Bleak Year Awaits Human Rights Activists
Human rights activists have become the “new dissidents” in Russia under the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, according to human rights organizations.
Speaking to the EurasiaNet web site, Oleg Orlov, chairman of Memorial, a Russian rights organization, said their organization experiences constant pressure from the authorities. “In 2007, I was abducted … in the Northern Caucasus. I was threatened and beaten. Currently, there’s a criminal case against me.”
Orlov is convinced that people with ties to security services carried out the 2007 abduction, although no one was ever arrested in connection with the crime. However, recently Orlov lost a libel suit against Ramzan Kadirov, ringleader of puppet regime in Chechnya. The lawsuit stemmed from Orlov’s public statement in which he placed responsibility for the July murder of Natalya Estemirova, a journalist and Orlov’s colleague at the center, on Kadirov’s regime. Orlov lost it. But the result of the suit was well-known before judgement. So nobody surprised with decision of the court.
Self-evident occupational hazards are not daunting Russian activists, said Friederike Behr, a researcher for Amnesty International in Moscow. “There is work that has to be done. None of the organizations that Amnesty International collaborates with here in Russia have ever cowered in the face of difficulties,” Behr told the EurasiaNet.
In 2009 people saw several high-profile activists gunned down, including Natalya Estemirova and Stanislav Markelov, a prominent lawyer and rights activist murdered.
Amnesty International has repeatedly condemned the failure of Russian authorities to investigate various criminal acts committed against rights workers. In July, the group published a detailed report on human rights abuses in the republics in the northern Caucasus. In response, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed the findings as biased, claiming that it was primarily designed to undermine Russia’s international reputation.
“At first, it was unclear whether Putin wanted to get to know who we were in order to start collaborating with us, or simply figure out how we work, and crack down on us,” said Lyudmila Alekseeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, one of the oldest human rights organization in Russia. “Unfortunately, the latter turned out to be the case.”
When Putin’s successor, Dmitry Medvedev, became president, some activists entertained hopes for liberalization. So far, Medvedev’s policies have not differed much in substance from the policies of Putin, who has retained the reputation for having the final say in Kremlin policy decisions.