Latest Update: 31 March 2013
In the first few months of 2013 respect for human rights continued to deteriorate in Russia. Pressure on civil society has been one manifestation of this. In March the Russian authorities conducted inspections on a number of NGOs across the country. This followed on from a series of restrictive laws passed in 2012, notably the NGO “foreign agents” law. In a statement the Minister for Europe David Lidington urged the Russian authorities not to place advocacy groups under special scrutiny.
The Russian Investigative Committee announced in March that it had closed its investigation into the death in pre-trial detention of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky “due to lack of evidence of a crime”. This decision is particularly disappointing and difficult to understand, given that the Presidential Committee on Human Rights concluded in 2011 that Magnitsky’s death was likely the result of being denied medical treatment and being severely beaten. The Foreign Secretary raised our concerns around the Russian authorities’ handling of Magnitsky’s death with Foreign Minister Lavrov in London on 13 March, as did Mr Lidington during his meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Titov in Moscow in February. We are working with likeminded partners in the Council of Europe to make clear the need for Russia to meet its obligations as a member of a rules-based international system.
In addition to closing the investigation, Russian prosecutors re-filed tax evasion charges against Magnitsky. A court began proceedings on 22 March after rejecting the state-appointed defence lawyer’s request to postpone the hearing until Russia’s Constitutional Court rules on the legitimacy of trying a dead person without the consent of his relatives. Posthumous trials are rare and usually take place only to exonerate a wrongfully convicted person or to provide justice for family members of victims, so the decision to try Magnitsky against the wishes of his mother and widow is a worrying development.
In February the Russian State Duma passed a bill in the first reading which would establish penalties for “propaganda of homosexuality among minors” at the federal level. The next reading in the Duma is due in May. We have made clear to Russia that we believe that all individuals should enjoy the right to freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly. We are following this matter closely, and will take further opportunities to urge Russia to guarantee the right of non-discrimination.
Opposition figures continue to face pressure from the authorities. In February opposition activist Sergei Udaltsov was placed under house arrest until 6 April. The Russian Investigative Committee accused opposition politician Alexei Navalny of fraudulently obtaining his credentials as a lawyer. Navalny was also charged of fraud in relation to the privatisation of a state-owned timber company, and is due to face trial in April. Meanwhile, in relation to the “Bolotnaya case”, a number of activists remain in long-term detention on charges of participation in mass unrest or alleged violence against law enforcement agents, following a political protest on the eve of the Presidential inauguration last May (which concluded in Bolotnaya Square). Most have not yet faced trial. Many domestic commentators have raised questions of political motivation behind these cases.