UN Human Rights Council statement

UN Human Rights Council 38th Special Session

Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Mr President,

PEN International, ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders are deeply concerned by continuous restrictions on peaceful assembly in Russia, the operating environment for nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), and the chilling effect of both on the right to freedom of expression and access to information.

Since 2012, legislation on public assemblies has been repeatedly amended, severely restricting individuals’ ability to peacefully protest and significantly increasing the administrative and criminal penalties for participation in unsanctioned protests. Demonstrations or gatherings deemed ‘non-compliant’ have been harshly repressed – with mass detentions of peaceful protesters and other repercussions, including excessive force by police, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment, administrative detention and even prison sentences.[1]

In June 2018 in St Petersburg, protesters demanding the release of prominent Ukrainian writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov were reportedly detained.[2] A vocal opponent of Russia’s ‘annexation’ of Crimea, Oleg Sentsov was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to 20 years in prison on spurious terrorism charges after a grossly unfair trial in August 2015. He has been on hunger strike since 14 May 2018.[3]

Independent journalists face huge pressure – legal, physical and economic – to not contradict the official line or provide coverage of critical viewpoints. At least 14 journalists were arrested during mass anti-corruption protests on 26 March 2017. [4] While they faced administrative charges, another journalist Zhalaudi Geriev has remained in prison in Chechnya since being sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on unfounded charges of drug possession in September 2016.

Violence against journalists also routinely goes unpunished while impunity for killings prevails. Although five men have been sentenced for the 2006 murder of investigative journalist and PEN member Anna Politkovskaya, [5] those who ordered her killing have never been brought to justice. In the 12 years since her murder, 14 more journalists have been killed in Russia, with complete or partial impunity[6].

The steady squeeze on independent NGOs continues. Existing legislation including the 2012 ‘Foreign Agents’ law places onerous restrictions on NGOs receiving funds from abroad, while the 2015 law on ‘undesirable organisations’, allowing any foreign or international NGO to be banned from operating in Russia, further adversely impacts the operating environment.

NGOs and human rights defenders have also been subject to legal attacks and smear campaigns. Oyub Titiev, the head of the Chechnya Memorial Human Rights Centre remains in pre-trial detention since being arrested in January 2018, charged with illegal possession of drugs widely believed to be response to his human rights work.

We urge this Council, its members and observer states, to call on the Russian authorities to:

  • Ensure that the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association are protected during all protests, including by: refraining from detaining individuals for peaceful protest; ensuring that journalists are free to collect and disseminate information without obstruction and fear of reprisals; and amending protest-related legislation to bring it in line with international standards;
  • Prevent and protect journalists from threats and violence and end impunity for such crimes;
  • Immediately release Oleg Sentsov and return all Ukrainian nationals arrested in Crimea and now held in Russia to Ukraine, and free all held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression;
  • Immediately and unconditionally release Zhalaudi Geriev and Oyub Titiev;
  • Ensure that independent nongovernmental groups can operate freely and without undue interference, including by repealing the laws on ‘Foreign Agents’ and ‘Undesirable organisations’.

Thank you Mr. President

The following NGOs without consultative status also share the views expressed in this statement:

Free Word Association

St Petersburg PEN

[1] Joint submission to the Universal Periodic Review of the Russian Federation by ARTICLE 19, Mass Media Defence Centre, OVD-Info, PEN International, Roskomsvoboda, and the Sova Centre, For consideration at the 30th Session of the Working Group in May 2018, 9 October 2017: http://pen-international.org/app/uploads/Russia-UPR-Submission-Oct-2017.pdf

[2] Media Zone, In St. Petersburg, police detained picket participants in support of Oleg Sentsov, 1 June 2018 https://zona.media/news/2018/06/01/sbp-sentcov

[3] PEN International, Russia: Oleg Sentsov on hunger strike, 17 May 2018: http://pen-international.org/news/russia-oleg-sentsov-on-hunger-strike . On 14 June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for his immediate release: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+TA+P8-TA-2018-0259+0+DOC+PDF+V0//EN

[4] Reporters Without Borders, At least 14 reporters arbitrarily arrested during Russian protests, 29 March 2017: https://rsf.org/en/news/least-14-reporters-arbitrarily-arrested-during-russian-protests

[5] PEN international, Justice for Anna Politkovskaya,  11 November 2016: http://pen-international.org/news/justice-for-anna-politkovskaya

[6] Committee to Protect Journalists, Journalists killed in Russia since 1992: https://cpj.org/europe/russia/