Analytics and Interview

On 16 January 2015 late in the evening the website of the Ministry of Justice published a statement that the NGO Committee Against Torture had been added to the register of non-profit organizations designated as ‘foreign agents’.
Tanya Lokshina is the Russia program director at Human Rights Watch and Honorary Participant of International Youth Human Rights Movement: As the crisis in Ukraine escalated this spring, the Kremlin’s vicious crackdown on civil society also escalated. Space for independent civic activity in Russia is shrinking dramatically, but international policymakers and the media have been understandably too distracted to do much about it. Since early spring, it seems as though every week brings a new pernicious law or legislative proposal.
Earlier this year, the correspondent of Youth Human Rights Movement from Germany Jakob Stürmann interviewed Konstantin Baranov, member of the Coordination Council of the International Youth Human Rights Movement. They discussed so called “law against homosexual propaganda” and the overall situation of LGBT in Russia.  

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Oleg Sentsov, Olexander Kolchenko, Hennadiy Afanasiev and Oleksiy Chyrniy have been held in Russian jails for two years already under fabricated charges of ‘terrorism’. We consider it being necessary to express solidarity with those who are persecuted due to their pro-Ukrainian views, civic stand and desire for freedom in Russia-annexed Crimea.
Helsinki Committee of Armenia has published “Human Rights in Armenia 2014” Annual Report. The report reflects on the Right to Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, Political Persecutions, Freedom of Conscience and Religion, The Rights of the Child, Protection of Labor Rights.
«We have a few questions for you,» a border guard told Sinaver Kadyrov, a Crimean Tatar activist, at the Armyansk checkpoint in northern Crimea on Jan. 23. Kadyrov was on his way to Kherson, in southern Ukraine, to fly to Turkey for medical treatment. It was the beginning of an ordeal that ended with a local court expelling him from Crimea, his home of almost 25 years.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority It is time to sit back and reflect.

Mark Twain


Youth Human Rights Movement

Lev Ponomarev: In Memory of Vladimir Shaklein


This morning Vladimir Andreevich Shaklein passed away at an untimely age in Ekaterinburg. He had recently celebrated his 75th birthday. It is normally public figures from Moscow that receive all the attention, but this time I would like to write a few words about a simple engineer from the Urals, who was really a living legend. And perhaps I will also help readers to better understand what is meant by the expression ‘old dissident’.

Shaklein was, as they say, an eternal human rights defender, who gave half a century of dissident service. He stopped trusting the Soviet system when, browsing through the victorious reports of “fulfilment and over-fulfilment”, he saw that the five-year plans had actually failed. Thirty years ago, before perestroika, when the influx of petrodollars into the Soviet Union was at its peak, Shaklein, studying only the materials published by the State Planning Committee, came to the conclusion that the Soviet economy was inevitably heading for collapse.

A talented chemical engineer, Shaklein introduced a steady stream of technical innovation into manufacturing. Given the rapid growth of the chemical industry, if Shaklein had followed the lead of many others and restricted himself to armchair freethinking, he could, in the middle of the relatively liberal 1960s, have built an excellent career in industry.

But he was born for social activism, and had an inherent sense of fairness. His only option, therefore, was to become a dissident. And in 1967 he built a network across the Soviet Union for the distribution of so-called samizdat underground materials.

After two years in Lefortovo Prison under investigation for this public awareness campaign, Shaklein was freed against the backdrop of the détente with the West, and started work at Kursk Nuclear Power Plant. However, political pressure forced him and many others, like writer Sergei Dovlatov, into ‘internal political emigration’. He moved to Kohtla-Järve in Estonia, which at that point was relatively free, and effectively became a one-man trade union. For example, he organised a campaign against having to work on Sundays (no day-care facilities or schools were open on Sundays, and workers at the city’s primary employer were forced to take their children with them). The campaign was successful.

Perestroika allowed Vladimir Shaklein to return to his native Urals. He was one of the founders of the democratic and human rights movement in Sverdlovsk/Ekaterinburg, and in 1990 he was elected as a People’s Deputy on the city council.

Crisis within the democratic movement coincided with the start of the First Chechen War (1994-6), and Shaklein immediately joined the anti-war movement. He founded first the Urals Human Rights Centre and then the Inter-Regional Human Rights Centre. Shaklein began a new wave of social activism in the autumn of 1997, when he founded the All-Russia Public Movement for Human Rights. He immediately joined the organisation’s management board, and took on responsibility for coordinating activities in the Urals, effectively forming a coalition of civil activists.

Vladimir Shaklein was not merely a theoretical human rights defender; he would both invent and master original forms of human rights work. For example, he formed a ‘travelling human rights office’, gathering funds to hire a bus and going from village to village accompanied by young professional lawyers, giving people advice and providing legal support. I recall how he went through months of legal wrangling to ensure that a country schoolgirl named Tonia was paid the 500 roubles due to her for her holiday work.

Another example of his work was his fight for prison access, which was normally never granted to human rights activists. After the passing of the law on Public Observation Committees (POCs), committee members were allowed entry. At that time Shaklein was not a POC member, and legal advice for prisoners was in short supply. Then he discovered that the law also made provisions for human rights activists to visit prisons, and so he headed to a prison. Naturally, he was refused entry. But he did not give up, and following a protracted legal struggle he was granted the right to access prisons, opening up the same possibility for human rights defenders all over Russia.

During the Second Chechen War Shaklein travelled to Ingushetia and to Chechen refugee camps on numerous occasions, and organised a constant stream of anti-war protests, demanding peace talks. Most notably, in support of Alexander Lyuboslavsky’s anti-war march, Vladimir Shaklein walked with him from Tula to Moscow, and literally saved his life, since by that time Lyuboslavsky, who had walked from Ingushetia, had completely run out of energy.

Shaklein’s final years were dedicated unwaveringly to defending prisoner rights and fighting abuse, torture and murder in isolation cells, prisons and penal colonies. Since spring 2012, Shaklein had been constantly bombarding the prosecutor with appeals connected to the events at penal colony IK-62 (Ivdel, Sverdlovsk Region), where members of the Public Observation Committee found evidence of blatant, systematic human rights violations.

In what were to be his final few days, Vladimir Shaklein concerned himself with the fate of former Major Igor Matveev. He visited Khabarovsk, where he helped to form a committee in support of Matveev, gathered information about Matveev’s active work to fight corruption in the army, and then paid him a visit in the notorious IK-13 prison in Nizhny Tagil. All this moving around caused his health to deteriorate, his blood pressure shot up terribly, and on 24th December he went into a coma.

Vladimir Shaklein was a lovely, kind, wise and persistent man.

He was that truly just person upon whose shoulders the world rests. He will be remembered fondly.