Co-Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group – on the results of 2019 in the field of human rights
Summing up the results of 2019, the Memorial Human Rights Center published fresh, but “deliberately incomplete” lists of Russian political prisoners. There are 314 names on the lists, of which 250 people were imprisoned “for exercising the right to freedom of religion or religious affiliation”, and 64 were convicted for political reasons.
Two months ago, there were 305 political prisoners. “The real number of political prisoners and other persons imprisoned for political reasons in today’s Russia is undoubtedly much higher …”.
The co-chairman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, founder of the Sakharov Center, shared his impressions of 2019 with the Russian service of the Voice of America Vyacheslav Bakhmin.
Victor Vladimirov: How do you remember 2019 in relation to the human rights sphere in the country, what is the trend here?
Vyacheslav Bakhmin: The entire second half of 2019 has well confirmed the old trend, in which the current government has long been following. This is a trend towards bans, repression, suppression of independent human rights organizations. Some of the NGOs have already closed, such as Lev Ponomarev’s For Human Rights movement. Others, including Memorial and the Public Verdict Foundation, are subject to hefty fines in the hope that they will not stand it and will be forced to cease their work. On the other hand, this tendency is due to the fact that people have ceased to meekly tolerate the arbitrariness of the authorities, which consistently deprive citizens of their fundamental rights and freedoms. It is already clear that the Russians are greatly annoyed by the strengthening of this practice. An active part of the population protests against the actions of the authorities, which are not only anti-human rights, but also anti-people. Environmental organizations, individual fighters for the environment, in particular, fall under the skating rink of repression. We know what is happening in the context of the garbage problem – in Shies, the Moscow region, and so on. The confrontation is growing, but the forces are not yet equal. Society has not yet been united and mobilized, but the authorities have a resource, and they are ready to use it..
V.V.: Last year, an avalanche of fines fell on the leading Russian human rights organizations, as well as on a number of activists and oppositionists. Will NGOs be able to survive in such a situation??
V.B.: It seems to me that those organizations that, in any case, will continue to work in any status, even having lost their legal personality, are subjected to especially strong pressure. Quite a lot of activists and volunteers have already gathered around them, who will not give up their activities. Yes, their work will be much more difficult, but, nevertheless, I think it will not stop. The fines are, of course, terrible for the nonprofit sector. 3.9 million rubles (the total amount of fines issued in 2019 to Memorial – V.V.) is a lot of money. In principle, NPOs do not have such funds. Because they receive targeted money for specific projects, they cannot be spent on paying fines. So there seems to be no choice but to raise money through crowdfunding..
V.V.: Donations from businessmen cannot be counted on?
V.B.: This is not an easy question. It is clear that for any businessman, not to mention those on the Forbes list, such amounts are a trifle. They can easily part with them without much harm to themselves and at the same time save one or several NPOs at once. Another thing is that so far Russian businessmen are not eager to do so. Most of them, probably, in principle, are not capable of such a step. But, perhaps, at least some of them to some extent will awaken sympathy, conscience, solidarity, and they will come to the rescue. There are such businessmen, I believe..
V.V.: But for them there is a risk of falling into disgrace themselves, helping human rights defenders, isn’t it?
V.B.: Yes, this is just one of the reasons why business tries not to advertise actions of this kind. But in crowdfunding, when you collect money for an account, donations can be anonymous if they are not very large. Therefore, it is possible, for example, to make a dozen or hundreds of small contributions so that they are not striking. In a word, there is always a way out. Another question is that there is more a question of civic maturity and understanding of the role of the human rights movement in a country where people in trouble often simply have no one else to turn to for qualified help..
V.V.: Do you have any hopes for the ECHR?
V.B.: The machine in Strasbourg, unfortunately, is very slow. NPOs in Russia will first be crushed, and then the ECHR will make its decisions and, probably, will appoint some compensation. I am afraid that it will be too late for some organizations … For so many years we have not been able to get any decisions on the law on non-profit organizations-foreign agents. Since 2012, the ECHR has not been able to give birth to anything on this matter. Therefore, alas, there is no great hope for the Strasbourg court.
V.V.: How do you assess the changes that have occurred in the Human Rights Council under the President of Russia, the discussions in United Russia on the creation of a certain human rights body under the party?
V.B.: This trend, which has been outlined for a long time, is aimed at replacing human rights organizations that are actually working and defending generally useful goals and values with others, which formally have the same goals and objectives, but in essence they are fake. Thus, according to the authorities, a kind of pluralism is achieved. There are human rights organizations that support the government, and there are those that criticize the government. Another thing is that all NGOs that are on the side of the government are most often created with the help of this government. By the way, a similar trend is observed in almost any area of public activity..
V.V.: What are your expectations from the new year?
V.B.: I think that the dominant trend today will continue. To what extent it will go is difficult to predict. I believe that the protests will also continue with varying degrees of intensity. Because the general irritation is superimposed on the difficult economic situation, and the situation becomes hopeless. Frustration among people and representatives of the non-profit sector, obviously, can lead to the fact that excesses associated with protest activity will become more frequent. But the weakening of pressure from the authorities, especially the abolition of odious laws are unlikely. All previous experience points to this. The authorities do not want to give up their positions. And she has no other tools except repression and tougher punishment. Apparently, they do not understand how else one can interact with society..