Vladimir Kara Murza
Russian officials have a selective approach to holidays. When it came to arresting opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on New Year’s Eve and sentencing him on January 2 (a Sunday), no effort was spared. Yet when it came to hearing his appeal, Tverskoy Court remembered that January 1 to 10 is a period of vacation. By law, an appeal against administrative arrest must be heard within 24 hours. The former deputy prime minister has been in detention since December 31, but his appeal has still not been reviewed due to “holidays.” The latest attempt to submit it to court, on January 8, ended with Mr. Nemtsov’s lawyer, Timur Onikov, being escorted out by bailiffs. On January 11, the appeal was admitted as a priority case — by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
It is indicative that the only elected officials who came to the defense of Russian citizens’ constitutional rights (in all, more than 120 people were detained on December 31 at peaceful anti-government rallies) were foreigners. US Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman called the arrests “shameful and outrageous.” Senator Mark Begich warned of a “chill” in US-Russian relations, while Senator Roger Wicker accused the Kremlin of disrespecting “universal values.” The US State Department declared that “these kinds of arrests … are contrary not only to commitments that Russia has made, but also to Russia’s long-term interest.” Canadian MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj concluded that “Putin’s Russia is well on its way towards a new dictatorship.” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt called the arrests “worrying.” “It is time that the EU ... shows solidarity towards the Russian democratic opposition,” urged Heidi Hautala, chair of the European Parliament’s human rights subcommittee.
Notwithstanding the Kremlin’s screams of “interference in internal affairs,” such criticism is not just a right but a duty for Western governments. Statutes of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which comprises 56 European, Central Asian, and North American states (including the US and Russia), affirm that “issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law are of international concern, as respect for these rights and freedoms constitutes one of the foundations of the international order” and that “commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension … are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.”
Right words must now be followed by right actions. Shortly before his arrest, Boris Nemtsov urged Western leaders to impose travel restrictions on select Russian officials as the most effective way of changing the regime’s repressive behavior. This week, the European Parliament made the first move toward sanctions against officials involved in the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. “The time for quiet diplomacy with Russia has passed, it is time for action,” explained EU legislator Traian Ungureanu. It is to be hoped that similar news will soon follow from Washington.
Newsflash update. On January 12, Tverskoy Court finally heard Boris Nemtsov's appeal against his arrest and imprisonment. The appeal was denied by federal judge Yelena Stashina -- the same judge who in November 2009, four days before the death in prison of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, rejected his complaint against deprivation of medical treatment. Judge Stashina is included in the proposed blacklist of Russian officials forbidden to enter the US. The decision to deny Mr. Nemtsov's appeal was reported by the government news agency RIA Novosti two hours before it was announced. The opposition leader will remain in prison until the completion of his sentence on January 15.
Russia’s Vacation from Justice (1)