Saturday, June 10, 2017

Moscow Helsinki Group Warns of Increasing Repression and Danger of Violence

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 10 – The Moscow Helsinki Group, the senior human rights group in Russia, warns that the Russian government is increasingly oppressing the population, refusing to enter into dialogue with protesters, and thus opening the way to violence, an outcome, the group says, rights activists must do everything they can to prevent. 

            The group led by Lyudmila Alekseyeva makes a number of arguments and supports each of them with references to recent developments in Russian life under Vladimir Putin, in a public declaration entitled “Preventing the Development of Force in the Country is the Task of the Human Rights Movement” (

            First of all, the declaration points to “the extraordinary application of force measures and direct pressure by the police and law enforcement organs” against those taking part in demonstrations and also against organizations promoting values at odds with the authoritarian designs of the regime.

            Second, it says, the Russian powers that be have shown themselves indifferent to prosecuting attacks on civic and political activists. “In many cases,” the declaration continues, those responsible have been identified but the government does little or nothing to bring them to justice.

            “The danger of this tendency is obvious,” the declaration says. Failure to punish the authors of these attacks only encourages more such illegal actions, something that “is leading to the radicalization of society and, as a result, to the destabilization and threat to the security of the state.”

            Third, the Moscow Helsinki Group says, the Russian authorities have increasingly used trumped up charges against those who take part in protests, charges that the courts take at face value and then impose administrative arrests or “large fines.”  The number of victims of such practices is in the thousands.

            Because of such incarceration, the declaration continues, rights groups have been forced to develop an infrastructure to support all those who have been detained, to train lawyers to provide assistance to such people, and to provide instruction for civic activists on how to conduct themselves in court.  “All this effort must be intensified.”

            Fourth, the group continues, there has been an increase in censorship of the Internet and of charges brought against those who use it.  Often the charges are “absurd and stupid” but the courts routinely accept the charges as true and impose the sentences the government demands. There needs to be a concerted public effort to expose and oppose such practices.

            Fifth, there is now “a lack of dialogue between those who protest and the powers that be” exclusively because the latter do not want one.  At present, this has led to tensions over the Plato fee system that has led to a strike by long-haul truckers, the plan to demolish the khrushchoby in Moscow, and the Tractor March of the Stavropol farmers.

            “The protest of the long-haul truckers has lasted already more than a year. Instead of talks with representatives of those protesting, there have been fake meetings with strike-breakers.” Tensions involving the farmers movement have also grown, but the government has refused to meet its representatives half way.

            There is now the danger, the Moscow Helsinki Group says, that someone may use these standoffs to provoke violence for his own “political goals.” As for the khrushchoby dispute, the Moscow city government has offered some minimal concessions but the entire law needs to be withdrawn.

            And sixth, the declaration says, the situation in Russian prisons and camps is deteriorating, especially since the authorities are increasingly blocking any access to prisoners by rights activists.   Attempts by various groups, including government ones, to change this have gotten nowhere.

             This list, and the declaration specifies that it is far from a complete one, shows that “Russia is now experiencing a broad systemic political crisis in the domestic life of the country.” And this means that rights activists must seek to open dialogue with the powers. Otherwise, the future is likely to feature “political destabilization and chaos.”

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