Friday, October 20, 2006

IHF Appeal

To:
President of the Federation of Russia
Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin
President of the European Council
Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen
October 20, 2006


APPEAL FOR FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS


Two weeks ago the highly respected and awarded journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in the centre of Moscow. This brutal act of violence was yet another setback to freedom of speech, democracy and the respect for human rights in Russia.
In addition to the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, dozens of human rights activists are regularly faced by threats and acts of oppression. They are threatened by physical violence, by loss of job, by threats to their families, by politically motivated law suits and by shaming in the non-independent media.
Travel by individual activists abroad is prevented. Non-governmental organisations are increasingly facing official obstruction of their work and threats of non-registration under the new law. All the mentioned acts above are happening everyday somewhere in Russia.
*
The murder of Anna Politkovskaya should serve as a final opening of the eyes of those who have repeatedly denied that human rights are eroding in today's Russia. It should serve as a final opening of the eyes for us in the European Union to see what really is going on under the surface in Russia.
*
Anna Politkovskaya spoke loudly for the rights of those who did not have any and those who were losing their rights in the midst of the war, i.e. “fight against terrorism”, as the government has described it.
She spoke for the need for rule of law in her home country. In her last article she wrote:
[In Chechnya and in Russia] prosecutors and judges are not acting on behalf of the law and they are not interested in punishing the guilty. Instead, they work to political order to make the Kremlin's nice anti-terrorist score sheet look good and cases are cooked up like blinys. ...
This is what a group of mothers of convicted young Chechens wrote to me: 'In essence, these
correctional facilities (where terrorist suspects are held) have been turned into concentration camps for Chechen convicts. They are subjected to discrimination on an ethnic basis. The majority, or almost all of them, have been convicted on trumped-up evidence.
* We appeal to you, President Vladimir Putin, that
• The Russian army and courts of law should respect the European Convention for Human Rights. The culture of impunity should not be allowed to live a day longer.
• The Russian authorities should immediately intensify ongoing investigations and start new ones into the disappearances and deaths of Chechen civilians.
• Independent observers should be allowed to visit prisons and refugee camps all over the territory of the Russian Federation to ensure that torture is not taking place.
• Urgent measures need to be put in place to stop the intimidation and to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders working in Russia.
• The full investigation into the murder of Anna Politkovskaya including finding out who possibly ordered the killing should be pursued vigorously and the perpetrators should be prosecuted and tried in a open and fair manner.
*
In 2004 Anna Politkovskaya was asked whether she believed it might take generations for her country to become truly free. She answered: "I wouldn't ever want to say it would take generations. I want to be able to live the life of a human being, where every individual is respected, in my lifetime."
Unfortunately it is too late for her, but not too late for you, President Putin.
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Prime Minister Vanhanen, we urge and encourage the European Union and especially the Finnish Government now holding the Presidency of the EU to raise these serious and urgent human rights concerns with the Russian Federation. The EU would be betraying its own core values if it failed now, when there is a momentum to take up these serious questions, to demand immediate action from the Russian government to uphold freedom of speech and to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders.
This autumn you, as the President of the European Council, have several opportunities to directly address these problems with President Putin.
We therefore appeal to you that these issues be prominently on the agenda at these meetings, in particular and in depth, at the EU-Russia summit in Helsinki on the 24th of November.


Amnesty International, Finnish Section
Finnish Helsinki Committee
Finnish Peace Committee
Finnish PEN
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights

Joachim Frank, Project Coordinator
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
Wickenburggasse 14/7
A-1080 Vienna
Tel. +43-1-408 88 22 ext. 22
Fax: +43-1-408 88 22 ext. 50
Web: http://www.ihf-hr.org

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