to a ditch behind the house, where they found “some kind of package” (which Aza believes to be the components of a detonator planted there by the security services). Magomed was taken away. “Later that evening we discovered that he had been taken to Centre E, and were told that he had been electrocuted. His head and body were swollen, the bridge of his nose broken,” says Ausheva, describing her son’s condition when she saw him in hospital.&nbsp;</p><p>“He told us that a guy started jumping on him, and because you’ve got a bag over your head, you don’t know when to brace. You just exhaust yourself,” says Ruslan Aushev, Magomed’s father. After this torture, the young man, who still hadn’t confessed to anything, was twice released under house arrest, but is now again behind bars. His case is now being <a href="https://magassky--ing.sudrf.ru/modules.php?name=sud_delo&amp;srv_num=1&amp;name_op=case&amp;case_id=730291&amp;delo_id=1540006&amp;case_type=0&amp;hide_parts=0" target="_blank">examined</a> by the Magas city court.&nbsp;</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/f1BZ_hyQEnc" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>Relatives of torture victims speak out (Russian). Source: MediaZona.</em><p>As Magomed Aushev was being tortured at the building on Ozdoev Street, another prisoner, Magomed Doliev, was subjected to the same cruel treatment. In Doliev’s case, the operatives of Centre E certainly didn’t “take a break.” Aushev’s father says his son considered himself lucky. Due to Doliev’s death, his torturers went a little easier on him. “I could hear his cries,” remembers Magomed, “and just perhaps, he could also hear mine.”&nbsp;</p><p>It’s possible that Doliev’s death in custody saved Aushev from facing further torture. The corpse of a detainee at Centre E spelt the beginning of the end for Timur Khamkhoev’s team of torturers.</p><h2>“They put a plastic bag over my head and began to choke me”: the Doliev family&nbsp;</h2><p>Magomed Doliev, 49, graduated from a police academy in Almaty, and then went on to work in the police and general prosecutor’s office in Kazakhstan. After his family returned to Ingushetia, Doliev was offered a job in law enforcement, but he refused. In recent years, he worked in Moscow where, according to his brother Nazir, he led a “brigade of Azeris and Uzbeks”. Still, Magomed returned home to Ingushetia fairly often. Meanwhile, his wife Maryem worked as a cashier at a bank in the city of Sunzha.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>On the morning of 11 July 2016, an unknown masked man entered the bank. He laid a grenade, which later turned out to be a dud, on the desk where Maryem Dolieva was working that day. Terrified, she opened the safe, and the criminal made off with over 12m roubles (£155,000). “Why didn’t she press the button to sound the emergency alarm? She told me that she was so shocked she couldn’t think of a course of action, and still can’t remember exactly what happened. She feared that the grenade would go off,” explains Nazir Doliev.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Magomed Doliev was at home at that time, and both husband and wife were questioned by the police. The case was investigated by the Sunzha district branch of the interior ministry, led by Magomed Bekov. On 15 July, Alisher Borotov (now acting deputy head of Ingushetia’s interior ministry, but in 2016 - the republic’s deputy head of police) ordered operatives from Centre E to investigate.</p><p>On that very day at around one o’clock in the afternoon, investigator Timur Khamkhoev from Centre E phoned Maryem at work and told her to go immediately to the police station. Upon arrival, she was led into Magomed Bekov’s office, where Bekov, Borotov, and Khamkhoev were waiting for her. “I wasn’t even able to collect myself before they started bellowing at me,” she recalls. The men demanded to know where Maryem’s husband was (Magomed was at home), and that she confess to orchestrating a theft at the bank with his assistance (Dolieva denies the charge.)</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Doliyev_Family.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Doliyev_Family.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="279" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The brother and mother of Magomed Doliev, murdered at Centre E. Photo (c): Sergei Smirnov / MediaZona. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“They started to shout at me,” she repeated, “and Khamkhoev sprung up and struck me in the face. Then Magomed Bekov took a plastic bag. There was a room nearby, a rest room. He approached me from my right and jammed the bag over my head; he tightened it from the side and started to choke me.”</p><p>When the polythene plastic stuck to her face and she started to suffocate, Bekov removed the bag and let Maryem take a breath. “As soon as they put the bag on me, they started hitting my face and head. I couldn’t see a thing. They beat me with their fists and their open hands,” she says. When Bekov became tired, other people present took part in the torture. Khamkhoev and Bekov took turns tightening the bag and choking Maryem.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>But despite the torture, Maryem refused to confess and incriminate herself. After a while, the ordeal stopped. “They removed the bag and I began to straighten my headscarf, at which point Bekov remarked that ‘you won’t be needing that anymore.’ Five minutes passed. As soon as I had come to my senses, two Russians appeared, who turned out to be Beznosyuk and Sergei Khandogin — guys from Centre E,” recalls Maryem.</p><p>The two men took Maryem to the courtyard, where a Lada Granta awaited them. Beznosyuk put another plastic bag on her head, which he’d taken from the office of the local interior ministry branch. Throughout the entire ride to Cenere E’s building in Nazran, her captors once again tried to convince Maryem to confess. “As soon as the car stopped, they wrapped tape tightly around the bag, all the way up to my nose. As soon as I raised my hands to straighten it a little, they beat me. They were afraid I’d remove it,” remembers Dolieva.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><span style="font-size: 1.2em;"><span class="mag-quote-center" style="font-size: 13px;">Later one of the Centre E investigators asked Maryem whether she could recognise her husband’s voice. “Do you want to hear his cries?” he jeered</span></span></p><p>Maryem was taken to an office on the second floor of the building, where she was put in a chair, her hands bound behind her with tape. She remembers hearing one of the employees insisting that “the chair is too weak, it won’t hold out.” They replaced the chair with another, and attached “some kind of wires” to her fingers, through which she received an electric shock. The 40-year old Dolieva begins to weep as she retells the torture. “Then one of the guys said ‘that’s not enough for her, you need to increase the dose a little.’” Her captors then removed the wires from her hands, took off her shoes and socks, and attached them to her toes. “The pain was so intense, it hurts to remember it,” she says.</p><p>Maryem says that the electric shocks and beatings continued for between six and seven hours, with occasional breaks. Later one of the Centre E investigators asked her whether she could recognise her husband’s voice. “Do you want to hear his cries?” he jeered. Magomed Doliev was still alive at this point. He had also been taken to the Centre E building in Nazran, from his home in Karabulak.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Maryem Dolieva then remembers how one of the men poured half a glass of vodka and offered it to her. “I told them that I don’t drink. That I can’t drink. They grabbed me, slightly lifted the plastic bag and poured it into my mouth. I guess they wanted me to come to my senses,” says Dolieva. Not long prior, another Centre E employee had removed the engagement ring from Maryem’s finger and pocketed it. They didn’t torture her any more after that.</p><p>“It turned out that my husband had just been killed. They were probably scared, so left me be,” supposes Dolieva.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>“I think that with the theft of her engagement ring, Dolieva’s fate was sealed,” believes the lawyer Andrei Sabinin. “I think that they wanted to murder her, take away the body and bury it somewhere. I was afraid that it could end that way.” Dolieva remembers that during the car ride with Centre E operatives, she was told that she “wouldn’t ever return from where we’re taking you.”</p><p>But Dolieva did return, to the town of Sunzha where, not far from the local interior ministry headquarters, the bag was removed from her head and she was given a napkin to wipe a blood from her face. Maryem was picked up from the police station by one of her brothers, who immediately took her to hospital. She didn’t yet know of her husband’s death at Centre E — her brother told her only the following morning.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Nazir, brother of Magomed Doliev, remembers how he couldn’t locate Magomed the entire day. “Towards the evening, my cousin called me to say that my brother was lying in the morgue. How could that be?”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>The following day, after all the wounds on his tortured body had been photographed, Magomed Doliev was buried. The cause of his death was initially recorded as a heart attack. Then the forensic experts acknowledged that Doliev had died of asphyxiation, most likely strangled by a plastic bag in the manner experienced by anybody who has experienced Centre E.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03031183.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03031183.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="303" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Head of the Republic of Ingushetia Yunus-Bek Evkurov during an interview in Moscow, 2017. Photo (c): Mikhail Voskresensky / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>After the funeral, Magomed and Maryem’s relatives approached Yunus-Bek Evkurov and demanded a meeting. Evkurov accepted, but “said that he’ll deal with it when the relevant papers land on his desk. He’ll deal with it then. But what document does he need? They killed my brother! I don’t get it,” says Maryem Dolieva’s brother, exasperated.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Magomed Doliev’s relatives from the Barkinkhoy <em>teip</em> declared a blood feud against Centre E operative Alikhan Bekov. They were hardly the first family in Ingushetia to have wanted vengeance against Centre E due to the brutal torture their relatives suffered. “They declared a blood feud immediately, right on that very day,” says Nazir, casually. “And well, declaring a blood feud means that, sooner or later, you have to carry it out — you’ll have to bring him down. [Bekov] in particular. Because he’s responsible for my brother’s death.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><span style="font-size: 1.2em;"><span class="mag-quote-center" style="font-size: 13px;">“Evkurov said he’ll deal with it when the relevant papers land on his desk. But what document does he need? They killed my brother!”</span></span></p><p>We’re talking in the yard of the Doliev family home, where Nazir and Magomed’s mother are receiving guests out in the open. The mother chooses her words with some difficulty, and frequently leaves us to attend to her seriously ill husband — Magomed’s father cannot speak, and is given ten jabs every day. But upon hearing the conversation about his deceased son, he comes out in his pyjamas and sits beside us.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>“I don’t believe in our courts,” sighs Nazir.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>The father tries to say something, but he can’t. All he can manage is a terrible, almost inaudible, wheezing sound. He is brought a notebook, over which he labours with a pencil for a long time. The big letters spell out: “Now it’s simply fascism.”</p><h2>An Azerbaijani with connections<span style="font-size: 1.2em; font-weight: normal;">&nbsp;</span></h2><p>The arrest of Timur Khamkhoev and his team was connected not so much with torture — though their involvement in many violence-related criminal cases over the years has left many witnesses — but extortion. It appears that the criminal case against Khamkhoev was not initiated by the Investigative Committee, but the FSB. In its reporting on the detention of Khamkhoev, <em>RIA Novosti</em> underlined the fact that the operation was “conducted by the Republic [of Ingushetia] division of the FSB and the central apparatus of the security department of Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>According to the investigator, on 9 November 2016, Timur Khamkhoev and his subordinates in Karabulak forcibly detained a citizen of Azerbaijan and forced him into a Lada Priora. They then brought him to Centre E where, “with physical violence, they took possession of his Audi A6 and iPhone 5.” The man was freed, but there was a catch: he had a month to pay 800,000 roubles (£10,000) to recover his property and prevent Khamkhoev’s men from publicising evidence of “his romantic relations with a woman of Ingush ethnicity.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>The victim, Amil Nazarov, 35, appealed to the law enforcement agencies. In this case, they reacted with unexpected diligence. Khamkhoev and several of his men were detained at the start of December 2016. During a search of one of the policemen’s homes, investigators found several dozen bullets, and at another’s, the stolen Audi A6. At first, the detainees were charged with theft — then the case against them was changed to extortion and exceeding their official authority.</p><p>The word in Ingushetia is that Amil Nazarov worked for Abubakar Malsagov, who served as the Republic’s Prime Minister between September 2013 and November 2016. “Khamkhoev wasn’t arrested for Doliev’s murder, I’ll tell you that much,” says Akhmed-Bashir Aushev. “So they shook down some Azerbaijani guy or committed a theft, whatever. But this particular Azerbaijani had the Prime Minister’s protection, and maybe even worked for him. And when that kind of thing comes to light over here, people get scared. So they were frightened, and detained Khamkhoev.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><span style="font-size: 1.2em;"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Magas_View.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Magas_View.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="292" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, by night. Photo CC-by-2.0: Shaliec / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></span></p><p>A former employee at Ingushetia’s Ministry of the Interior, Hasan Katsiev, claims that the woman with whom the Azerbaijani had relations was specially “sent” by Khamkhoev to set up a blackmail. “Her name is Aza Gadieva, and this is the number one fraud in the republic. The department for fighting corruption and economic crimes at the local interior ministry developed cases against her several times, but none of them reached their logical conclusion — because Timur Khamkhoev personally covered for her. Khamkhoev had her back and, according to some, she lived in a rented flat in Magas. Allegedly this flat was provided to her by Timur Khamkhoev,” says Katsiev.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Several people who wished to remain anonymous said that operatives of Centre E blackmailed the Azerbaijani citizen with video recordings of his meeting with Gadieva. These “fighters against extremism” then threatened to send these recordings to the woman’s relatives which would, in their words, inevitably lead to Nazarov’s murder.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Aza Gadieva was accused of fraud and involvement in a criminal organisation, which illegally gained possession of and cashed maternity capital certificates to the value of 42m roubles (£543,000). In April 2016, the prosecutor general sent her case to court, noting that Gadieva had pleaded guilty and so had began discussions for a pre-trial cooperation agreement with the authorities. Yet in November, with investigations well underway, Gadieva suddenly disappeared, and the <a href="http://magassky--ing.sudrf.ru/modules.php?name=sud_delo&amp;srv_num=1&amp;name_op=case&amp;case_id=481031&amp;delo_id=1540006&amp;case_type=0&amp;hide_parts=0" target="_blank">trial resumed only three months later</a>. “Khamkhoev was brazenly corrupt,” concludes Katsiev. “That’s how he was able to extort the Azerbaijani, but there are many more such cases.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p style="text-align: left;">Centre E was also engaged in another form of extortion. Several sources of <em>MediaZona</em> said on condition of anonymity that Centre E employees also scoured Ingushetia for LGBT people and then threatened to out them were their demands not met.</p><h2>Centre E behind bars: a team to the end<span style="font-size: 1.2em; font-weight: normal;">&nbsp;</span></h2><p>A criminal case on the death of Magomed Doliev and the use of violence against his wife Maryem began almost immediately, in June 2016. However, the operatives of Centre E were initially treated only as witnesses. It was not until December that charges were brought against Timur Khamkhoev, who was already in pre-trial detention accused of extortion, and Alikhan Bekov. This January saw charges against deputy director of Ingushetia’s Centre E, Sergei Khandogin and director of Sunzha district’s department for internal affairs Magomed Bekov. Andrey Beznosyuk, departmental head of Centre E, was finally charged in February.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>All these men are accused of exceeding their authority and using violence. All of them apart from Alikhan Bekov participated in the torture of Maryem Dolieva. Alikhan Bekov who, according to the investigation, strangled Magomed Doliev, is also accused of murder.</p><p>None of the accused has admitted their guilt. In the words of the victims’ relatives, these former employees of Centre E are bold and stick together, threatening to “sort things out” when the charges against them are dropped. “Even during questioning [by the investigators], they’re smug and impertinent. They felt that they were strong, and above the law. Even now when the writing is on the wall, they still won’t give up,” says Maryem Dolieva. At times her voice shudders. Her eyes well up with tears.</p><p>Her brother says that the relatives of the accused offered money in exchange for refusing to testify in court, and “sent the family elders” who said they were ready to swear on the Koran that their relatives didn’t touch Maryem. “They can do anything. They wouldn’t think twice before telling bare-faced lies while swearing on the Koran,” he insists.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Even behind bars, Khamkhoev feels invulnerable. He promised me that if I wrote a word about him, he would tear off my arms and legs”</p><p>“Even behind bars, Khamkhoev feels invulnerable,” says the human rights defender Magomed Mutsolgov. “In February I approached him in his cell, in my capacity as a member of the Public Monitoring Commission [a formerly independent prison watchdog active in over 80 Russian regions] and the first thing he said was ‘Why have you brought him to me? As if this place is supposed to be a sanatorium!’ He also promised me that if I wrote a word about him, he would tear off my arms and legs. After that, I filed a declaration with the investigative committee that I had been threatened with violent reprisal. They refused to accept it, saying that Khamkhoev’s words had just been a figure of speech.”</p><p>For a long time, Magomed Bekov was held under pre-trial detention, unable to leave. However, at the end of March after a complaint by lawyer Andrei Sabinin, he was placed under house arrest instead. “So, why did they let Bekov return home? The investigator demanded it, as their boss [Khamkhoev] apparently wouldn’t leave his subordinates alone,” supposes Maryem Dolieva’s brother.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Sergei Khandogin, who became Khamkhoev’s deputy in April 2016, had been transferred to Ingushetia from the odious Centre E branch in Nizhny Novgorod. After his detention, Khandogin was also confined to pre-trial detention, but the investigator also released him on house arrest. Khandogin subsequently went into hiding and was wanted for two months.</p><p>No charges were brought against Alisher Borotov, who gave the order for his Centre E colleagues to provide operational support for the robbery or Rosselkhozbank. Yet Dolieva confirms that he was also present during her torture at the Sunzha district’s department for internal affairs, and helped others to choke her with a plastic bag. Following the arrest of Timur Khamkhoev, Borotov has even got a promotion — he is now Ingushetia’s acting chief of police, thus deputy to the republic’s new minister of internal affairs Dmitry Kava, whose predecessor Alexander Trofimov resigned after arrests began in Centre E.</p><h2>A policeman’s torture. “Take him away and get to work on him”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></h2><p>Hasan Katsiev, who worked in the anti-corruption department of Ingushetia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, also fell victim to torture at Centre E. On 21 February 2014, Katsiev recalls, he was summoned for a meeting by deputy chief of police Alisher Borotov in the ministry of internal affairs in Magas. When he entered Borotov’s office, he found Timur Khamkhoev waiting for him with four subordinates. “Take him away and get to work on him,” ordered Borotov, with a nod to Centre E’s notorious director.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Khamkhoev’s men took Katsiev through the cellar, across the courtyard and into a waiting car, which drove him to Centre E’s premises in Nazran. “It began there and then, on the first floor of that building,” remembers Katsiev. The Centre E operatives viciously beat the policeman and smashed his head against the concrete floor, all the while demanding that he sign a confession that he “extorted money from certain persons.” At one moment he heard a command from Khamkhoev to “get our shovels and our jeep ready!”. “It seemed to me that this wasn’t the first time they’d buried a body,” says Katsiev.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>But the policeman wasn’t facing an open grave. As Katsiev sat with a bag over his head, a group of people came who introduced themselves as members of the Interior Ministry’s own security services, or USB. Once again, Katsiev refused to incriminate himself, nor to answer their questions. “Timur, this guy isn’t telling us what we need. Get to work,” Katsiev heard the men to Khamkhoev. The torture continued.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Borotov walked out into the corridor, saw me covered in blood, burst out into laughter, and walked away”</p><p>Towards the evening of the next day, having had no success with the policeman, his torturers took Katsiev back to the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Magas. “Borotov walked out into the corridor of the security services, saw me, burst out into laughter, and walked away,” he recounts. There, the USB once more demanded that Katsiev sign either a confession or an agreement to cooperate with them. When it turned out that Katsiev was again destined to return to Centre E, he was able to quickly send an SMS message to a friend in the police force. After the friend intervened, Katsiev was released.</p><p>Katsiev lost consciousness in the courtyard of the Interior Ministry, where two security guards dragged him to his brothers’ car which was waiting at the gates. He only came to in a hospital in Grozny, capital of neighbouring Chechnya. Katsiev’s relatives had taken him there, fearing that members of Ingushetia’s Centre E could have undue influence on the doctors at home.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Katsiyev_Torture.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Katsiyev_Torture.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="279" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The police officer Hasan Katsiev demonstrates how he was tortured at Ingushetia’s Centre E. Photo (c): Sergei Smirnov / MediaZona. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The now former police officer Katsiev stresses that he signed no documents, but was dismissed from his post “at his own will” during the month spent in hospital. Katsiev says that his conflict with the leadership of the anti-corruption department was sparked by his investigations into corruption scandals. While working on a criminal case, he says, he discovered that his department’s leadership was implicated in an extortion scheme “under the protection” of Ingushetia’s Minister of Internal Affairs Alexander Trofimov.</p><p>Furthermore, Katsiev discovered that construction firms were paying kickbacks to high-ranking police officers. He also confirms that the report in which he described this corrupt scheme, as well as audio recordings which confirmed bribe-taking, disappeared from his safe after being tortured at Centre E.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>“My son fell out of favour,” says the ex-policeman’s father Magomed Katsiev, “[His superiors] decided that if he stayed in the police force, then every last one of them could be implicated somehow. Katsiev had to be kicked out. And why was he put into Centre E’s hands? Because my son divulged to his department and its employees that Timur Khamkhoev of Centre E frequently ‘extorted money from certain persons.’”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>A criminal case on Katsiev’s torture has since been filed, though nobody has yet been brought to justice — despite the fact that in one of his resolutions, the investigator officially named the scene of the crime as the premises of Centre E in Nazran, Ingushetia.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><h2>“They’ve been kidnapping people for many years, right?”</h2><p>“It seems to me that these people have never answered for anything,” says Magomed Mutsolgov, a prominent human rights defender in the republic.</p><p>“Impunity. They felt themselves to be above the law acted with impunity. Carrying out these acts… that didn’t require official orders of any sort, just some informal instructions. After all, they’ve been kidnapping people for many years, right? These crimes were committed on an enormous scale — you wouldn’t believe it, but 236 people have been abducted here in Ingushetia and none of them has yet been found.” In Mutsolgov’s words, these years of impunity and criminality by the security services demonstrate that “the regional authorities don’t even demand that they adhere to the law — in fact, they just pander to them.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Mutsolgov fears that “there will be attempts to hinder and even freeze” the ongoing case against the Centre E operatives. “Here there’s the understanding of ‘people of the system’ — of an ostensible system of government. But that’s not true; what system is meant? These officials, particularly in the regional authorities, build their own power structures beneath them and apply the systems of law enforcement and legal authority as they see fit.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>“You can’t try and make a mark on these people, to shame them into being better,” laments Akhmed-Bashir Aushev. “Take these 30 guys from Centre E, and I swear that you won’t find one of them without sin.” The number of accused has now risen to more than ten operatives of Centre E, under Timur Khamkhoev’s leadership.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>At the end of May, Ingushetia’s Investigative Committee combined the five criminal cases brought against Centre E’s men into one. Andrei Sabinin, the lawyer who is representing some of the victims on the initiative of the Memorial Human Rights Centre, adds that now the cases of Magomed and Maryem Doliev(a), the Azerbaijani citizen Amil Nazarov, the two Magomed Aushevs, Zelimkhan Mutsolgov and Adam Dakiev will all be investigated as one.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“In a small republic like Ingushetia, these actions would have been impossible without the Investigative Committee’s inaction and protection from the regional leadership”</p><p>Adam Dakiev was abducted and tortured in 2012. He says that upon being released from Centre E, Timur Khamkhoev told him that he should be thankful to leave alive — few are so lucky. Mutsolgov himself was tortured in 2010. “Well, how did you like our Taekwondo?” his torturers apparently asked him.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Sabinin also complains that as of yet, nobody has been brought to justice “for the torture of former police officer Hasan Katsiev, even though he identified his assailants on several occasions.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>“Over the course of several years, those at the higher echelons of Ingushetia’s police have tortured their own citizens with utter impunity, and despite their obvious culpability, continued their criminal activities. There is no doubt that in a small republic like Ingushetia, such actions would have been impossible without the clear inaction of the Investigative Committee and a level of protection from the regional leadership,” concludes Sabinin. He stresses that victims appealed to Yunus-Bek Evkurov on several occasions, but the Ingush leader “took no steps whatsoever to establish the identity of the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”</p><p>“Why the judgements of the Investigative Committee’s investigative department are so selective remains unclear,” notes the human rights defender. “It still hasn’t provided a legal assessment of the actions of Lieutenant Borotov, who was identified by Dolieva as one of her torturers. Even more worrying was the decision of the supreme court of Ingushetia to release Sergei Khandogin under house arrest, despite the fact that the accused’s name is still on a federal wanted list.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>“Some of these police have completely lost their minds. And I hope that soon, we can cut the tentacles of their criminal organisation out of the law enforcement agencies,” remarks Sabinin.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><em>Translated from Russian by Maxim Edwards</em><span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/they-made-this-man-invalid-can-you-imagine-how-they-crippled-my-soul">“They made this man an invalid. Can you imagine how they crippled my soul?”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/crimea-peninsula-of-torture">Crimea: peninsula of torture</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/grigory-tumanov/dark-doings-of-russia%E2%80%99s-centre-e">The dark doings of Russia’s Centre E</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-zotova/this-is-karelia-tortured-voices-from-russia-s-prison-system">This is Karelia: tortured voices from Russia’s prison system</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-slavina/new-casualties-of-russia-s-war-on-terror">The new casualties of Russia’s war on terror</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Sergei Smirnov Yegor Skovoroda Russia Ingushetia Human rights Caucasus Mon, 17 Jul 2017 09:35:20 +0000 Yegor Skovoroda and Sergei Smirnov 112300 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Charting Russia’s most dangerous cities for LGBT people https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov-evgeny-shtorn/charting-russia-s-most-dangerous-cities-for-lgbt-people <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Here are the towns where it’s dangerous to be gay in Russia. A culture of silence and a law “against propaganda” are keeping them that way. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kondakov-shtorn/kakie-goroda" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Pride_Russia_8_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Pride_Russia_8_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An LGBT pride parade in St Petersburg, 2014. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Maria Komarova / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>It’s become a tradition across the globe to celebrate LGBT Pride in the last days of June. Usually, such events are held on the weekend closest to the 28 June, as it was on that day that the modern LGBT movement in the USA began in earnest. It was an initiative that inspired strategies and tactics of human rights advocacy in many other countries. Although it takes different forms across the world, LGBT pride raises issues of freedom of expression, human rights, and healthcare for LGBT people. In some cities Europe and the USA it has turned into something of a commercial event or cultural festival for the wider public. In other locations, LGBT people march under the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-europe-33307028/turkey-pride-march-hit-with-police-water-cannon" target="_blank">threat of police brutality</a>.</p><p>In Russia, the first LGBT pride march was held <a href="http://lgbtru.com/worldwide/lgbt-history/3125/" target="_blank">in 1991</a> on the square before Moscow’s Bolshoi theatre as part of the Soviet Union’s first LGBT festival. The more modern history of LGBT parades in Russia began in 2006 when LGBT activist Nikolay Alekseyev attempted to officially organise a pride march in Moscow. Years passed, and the city authorities still haven’t found the guts to permit a march for LGBT human rights through the capital’s streets and provide security for its participants. However, other banned marches have been <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2010/10/21/russia-european-court-rules-gay-pride-ban-unlawful" target="_blank">successfully challenged in the European Court for Human Rights</a> and Alekseyev has generated support in other regions of the country. He and his colleagues have applied for permission to hold pride marches in Blagoveshchensk, Cherkessk, Cherepovets, Kazan, and Nizhny Tagil among many other cities across Russia, though they have always been rejected and sued city governments in response. A notable exception came in 2013, when the governor of St Petersburg <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/06/29/gay_pride_st_petersburg_rally_ends_in_arrests_over_gay_propoganda_law.html" target="_blank">did not forbid the city’s LGBT pride parade</a>, although it did encounter violently homophobic protesters who tried to obstruct the march.</p><h2>The metrics of hatred</h2><p>In fact, these violent far-right groups keep close tabs on LGBT activists in Russia and the events they hold – or try to. While the government fights some homophobic campaigners and inciters of hatred, it supports others. After all, instigating violence against LGBT people is essentially the Russian state’s official policy towards sexuality. For example, the 2013 law banning “propaganda” of “non-traditional sexual orientations” sparked a wave of hatred against LGBT people across the country. As we discovered <a href="https://www.academia.edu/33142314/%D0%9A%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B4%D0%B0%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B2_%D0%90._%D0%9F%D1%80%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%82%D1%83%D0%BF%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F_%D0%BD%D0%B0_%D0%BF%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%B2%D0%B5_%D0%BD%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B8_%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%B8%D0%B2_%D0%9B%D0%93%D0%91%D0%A2_%D0%B2_%D0%A0%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%81%D0%B8%D0%B8._%D0%A1%D0%9F%D0%B1._%D0%A6%D0%9D%D0%A1%D0%98_2017" target="_blank">from court decisions last year</a>, after the “propaganda” bill was signed into law, the number of hate crimes against lesbians and gay men doubled.&nbsp;</p><p>In 2012, we found 33 examples of such hate crimes, while 2013 saw 50 hate crimes against LGBT citizens. By 2015 there were 65. We registered not only a common rise of LGBT hate crimes, but also the rise of homicides: following the enactment of the “propaganda” bill, there were more and more murders of people simply for being LGBT.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kondakov_Chart1.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kondakov_Chart1.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="265" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The growth in hate crimes against LGBT people across Russia. Image courtesy of the authors.</span></span></span></p><p>Of course, these are only the recorded crimes – many LGBT people may not dare approach the authorities after harassment, humiliation, or worse. These data are based on official court statistics, though we had to dig through the results ourselves. Nobody officially collects information on violence against LGBT people in Russia. On the contrary, the authorities pretend that nothing is happening. This attitude sometimes reaches absurd extremes when government officials claim that LGBT citizens simply do not exist. </p><p>After facts came to light about the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny" target="_blank">systematic torture of gay men at secret detention camps in Chechnya</a>, the republic’s press secretary <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-chechnya-gay-men-killing-torture-vladimir-putin-dmitry-peskov-chechen-leader-ramzan-kadyrov-a7693291.html" target="_blank">immediately retorted</a> that “you cannot repress those who are not and cannot be here in the Chechen Republic.” Despite the justified focus on Chechnya, these claims are hardly specific to one culture or region within the Russian Federation – officials in other regions speak in much the same manner. For example, the mayor of Svetogorsk in Leningrad Region declared his city “free from gays.” He subsequently argued that LGBT issues and rights are irrelevant there, neither an LGBT community nor LGBT people exist in the small city.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This imagined absence of LGBT people constitutes an active policy of silencing and excluding some citizens from the wider national community on the grounds of their sexuality</p><p>This imagined absence of LGBT people constitutes an active policy of silencing and excluding some citizens from the wider national community on the grounds of their sexuality. These comments certainly reinforce existing prejudices and reproduce violence against vulnerable groups. But what is the real picture? Let’s say that the authorities of a Russian city actually permitted an LGBT march to go ahead? Would these violent protectors of a false morality then take to the streets to fight those marching, to stop their fellow citizens expressing their point of view and standing up for their rights? <br /><br />It depends on where you are. In other words, how dangerous is it to be gay in different Russian cities?</p><h2>A “sexual stratification” of Russian cities</h2><p>Media doesn’t simply inform society about current affairs; it also provides frames for understanding social problems, rendering some topics more important than others by virtue of generating discussion around them. Violence against LGBT people may be a key cause for concern in the human rights movement, but that urgency is lost in public discussions.</p><p>But media can also remedy societies from oblivion by sharing stories which are otherwise forgotten or ignored, and spark positive change. For example, the murder of gay teen Matthew Sheppard was one of the most publicised hate crimes in the US history. The furore in the press eventually led to changes in hate crime law.</p><p>One of the effects of Russia’s “propaganda” law was not simply the rise in violence against LGBT people. It also led to more frequent ewspaper publications on LGBT topics, hence public discussion on a topic which still remains taboo for many people. This was not entirely what legislators intended. We benefitted from this situation by researching the details and contexts of violence against LGBT in Russia as they were reported in media. The <a href="https://lgbtqrightsinrussia.wordpress.com/" target="_blank">Sexuality Lab</a> studied almost 4,500 media publications about violence against LGBT people in Russia between 2011 and 2016. We categorised all newspaper articles <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map" target="_blank">in accordance with the sexuality of the victims reported</a> and the locations of crimes committed. All cities were then classified by population, making it possible for us to calculate an index of safety for every urban settlement.</p><p>The data reveal that the most dangerous places for LGBT people are villages in the countryside and small towns with a population below 100,000: they are characterised by the highest rates of violence against LGBT people per 1,000 persons. The safest locations are the largest cities (Moscow and St Petersburg): despite the greater number of crimes against LGBT in these cities, their relative indexes are actually the lowest. This can be explained by understanding the circumstances of these hate crimes.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Statistically, a gay person is safer in St Petersburg than in a smaller city like Nizhnevartovsk</p><p>Very often, hate crimes are committed as soon as perpetrators learn about the victim’s sexuality, which is usually revealed in a conversation in a private space over a drink or meal. These social gatherings occur more frequently in smaller settlements, because that way of life is simply more common there: there are fewer bars to go to, fewer crowds to blend into, and more free time to kill. People drink alcohol and talk about their personal lives as there’s no other way to spend one’s spare time. Alhough many people in Russia actually <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/do-russians-give-damn-about-homosexuality" target="_blank">do not give a damn about LGBT issues</a>, some still react violently to a person’s coming out – and such reactions are more common in smaller towns and cities.</p><p>The graph below shows incidents of violence against LGBT people in different towns and cities of Russia. We compare capital cities, big cities (of 500,000 people and above) and smaller cities (of between 100-500,000 people). This graph shows that the smaller a city, the bigger the probability of violence against LGBT people. Statistically, a gay person is safer in St Petersburg than in a smaller city like Nizhnevartovsk. This could explain why the mayor of Svetlogorsk thinks there are no gay men in his town – anybody with half a mind in that position would leave the place as soon as they felt threatened.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kondakov_Chart2.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kondakov_Chart2.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="198" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Violence and hate crimes against LGBT people across Russia, by city size. Image courtesy of the author.</span></span></span></p><p>These results aren’t surprising; they just prove once again that homophobia is on the rise in Russia and that hate crimes are supported in its remote regions. We have based our claims on a survey of media publications, which limits the whole picture only to material in the public domain. As a result, there will be many hate crimes which went unreported, and some remote regions not covered in our media survey. However, it is no exaggeration to say that there are parts of the country which are simply not safe for LGBT citizens. </p><p>One of the ways to protect oneself is to keep silent about one’s sexuality, concealing it from the public in order not to become a victim of violence. So this secrecy around the existence of homosexuals is reinforced not only by political decisions, but also by individual moves as many LGBT people opt to hide their sexuality. While their response contributes to a culture of silence, they cannot and must not be blamed for it – simply put, they fear for their lives.</p><p>The LGBT pride parades pursue a radically different approach: a public and full-throated political demand to recognise that LGBT people exist. Do our data confirm that Russian cities are not ready to host such events on their territories? If our goal is to fight the silence, the data show exactly the contrary: as long as anybody suffers and is killed because of their sexuality, it is important to shout at the top of our voices to try and stop the murders and political climate in which they are tacitly tolerated. Human rights marches across towns and cities of all sizes are one way of articulating this; a means to make violence visible and demand that it stop.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map">Putting Russia’s homophobic violence on the map</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">“Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/aida-mirmaksumova/transgender-life-in-chechnya">A transgender life in Chechnya</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-shupac/lgbt-lives-in-moldova">LGBT lives in Moldova</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Evgeny Shtorn Alexander Kondakov Rights for all Russia Human rights Thu, 29 Jun 2017 15:51:20 +0000 Alexander Kondakov and Evgeny Shtorn 112004 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Walking free in Azerbaijan https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/walking-free-in-azerbaijan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It’s easy to celebrate when Azerbaijan’s political prisoners are released. But ensnared by public stigma and personal trauma, what are the chances that they ever find a place for themselves in society?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ismayilova_Home.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ismayilova_Home.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="315" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Khadija Ismayilova returns home after her release (on probation) in May 2015. In September 2015, the acclaimed investigative journalist was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on charges of fraud and tax evasion. Image still via YouTube / Turan Agentliyi. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev dynasty is tightening the screws, and last year was a new low. At the end of 2016, Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov, two activists for <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities" target="_blank">youth movement N!DA</a>, were <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/10/azerbaijan-ten-years-in-jail-for-youth-activist-who-sprayed-graffiti-is-a-travesty-of-justice/" target="_blank">sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for spraying graffiti</a> on the statue of former Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev. “Happy Slave Day”, they wrote — a play on the similarity of the words <em>gül</em> (“flower”) and <em>qul</em> (“slave”) in Azerbaijani.</p><p>Amnesty International has recognised Mammadov and Ibrahimov as prisoners of conscience. And they’re far from the only ones. We could mention the jailed video blogger <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur55/6178/2017/en/" target="_blank">Mehman Hüseynov</a> or the journalist <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border" target="_blank">Afghan Mukhtarli, who was recently abducted from the Georgian capital</a> and sentenced on bogus charges in Baku. We could mention many more still, and hold international campaigns for their release. Sometimes, as in the case of famous journalist Khadija Ismayilova, this pressure even bears some fruit.</p><p>Released on parole last May, Ismayilova still continues her work from Azerbaijan. The journalist’s mother <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/31/freed-journalist-khadija-ismayilova-azerbaijan-interview" target="_blank">is said to have remarked</a> that Khadija would have been safer in prison, as “they wouldn’t just kill you [in there].”</p><p>A dissident can walk free, but their story doesn’t end there — they have few hopes of finding a place for themselves in a society as authoritarian as Azerbaijan. Repression breeds depression, and political prisoners who walk free can find themselves mired in hopelessness. If you’re once a dissident, you’re always a dissident — employers and even friends keep their distance after release. After all, it’s just easier that way.</p><h2>Munificence&nbsp;</h2><p>At the end of last year, Azerbaijani civil society eagerly awaited president Ilham Aliyev’s pardon list, which he’s usually given before the new year’s holidays. There tends to be a handful of political prisoners among the convicted, too. But this time, there was no announcement.&nbsp;</p><p>Of course, it’s not pangs of conscience that prompt such moves. As the human rights activist and chairman of the Azerbaijan without Political Prisoners group Ogtay Gulaliyev writes, the regime in Baku pardons political prisoners when it needs to sweeten relations with Europe. For example, the <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/03/azerbaijan-pocs-release/" target="_blank">last pardon list</a> was issued just before Novruz (Persian and Azerbaijani new year) and included <a href="http://www.bbc.com/azeri/azerbaijan/2016/03/160317_president_pardon.shtml" target="_blank">12 jailed activists</a>. Gulaliyev regarded it as an attempt to increase Azerbaijan’s chances at receiving an invitation to the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in 2016. More recently, with the EU <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yan-matusevich/terms-and-conditions-apply-georgia-and-ukraine-s-visa-free-victory" target="_blank">focused on migration politics</a> and the US busy with elections (and their aftermath), Azerbaijan’s leaders didn’t see any need to show such mercy.&nbsp;</p><p>In any case, mercy often comes with strings attached. The release of one prominent dissident is usually accompanied by the arrest of a few lesser-known troublemakers. Khadija Ismayilova has called it “<a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/corruptistan/azerbaijan/2016/05/27/interview-with-khadija.html" target="_blank">Azerbaijan’s revolving door</a>.”</p><p>Naturally, how well one adapts to life after imprisonment depends on the harshness of life inside, and the trauma it can bring. “Conditions in jail are quite similar to conditions outside it. The only practical difference is that you’re stuck in a cell,” remarks Tofig Yagublu. The ex-political prisoner, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party, was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to five years. Yagublu was pardoned by president Ilham Aliyev in March 2016.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Essentially, conditions in jail are quite similar to conditions outside it. The only practical difference is you’re stuck in a cell”</p><p>The loss of his daughter Nargiz, also an opposition activist, struck Yagublu hard. Yagublu couldn’t attend her wedding as he was behind bars, but was released for seven days to be at her funeral (she died during childbirth in Russia in 2015).&nbsp;</p><p>On the whole, says Yagublu, political prisoners are respected by other inmates. But in poor conditions, that mattered little. Yagublu was moved between prisons several times, but says conditions rarely varied. He slept near every night near somebody with tuberculosis. “There were usually two or three times more inmates than beds,” he adds, “and they were too small anyway.”&nbsp;</p><p>“The prisoners I met were often just normal people,” remarks Zaur Gurbanli, a N!DA youth activist. “Most of them weren’t guilty. They’d been arrested on all kinds of pretexts, like failing to pay a bribe.” Gurbanli was arrested in 2013 and released at the end of the following year. He also adds that fellow inmates rarely bothered political prisoners unless the wardens made them.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Zeynalli-Courtroo.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Zeynalli-Courtroo.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Avaz Zeynalli, editor in chief of Khural newspaper, at his court hearing in 2013. He was found guilty of tax evasion and initially sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment, though his critical articles targeting high-ranking officials were widely believed to be the real reason. Photo courtesy of IRFS / Obyektiv TV. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>For Zaur Gurbanli and Avaz Zeynalli, prison was a formative experience that many ways has strengthened their resolve. They’re prepared, too. For many activists and dissidents of all stripes, the threat of a jail sentence is never far off.&nbsp;</p><p>After Zeynalli’s arrest in 2011, the <em>Khural </em>newspaper where he worked as editor in chief was shut down. Two years later, he was sentenced to nine years behind bars, and released in December 2014 by presidential pardon. Zeynalli adds that he had plenty of time to read and write during his sentence — and even managed to smuggle out his prison diaries. “The time passed as there was so much to do, and I prepared myself for freedom,” he reflects.&nbsp;</p><p>Celebrated academic <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-de-waal/freethinker-loses-his-freedom-in-azerbaijan" target="_blank">Arif Yunus had quite a different experience</a>. Even though he was first arrested in 1976, the ordeal was no easier. In 2014, Arif and his wife Leyla were arrested almost simultaneously. Their only daughter was abroad and could not return to Azerbaijan — though if she had, she wouldn’t have seen him. Yunus says that meetings with relatives and even lawyers were restricted. For more than a year, he lived in solitary confinement (according to reports by Juan Mendes of the UN, a person cannot survive such a condition undamaged for more than 15 days).&nbsp;</p><p>“You know that your wife is also in jail and is probably being tortured, but you can’t see her. You can’t get any information to your daughter,” Yunus begins. “Just imagine that you’re on an uninhabited island. It’s very small, perhaps six square metres. But you don’t see animals, neither birds nor trees. All you see are white walls and a blazing 150-watt light, which is on for 24 hours.”&nbsp;</p><p>“For the first eight days, I didn’t even see the guard,” Yunus continues. “He just opened a small window and left some food for me. I had no contact. In this situation, lots of people start to hallucinate. Some even commit suicide. I couldn’t control myself and just started beating my head against the wall. In order to make things easier, I forbade myself to think about my wife and daughter, trying to escape the depression.”&nbsp;</p><h2>Is there life beyond bars?&nbsp;</h2><p>Arif Yunus was released in November 2015 on grounds of deteriorating health, though wasn’t allowed to leave Baku. Adapting was hard. He couldn’t sleep at home for six days, so used was he he sleeping beneath a 15-watt light. Sleeping pills were a remedy, but he soon became dependent on them.&nbsp;</p><p>The popular blogger and youth activist <a href="http://www.freedom-now.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Omar-Mammadov.pdf" target="_blank">Omar Mammadov</a> had been arrested in January 2014 (he also ran a satirical Facebook page mocking pro-government media). Mammadov, who was also pardoned by the president in 2016, says that upon his release he saw “nothing around [him] but emptiness.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Disillusionment with activism is just one consequence of jail time. Far more pressing is the utter lack of prospects, given Azerbaijan’s economic downturn</span></p><p>There were no protests in Baku, no demonstrations. “I realised that nobody cared. I felt like I had stepped into a void,” he sighs. “There was no activity as there was before. Even the opposition was doing nothing.”&nbsp;</p><p>This was a freedom for which neither Mammadov nor Zeynalli could prepare.</p><p>Disillusionment with activism is just one consequence of jail time. Far more pressing is the utter lack of prospects. Last year, Zaur Gurbanli won a Chevening Scholarship and is now a student at Glasgow University. Following his release from jail, he applied for several jobs. His arrest worked against him — some employers knew exactly who he was, while others found out when he had to explain the two-year gap in his employment history.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Gurbanli_Free.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Gurbanli_Free.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="301" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Meet me at the prison gates. Youth activist Zaur Gurbanli walks free in December 2014. Image still via YouTube / Turan Agentliyi. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“I couldn’t lie to them,” Gurbanli tells me. “I also couldn’t tell them that I was arrested as a common criminal, but perhaps telling them that I was instead arrested for my political views is an even worse idea. Either way, they refused to hire me.”&nbsp;</p><p>Mammadov tells of similar experiences. After one employer gave him a job, he suddenly left the room and told his new employee to wait for five minutes. Mammadov was then told he was no longer hired, because somebody had ordered the management to drop him immediately. He has now lost hope in finding a job in Azerbaijan, and plans to get an education abroad.</p><h2>Who not to hire&nbsp;</h2><p>Azerbaijan is in the midst of a protracted economic downturn. Educated young people are <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/how-azerbaijan-is-losing-its-brains" target="_blank">leaving the country</a>, and nepotism is rife in filling sought-after positions. With work hard to come by for everybody, these circumstances alone work against all former prisoners, political or otherwise.</p><p>While Azerbaijani law forbids former prisoners from working in a police department or as a prosecutor, it’s highly unlikely that the state officially orders other employers not to hire former political prisoners. After all, there’s no need — poor economic prospects and a stigma towards “criminals” of all kinds work perfectly well in excluding them from the labour market.&nbsp;</p><p>When faced with such a candidate at a job interview, junior managers and small business owners alike don’t have many other choices. The ex-con may profess their innocence, blaming the state for bought courts and crooked cops. Who would you believe?&nbsp;</p><p>In these cases, many in authoritarian Azerbaijan would rather hedge their bets with the authorities, whatever deeper misgivings they may have. This is partly due to lack of alternative sources of information, and partly a cultural predilection. As they say in Russia, <em>vor dolzhen sidet’ v tyurme</em> (“a thief should sit in jail”) — so if you’ve spent time behind bars, you must’ve done something wrong, whether you know it or not. After all, there has to be some logic to the way of things.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center"><span>Employing political trouble-makers is just a headache; the state has a thousand ways of getting back at you before breakfast.</span></p><p>Zeynalli also stresses that known members of many political parties cannot be hired in state positions. “I have friends who are doctors and teachers who have had to resign from the Musavat and National Front parties. They still work only because they’ve joined the ruling New Azerbaijan Party.” Of course, there are those who have broken ranks with former opposition comrades with gusto -- though in today’s economic realities, “seeing the error of your ways” may not automatically lead to employment.&nbsp;</p><p>Arif Yunus says that his daughter managed what he and Leyla had failed to do for 22 years. While they were imprisoned, she registered the Institute of Peace and Democracy abroad, as a foreign NGO (the organisation was founded in Azerbaijan in 1994 - ed.) “We now know where we’ll work, and what we’ll work on,” Yunus says. “My wife will work on political prisoners’ issues, and I’ll work on my own projects related to Islamism and terrorism.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Arif_Yunus_Free.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Arif_Yunus_Free.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Arif Yunus gives an interview to the press after his release from jail in November 2015, on grounds of deteriorating health. Yunus was initially barred from leaving Baku after his release, and had to wait until December before the release of his wife Leyla. Image still via YouTube / RFE/RL. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Arif and Leyla Yunus left Azerbaijan for the Netherlands to seek health treatment and join their daughter in 2015. Arif Yunus insists that had they stayed in Azerbaijan, even the sum of their impressive work couldn’t have helped them&nbsp;<span>– </span><span><span>and in May, a Baku court <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/leyla-arif-yunus-forcible-return-azerbaijan-court-order/28493480.html" target="_blank">demanded their return to Azerbaijan to face charges</a></span></span>. Since 2014, Baku has added many hurdles to the law related to NGO work: “opening a bank account is a nightmare, you cannot register, you cannot get a grant for a project unless the state gives you permission. Practically, you depend on the state. You cannot run an NGO as an NGO anymore.”&nbsp;</p><p>That also goes for business. Almost all independent companies of any significance have to have relationships with the state or with figures who do. Even a company which functions without much interference will probably not employ somebody who has publicly criticised the government. If that’s practically impossible in the state sector, it’s definitely impractical for the private sector. Employing political trouble-makers is just a headache — and from the taxmen to that new job your cousin’s just applied for, the state has a thousand ways of getting back at you before breakfast.&nbsp;</p><p>Then there’s one final practicality — sometimes a court verdict can remain valid well after a presidential pardon. There’s no telling whether your employee will be hauled over the coals and brought before a judge yet again.</p><p>When they walk out of the prison gates, Azerbaijan’s dissidents find that the children, trees and skyscrapers of Baku have grown taller. But the landscape for freedom of expression and professional advancement remains as bleak as ever, with their criminal convictions a heavy burden to bear.</p><p><strong><em>Find out more about Azerbaijan’s slide into authoritarianism in <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades" target="_blank">Sergey Rumyantsev’s essay on the birth of a political dynasty</a>&nbsp;— how the Aliyev family rose to power, and where it’s headed next...&nbsp;</em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country">Forced limbo: how Azerbaijan prevents journalists from leaving the country</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/how-azerbaijan-is-losing-its-brains">How Azerbaijan is losing its brains</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">Meet N!DA, the exclamation mark that terrified the Azerbaijani authorities</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Gulnar Salimova Uncivil society Human rights Caucasus Azerbaijan Mon, 26 Jun 2017 14:41:37 +0000 Gulnar Salimova 111898 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Putting Russia’s homophobic violence on the map https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Kondakov22_0.jpg" alt="" width="80" />From what little data we have, it’s clear that homophobic violence in Russia is on the rise. Russia’s LGBT people are victims of ignorance and intolerance — yet the state won’t lift a finger. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/lgbt-karta"><em><strong>Russian</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/LGBT_Attack_2013_Yandolin.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/LGBT_Attack_2013_Yandolin.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>LGBT people are attacked during the “Day of Kisses”, an act of protest against Russia’s 2013 bill criminalising “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”. Photo CC-by-2.0: Roma Yandolin / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Today marks the International Day against Homophobia. It’s commemorated every year on 17 May, and its goals are clear: to shine a light in the dark, overcome taboos, and share the most up-to-date data and findings about LGBT people and their lives — whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning. First and foremost, the day marks a turning point for science — for it was on 17 May when, after a mass of disproved data and studies, the World Health Organisation officially declassified homosexuality as an illness. From then on, homosexuality has not been considered an illness, for the simple reason that there is no scientific evidence to consider it as such.

 That said, the removal of homosexuality from a list of diseases and illnesses by no means fully resolves the immense number of political and social problems faced by LGBT people in a number of countries, including Russia. And that’s why today is a good opportunity to continue this campaign against illiteracy.</p><p>In Russia, the attitude of politicians and many ordinary citizens towards LGBT people is often based on ignorance, stimulating widespread prejudice and hatred. The country’s law, passed in 2013, against distributing propaganda about “non-traditional sexual orientations” to minors is one such result. The law presumes that children can become gay or lesbian simply from reading a newspaper article — of course, no scientific evidence to prove this was ever presented by the lawmakers behind the bill. 

</p><p>In justifying the law, Vladimir Putin declared that while any discrimination or oppression against LGBT people was unacceptable, so was “propaganda”. Essentially, the president called for calm on both sides, hoping that “people of both traditional and non-traditional [sexual] orientations can both stop this aggression”. The problem, however, is that a legislature which restricts the distribution of information about homosexuality for the sake of petty prejudice has itself committed an act of aggression. By doing this, the authorities gave a green light from on high to beat us while we’re down.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Aggression is a daily fact of life for many gay, lesbian and transgender people living in Russia today</p><p>Aggression is a daily fact of life for many gay, lesbian and transgender people living in Russia today. Although fully reliable, scientifically sound data on acts of violence against LGBT people in our country do not really exist, some monitoring of these crimes is carried out by civic organisations, as required by international democratic structures. Arguments by civil society for the humane treatment of LGBT people are rejected by local politicians, who believe that any public-spirited activism by definition serves shady foreign interests. They refuse to see that those suffering in this story are Russian citizens — fellow citizens, who are being unjustly brutalised and victimised.&nbsp;</p><p>There’s much that we can’t know, and may never know. But a survey of open and accessible data, for example, newspaper articles, can give us an approximate scale of this campaign of violence.</p><p>Hate crimes against LGBT people, for example, come from a place of deep ignorance and prejudice — not only do the culprits not know anything about homosexuality, but they don’t want to learn about how LGBT people live, what problems they deal with (and if they wanted to, the current circumstances would prevent them anyway). All they know is that they hate them.&nbsp;</p><p>Instead of sensible and mature discussions, idle speculations rule the day, in which homosexuality is declared a disease, a sin, a crime — and everything else under the sun. It’s been forgotten that the lives of LGBT people, like anybody else’s, are diverse and complex — like anybody else, they are not defined nor delineated by their sexuality, and have their positive and negative sides.</p><p> <iframe src="https://fusiontables.google.com/embedviz?q=select+col4+from+1l6NzblSeHthb0yR8OaW_craazD8yU0B4Fp4lga6q&amp;viz=MAP&amp;h=false&amp;lat=56.469973044121105&amp;lng=94.47913451872569&amp;t=1&amp;z=4&amp;l=col4&amp;y=3&amp;tmplt=4&amp;hml=GEOCODABLE" frameborder="no" scrolling="no" height="300" width="500"></iframe></p> <p>This ignorance and its terrifying consequences also manifest themselves in different ways — from the law against “gay propaganda” to outright murders. My colleagues and I at the Laboratory for Sexuality Research estimate that from 2011 to 2016, the Russian media reported on at least 363 instances of crime against LGBT people. These included everything from attacks on gay clubs, domestic killings, extortions and violence during political demonstrations to simple robbery. In the course of this research, we&nbsp;analysed&nbsp;nearly 5,000 different articles in both federal and regional newspapers, news&nbsp;websites&nbsp;and magazines in order to arrive at this rough figure.&nbsp;</p><p>We’ve created a map, too, in which the geographical spread of this violence is clearly visible — from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, LGBT people in Russia are being beaten, humiliated, robbed, and murdered. Of course, newspapers and magazines are a genre unto themselves — they don’t record everything, just those events considered “worthy of publication”. That’s why nearly half of the points shown on this map are murders — tragedies which provincial and federal newspapers have to sit up and notice. Between 2011 and 2016, homophobes murdered at least 149 people across Russia. Going by media reports, gay men are the most frequent victims of all these crimes — in 2011 alone, the victims we know of include 47 gay men, nine lesbians and two transgender people.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The situation for gay men and transgender people has only deteriorated over the past five years</p><p>The situation for gay men and transgender people has only deteriorated in years since. In 2016, for example, 70 gay men and eight transgender people were assaulted. Over these six years, the media published information on at least 393 victims of homophobic attacks. This is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg, not only as the press doesn’t report on every case of violence, but also because some articles don’t give the numbers of victims. One can only guess at how many such incidents never reach the press at all, remaining a private matter and a private trauma for those LGBT people subjected to them.&nbsp;</p><p>Dry figures about criminal statistics are what we call a scientific fact. These are a grim testament to a society that desperately lacks real data and real information rather than sensationalist hatred — and this is a problem which expresses itself in rage at sexual minorities. As it not infrequently leads to physical violence, LGBT people are paying the price for Russian society’s ignorance.

What little data we have help us to shine a light on this urgent issue in Russian society today — data which, let’s hope, can become the basis for informed, humane policy, in clear distinction to a farcical law against “propaganda.”</p><p><strong><em>Want to find out more? Our contributor&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny" target="_blank">Dmitry Okrest speaks to four men who’ve recently fled Chechnya’s brutal anti-LGBT campaign</a></em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kirill-guskov/i-spoke-to-four-russian-gay-men-on-discrimination-rights-and-vladimir-putin-">&quot;You have to start improving yourself to improve Russia&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">“Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ali-gubashev/chechens-alienated-amidst-gay-persecutions">Chechens alienated amidst gay persecutions</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus">Brokeback in Belarus </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Alexander Kondakov Queer Russia Russia Human rights Wed, 17 May 2017 01:15:41 +0000 Alexander Kondakov 110968 at https://www.opendemocracy.net In Russia, 26 March continues https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/in-russia-26-march-continues <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Two weeks after Russia’s anti-corruption protests, activists and participants are still being tried, arrested and intimidated across the country. <em><strong><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/mailing/2017/04/07/26-marta-prodolzhaetsya">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 11.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="261" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Andrei Osipov, who took part in 26 March protests in Cheboksary, is detained during an orchestral recital on 31 March. Source: Sergei Zakharov / Youtube. </span></span></span><strong>We continue our partnership with <a href=ovdinfo.org>OVD-Info</a>, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday, we’ll bring you the latest information on freedom of assembly.</strong></p><p> The <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">events of 26 March across Russia</a> are going to continue to be felt for a while. People are being <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/04/tverskoy-sud-prodolzhaet-vynosit-resheniya-po-zaderzhannym-na-mitinge-protiv">taken to court</a>, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/tverskoy-sud-prodolzhaet-shtrafovat-uchastnikov-akcii-26-marta">fined</a> and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/v-kazani-koordinatoru-otkrytoy-rossii-naznachili-30-chasov-obyazatelnyh">sent to carry out community service works</a> for their participation in unsanctioned demonstrations, and in cities like Blagoveshchensk, the police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/01/v-blagoveshchenske-organizator-antikorrupcionnogo-shestviya-poluchil-10">are still arresting the demonstration organisers</a>. Meanwhile, Russia’s Investigative Committee has <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/01/sledstvennyy-komitet-vozbudil-ugolovnoe-delo-za-prizyv-k-massovym">opened a new criminal case</a> into calls for mass unrest after announcements that another protest was to be held on Red Square on 2 April were made online (Russia’s General Prosecutor Office later <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/genprokuratura-potrebovala-zablokirovat-stranicy-s-prizyvami-k-akciyam-2">ordered these announcements to be blocked</a>.)</p><p dir="ltr">On the same day, there were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/04/02/zaderzhaniya-v-moskve-2-aprelya-2017-goda">further arrests</a> in Moscow in connection with five different events, and practically everybody who was arrested was questioned (and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/02/odnogo-iz-zaderzhannyh-v-ovd-tverskoy-derzhali-v-otdelnom-pomeshchenii-emu">threatened</a>) by investigators working on this new case. That said, all the investigators’ questions concerned 26 March. And on 6 April, the Investigative Committee had already <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/sledstvennyy-komitet-zayavil-o-zaderzhanii-podozrevaemogo-v-prizyvah-k">announced</a> that a suspect was in custody.</p><h2>Courts, arrests, intimidation</h2><p dir="ltr">The authorities have not limited their response to administrative prosecution of people involved in protests against corruption, whether they’ve been arrested or not. For example, in Chita, FSB officers <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/materi-organizatora-mitinga-protiv-korrupcii-v-chite-zvonili-iz-fsb">called the mother of the protest organisers</a> and asked her to “sort her son out”. In Rostov, local police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/k-nezaderzhannomu-uchastniku-mitinga-protiv-korrupcii-v-rostove-prishla">came to the home of a protest participant with a summons</a>. In Saratov, police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/03/v-saratove-policiya-prishla-v-institut-k-odnomu-iz-uchastnikov">visited a protest participant at their institute</a>, and in this same town, where there were no arrests on 26 March, the police have <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/04/saratovskoe-mvd-sobiraetsya-zavesti-dela-na-sotnyu-uchastnikov-akcii-protiv">promised to act against one hundred protesters</a>, and even <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/v-saratove-uchastniku-akcii-protiv-korrupcii-pozvonili-s-nomera-materi-i">summoned one activist to a police station</a> from his mother’s telephone.</p><p dir="ltr">In Chelyabinsk, police officers <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/02/v-chelyabinske-policeyckie-dezhuryat-vozle-doma-uchastnika-akcii-protiv">kept watch outside the home of one activist</a> to make sure he didn’t attend the action on 2 April. In Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, people have been called up by the police and questioned about corruption and Alexei Navalny (including people who <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/v-krasnoyarske-vtoromu-cheloveku-pozvonili-iz-policii-s-voprosami-o-navalnom">didn’t even attend the protest</a>). In Orsk, detectives <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/01/k-uchastniku-antikorrupcionnoy-akcii-v-orske-prihodili-sotrudniki-policii">visited one activist</a> at home. In Cheboksary, one protest participant was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/01/policiya-v-cheboksarah-zaderzhala-muzykanta-uchastnika-antidimona-na">detained during the middle of an orchestra rehearsal</a>. And here, protest participants have lost their jobs and places at university. In Russia’s Far East, school principals are being asked <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/v-primore-direktorov-shkol-prizyvayut-zapreshchat-uchenikam-uchastvovat-v">to ban pupils from attending opposition meetings</a>.</p> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/l4LgAz2-DLQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>Andrei Ospiov, who took part in anti-corruption protests on 26 March, is arrested during an orchestral rehearsal.</em> <p dir="ltr">Given this response, it’s a relief to report that some cases have been stopped. In Arkhangelsk, the police have <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/v-arhangelske-prekratili-delo-protiv-pensionerki-uchastvovavshey-v-akcii">stopped their case against activist Marina Venchikova</a>, who began to feel ill after being arrested — she was taken to hospital, and then <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/v-arhangelske-pozhiluyu-zhenshchinu-zabrali-iz-bolnicy-v-zal-suda">sent to court</a>. In Nizhny Tagil, the police have stopped their case against Andrei Batorin, who livestreamed the event via Periscope. And in Khabarovsk, protest participants have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/04/v-habarovske-sud-opravdal-uchastnikov-mitinga-protiv-korrupcii">vindicated</a> after it turned out that a notice informing the mayor’s office of the upcoming protest was, indeed, sent. &nbsp;</p><h2>Keep on’ trucking</h2><p dir="ltr">The truckers’ protest has annoyed the authorities no less than anti-corruption protests (perhaps even more). In Dagestan, interior ministry and national guard troops have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/v-dagestane-protestuyushchih-dalnoboyshchikov-zablokirovali-voyska-i">surrounding the truckers’ demonstration</a>. Across the country, truckers have been detained for holding <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/03/v-novosibirske-pyateryh-dalnoboyshchikov-zaderzhali-obviniv-v-narushenii">pickets</a>, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/neskolko-dalnoboyshchikov-zaderzhali-vozle-voronezha">as witnesses into criminal cases</a>, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/v-tatarstane-protestuyushchih-protiv-platona-dalnoboyshchikov-nachali">summoned to police stations</a>, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/01/v-dagestane-povrezhdeny-chetyre-fury-bastuyushchih-dalnoboyshchikov">fined for demonstrating</a>, and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/01/v-dagestane-povrezhdeny-chetyre-fury-bastuyushchih-dalnoboyshchikov">have had their trucks tampered with</a>. &nbsp;</p><h2>Not amused</h2><p dir="ltr">Other demonstrations have also left the authorities unimpressed. Police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/02/v-moskovskom-metro-molodogo-cheloveka-zaderzhali-za-razdachu-doklada-putin">detained</a> Albert Goncharov, a Belarusian citizen, on the Moscow metro for handing out brochures “Putin.War”, the report prepared by Boris Nemtsov into Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Participants in a protest demanding that Putin should be sent to an international tribuna outside the Dutch Embassy in Moscow were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/v-moskve-byli-zaderzhany-uchastniki-akcii-u-posolstva-niderlandov-v-moskve">arrested</a>l. In Kurgan, businessman Igor Putin (no relation) was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/v-kurgane-oshtrafovali-organizatora-mitinga-protiv-svalki">fined</a> for organising a meeting outside a district administration building against plans to place a landfill site nearby. And one Moscow activist, Pavel Kuznetsov, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/za-banner-putin-eto-voyna-vyneseny-shtrafy-v-15-i-150-tysyach-rubley">fined</a> 150,000 roubles (£2,100) for hanging out a banner saying “Putin is war”.</p><p dir="ltr">The day before the mysterious protest on Red Square (which in the end didn’t happen), Mark Galperin, one of the organisers of the opposition walks, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/01/v-podmoskove-zaderzhan-aktivist-mark-galperin">detained</a> and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/03/aktivista-marka-galperina-arestovali-na-15-sutok">placed under arrest for 15 days</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In Moscow, it seems that a “26 March case” is coming, and meanwhile, in Crimea, the&nbsp;“26 February case”&nbsp;continues</p><p dir="ltr">Ildar Dadin, a recently released political prisoner, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/ildaru-dadinu-otkazali-v-vydache-zagranpasporta-iz-za-zanyatiy-politikoy">refused an international passport</a> for his involvement in “unsanctioned politics”.</p><p dir="ltr">Politicians’ meetings with voters can also be declared “unsanctioned” now — at least, that’s what the Duma believes after <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/duma-podderzhala-priravnivanie-vstrech-deputatov-s-izbiratelyami-k-mitingam">passing the first reading of a new bill</a> that would make it compulsory to receive permission for such events. The next day, Alexander Andreev, a member of Moscow’s municipal assembly, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/municipalnogo-deputata-zaderzhali-na-vstreche-s-zhitelyami-po-povodu-zakona">detained</a> at a meeting about the demolition of apartment blocks. And in Voronezh, city authorities have used the Petersburg metro attack <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/v-voronezhe-ogranichili-provedenie-akciy-po-rasporyazheniyu">to introduce limits on holding any demonstrations in the city</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Ruslan Zeitullaev, a resident of Sevastopol who’s on trial for membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir for the second time, has <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/04/obvinyaemyy-po-delu-hizb-ut-tahrir-obyavil-golodovku">gone on hunger strike</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">In Moscow, it seems that a “26 March case” is coming, and meanwhile, in Crimea, the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/uncertain-future-of-crimean-tatars">“26 February case”</a> continues. Mustafa Degermendzhi and Ali Asanov, two of the men charged with mass unrest in February 2014, have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/obvinyaemym-po-delu-26-fevralya-izmenili-meru-presecheniya-na-domashniy">transferred under house arrest</a>.</p><h2>What we're watching and reading</h2><p dir="ltr">We analysed the work of the <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2017/04/04/moskovskaya-policiya-na-antidimone-rabota-na-otlichno">Moscow police on 26 March</a> and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2017/04/06/ovd-info-iznutri-26-marta-dalee-vezde">our own work</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">The events of 26 March were discussed in depth at two seminars held at the Memorial Human Rights Center. At one, arrestees were given <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/04/02/onlayn-translyaciya-seminara-kak-zashchishchat-sebya-v-sude">recommendations</a> on how to defend themselves in court, and at the other, lawyers discussed <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/04/05/seminar-svoboda-slova-i-svoboda-sobraniy-v-rossiyskih-sudah-i-v-espch-6-7-aprelya">their experiences</a> of handling cases on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Russian courts and the European Court of Human Rights.</p><p dir="ltr">Here’s some useful information for teenagers who have fallen under the authorities’ gaze after 26 March, and their parents, on what the <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/documents/2017/04/02/kak-snyatsya-s-profilakticheskogo-ucheta-pamyatka-dlya-podrostkov-i-ih">“prophylactic register” is and how to get off it</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">A tool called <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/03/sud-v-nizhnem-tagile-prekratil-delo-protiv-uchastnika-akcii-protiv-korrupcii">Legal Navigator</a> has now been released. This is a resource where you can find extracts from key legal decisions concerning freedom of assembly.</p><p dir="ltr">Novaya Gazeta has published a <a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/04/04/72023-zabastovki-protiv-sistemy-platon-na-yuge-rossii">photo-reportage from the truckers’ strike</a> in southern Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">Online resource Batenka has <a href="https://batenka.ru/protection/apology/">talked to Ramazan Dzhalaldinov</a>, the Chechen &nbsp;man whose house was burnt down, sent for compulsory public works after he criticised local authorities. He was also forced to apologise to Ramzan Kadyrov.</p><h2>Thank you</h2><p>Thanks to everyone who continues to support us. <strong>Find out how you can help <a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</strong></p><p><em>For more information on OVD-Info, read this article from the organisation's founder on how OVD is breaking the civil society mould <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/grigory-okhotin/crowdfunding-to-bypass-russia-s-civil-society-crackdown">here</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/"><img src="https://ovdinfo.org/sites/all/themes/ovdinfo/img/logo-ovdinfo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>OVD-Info is a crowdfunded organisation. Find out how you can help them&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/don-t-call-him-dima-russia-s-anti-corruption-protesters-face-repression">Don&#039;t call him Dima: Russia’s anti-corruption protesters face repression</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/russia-s-prison-service-is-keeping-its-abuses-under-lock-and-key">Russia’s prison service is keeping its abuses under lock and key</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenkok/st-petersburg-protests-solidarity">St Petersburg: in search of solidarity</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">Russia&#039;s latest protests are no child’s play</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia OVD-Info Russia NGOs Justice Human rights Fri, 07 Apr 2017 10:36:36 +0000 OVD-Info 109957 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Anti-LGBT violence in Chechnya: when filing “official complaints” isn’t an option https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/anti-lgbt-violence-in-chechnya-when-filing-official-complaints-isn-t-option <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Chechen authorities are conducting a vicious operation against men suspected of being gay. The Kremlin should not only condemn these actions, but the culture of impunity that accompanies them.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 08.59.26.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anti-LGBT demonstration, 1 April. Source: <a href=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qA_6WrpAPo>Youtube</a>.</span></span></span>For several weeks now, a brutal campaign against LGBT people has been sweeping through Chechnya. Law enforcement and security agency officials under control of the ruthless head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, have rounded up dozens of men on suspicion of being gay, torturing and humiliating the victims. Some of the men have forcibly disappeared. Others were returned to their families barely alive from beatings. At least three men apparently have died since this brutal campaign began.</p> <p>This chilling information was first publicised by Novaya Gazeta, a leading independent Russian paper. Their <a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/04/01/71983-ubiystvo-chesti">report</a> came out on 1 April, prompting the spokesperson for Chechnya’s Interior Ministry to <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/society/01/04/2017/58df94279a79477bb9a8a23e">dismiss</a> it as an “April fools’ joke.” Kadyrov’s press secretary immediately <a href="http://www.interfax.ru/russia/556385">described</a> the report as “absolute lies and disinformation,” contending that there were no gay people in Chechnya and then adding cynically, “If there were such people in Chechnya, law-enforcement agencies wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.” </p> <p>Chechnya’s official news agency, Grozny Info, quoted numerous local commentators <a href="http://www.grozny-inform.ru/news/society/83453/">bashing</a> Novaya Gazeta and other “enemies” of Chechnya and Russia for supposed attempts to discredit the Chechen people, “foster sodomy,” and undermine “traditional values.”</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">It is difficult to overstate just how vulnerable LGBT people are in Chechnya, where homophobia is intense and rampant</span></p> <p>The information published by Novaya Gazeta is consistent with the reports Human Rights Watch recently received from numerous trusted sources, including&nbsp; sources on the ground. The number of sources and the consistency of the stories leaves us with no doubt that these devastating developments have indeed occurred. LGBT Network in Russia opened a special hotline to provide <a href="https://lgbtnet.org/en/content/statement-russian-lgbt-networks-board-regarding-information-kidnappings-and-murders-lgbt">emergency support</a> to those who find themselves in immediate danger.</p> <p>In light of brutal repression in Chechnya, we cannot reveal our sources for fear of compromising their security. The fear of devastating reprisal is so intense that we cannot even provide detail on specific cases as the victims could suffer even more as a result of the exposure. </p> <p>On Monday, 3 April President Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, <a href="http://www.interfax.ru/russia/556565">stated</a> that the Kremlin was previously not aware of the situation, but that law enforcement authorities would look into these media reports. On the one hand, this seems like good news, a signal to investigative officials to run a check promptly. On the other hand, Peskov also suggested that people who supposedly suffered from abuses by law enforcement officials should “file official complaints” and “go to court” without indicating what, if anything, Russian authorities are planning to do to protect them. </p> <p>These days, very few people in Chechnya dare speak to human rights monitors or journalists even anonymously because the <a href="https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/08/30/walking-minefield/vicious-crackdown-critics-russias-chechen-republic">climate of fear</a> is overwhelming and people have been largely intimidated into silence. Filing an official complaint against local security officials is extremely dangerous, as retaliation by local authorities is practically inevitable.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Without solid security guarantees, victims and witnesses cannot possibly come forward, and there is no chance that an effective investigation could take place</p> <p>Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases in recent years <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/12/tyranny-versus-village-man-chechnya">showing</a> just what fate awaits people in Chechnya who do what Peskov has suggested. For this reason, with very few exceptions, victims of torture and other horrific abuses refrain from seeking justice or withdraw their complaints as a result of threats, including death threats and threats of retaliation against family members.</p> <p>It is difficult to overstate just how vulnerable LGBT people are in Chechnya, where homophobia is intense and rampant. LGBT people are in danger not only of persecution by the authorities but also of falling victim to “honour killings” by their own relatives for tarnishing family honor. </p> <p>So it is particularly disappointing that the Kremlin spokesman should tell the victims to use official channels to complain, without saying a word about any security guarantees. Without solid security guarantees, victims and witnesses cannot possibly come forward, and there is no chance that an effective investigation could take place.</p> <p>Surely Russian authorities can do better than that. At the highest level, they should resolutely condemn attacks against LGBT people in Chechnya and ensure safety and justice for the victims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/tyranny-versus-village-man-in-chechnya">Tyranny versus a village man in Chechnya</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/disappearing-journalists-of-north-caucasus">The disappearing journalists of the North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denis-sokolov/can-north-caucasus-adapt-to-political-change">Can the North Caucasus adapt to political change?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-selivanova/it-all-comes-down-to-fact-that-i-m-wearing-hijab">“It all comes down to the fact that I’m wearing the hijab”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tanya Lokshina Russia Human rights Tue, 04 Apr 2017 05:54:52 +0000 Tanya Lokshina 109874 at https://www.opendemocracy.net