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RUSSIA: COMPLAINT SUBMITTED ON BEHALF OF 4 POLITICAL PRISONERS TO THE UN WORKING GROUP ON ARBITRARY DETENTION

The International League Against Arbitrary Detention and the russian independent human rights defence and media group OVD-Info submitted a complaint to UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of 4 political prisoners, namely Dmitry Ivanov, Andrey Balin, Igor Baryshnikov and Alexander Bakhtin, that were all arrested, detained and sentenced under Art. 207.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, for expressing their peaceful views on the war in Ukraine on the Internet. 



APPLICANTS: 4 POLITICAL PRISONERS ARBITRARILY DETAINED IN RUSSIA


Dmitry Ivanov : student activist and creator of the Telegram channel «Moscow State University is protesting» sentenced to serve 8 years 6 months of imprisonment for anti-war messages on Telegram. Russia condemned him for the dissemination of statements on the death of thousands of civilians and destruction of civilian objects, including schools, kindergartens, hospitals, war crimes of the Russian Army in Bucha and Irpen, attack by the Russian Armed Forces on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, significant losses of aircrafts in the Russian Air Force, and the “special military operation” in Ukraine being in fact a war. The information was distributed by Mr. Ivanov with the use of social media platform “Telegram”, namely the channel “Protestnyy MGU” (Protesting MSU) and relied on the information about deaths of civilians and destruction of civilian objects provided by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and all the information disseminated through his channel either was confirmed by reliable sources, such as the UN, or was a repost of other sources of information.


Andrey Balin : former member of the People’s Freedom Party from Tolyatti sentenced to 7 years in prison for anti-war posts on VKontakte. Russia condemned him for 10 publications on the Internet in which he was discussing the actions of the Russian army in Chernigov, Kherson, Kharkov, Zhitomir, Nikolaev, and Bucha highlighting deaths of civilians and destruction of civil infrastructure. Among the publications, he shared Arnold Schwarzenegger’s monologue about the situation in Ukraine, and outlined what he considers illegal actions of the Russian military on the territory of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson, Kharkov, Sumy, Chernigov, Kiev, Zaporozhye regions on Putin’s orders. As his sources he used different mass media: “Rosbalt .ru", "RBC.ru", "Kasparov.ru", "Interfax.ru", "Yutub.com".


Igor Baryshnikov : activist from Kaliningrad sentenced to 7.5 years in prison for posts on Facebook. Russia condemned him for posts regarding the maternity hospital in Mariupol, the Bucha massacre, and the Kramatorsk railway station. His comments were mainly coupled with reposts of the world-renowned foreign mass media (The Times, Reuters, The New York Times) and videos from YouTube.


Alexander Bakhtin : eco-activist sentenced to 6 years in prison for posts on VKontakte. Russia condemned him for posting a series of posts on casualties among civilians, criticism of Putin and war events in Bucha on the social network “vkontakte”.


CONTEXT: REPRESSIVE LAWS TO SILENCE ANTI-WAR DISSENT IN RUSSIA  IN VIOLATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAW


Since the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the Russian Federation has widely used established and new repressive mechanisms to combat anti-war dissent. In this context, within an effort to silence anti-war voices in Russia, the number of prosecutions for speech on the internet related to posts, comments, reposts and reactions skyrocketed. Currently, social media are monitored by authorities and people expressing their anti-war sentiments are prosecuted administratively or criminally. The sentencing for this often includes not only deprivation of liberty but also additional limitations on usage of the Internet.


Several repressive laws have rapidly come into force, including the newly established criminal article 207.3, which made “public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the Russian armed forces or government authorities’ activities outside Russia” punishable with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and is being used to prosecute anti-war speeches. 


As of December 15, 2023, OVD-Info reported that more than 19,700 people have been detained for peaceful anti-war protests, and 246 criminal cases have been initiated against people expressing their anti-war opinion in various forms under article 207.3 of Russian Criminal Code, with 123 cases for exercising freedom of speech on the Internet.


On March 21, 2022, a cross-regional joint statement on human rights and fundamental freedoms in Russia was delivered on behalf of a group of over 50 States during the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council, expressing great alarm at recently adopted Russian legislation that would punish those who contradict the Russian government’s false narratives about its war against Ukraine with up to 15 years imprisonmentand concerns about the “attempts made by Russian authorities to silence all critical voices, including those of Russian citizens protesting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”.


On May 4, 2022, a joint statement on Russia’s invasion and importance of freedom of expression was issued by the UN Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, and the African Commission Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, who stressed the following: “We are alarmed at the further tightening of censorship and repression of dissent and pluralist sources of information and opinion in the Russian Federation, including […] introduction of criminal liability and imprisonment of up to fifteen years for spreading so-called ‘fake’ information about the war in Ukraine or questioning Russian military action in Ukraine or simply standing for peace or even mentioning the word ‘war’. We deplore the systematic crackdown on political opponents, independent journalists and the media, human rights activists, protesters and many others opposing the Russian government’s actions. All these measures amount to the creation of a state monopoly on information in blatant violation of Russia’s international obligations. They must stop.” 


ANALYSIS: ARBITRARY DETENTIONS FOR EXPRESSING PEACEFUL VIEWS ON THE WAR IN UKRAINE ON THE INTERNET


In the case at hand, the 4 political prisoners were found “guilty of committing a public dissemination under the guise of reliable reports of deliberately false information containing data on the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation” actions qualified as a crime under Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.


ILAAD and OVD-Info urged the Working Group to find that the wording of Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation is overly broad, vague and imprecise and cannot qualify as lex certa since it does not make it possible to determine in advance which statements are legitimate and which are prohibited, even more since Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation was adopted solely to silence speeches that are different from the official russian war propaganda.


Therefore, the Working Group was requested to find that Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation violates the principle of certainty undergirded by the principle of legality guaranteed by Article 11(2) UDHR and Article 9(1) and 15 ICCPR. Moreover, since it falls short of international standards and is manifestly being used to target persons engaged in peaceful critical expression in order to suppress debate on public interests concerning the war in Ukraine thus creating a chilling effect on freedom of expression, we urged the Working Group to request that Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation shall be abrogated in order for Russia to comply with its international obligations. For the above reasons, the Working Group was also requested to find that the arrest, detention and sentencing of the applicants under article 207.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation renders their deprivation of liberty arbitrary and without any legal basis under Category I.


Moreover, the Working Group was also requested to find that the deprivation of liberty of the four applicants was the sole result of their peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression on the Internet in violation of Article 19§2 of the ICCPR and article 19 of the UDHR, rendering their deprivation of liberty arbitrary, meaning that no trial of the applicants should have taken place. 


Indeed, laws that restrict freedom of speech may have legitimate means but are prone to abuse, and violation of such laws that stifle freedom of expression should not be punished by detention at all, as such punishment is disproportionate, and on this issue, the General Comment No. 34 of the Human Rights Committee is unambiguous: “imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty”. In the case at hand, all four applicants were imposed pre-trial detention. Moreover, all four applicants were sentenced to long imprisonment sentences solely for exercising their freedom of speech which was dramatically unnecessary and disproportionate. Hence, the Working Group was also respectfully requested to conclude that in the light of the circumstances set out above, and bearing in mind the context of the applicants being criminally prosecuted for non-violent statements, that the violation of the applicants due process rights are of such gravity as to give to their deprivation of liberty an arbitrary character under category III. 


Finally, ILAAD and OVD-info respectfully requested that the WGAD finds that the applicants detentions have been conducted on a discriminatory basis, namely due to their anti-war political opinions, and constitute a violation of articles 2 and 7 UDHR and articles 2 (1) and 26 ICCPR, rendering their deprivation of liberty arbitrary under category V. Moreover, the Working Group was asked to conclude that although its opinion will concern the particular circumstances of the 4 applicants, its findings would apply to all others in similar situations.


CONCLUSION: THE 4 POLITICAL PRISONERS MUST BE RELEASED IMMEDIATELY


For all of the above reasons, on behalf of Dmitry Ivanov, Andrey Balin, Igor Baryshnikov and Alexander Bakhtin, the International League Against Arbitrary Detention and the russian independent human rights defence and media group OVD-Info respectfully asked the Working Group to: 

  • demand that the Russian Federation takes the necessary measures to remedy the situation of the 4 political prisoners without delay and bring it into line with the relevant international standards; 

  • consider that, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy would be their immediate release and the granting of the right to obtain redress, including compensation, in accordance with international law; 

  • urge the Russian Federation to ensure that a thorough and independent investigation is carried out into the circumstances surrounding their arbitrary detention, and to take appropriate action against those responsible for the violation of their rights; 

  • urge the Russian Federation to bring the relevant national legislation in line with its obligations under international human rights law, by repealing Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code as well as exonerating sentences under this legislation.





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