Russian President Vladimir Putin talks with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach at a welcoming event ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics (Photo Credit: David Goldman-Pool/Getty Images).
By Ludmila Krytynskaia, Amnesty USA Russia Country Specialist
President Vladimir Putin lifted a blanket ban on protests and rallies in Sochi shortly before the Olympic Games were launched, thereby fulfilling his promise to the International Olympic Committee to relax the rules governing protests in the city.
The easing of the protest ban coupled with the release of dozens of high-profile prisoners last month – including former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot – has led to speculation in the Western media about whether these decisions were a sign of a political thaw in Russia, a result of diplomatic behind-the-scenes maneuverings or just a public relations stunt to stave off criticism of the human rights situation in the country on the eve of the Olympics.
A file picture taken on July 20, 2012 shows members of the all-girl punk band “Pussy Riot” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (C), Maria Alyokhina (R) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (L), sitting behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow. (Photo credit: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/GettyImages)
Nearly a year after punk rock protest group Pussy Riot’s performance at Christ the Savior Cathedral, a Russian prison court has ruled not to release jailed Pussy Riot member. The punk rocker’s attorneys had petitioned the Russian court to defer her sentence until her young son turned fourteen as she is a single parent.
Unfortunately, Maria will spend the remainder of her two year sentence far away from her five year old.
The ruling is yet another example of injustice compounded in the Pussy Riot case. From the initial unjustified arrests, to the questionable trial, to an outrageous verdict, each step in the case has been an affront to human rights and freedom of expression.
Human rights activist Natalia Estemirova was murdered Wednesday in the North Caucasus region in Russia. According to BBC News, she was allegedly bundled into a van and abducted as she was leaving her home in Chechnya on Wednesday morning. Her body was found shortly after in Ingushetia. She had been investigating human rights abuses in Russia for some time, working for a human rights organization called Memorial. She focused her efforts particularly on the Chechnya region, where she worked to battle impunity and to gather evidence on an alleged campaign of house-burnings by government-backed militias.
Her murder has occurred just two years after the murder of Russian journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya in 2007. (See a video of Estemirova remembering Politkovskaya here). Human rights activists in Russia continue to be in danger.
Amnesty grieves the loss of this courageous woman and prominent human rights defender. Many are left shocked and saddened by the incident. It brings to light Amnesty’s growing concern about human rights abuses in Russia. Learn more about Amnesty’s concerns regarding human rights in Russia, and take action.
“Now I don’t have a house. The weather is nice and I can sleep in the garden, but I don’t know what to do when the rain comes. Nobody is helping me.” A former teacher, Kazbek Djiloev, shared his hardship with us a few months ago as he stood before the ruins of his home in Tskhinvali. His house was one of many that were shelled during the recent Georgia-Russia conflict.
We captured this man’s story as an example of how such a military clash impacts civilians. He echoes the voices of thousands more civilian victims, many of whom are unable to return to their previous lives. Stories like Kazbek’s provide a human face to the evidence, including satellite imagery, which demonstrates the effect of the conflict on civilians.
Three months after the fighting broke out, 20,000 Georgians are still unable to return home because their homes were destroyed by rockets, looting and torching. Don’t forget them and their stories when you go home for the holidays this year.
Journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s 2006 murder is an unwavering symbol of Russia’s suppression of press freedom and human rights defenders. Her scathing reports on human rights abuses in Chechnya shamed government officials and others, and she was killed for it.
More than a dozen journalists have been killed since 2000, and many more assaulted or threatened. Just last week, the AP reports, newspaper editor Mikhail Beketov was beaten into a coma. He had been repeatedly threatened for his reports on illegal timber harvesting in Moscow region forests. No suspects have been detained.
The Russian government wants to forget Anna…and Mikhail…and continue to sweep the facts under the rug. Well, if the Russian court system won’t do Anna’s memory justice, I will do my part. I found this in a New York Times review of her diary, published after her death that seemed worth sharing:
“Politkovskaya’s first job in journalism, envious colleagues snickered, was in the Otdel pisem — the letters department. True or not, she reveled in her reputation. Politkovskaya practiced advocacy journalism. For more than 20 years her beat remained the same. Her subjects were the forsaken — frostbitten Russian conscripts, Chechen refugees, orphans, prisoners, drug addicts, the ill, the infirm. In short, in the age of Putin, the nation at large. Her writing made her more than a reporter; when she died, she was a crisis mediator and Russia’s most prominent human rights advocate. Stacks of letters — pleas for help — came daily. Politkovskaya fought for the victims — of the state, of terror and of that Russian catchall, fate. Then she joined them.”
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.