Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“Russia is still a dangerous place to defend human rights and even to do business, and David Cameron should make it very clear that without reforms to the way the police and courts work in the country Anglo-Russian relations are unlikely to thaw quickly.”
Amnesty International has grave concerns about human rights abuses in Russia. Human rights defenders are regularly targeted and harassed; impunity for abuses committed by law enforcement agencies is widespread; and freedom of expression and assembly is routinely curtailed.
Amnesty strongly urges the UK government to prioritise human rights during any dialogue with the Russian authorities. The government should utilise both multilateral and bilateral relationships to press for full respect for human rights, including within the context of criminal justice reform, where the opportunities for engagement are particularly apparent. Amnesty has identified three key issues to be raised during discussions, detailed with examples below.
Human rights defenders:
Many individuals who work to defend human rights in Russia are repeatedly harassed, attacked and - at worst - killed. For example:
• Natalia Estemirova, who had exposed numerous human rights violations in Chechnya whilst working for human rights organisation Memorial, was abducted by armed men from outside her home in the Chechen capital Grozny on 15 July 2009. Her body was found later the same day in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia with gun shot wounds. More than two years later no-one has been brought to justice and there are strong suspicions that the Russian authorities are shielding members of the Chechen police from investigation.
• Supian Baskhanov, head of the Interregional Committee Against Torture’s office in Grozny, has been detained and threatened a number of times. The organisation has been the target of harassment and a series of threats, most recently in July, apparently because of its work upholding the rights of victims of torture.
Rule of law:
Russia’s law enforcement agencies (including the police, the Federal Security Service and the Federal Service for the Implementation of Punishment) enjoy almost complete impunity, despite countless examples of human rights violations allegedly committed by their hands.
Torture and ill-treatment of people in custody occurs across Russia, as does the inadequate provision of healthcare in pre-trial detention centres and prisons.
Torture, extra-judicial executions and enforced disappearances undertaken by members of law enforcement agencies are widely reported in the North Caucasus. Though examples of the authorities being held to account do exist and police reform has been announced, progress is painfully slow. Cases of concern include:
• The November 2009 death in custody of the lawyer Sergei Magnitskii. Though the Prosecutor General's Office has concluded that inadequate medical treatment caused the death, no-one has been prosecuted for this.
• Despite repeated requests Zubair Isaevich Zubairaev, who is imprisoned in Eastern Siberia, has not received an adequate medical assessment of his multiple health problems nor the treatment these require. These include chronic pain and possible traumatic head and spinal injury reportedly sustained during torture and ill-treatment he received whilst in detention.
• Last December prominent businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted for a second time for money-laundering. However the trial proceeded with numerous violations of fair trial standards and appears to have been politically motivated. Amnesty considers him to be a prisoner of conscience.
Freedom of expression and assembly:
Dissenting views are often not tolerated in Russia, particularly in cases where governmental authorities or influential individuals have been criticised.
Instances of arbitrary restrictions on freedom of assembly and harsh sentencing for demonstrators are frequent and widespread; and protest organisers frequently suffer harassment and intimidation by law enforcement agencies. For example:
• For over two years, “Article 31” demonstrators have sought to gather in Triumfalnaya Square, central Moscow, to highlight Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which protects the right to freedom of assembly. Demonstrations were denied for over a year until October 2010, when the rally went ahead peacefully. However in December 2010 the demonstration ended with dozens of people being detained and three people given short prison sentences. A number of rallies have since taken place; though not sanctioned by police they have been peaceful; however arrests have still been made.
• The Russian authorities have frequently denied permission to LGBT activists to hold peaceful “Pride” events in Russian cities, despite a 2010 European Court of Human Rights ruling that Russia was in violation of Article 11 of the European Convention for denying Nikolai Alekseyev the right to hold a Moscow Pride for three consecutive years.
• Environmental activists have been targeted, particularly those associated with the protection of the Khimki forest, outside Moscow. In November 2010 Konstantin Fetisov was attacked by unknown assailants. The following day journalist Oleg Kashin, who had written about the protests, was also attacked by assailants who have never been identified. Both received very serious injuries and were hospitalised.