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

Microsoft Moves to Help Nonprofits Avoid Piracy-Linked Crackdowns

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Microsoft is vastly expanding its efforts to prevent governments from using software piracy inquiries as a pretext to suppress dissent. It plans to provide free software licenses to more than 500,000 advocacy groups, independent media outlets and other nonprofit organizations in 12 countries with tightly controlled governments, including Russia and China.

With the new program in place, authorities in these countries would have no legal basis for accusing these groups of installing pirated Microsoft software.

Microsoft began overhauling its antipiracy policy after The New York Times reported last month that private lawyers retained by the company had often supported law enforcement officials in Russia in crackdowns on outspoken advocacy groups and opposition newspapers.

At first, Microsoft responded to the article by apologizing and saying it would focus on protecting these organizations in Russia from such inquiries.

But it is now extending the program to other countries: eight former Soviet republics — Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — as well as China, Malaysia and Vietnam. Microsoft executives said they would consider adding more.

“We clearly have a very strong interest in ensuring that any antipiracy activities are being done for the purpose of reducing illegal piracy, and not for other purposes,” said Nancy J. Anderson, a deputy general counsel and vice president at Microsoft. “Under the terms of our new nongovernmental organization software license, we will definitely not have any claims and not pursue any claims against nongovernmental organizations.”

Software piracy inquiries against advocacy groups and media outlets in other former Soviet republics are less common than in Russia, but they have occurred. This year, the police in Kyrgyzstan raided an independent television station, and its employees said a lawyer retained by Microsoft had played a role.

In China, experts said they were not aware of many cases. They pointed out that if the security services wanted to hound or close advocacy groups, they had many other ways of doing so.

But China has been a minefield for American technology companies, including Microsoft, Yahoo and Google, which have grappled with the country’s Internet censorship, and it appears that Microsoft is hoping to avoid new controversies there.

Microsoft’s offer “will surely promote the health of nongovernmental organizations in China,” said Lu Fei, director of a clearinghouse for these groups.

Software piracy is widespread in the 12 countries covered by the new program, and Microsoft has long urged governments to curb it. But in Russia, officials used the intellectual property laws against dissenters.

The security services in Russia have confiscated computers from dozens of advocacy organizations in recent years under the guise of antipiracy inquiries. Some of these groups did have illegal software, and the authorities have said they are carrying out legitimate efforts to curtail software piracy. But they almost never investigate organizations allied with the government.

Microsoft had long rejected requests from human-rights groups that it refrain from taking part in such cases, saying it was merely complying with Russian law.

But now, the organizations would be automatically granted the software licenses without even having to apply for them, meaning that any programs that they possessed would effectively be legalized. That essentially bars the company’s lawyers from assisting the police in piracy inquiries against the groups.

Ms. Anderson of Microsoft said the company was trying to quickly prepare the automatic licenses for the 12 countries, a process that includes translating them, ensuring that they comply with local laws and disseminating them to the authorities.

Microsoft already provides actual copies of software free to some nonprofit groups. It said that in its last fiscal year, it gave out half a billion dollars worth of programs in more than 100 countries. But it has also found that this policy is not well known in some countries.

In Russia, nonprofit groups said they had already noticed a striking change in Microsoft’s attitude toward these piracy cases. In one notorious inquiry, plainclothes police officers raided a group in Siberia, Baikal Environmental Wave, and seized its computers in January. Baikal Wave’s leaders said they had used only licensed software, but they were unable to get help from Microsoft.

The case was a focus of the article last month in The Times. After it was published, Microsoft gave Baikal Wave free updated versions of software for all its computers and asked the police to drop the inquiry.

The police have not yet formally done so, but Baikal Wave said it was pleased with Microsoft’s reaction and the new program of automatic software licenses.

“The security services will now know that they will not be able to harass nonprofit and human rights organizations and take their computers,” said Galina Kulebyakina, a co-chairwoman of Baikal Wave. “It is outrageous what they did, and now that will no longer happen to others.”

Information: The New York Times