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Russia targeting human rights activists, NGOs warn

Miodrag Soric Moscow
February 7, 2019

Human rights activists have warned of the oppressive lengths Russia is willing to go to silence its critics. They claim that when it comes to quashing dissent, the Kremlin gives security forces "carte blanche."

News conference of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Image: DW/M. Soric

During a press conference in the Russian capital on Thursday, leading human rights activists from the Moscow Helsinki Group condemned the treatment of Anastasia Shevchenko, the coordinator of nongovernmental organization Open Russia. Shevchenko is currently under house arrest in the western city of Rostov for allegedly being a member of an "unwelcome organization." Activists say the charges against her are fabricated.

'The state is acting inhumanly'

When Shevchenko's daughter was suddenly hospitalized for suspected bronchitis, she begged the authorities to let her see her child, but for a long time she was denied access. It was only when the girl's condition deteriorated and she was admitted to intensive care that Shevchenko was finally granted access to her daughter. Just hours later, her daughter, who had existing health problems, died of heart failure.

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Even after her daughter's death, Shevchenko remains under house arrest. She is not even allowed to leave the apartment if one of her other children needs to go to the doctor. "The state is acting inhumanly," said Zoya Svetova, who, along with other human rights activists, is demanding the immediate release of Shevchenko.

Protesting waste disposal

Activists are making the same demands for the case of the environmental activist Vyacheslav Yegorov, who is under house arrest in the city of Kolomna, outside Moscow. Yegorov belongs to a group of protesters pushing back against daily deliveries of garbage being trucked from Moscow to his city, where it is improperly disposed of.

Kolomna activists protest trash dumping (DW/M. Soric)
Residents of Kolomna have been protesting against trash from Moscow being dumped in their cityImage: DW/M. Soric

At the press conference in Moscow, activist Alla Frolova spoke out against Yegorov's arrest and criticized the conduct of Russia's FSB security agency. A few days earlier, the FSB conducted early morning searches at the homes of 15 families in Kolomna, "confiscating not only computers, hard drives, telephones and credit cards, but even children's computer games," she said.

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Both Yegorov and Shevchenko are being persecuted for political reasons, said Amnesty International's Natalia Zvyagina. The well-known human rights activist Lev Ponomarev, meanwhile, said that people in Kolomna and elsewhere are persecuted even though they have done nothing illegal. Last December, he also spent two weeks in prison.

'Carte blanche' from the Kremlin

Igor Yakovenko, a journalist and human rights activist, argued that the Russian state prosecutor's office was operating with double standards. On state-controlled Russian television, people who stir up hatred against neighboring Ukraine and who are thus in "violation of Russian laws" are regularly permitted have their say, he said. But in these instances, the authorities simply look the other way.

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Yakovenko believes a list should be made with the names of all those who serve the current "regime and commit human rights abuses." They should answer to an international court for their actions, he said.

"The security forces get a 'carte blanche' from the Kremlin," said Valery Borshchyov of the Moscow Helsinki Group. He believes that there will soon be a wave of further human rights violations in Russia.

"The state does not hesitate in going after people who are not guilty of anything," said Svetova.

Kolomna protesters arrested