Testimony Calls on Lawmakers to Press Russia on Human Rights
Washington, D.C. – In a statement submitted today to both the Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women’s Issues and the Subcommittee on European Affairs, Human Rights First called on U.S. officials to publicly and privately press Russia on its human rights abuses. The statement notes that Russian citizens, civil society organizations, minority religious groups, journalists, and human rights defenders are increasingly under government pressure.
Today’s hearing comes off the heels of a lobbying visit to the United States by members of the Russian punk activist collective Pussy Riot. In meetings that were organized by Human Rights First, the women urged U.S. lawmakers to speak out against the prison sentences of their bandmates Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Mariya Alyokhina, who were convicted of “hoolinganism motivated by religious hatred” for their protest against Vladimir Putin. Today’s statement notes that this politically motivated case is one of the most prominent examples of Russia’s misuse of anti-extremism laws.
Human Rights First notes, “Following the initial trial that sent members of Pussy Riot to jail, the group’s videos and materials were declared ‘extremist’ and banned in Russia by a Moscow City Court. Failing to block the footage may result in fines up to $3,000 for internet providers. Though most Russians are still able to access the banned materials on foreign servers, the ban on broadcasting Pussy Riot’s performance videos, lyrics, and materials placed further restrictions on media outlets and bloggers interested in writing about the controversial case.” Similar bans restrict the use of and access to religious literature, media articles, and even paintings.
In today’s statement, Human Rights First recommended that the U.S. government support the following measures to improve the human rights conditions in Russia:
- The release of political prisoners and victims of the government’s misuse of anti-extremism statues, including the members of Pussy Riot.
- Protection of human rights defenders who continue to be subject to threats and intimidation by promptly investigating all of previous attacks on activists, and by effectively prosecuting all threats and intimidation against defenders in the country.
- Amendment of ambiguous anti-extremism legislation to prioritize violent crime and to fulfill Russia’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression, religion, and assembly and association.
- Guaranteed protection for all citizens wishing to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
- Implementation of constitutional and international norms guaranteeing freedom of conscience and religion and nondiscrimination against any individual or group of individuals based on their religion; and affirm publicly the equality before the law of members of all religious communities and refraining from using rhetoric that divides groups into “traditional” and “nontraditional.”
“Though challenges in working with the Kremlin are mounting, an isolated and adversarial Russia could have disastrous consequences for U.S. national interests. In the current atmosphere in U.S.-Russian relations, human rights groups are relegated to rallying behind individual cases of abuse and hoping that the Russian authorities will listen, and do the right thing,” said the statement. “The U.S. government must do what it can to elevate these efforts and do its part to keep the pressure on Russia to live up to its own commitments and finally become a responsible and respected player in global politics.”