Виголошена Постійним представником України при міжнародних організаціях у Відні І.Прокопчуком на засіданні Постійної ради ОБСЄ 8 вересня 2016 року.
Statement on Freedom of Expression and Association in Russia
As for delivery by the Delegation of Ukraine
to the 1112th meeting of the Permanent Council,
08 September 2016
On 1 September 2016, in Beslan, the Russian Federation, five women were detained by the police during a mourning ceremony in memory of hostage tragedy at the local school in 2004, which left 334 people dead, including 186 children, and 810 people wounded.
The women attempted to peacefully express protest over the scale of use of force by the Russian authorities during the so-called rescue operation and undue investigation to bring the responsible to account. Four of these women lost their children in the 2004 Beslan hostage tragedy, and one also lost her husband. Another woman’s daughter endured the ordeal and survived.
We find appalling the fact that the mothers, who lost their children, were harshly detained by the police, promptly taken to court and sentenced to public works. What was their fault? They expressed their views over the injustice by wearing T-shirts with respective imprints. Notably, the Chair of the Council on human rights under the Russian President reacted to this unacceptable situation by pointing out that “Such actions in relation to women who endured an awful tragedy cannot be justified neither from the moral, nor legal standpoints”, however the Russian authorities remained conspicuously silent on the matter.
We recall that on 2 July 2015 the European Court of Human Rights declared admissible the appeals brought by 447 Beslan victims and consolidated into a single case. The court decided to consider the case with relation to two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including Article 2 on the “right to life,” seen by applicants as central to their case.
Two Russian journalists Yelena Kostyuchenko from “Novaya Gazeta” and Diana Khachatryan from “Takiye Dela” were also detained by the Russian police while trying to cover the mourning ceremony and brief protest in Beslan on 1 September. After being held in local police station, both journalists were released, however later that day they were attacked by unidentified persons in sight of policemen, who did not intervene.
Numerous cases of violation of freedom of expression rights are documented in 56-page report by Human Rights Watch titled “Like on a minefield: Chechen authorities against dissenters” which was published in end August. The authors of the report call on Russian authorities to immediately put an end to impunity for the grave human rights violations and call upon the OSCE, the UN and other international organizations to keep the situation under permanent monitoring.
The report, in particular, contains very troubling details about attack on a group of Russian and foreign journalists on 9 March 2016. On a road in Ingushetia, when they were on their way to Grozny, they were stopped, severely beaten and their minivan was burned down. This case was raised in the Permanent Council immediately, after it happened. Now, 6 months after the attack, we request the Russian delegation to update us on the issue of bringing the perpetrators to account.
We express our concern over the decision of the Russian authorities to declare a “foreign agent” the Levada-Center, one of Russia’s leading research agencies. Levada-Center is among few independent research centers, which remained operational in Russia and conducted authoritative surveys on numerous issues of public interest, in particular concerning Russia’s policies towards Ukraine. The unfounded label of a “foreign agent” will create significant obstacles for professional functioning of the Levada-Center. It is reported that for now the Center was forced to announce the suspension of conduct of its public surveys in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in Russia.
We are equally concerned that on Monday, 5 September, the Russian authorities launched an out-of-schedule inspection of the International charitable and human rights society “Memorial”. The declared aim of the inspection is “to establish the presence (absence) of signs of activity of the organization as a non-commercial entity performing the functions of a foreign agent…”.
Russia continues to ignore repeated concerted calls on the part of the international community to revise its legislation on the so-called “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations” up to the international and OSCE standards.
Meanwhile, the situation continues to degrade as many NGOs in the Russian Federation suffer persecution and growing pressure under these laws for expressing their views and findings where vague legal grounds are exploited, straight to the point of liquidation.
We drew attention in the previous Permanent Council to consistently shrinking space for human rights and freedoms in Russia. These most recent facts testify yet again that the freedom of expression, media, assembly and association are being increasingly and persistently limited and restricted in the Russian Federation in contravention of its OSCE commitments.
We believe it important for the ODIHR and RFoM to be actively seized of monitoring the developments in the Russian Federation within their respective mandates and assist Russia in bringing its legislation and practices in compliance with the relevant OSCE commitments and international standards. We call on Russia to fully cooperate with the OSCE Institutions which function to assist implementation of undertaken commitments.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.