Russia: Judicial harassment of members of "Siberia Without Torture" Mr. Svyatoslav Khromenkov and Ms. Natalya Varshney

28/01/2020
Urgent Appeal

RUS 001 / 0120 / OBS 005
Judicial harassment /
Seizure of electronic equipment
Russia
January 28, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your intervention in the following situation in Russia.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by Public Verdict Foundation about the judicial harassment of Mr. Svyatoslav Khromenkov and Ms. Natalya Varshney, respectively the Director and the psychologist of the NGO “Siberia without Torture” [1] , based in Irkutsk, Russia.

According to the information received, on December 12, 2019, law enforcement authorities broke down the door of a flat belonging to Mr. Svyatoslav Khromenkov to conduct a search. Mr. Khromenkov was abroad at the time but his mother was present. After twelve hours the authorities left with three hard drives, three laptops and equipment for conducting live streams. They also confiscated a mobile phone and a sum of money (approx. 2,800 Euro) belonging to Khromenkov’s mother, who was also charged under article 318 of the criminal code for using violence against a police officer. Allegedly, she hit a policeman’s hand with a wicket gate. According to Mr. Khromenkov, who has a video of the incident, the policeman’s contact with the gate was purely accidental. Officials claimed that the search was connected to a fraud investigation against another person. However, Mr. Khromenkov has not been in contact with this person for five years. The authorities refused to present a written record of the search, as is required under Russian law. They also brought their own witnesses to attest the search, instead of asking neighbours or random people in the street, as is standard practice.

Khromenkov claims that the search was led by investigator Alexander Kornev, who is the lead investigator on a high-profile case of torture by the Irkutsk police of a local resident Marina Ruzayeva. Svyatoslav Khromenkov has been very active defending the rights of the victim in this case jointly with the “Public Verdict Foundation”.

On December 17, 2019, law enforcement authorities conducted a search in the flat of Ms. Varshney, Mr. Khromenkov’s spouse. The authorities again brought their own witnesses to attest the search.

The Russian authorities have not officially notified Mr. Khromenkov nor Ms. Varshney about any charges against them but on January 17, 2020, Mr. Khromenkov’s mother claimed that according to information received directly from a police officer, a criminal case was opened against Mr. Khromenkov. The policeman, on condition of anonymity, told the mother of the human rights defender that the authorities opened a criminal case charging him with extremism.[2] At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, the items confiscated on December 12 remained under custody of the law enforcement authorities.

The Observatory strongly condemns the harassment of Mr. Khromenkov and Ms. Varshney and fears these is a reprisal from law enforcement authorities linked to the successful work of "Siberia without Torture" which has led to four police officers being held accountable for their actions in 2019 and to the ongoing work of the organisation which was working on five cases involving nine additional police officers, including the case of Marina Ruzayeva. The searches, the criminal case and the seizure of the laptops and other technical equipment as well as their legal harassment seems to be only aimed at disrupting the work of “Siberia without Torture”.

The Observatory urges the Russian authorities to return the items confiscated during the search on December 12, 2019; to respect in all circumstances the freedom from unreasonable searches and the freedom of association as enshrined in Articles 17 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and to ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Russia asking them to:

i. Return the items confiscated during the search on December 12, 2019;

ii. Put an end to all forms of harassment, including judicial harassment, against Ms. Varshneya and Mr. Khromenkov, as well as against his mother;

iii. Ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders and organisations are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its Articles 1 and 5;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Russia.

Addresses:

· Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, Fax: + 7 495 606 3602; + 7 495 625 3581
· Mr. Mikhail Mishustin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Twitter account: @GovernmentRF
· Mr. Sergueï Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Fax: + 7 495 644 2203
· Mr. Viktor Vasilievitch Ignatenko, Human Rights Ombudsman, Irkutsk oblast’, ombudsman38@mail.ru.
· Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 734 40 44, E-mail: mission.russian@vtxnet.ch
· Embassy of the Russian Federation in Brussels, Belgium. Fax: +32 2 374 26 13. E-mail: mission.russian@vtxnet.ch
· Permanent Representation of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe, France. Fax: (+33) (0) 3 88 24 19 74. Email: russia.coe@orange.fr

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Russia in your respective countries.

***
Geneva-Paris, January 28, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu , the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29
· Tel and fax FIDH +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

[1] "Siberia without Torture” has been cooperating with “Public Verdict Foundation,” a human rights NGO based in Moscow, providing legal assistance to victims of torture. In particular, Mr. Khromenkov has represented Marina Ruzayeva, who in 2016 accused police of torturing her. The investigation into her complaint is ineffective. During a recent court hearing in the case, Khromenkov cross-examined one of the investigators in charge of the investigation, Alexander Kornev. The same investigator led the search in Khromenkov’s flat on December 12, 2019.
[2] See: https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2019/12/12/v-kvartiru-k-irkutskomu-yuristu-kotoryy-vystupaet-zashchitnikom-v-dele-o

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