Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“Our standpoint on Ukraine might have triggered the inspections”

Semen Novoprudsky on causes and consequences of accusing Memorial of undermining the foundations of constitutional order in Russia
17 November, 2015 - 16:42

The Memorial, a Russian human rights advocacy center, is accused of undermining the foundations of constitutional order in Russia and calling for the “toppling of the incumbent authorities and changing the political regime in the country,” reads The Act of Scheduled Inspection, carried out by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation after October 5.

In his blog on the Echo of Moscow Aleksandr Cherkasov, director of the Memorial Human Rights Center, responded to the accusation saying that he and his colleagues consider it “inappropriate to keep silent” when they see “the authorities – including top Russian authorities – violate human rights and the norms of international law.” “This, in the eyes of the Ministry of Justice, is nothing but ‘negative opinion-building’ and ‘undermining of the foundations,’” added Cherkasov.

He adduces some examples of this “subversive activity” as given in The Act: “firstly, our assessment of Russia’s policy towards Ukraine.” “We do believe that these policies should be defined as aggression, in full correspondence with the United Nations’ definition,” added he.

The second count of the charges against the human rights activists was the published “opinion of the leaders of the organization” on the involvement of Russian troops in warfare in the east of Ukraine. “However, this ‘opinion’ is based on numerous and irrefutable facts,” writes Cherkasov.

And the third accusation against the Memorial was caused by the Ministry of Justice’s indignation about “our disagreement with the lapse of justice in the so-called Bolotnaya case. Indeed, in our own records, just like in those of other human rights advocacy groups and in mass media publications, there is abundant evidence that prosecution in this case was framed and forged,” summarized Cherkasov.

The Day asked independent Moscow-based journalist Semen NOVOPRUDSKY to comment on the situation with the Memorial.

“Human rights advocates in Russia will not be surprised by repression. The Memorial became one of the first targets of the new reprisal wave, which is rising in Russia now. The Memorial has a clear-cut political standpoint, but they are not in the business of pure political activism. This is no ‘Committee against Torture,’ which was closed down due to constant inspections and legislation concerning non-commercial organizations. This group tried to carry out a most thorough investigation of Ramzan Kadyrov’s army in Chechnya.

“It surprises me that the Memorial should be accused of attempts at the ‘overthrowing the regime.’ However, the authorities do not like the Memorial’s open and vocal standpoint concerning Russia’s policy toward Ukraine. Cherkasov was one of the few Russian human rights advocates who publicly confronted Ramzan Kadyrov. In this sense, Cherkasov is a fearless man. And even the Memorial’s standpoint on Ukraine might have triggered the inspections.

“Another question is, what will it all mean for Russian society? Unfortunately, it has already gotten used to closures of organizations, which are far from politics, just like it happened to Dmitry Zimin’s famous Dynasty Foundation, which stopped working because of the non-commercial organization legislation. Society swallows it all. This is just one of the indicators of the absence of true civic society in Russia: it only has ‘true’ citizens.

“However, should the Memorial get closed down, human rights advocacy will remain in one form or another. There are people who were busy doing it even in the Soviet Union. Back then, it was samizdat: dissemination of forbidden literature in manuscripts and typewritten copies. Now the Internet will be used, in particular, websites registered outside Russia.

“Those who want to receive objective, variegated, and fair information, have such an opportunity. There is another problem, though: how many of such people are out there, and will their numbers increase?

“The boss of Russia Today Dmitry Kiselyov said that censorship is impossible in today’s world, for people find a way to access information in any case. He has a point there, indeed. The only question is, if society needs it at all. It is necessary to increase the number of people who would have access not only to political, but also to ‘human’ information about the developments in Russia and abroad. Today there is not much demand for information in Russian society. When people get such a need, they will find ways to receive it and pass it on. In the modern world, no one is capable of destroying information completely.”

By Ihor SAMOKYSH, The Day