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FINROSFORUM Report at OSCE Review Conference

The Finnish-Russian Civic Forum (FINROSFORUM) promotes cooperation between the peoples of Finland and Russia by supporting civic initiatives for democracy, human rights, and free speech.




Below, a report on behalf of the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum at the OSCE Review Conference in the Polish capital, Warsaw, on 30 September-8 October 2010. The conference in Warsaw is the first of a three-part review conference ahead of the OSCE Summit to be held in Astana on 1-2 December 2010. The second and third parts of the review conference will be held in Vienna on 18-26 October 2010 and in Astana on 26-28 November 2010.

The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association are intrinsic to any democratic society. The right to assemble peacefully is an essential condition for the exercise of other human rights, such as the freedom of expression. Participation in peaceful assemblies helps ensure that all people in a society have the opportunity to express opinions that they hold in common with others.

This right is also enshrined in the basic document of a democratic country which is its Constitution. In Russia, it is Article 31, which guarantees her citizens freedom of peaceful assembly, one of the basic freedoms that the authorities of the Russian Federation violate.

In summer 2009, Russia’s civic non-violent movement in defense of Article 31 — Strategy-31 — was launched by holding peaceful rallies every other month in Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square. By now, the civic movement has spread to more than forty regions of Russia. Solidarity rallies are held in Berlin, New York, Kiev, Prague, Tel-Aviv, Helsinki, Turku, Brussels, London, Brno, and many other cities throughout the world.

The Strategy-31 non-partisan civic movement has the support of the Moscow Helsinki Group, whose chair, Lyudmila Alexeyeva is one of the three organizers of the peaceful civic protests. The Strategy-31 campaign has gained support from the Memorial human rights center, the For Human Rights movement as well as other human rights groups and several social, political, and ecological movements.

Russian authorities have never allowed Strategy-31 rallies in Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square. Elected and administrative officials have denied people the fundamental freedoms of assembly and association. In St Petersburg, Strategy-31 rallies outside the Gostinyi Dvor metro station have neither been authorized.

Although the authorities apply the harshest measures against the protesters in Moscow and St Petersburg, demonstrations in support of Strategy-31 have been dispersed in other regions of Russia as well. Thus, a demonstration in Rostov-on-Don was dispersed on 31 May 2010, the very day that the EU-Russia summit was held in the same region.

We are convinced that the EU-Russian summit could have benefitted from the possibility of holding such a peaceful demonstration, which would have supported the same principles as the constituent principles of both the EU and the Russian Federation — as indicated in many statements of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

It is the consistent and persistent deprivation of these freedoms and the suppression of civil society that will foster instability over the long run. True stability results from society being able to make their independent opinion based on numerous sources of information and allowing citizens to pursue their own individual aspirations.

The authorities of the Russian Federation employ different methods in treating citizens: they have depicted people as “internal enemies” and set members of such pseudo-youth movements as United Russia’s Young Guard (Molodaya Gvardiya) and Nashi against these people. On several occasions, the authorities used these Kremlin-created and financed youth groups as provocateurs at Strategy-31 rallies.

Police have used excessive force in violently suppressing peaceful rallies. There have been regular cases of unlawful detentions and harassment of participants in Strategy-31 rallies.

We note the case of Sergey Mokhnatkin, currently serving two and a half years in detention camp for resisting police. In fact, he was just an accidental passer-by with no intention of participating in a demonstration.

On 31 December 2009, Mokhnatkin was on the way to his friends. Unfortunately, he had to take the detour because of police cordons around Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square. There he saw a policeman brutally dragging an elderly woman to a police van. Mokhnatkin interfered and was detained. Later the police charged him with inflicting injuries to a heavily-armed policeman. Despite testimonies of witnesses proving his innocence, he was condemned and sentenced to real imprisonment.

Police officers who apply excessive violence against peaceful protesters enjoy impunity as they are shielded from accountability. On 31 July 2010, during a Strategy-31 rally held outside the Gostinyi Dvor metro station in St Petersburg, one of the policemen gained notoriety because of his extraordinary and absolutely unmotivated violence towards both protesters and by-standers.

The police officer was later identified thanks to a campaign by journalists, human rights defenders, and activists. It was them who identified the brutal police officer, not law enforcement agencies, which neglected written complaints from his victims demanding that authorities give legal evaluation of this unnecessary violence and bring the guilty to account.

Real respect for civil and political rights, including to demonstrate peacefully, codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Russian Constitution, are not reinforced but contradicted if the ban to march constitutes a “precedent,” instead of just an unfortunate exception to the Charter and the Declarations of Intent of the EU and the Russian Federation.




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