What is it like, to live in Russia today? There are three possible ways of living in Russia.
First is - being a part of the System: it means, that you have an access to state resources and may use them in any way you like. The only thing you need to do to keep your sinecure is doing whatever your Master (Mr. Putin) says. And don’t get caught on stealing. This kind of living in Russia is accessible to a very limited circle of persons. They all send their children to live and to study abroad as they understand very clearly, that soon, all because of their “work”, there will be nothing valuable left in Russia.
The second way had been chosen by the major part of the Russians. And this is the way of total obedience. Those, who had chosen this way, live hard, but very quiet lives. They blindly obey absurd laws that contradict to the International Human Rights Convention and even to Russia’s own Constitution. They pray for the ghostly “stability” once promised them by Putin, they believe every word they hear from the government-controlled media and hate those, who had chosen the third way.
And those, who had chosen the third way, live in the constant fight for Freedom. They see the situation perfectly well. They have no illusions about Putin and his clan. They often even have no hope left. But they keep fighting because this is the only possible way of life for them. They risk their lives and lives of their relatives every day. They stand against Putin’s regime to death. They won’t give up. They won’t abandon their country. They know, that neither European Union, nor USA will support their liberation movement. They have nothing to rely on. But this Tuesday, May'12, the whole wide world will see them sacrifice themselves for Freedom they deserve.
Today the president of Russia Vladimir Putin has signed up the new law about meetings. It has already been published in the Russian press and by that it came into effect. It literally means, that since today, every group of Russian citizens of more than 3 persons can be equated to lawbreakers. The world community keeps diplomatic silence about that. But I won’t. And you, my reader, can also affect the result of fighting for Freedom in Russia. Wherever you are, no matter how many of you, even if you are alone, - come to the Russian embassy in you town and support those brave Russians that fight for their rights with no hope to win, but because they see no other way of life for themselves.
Strategy 31 will hold a meeting outside the Russian Embassy in London, in memory of all those murdered by the Putin regime
On Friday, August 31 between 6 and 7 pm Strategy 31 will hold a meeting outside the Russian Embassy in London, in memory of all those murdered by the Putin regime. This will be a non-party event, organized by a group of concerned citizens in solidarity with Russian political prisoners (politzeki).
In defence of Putin’s regime we often hear a somewhat paradoxical phrase: “Putin may be a thief but he is not a murderer at least”.
There is some truth in that. The system Putin built during his first presidential term did not turn out to be as bloody as had been expected. This system of policed liberalism was first created by Yeltsin during the shooting up of the Parliament and finalized during the two Chechnyan wars and it carries within itself the probability of political force though until now it avoided mass repression. It can be described as a system of precision repression and joint responsibility.
During Putin’s first and Medvedev’s single presidential terms political trials became the norm as did the torture of political prisoners in police stations and sentences issued in accordance with phone calls from above. If any oppositioner was killed during interrogation in “Centre E” (Centre for the Fight Against Extremism) or died in prison, those responsible were invariably protected. Let us list the deaths in prison: Chervochkin, Stradymov, Shaygalimov, Magnitsky and Aleksanyan. Protection of those guilty of murder and the suppression of truth were always part of the plans for the elimination of Putin’s opponents. The only crime for which there was any punishment meted out at all was the murder of Yevloyev. The officer in charge of security for the head of the MVD in Ingushetiya was found guilty of careless gun handling and given two years.
Putin’s third term began with a sharp increase in repression. Every single prisoner is at risk as, should he die in prison, his murderers will never be held responsible under this regime.
That is why we shall be demonstrating on August 31, 2012 outside the Russian Embassy in London. We want to remind everyone of what happens when Putin’s minions cross a certain line in behaviour. We shall remind everyone of the fate of the hostages of Beslan and “Nord-Ost”, sacrificed to brutal image-making; of the murder of National Bolsheviks in Centre E, which has introduced into central Russia methods employed against the Caucasian underground; of Magnitsky, murdered by corrupt officials and of Aleksanyan who became the victim of his own refusal to give evidence that was demanded from him; of Politkovskaya and Estemirova who were riddled with bullets and Litvinenko who was poisoned; of all those victims whose names add up to a list that is far longer than it ought to be which proves beyond any doubt that at the very least Putin protects murderers and covers up for them.
By Raymond Krumgold, former political prisoner, political refugee, United Kingdom
The Pussy Riot trial exposes a Russian court system in crisis
Maria Alekhina, left, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, right, members of feminist punk group Pussy Riot, in a Moscow court. Photograph: Mikhail Metzel/AP
Russia’s judges may be Putin’s puppets but the Pussy Riot and Alexei Navalny cases could play into the opposition’s long game.
The crisis of Russia’s criminal justice system, as exemplified by the circus-like trial of punk rockers Pussy Riot as well as the charges that are being brought against the top opposition figure Alexei Navalny, is not just bad for the people caught in the system’s jaws – it’s also bad for the country as a whole.
We imagine that such high-profile cases must be decided at the highest levels, by President Vladimir Putin; but first and foremost the system is failing at the local level. The Russian courts today represent a Soviet anachronism – and are mistrusted by most people, not just oppositionists.
An acquaintance of mine, let’s call her Irina, voted for Putin – “because he is much better than the only other viable candidate, [the Communist leader Gennady] Zyuganov” – in the last presidential election. She also saw her boyfriend taken to court on trumped-up assault charges this spring. Four witnesses were ready to testify that the police had got the wrong man. The judge would not let them do so – which is something that happens often. “Anyone in Russia can be jailed – anyone at all,” Irina told me recently.
Russia’s criminal courts vehemently resist transparency. In a high-profile case, the judges often wait for oblique “signals” from the top – and interpret them as they see fit. Investigators are usually granted free rein to hold the accused in pre-trial detention no matter what their circumstances are – which was the case with the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who perished while awaiting trial in 2009. Within this system, you are treated as guilty before any verdict has been reached.
In the case of Pussy Riot, who have been charged with hooliganism after performing an anti-Putin song in the country’s main cathedral, the judge has not granted any of the defence’s motions so far, while the prosecution is being waited on hand and foot. If the prosecutor asked the court to burn Pussy Riot at the stake, I can just picture the courtroom staff running around, gathering twigs and lighter fluid.
Russia is a secular state, but as lawyers for the three Pussy Riot members on trial have pointed out, the accusations against their clients read like a manifesto cobbled together from medieval tracts on piety, as opposed to a legal document. Pussy Riot’s song-and-dance number shocked many people, myself included – yet it seems that their performance has exposed a genuine truth about the dismal failings of the criminal justice system.
No less disturbing is the criminal case against Navalny, an anti-corruption crusader who has waged a high-profile battle against the ruling United Russia party. Charged with deliberately defrauding a state company in the Kirov region in 2010, Navalny has taken a number of pot shots at Alexander Bastrykin, the investigative committee chief, who had angrily demanded that the case against Navalny be reopened after initial investigations found no evidence against him.
Even those opposed to Navalny’s activities see the Kirov case as a personal vendetta – and believe that such cases are the price the opposition pays for being, well, the opposition. In a country such as Russia, where some people criticise their leaders for not being authoritarian enough, judicial vendettas are still tolerated by many – but if a genuine economic crisis hits Russia and the opposition’s ranks grow further, we may be in for a wild ride.
Considering Russia’s turbulent past, it pays to play a “long game” – to think about consequences down the road. The court has already made martyrs out of Pussy Riot. And a jailed Navalny would be on the fast track to becoming a sort of Nelson Mandela. It seems that at the top there are differences of opinion as to how this period in Russia’s history should be handled. But discussions on Mount Olympus are moot if the system that is meant to protect the rights and interests of citizens is outdated and broken.
Russia’s criminal justice system needs drastic reforms and it needs them right now.
Vladimir Putin’s regime has run out of ideas, but not of nasty tactics
Every country has laws that constrain political freedom. Anti-capitalist protesters get moved on in London and New York. The Canadian province of Quebec, beset by student unrest, has passed a law that imposes daily fines of up to $35,000 on the organizers. Lawmakers try to stop online piracy and jihadist propaganda. Defamation, at least in theory, is a criminal offence in many democracies. American law says the activity of foreign agents must be registered and disclosed.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is taking what looks, superficially, a similar approach. Four new laws are passed or pending. One introduces big fines for participants and organisers of illegal protests. Another creates a black-list – as yet unpublished – of “harmful” websites. A third recriminalizes defamation. A fourth makes non-profit groups declare any funding from abroad and, if they accept it, label themselves as “foreign agents”. That chimes with Mr Putin’s anti-Western rhetoric, portraying Russia as a besieged fortress, and his opponents as the puppets of its foreign enemies.
Even if Russia had the rule of law and a vigorous free press, these laws would be cause for concern – because they are loosely worded and have been rushes through with much official venom. What makes them worse is the way Russia’s state agencies and public institutions work. They chiefly serve their own interests, acting with impunity and taking political orders from the top/ That stokes corruption. It also explains the feebleness of the investigations into many abuses that have marked Mr Putin’s time in power, such as the death in prison of Sergei Magnitsky, a whistle-blower lawyer. Russians have every reason to fear that the new laws will be interpreted selectively and vindictively.
The fist is a sign of weakness
Mr Putin is trying simultaneously to deter his opponents and to show his hardline supporters that he still has the will to crack down and get the Duma to do his bidding. But he is also signaling weakness. In the past, buoyes by huge popularity and surging oil and gas revenues, he could afford to ignore the opposition’s sparsely attended demonstrations. He could discount pinpricks of media criticism: favourable coverage on national television easily outweighed it. Now the regime’s business model, based on gathering and sharing the spoils of power (chiefly natural-resource rents), is under strain. For the urban middle classes, official lawlessness is a big irritant. The media’s fawning coverage of Mr Putin grates. So do signs of their ruler’s arrogance, such as endemic vote-rigging, and the casual job-swap between Mr Putin and his predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev.
The Russian authorities’ inability to respond to the new mood is debilitating. Many inside the regime know it needs to change, but many also fear the implications: a free press or independent prosecuters would ask dangerous questions about the corruption and violence of the past 12 years.
As a result, Russia is heading fast in the wrong direction: one that takes it closer to the Soviet past, and away from the European mainstream where it belongs. This is unlikely to work for very long. Harsh measures, such as jailing opposition leaders, risk sparking more protests. A full-scale crackdown, for example using violence to disperse large numbers of demonstrators, is still a long way off. Indeed it may by beyond the powers of Russia’s corrupt, incompetent and demoralized police and interior-ministry forces. But even partial repression at home (perhaps matched by aggression or mischief-making abroad) would be nasty while it lasted. Outsiders are righr to worry – but the biggest victims are inside the country. Russians want dignity, justice and truth; Mr Putin’s ill-considered laws and bullying words are a poor substitute.
Russia's Human Rights Ombudsman: There Were No Riots on Bolotnaya Square
Russian riot policeman detains 18-year-old Alexandra Dukhanina during the ‘March of Millions’ in Moscow against Vladimir Putin on the eve of his return to the presidency, Sunday 6 May 2012
Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin has said that the events on Bolotnaya Square should not be considered riots. In the ‘Commissioner’s Comments’ section of the ombudsman’s official website, he expressed his bewilderment at the Investigative Committee’s claims surrounding the case, and compared the actions of the Russian authorities to those in Belarus, Grani.ru reports.
Lukin stressed that “no evidence has been established of violence towards civilians, pogroms, arson, the destruction of property, the use of firearms or explosive devices or armed resistance to government representatives, which are the factors that according to Article 212 of the Criminal Code constitute a crime”. “Whatever our opinion may be of the events that took place on 6th May 2012 in Bolotnaya Square, my duty is to bear witness - they were not riots. Simply because if none of the exhaustive list of factors that legally constitute riots takes place, they are not riots”, he said in his statement.
The ombudsman noted that a year and a half ago similar accusations were levelled against those taking part in events in Belarus. He remarked that the inquiry then did not prove that those accused had actually taken part in unlawful actions. The approach of the Belarusian justice system, in his words, “clearly contravened the principle of fault-based liability and represented nothing less than a throwback to the practice of objective imputation. To put it simply, innocent people were subjected to criminal sanctions”.
In his statement, Lukin draws parallels between the actions of the Belarusian authorities and the accusations of rioting levelled against the members of the Russian opposition. “In the aftermath of the events in Belarus, it seemed that the methods described above would be a good lesson to everyone on how not to apply the law. This makes it all the more deplorable that something similar is now happening in Russia, during the investigation into the actions of the participants and organisers of the protest in Bolotnaya Square”.
“In light of these observations I would also like to know which statutory provisions the official representative of the Investigative Committee of Russia was following when he publically suggested that everyone who recognised themselves in the images from Bolotnaya Square should turn themselves in”, the ombudsman concluded. “As far as I know, Russian criminal law requires the investigation of the guilt of a specific person for a specific action in a specific situation. Anything else is clearly beyond the scope of the law”.
In total, 11 people have been arrested in connection with the case. Student Aleksandra Dukhanina was placed under house arrest. Aleksandr Kamensky, a supporter of the unregistered The Other Russia party, and the opposition activist Maria Baronova, signed a pledge to the investigation they would not leave Moscow.
As part of the investigation into the events at Bolotnaya Square, Maksim Luzyanin, Andrei Barabanov, Stepan Zimin, Denis Lutskevich, Aleksandra Dukhanina, Yaroslav Belousov, Artem Savelov and Mikhail Kosenko have been charged with participating in mass disturbances and using violence against a government representative. Oleg Arkhipenkov, Rikhard Sobolev, Vladimir Akimenkov and Fedor Bakov are only accused of participating in mass disturbances, whilst Maria Baronova has been charged with inciting mass disturbances.