Russia marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with repression against human rights defenders

While the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) were widely celebrated around the world, the norms set by both of these international acts have been violated in Russia.

On December 5, 2018 human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov was found guilty of repeated violation of the legal procedure for holding public events (Article 20.2 Section 8 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation). He was arrested for 25 days for reposting on Facebook an appeal to support the public campaign “For our and your children” against the fabrication of criminal cases and tortures perpetuated by law enforcement officers.

Although the initial ruling of Tverskoy district court of Moscow was revised and the Moscow city court ruled to reduce Ponomaryov’s arrest to 16 days, the repressive measures against him did not end there.

On December 17, 2018 the public association “For Human Rights”, which is headed by Lev Ponomaryov, was notified of an audit of its activities for the period of 2016-2019, which had not been previously scheduled. The list of requested documents alone reads several pages, while the deadline for submitting all materials was set very close, before January 14, 2018, which was less than three weeks. The human rights activist himself does not exclude that the audit of his public association was triggered by the discussion of issue of the legality of his arrest, which had been raised during the session of the Russian presidential Council for Human Rights, as well as the torture by FSB officers of the accused in the cases of “New Greatness” and “Network”. He also fears a rather predictable negative result of the audit, which could lead to an obstruction or termination of the association’s activities.

Throughout 2018 Lev Ponomaryov was actively involved in support of the victims and the families of the infamous “Network” and “New Greatness” cases. Civic activists and human rights defenders claim that the accused had been tortured (as in the case of the “Network” case) or that the case had been fabricated altogether based provocations by law enforcement officers (the “New Greatness” case).

Persons, who are being prosecuted as part of the “Network” case, have issued appeals in support of Lev Ponomaryov, in which they thanked him for upholding their rights and indicated the fact that the investigators and law enforcement officers had been dissatisfied with his active involvement in legal proceedings and the support campaign.

Repression against human rights defenders have long become an everyday Russian practice, and torture of the accused has become the established way of work of the law enforcement authorities.

Among the goals set for the year 2018 by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders there were those of involving citizens in protection of human rights defenders and recognition of their right to protection, improving people’s knowledge about the Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and understanding of the positive role of human rights defenders in society. In October 2018, the Special Rapporteur spoke about negative practices, which restricted human rights activities and which were being copied throughout Russia and other countries of the region. In early December 2018 discussions on the work of human rights defenders took place, which were dedicated to both anniversaries of the Declarations and the launch of a global coalition for the recognition and protection of human rights defenders.

Unfortunately, these international events haven’t so far lead to a change of the situation in Russia, and the protection of human rights there remains an “undesirable” and punishable activity.

Photo from the blog of Lev Ponomaryov Echo of Moscow