Tag Archives: human rights

Free Russia Foundation stands in staunch solidarity with the People of Belarus. Continue reading Free Russia Foundation Statement on the Crisis in Belarus

In accordance with international guidelines defining the term, Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Rakhmiddin Kamolov, a human rights activist and a Uzbekistan national serving a 16-year prison term in Russia, as a political prisoner. We believe that Kamolov was persecuted for political reasons in connection with a non-violent exercise of his rights such as freedom of conscience, religion, speech and association. Also, his right to a fair trial was violated. The purpose of the persecution was to force Kamolov to halt his public activities. Memorial Human Rights Center urges for the immediate release of Rakhmiddin Kamolov. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Rakhmiddin Kamolov

On May 28, 2020, Russian civil and human rights activist Sergei Mokhnatkin died at the age of 66. Mokhnatkin died in a hospital suffering from complications from a spinal injury received in prison.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Sergei Mokhnatkin

NIEUWSPOORT INTERNATIONAL PRESS CENTRE

10 LANGE POTEN 2511 CL THE HAGUE

WEDNESDAY 11 DECEMBER

 09:00 – 14:00

Free admission but please register here

Enquiries: natalia.arno@4freerussia.org

This summer, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted by 118 to 62 to restore the full rights of the Russian Federation in Europe’s oldest pan-continental body dedicated to upholding human rights. They key argument from proponents was that membership in the Council serves the interests of Russian citizens, keeping them under the protection of the Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and under the continued jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. “Russia belongs in the Council of Europe – with all the rights and obligations that entails,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, the driving-force behind Russia’s return, told journalists as the decision was taken.

Now that the rights have been restored, it is time to talk about the obligations. Across the spectrum of freedoms guaranteed by the Convention, the Russian government is falling far short of the standards expected of a Council of Europe member state. Elections on both national and local level lack genuine competition, as witnessed most recently in this year’s legislative polls in Moscow that saw the removal of major opposition candidates. Peaceful demonstrations are violently dispersed by police, with protesters beaten and arrested. The judicial system is used by the government to punish political opponents and members of undesirable religious groups: the Memorial Human Rights Centre counts at least 304 people who correspond to the Council of Europe’s criteria of political prisoners. Increasingly, murder is used as a tool of silencing dissent. Nearly five years after the assassination of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, the organizers and masterminds remain unidentified and unindicted, with the Russian government refusing all cooperation with international oversight procedures – including in the Council of Europe itself.

On 11th December, political leaders and human rights advocates from the Netherlands and Russia will meet at the Nieuwspoort International Press Centre in The Hague to discuss the risks and benefits of Russia’s return to the Council of Europe, and mechanisms that are available to keep the Russian government to account over the violations of its international commitments.

Agenda:

09:00  Registration and coffee

10:00  Panel One: Human rights, rule of law, democracy: is Russia meeting Council of Europe standards?

Vladimir Kara-Murza, Russian Opposition Politician, Chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom

Sergei Davidis, Head of the Political Prisoner Support Programme, Memorial Human Rights Centre, Russia

Vadim Prokhorov, Lawyer for the Family of Boris Nemtsov, Former Member of the Russian Central Electoral Commission

Natalia Arno, Russian Democracy Activist, President of the Free Russia Foundation

11:00  Panel Two: Russia’s return to the Council of Europe: what benefits and risks?

Lize Glas, Assistant Professor of International and European Law, Radboud University, The Netherlands

Scott Martin, International Human Rights Lawyer, Global Rights Compliance, The Hague

12:00  Lunch break

13:00  How can Western governments and civil society respond?

Jan Marinus Wiersma, Senior Visiting Fellow, Clingendael Institute, Member of the European Parliament, 1994–2009

Harry Hummel, Senior Policy Advisor, Netherlands Helsinki Committee

Jelger Groeneveld, Secretary of the Department of International Cooperation, D66 Party, The Netherlands

14:00  Event concludes

On July 9, the European Court of Human Rights made the decision in the case of Valeriya Volodina from Ulyanovsk, who had spent three years trying to get the police to start a case against her former partner Rasheed Salayev. Salayev followed, kidnapped and beat Volodina multiple times and threatened her underage son. Every time, the police turned her down. Police officers explained their rejection by saying that the threats that she regularly received from Salayev “were a result of their personal hostile relationship as well as jealousy experienced by S.” The chief of the Internal Affairs Department “Mozhayskiy” answered: “What can I tell you? You should hide better.” The details of this story can be found on the website of the organization “Legal Initiative,” which Volodina approached for help and which transferred her complaint to the ECHR.

The ECHR judgment on Volodina’s case is the first one on a domestic violence case in Russia. The court points out that “the continued failure to adopt legislation to combat domestic violence and the absence of any form of restraining or protection orders clearly demonstrate that the authorities’ actions in the present case were not a simple failure or delay in dealing with violence against the applicant, but flowed from their reluctance to acknowledge the seriousness and extent of the problem of domestic violence in Russia and its discriminatory effect on women.” The court has also established that the Russian authorities had breached Articles 3 and 14 of the Convention (concerning torture and degrading treatment and concerning discrimination). As soon as the ECHR judgment comes into effect, the Russian government will have six months to present the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe with the Action Plan how to prevent similar violations in the future.

Commentary by Vladimir Zhbankov, legal expert of Free Russia House in Kyiv:

“However, the problem of Russia’s systematic failure to comply with ECHR rulings has a long and rich history. Court judgments, as a rule, consist of three parts: one establishing the fact of breach of this or that Convention provision, recommendations on amending the domestic legislation or procedural practices, and one establishing the amount of financial compensation. For many years, Russia only complied with this last part. At the same time, since the early 2010s, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation has been developing quite an original and evidently non-legal doctrine that would enable Russia to ignore the judgments issued by the ECHR. The methods of enforcing compliance with international legal standards in the sphere of human rights by Russia are only in development so far. 

The website Nasiliyu.Net already contains translations of important fragments from the ECHR decisions, where, for instance, items 80-81 say that Russia has not enacted specific legislation to address violence occurring within the family context, and the concept of “domestic violence” or any equivalent thereof is not defined or mentioned in any form in the Russian legislation. The court also “cannot agree with the Government’s claim that the existing criminal-law provisions are capable of adequately capturing the offense of domestic violence.”

The public opinion in the Russian Federation increasingly tends to side with the Court’s opinion in this respect. Why is this decision so important for everyone who fights against domestic violence in Russia and tries to solve this problem? Based on this judgment, as well as on other judgments of the Court, it can be concluded that Russia systematically fails to follow through on its undertaken commitments on the protection of individuals under its jurisdiction from all forms of cruel treatment, including cases when such treatment is perpetrated by private individuals. Another conclusion is that Russia as a country supports gender-based discrimination against women and its gender policy is discriminatory in nature.

The government’s reluctance to treat the problem of domestic violence and violence against women seriously constitutes a part of this policy. What would it mean to treat a problem seriously? To abolish the law decriminalizing beatings in the family and to start legislative prevention of domestic violence (introduce domestic violence orders which would prohibit the aggressor to approach the victim). These are just the first steps that Russia needs to take so that the country would stop posing a threat to women’s life and health.

In addition to that, Russia still hasn’t been able to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention, which is currently one of the most important documents designed to prevent domestic violence and violence against women at the national level.

Commentary by defense attorney Olga Gnezdilova, a lawyer with “Legal Initiative”

G.R.: Will these specific police officers who refused to start the case be brought to justice somehow following the ECHR judgment? Is there any information available on their personal connections with Salayev?

O.G.: The police officers can effectively be brought to justice on the count of negligent performance since this means punishment for failure to perform one’s duties if it has led to grave damage or violation of citizens’ rights. In this case, of course, Valeriya’s rights were violated — by the government as well, de facto, taking into account that the ECHR has awarded the applicant a compensation from the budget (EUR 20,000 as a compensation for non-pecuniary damage and EUR 6,000 for legal costs and expenses — ed. note), and it was the government whose inaction has led to the damage. We do not have information that the police officers were in any way connected with Salayev. However, I am under the impression that they were exhibiting some sort of “male solidarity.” Like, they would tell him how to avoid responsibility when he took away Valeriya’s cell phones. When he gave them back, theft was off the table. In one of their explanations, they said that Valeriya did not need protection from the government, and they considered the threats not realistic, because of her bad relationship with Salayev and his jealousy. So, because of jealousy, the police decided that the threats were not realistic.

G.R.: Was this the first lawsuit filed with the ECHR concerning domestic violence where the state was the defendant? Does this mean that Volodina’s case should resolve the problem of domestic violence in a comprehensive manner? Does this mean that the case against Salayev should be opened after all and carefully investigated? What agencies and individuals will be tasked with the creation of the Action Plan to prevent such violations in the future, which will be presented in six months to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe?

O.G.: This was not the first case concerning domestic violence vs. Russia, but the first one on which the Court has made a judgment. We hope that the judgment will be fully implemented because the Court has recognized not only the breach of Valeriya’s right to protection from cruel treatment and investigation of her lawsuit but also established the fact of gender-based discrimination against her. The Court has also stated that Russia does not have legislation on domestic violence, that domestic violence orders accepted and proven in most countries on the Council of Europe do not work in Russia. We also hope that reports filed between 2016 and now will be investigated. The Action Plan will be created by the Ministry of Justice of Russia, then it will send the Plan to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and then coordinate specific steps and deadlines with the Committee.

G.R.: Can this case somehow affect the adoption of the law on the prevention of domestic violence and accelerate this process?

O.G.: Yes, we also hope that this case will have a direct impact on the adoption of domestic violence legislation. I am saying “legislation,” because apart from the law introducing this notion, amendments should be made to the Criminal Code, to the criminal procedural and civil legislation. That is, a lot of work should be done on legislation. We believe that when the government claims it is too expensive and we do not have budget funds to build shelters for women [safe places, special centers for women who have suffered from domestic or sexual violence or ended up in a difficult position] who are running away from violence is unsubstantiated. Shelters are also necessary (and this practice exists in many countries) if there is a threat of violence. We commend the statement of Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova, who has recently said that Russia should ratify the Istanbul convention in connection with the beating of a girl in Ingushetia. The Istanbul Convention sets forth detailed measures, both legislative and educational, which help to fight against this phenomenon at the earliest stages. That is, it is not only about effective punishment, but also about making this crime commonly viewed as unacceptable. There should be zero tolerance to domestic violence in society, no more victim-blaming, etc. Of course, the only one that can be blamed is the perpetrator. 

Today, we can already say that there is a public campaign around the problem of domestic violence in Russia. This is a grassroots initiative led by human rights defenders, activists, and journalists, which is supported by various media and social movements, which unites feminist movements and organizations, politicians, businesswomen and celebrities, writers and public intellectuals. The fact that we hear more and more about notable domestic violence cases is the result of this public campaign. This doesn’t mean that none of that happened before (even though the situation became somewhat worse after a battery in the family was decriminalized). But increased awareness of the domestic violence problem gradually causes the public to recognize that domestic violence in Russia is a political and governmental problem, and not just a problem of a select few. That is why it is so important that everyone who has access to public resources should speak up and form zero tolerance to domestic violence and violence against women in Russian society.

There is another important story that is probably bringing us closer to a comprehensive solution to the domestic violence problem in Russia. On July 9, the ECHR published a communiqué on four more complaints concerning domestic violence in Russia. This may bring in motion the “pilot judgment” procedure, which will result in the Court suggesting a set of legislative measures and a timeline of their adoption in Russia. In the entire ECHR history, 26 such pilot judgments were made, but none of them was about domestic violence. A “pilot judgment” is a procedure of a comprehensive nature. It was initiated because of the complaint of four Russian women who regularly suffered from domestic violence and faced rejections from the authorities when they asked to protect them from cruel treatment. They are Margarita Gracheva, Irina Petrakova, Natalia Tunikova, and Elena Gershman. Currently, domestic violence in Russia is still decriminalized, the legislation does not provide ways to fight against it, and a woman is killed by her partner or family member every 40 minutes nationwide

This text was translated from Russian by Natalia Slienko. The original text could be found here.

Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker imprisoned by Russian forces in 2014, is on the verge of death. More than one hundred days ago, he began a hunger strike to demand that Russian President Vladimir Putin free sixty-four Ukrainian political prisoners being held in Russia.  Since then, Sentsov has lost almost 70 pounds and suffered cardiac complications. In early August, he confided to his lawyer that “the end was near” and this week he told his cousin that his limbs are going numb. Unless the international community takes urgent action, his uncompromising commitment to freedom will soon kill him.

Policy makers and human rights activists face an all-too-common decision: Do we raise our voices loudly and in unison now, when it can potentially spare one life, or honor yet another opponent of tyranny with a street name following his death? We’ve got enough streets named after dead democrats and courageous freedom fighters. Let’s make an uproar now if only to say we shed a light on those unfairly held in Russia’s modern gulag.

Sentsov’s trouble began soon after Russia illegally annexed Crimea. He was arrested on May 10, 2014, by Russian FSB security forces for peacefully protesting the illegal Russian takeover of Crimea. From his home in the Crimean city of Simferopol, he was jailed and held incommunicado for three weeks. During this time, prison authorities physically abused him, including by suffocation, and threatened him with torture, rape, and murder in an attempt to get him to “confess” to terrorism.  The Russian authorities proceeded to strip him of his Ukrainian citizenship—a blatant violation of international law—and tried him in a military tribunal in Moscow as a Russian citizen. Despite a lack of evidence—including from the main witness against him who retracted his testimony after admitting it had been made under torture—Sentsov was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to twenty years in prison.

​Sentsov’s case is far from unique. Convicting political opponents on manufactured charges and bogus evidence is one of the hallmarks of Putin’s regime, and there are more than 183 political opponents currently imprisoned in Russia. In an attempt to wear them down, they are regularly subjected to torture; inhumane transport, including month-long transits in cramped trains with little access to water and sanitation; and imprisonment in “gulag-like” prison colonies.

​So far, Putin has managed to repress dissent, and Sentsov’s ongoing struggle is an attempt to change this. Sentsov hopes to force Putin to answer for the numerous Ukrainian activists he has imprisoned. Selflessly, Sentsov has not even demanded his own release; rather, he will only end the hunger strike if all other Ukrainian political prisoners are released, and he is willing to obtain his own freedom through death should Putin choose to ignore his demands.

​Unfortunately, Putin appears ready to let Sentsov die. Perhaps Sentsov’s case is a matter of pride. As a Ukrainian prisoner from Crimea, releasing Sentsov to the Ukrainian authorities might undermine Russia’s claim over Crimea. Or perhaps Putin simply wants to show the world that nothing, not even the death of an innocent man, can make him change.

Whatever the case, we must not let Putin have his way. It is time for the international community to stand in solidarity with all of Russia’s political prisoners and take concerted actions to hold Putin accountable. Sentsov’s life depends on it. If we don’t, it’s a defeat for those who believe in human rights and a victory to those who traffic in tyranny.

As an urgent first step, if Sentsov is to be saved, the world must unequivocally call for his immediate release.  As Sentsov’s situation has grown increasingly precarious, a handful of organizations and world leaders, including Amnesty International and French President Emmanuel Macron, have already done so. But to get Putin to listen, we need the United States and other countries and organizations that value democracy and human rights to prioritize Sentsov’s case.

Second, Russia must face serious and tangible consequences. Putin has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not act out of compassion or shame, so we must force him to do what is right. The United States should lead the charge by using all the tools in its arsenal—including significantly expanding sanctions—to force Putin to meet our demands for freedom.

Finally, we must not lose sight of what is at stake. Sentsov may be fighting to free Ukrainian political prisoners specifically, but this fight transcends national boundaries. It is a timeless and universal fight for freedom and justice—the very values that our society is built on. Sentsov has not weeks, but fleeting days left.  And if he dies, so does a part of our humanity.

This article originally appeared on the Atlantic Council’s website

The main photo: Barbed wire and placards with images of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov are seen after a rally demanding the release of Sentsov, who was jailed on terrorism charges and is currently on hunger strike in Russian jail, in front of the Russian embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

“No human rights violations have been observed in Crimea”, — announced the group Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD) political party members who visited Crimea in early February, 2018.

The nine-person delegation was composed of State Diet (Landtag) representatives and city council members, such as Evgeny Schmidt from the “Russian Germans for AfD” fraction; as well as Christian Blex, Nick Vogel, and Helmut Seifen, — all three from the North Rhine-Westphalia parliament.

The German parliamentarians had been invited to Crimea by the obscure organization called the Regional German Ethnic and Cultural Autonomy of the Republic of Crimea. Its Chair Yuri Gempe confirmed that the Autonomy covered part of the expenses associated with the trip. Incidentally, Mr. Gempe happens to serve on the Crimean State Council as representative of the Putin’s United Russia party.

This trip has set off an outpour of indignation from various German federal government officials, outraged the leadership of the AfD party itself and drove a wedge among its various chapters. While the Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia AfD factions have supported the visit, several local AfD chapters refused to endorse it. The Berlin AfD attempted to publicly distance itself from the controversial visit by stressing via its social media accounts that the trip was private in nature and the delegation members hadn’t received the mandate “from neither the faction nor from the party”.

“I am critical of this visit” – stated George Pazderski, the head of the Berlin AfD in his interview to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He felt that this initiative by his colleagues was dangerous in that it could “shut the doors to other east European countries”. He also speculated that the parliamentarians who visited Crimea may have been simply “used” by someone.

Notably, the visit has been covered extensively in the Russian media. Russian newspapers and TV channels have described in rich detail the astonishment of German guests who, contrary to their pre-trip expectations, observed modern well-designed highways instead of beat-down roads.

In their coverage, Russian outlets conveniently leave out certain details. For example, “not every segment clarifies that these were local officials representing State Diets (Landtag)”, —notes a reporter from Deutschlandfunk. “Instead, they are introduced simply as “German parliamentarians”. Such nuance is critical. The politicians who spent a week in Crimea and returned to Germany on February 9, are members of local parliaments from three states: North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg, and Berlin. They are not part of the AfD’s leadership and do not play a significant role in decision-making at the federal level. For example, one of them, Roger Beckamp, merely chairs an AfD chapter at the City Council of Cologne.

This was not the first trip by AfD representatives to Crimea. The April 2016 visit by an EU Parliamentarian and AfD member Marcus Pretzell to the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by the Russian Federation turned out just as scandalous when it was uncovered that it was sponsored by a Russian foundation. This became evident from the disclosure documents filed by the German politician at the insistence of the Ethics Commission of the European Parliament.

The Prosecutor’s Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (which is a part of Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine) has opened a criminal investigation against the German citizens who visited the peninsula. The announcement has been published on the website of Prosecutor’s Office.

The case was initiated under Article 332-1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (“Violation of the entry regulations to the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine”). The Prosecutor’s Office stated, that “on February 3, 2018, a group of citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany arrived in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in disregard of the order of entry to the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine. The above-mentioned citizens planned to use this visit to meet with representatives of the Russian occupation authorities to discuss cooperation with the German side”.

This, however, is not the end of the story of the odious adventures of AfD reps. Some of them (Christian Blex, for example) followed up with a trip to Syria, which also triggered a negative reaction, including from the ruling party of Christian Democrats (CDU).

On Tuesday, March 6, 2018, Michael Brand who represents the CDU/CSU parliamentary faction issued a statement denouncing the trip to Syria by a number of MPs from the AfD party. He declared that “meeting with criminal cliques” while “dictator al-Assad uses bombs and chemical weapons” is “just awful.” AfD members of parliament “did not shy away even from meeting the ruthless mufti” who, according to Brand, “called for suicide attacks in Europe and personally signed thousands of death warrants”.

Why would members of German local parliaments so actively pursue foreign affairs activities while conducting them “privately”? The AfD delegates insist that the latter trip was self-paid, which contradicts the Russian official story. Such activity is outside of their jurisdiction level and is not sanctioned by their party or even local chapters.  Clearly, courting scandal and the attention of the media is one of the key political tactics of the AfD. The Russian media omits from its coverage the AfD’s far-right populism, asks no inconvenient questions and portraits it as a viable political force in Germany.

We should, therefore, not be surprised to discover AfD representatives serving as so-called “independent” observers during the Russian presidential elections. Exactly what they will “observe” is hardly a mystery either.

The Russian government is planning a large “international” conference in Crimea this April.  The invitations have been already issued to the left-wingers as well as to AfD members. We will just have to wait and see whether the AfD participation will once again take the form of “personal visits”, or the party leadership would finally stop this homegrown diplomacy.

The phenomenon of modern political emigration from Russia is still causing some doubts, but most likely so as of now just in the details of it. The flow of those who are leaving the authoritarian country is increasing, a lot of people leave due to the direct, or indirect threats and persecution. Germany is attractive to quite a lot of political emigrants (if not the majority of them). The strongest economy of the European Union, and the developed civil society along with the most voluminous Russian – speaking community make this choice well – grounded. In this article are going to examine the reasons and specific characteristics of the political emigration to Germany.

The “Swamp Case” has become a trigger for the newest wave of political emigration from Russia. It exactly after that case had been initiated that the activists, who might have been persecuted began to leave the country, and some of them did get persecuted for some mythical participation in the mass riots, or for organizing them. More than 600 people were detained right on the spot while they were demonstrating on the very same day when the rally took place, some of those later have become defendants in that criminal case. There were searches and cross – interrogations that were conducted in more than 10 cities among 300 activists. There are more than 30 guilty verdicts that were carried out by the court in the case. The case has not been closed yet – there are court hearings and active investigations still going on in full swing. Photos of more than 80 people, who are considered to be perpetrators involved in that case were published on the website of the Investigative Committee. More than 30 people have received international protection in the EU countries.

The events of the year of 2014 in the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine have increased both the number of emigrants, and the number of persecution cases. Included among those cases are also the ones based on the absurd, the so-called “separatist activities incriminating article,” in accordance with which any single doubt about the legality of the occupation of the Crimea is considered to be a criminal offense. The law on “foreign agents” and on “undesirable organizations”, as well as the pressure, in general, that was applied towards the NGO sector has increased the number of causes based on which the state can persecute anybody, having, therefore, increased the number of potential and real emigrants from Russia as well.

The political crisis of the year 2014 has led to an economic crisis in Russia, which in its turn resulted in a growth of the numbers of political and economic emigrants. This is the part of the medium and small scale business that has already been strongly dissatisfied with the political situation in the country as it was, and the impossibility to conduct a more or less normal business practices that have shaped their final decision to leave Russia. In accordance with some preliminary data in the year of 2016 more than a million people left the Russian Federation.

For a more profound in-depth comprehension of the problem we hereby offer to characterize political emigrants by certain typology categories.

The first type is comprised of political refugees, in other words, they are the citizens of the Russian Federation, who for one reason or another (that we shall analyze separately) have asked for the international protection in Germany, and they are now either in the process of their application case still being considered, or they have already since received a positive approval response.

The second type is comprised out of factual political emigrants. They have grounds to be afraid of staying further on in the Russian Federation (these might be direct or indirect threats), but they do not perceive their situation hard enough, or they do not believe that the situation warrants for them to make a request to obtain the international protection grant. That is why their official reason for staying in Germany is not seeking political asylum grant, but to work or to study, for instance.

The third type is made of atmospheric emigrants, in other words they are the citizens of the Russian Federation, who due to the specific nature of their professional occupation or their points of view, can no longer stay in the authoritarian regime environment, and prefer to leave Russia in order to continue their business activities in Germany. 

Refugees

  1. The refugees from the republics of the North Caucasus of Russia (predominantly from Chechnya and Dagestan) – this group is not the theme of this article and it calls for a separate research.
  2. LGBT refugees – their percentage is higher here than it is in the other countries because German authorities have found the law on the so-called “Propaganda of homosexuality” to be a discriminatory one.
  3. Political asylees proper – political and public activists, who have had politically instigated criminal cases initiated against them, and who have received life threats and threats to their health and wellbeing in conjunction with their public and political activities, and who quite possibly might have been attacked.

There is a particularly peculiar feature of the situation in Germany: Russian citizens from the Northern Caucasus file several thousand applications for asylum per year, in certain instances up to 10 thousand. Some of the applications from certain groups of refugees make hundreds of cases, and perhaps by the year of 2017, they might even rise up to a thousand. In other words, a particular stereotypical picture is being created about the citizens of Russia, who are seeking asylum in Germany. Also, it is difficult to talk about special attention being paid to political cases (politically motivated criminal cases, etc.), since from an official point of view all of the applicants from Russia make up for one single group.

One should also provide a clarification in regards to the system of considering and granting international protection status (asylum) in Germany.

There is no further subdivision into humanitarian and political refugees, in Germany. All of the cases are processed together. Every case is being considered on an individual ad hoc basis. There are no set up timeframes within which the application for asylum ought to be processed, that is why some people are waiting for the decision on their claims for years.

As a type of a decision on his case an asylum seeker may be granted a full asylum status or a minor asylum status. A minor asylum status is issued for a certain period of time, for example for one year or two, with the possibility of getting an extension on it and it does not provide all the levels of the international protection that a full refugee status does. While submitting an application for an asylum, one cannot make a request for a minor asylum status, this decision is taken solemnly by the granting institution. Minor asylum status is being granted in those cases, where the asylum status is being sought by the representatives of a group that is being discriminated against, or for instance when humanitarian refugees ask for shelter. In other words, the threat for this group to which they belong does exist, but it is not aimed at any concrete individuals in particular.

There have been some positive changes underway in the legislation on refugees in Germany in the last three years. As of now, asylum seekers can move across the entire territory of Germany without the special permit, and they also can receive a work permit within 3 months upon the submission of the application for one.

The LGBT refugees

Minor asylum status has been granted to some LGBT refugees from Russia, who had not been directly persecuted, and did not participate in any activities to defend the rights of the LGBT community.

We know about more than 100 cases of asylum requests that were filed by the LGBT refugees from Russia in the Federal Republic of Germany. The majority of such applications get a positive response. Therefore, one may already speak about the creation of a Russian-speaking LGBT community in Germany.

Dmitry Chunosov (LGBT activist): “In Germany, at first you are mandated to reside in a camp. After we filed the application for asylum, they gave us a ticket to go to Friedland. That is in Lower Saxony, right in the center of Germany, one of the oldest refugee camps, that was opened in 1945. A month later we received a transfer to Luneburg, where we have been living up until now. And one month later we passed the interview, and in 18 more months, we have gotten our status of the refugees. “

Regretfully so, homophobia in the refugee camps still continues to be one of the crucial problems for the LGBT refugees. In the year of 2015 there were more than 60 incidents of attacks and threats that were reported.

The political Refugee

Their number in Germany has been on a fast rise ever after the year of 2014 – the occupation of the Crimea, and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. At the present moment, we have the knowledge of more than two hundred cases that were filed with the request to provide international protection due to the politically motivated persecution in Russia. Among the major reasons for the persecution, there are the initiation of a criminal prosecution case or a threat of a criminal prosecution. A smaller portion of the cases is compiled from asylum grant requests that are not based on the investigation of the life threats and health and wellbeing threats of the asylum seeker. In the majority of cases, applicants from Russia receive positive responses.

The main problems for the asylum seekers in Germany are: the long waiting period to get a decision on the case, the absence of a possibility for free (or accessible) ways to learn German language, and the problem of getting a job while in the waiting process looking forward to getting the decision to be made on their case.

A more global issue for the political emigration from Russia (for those numbers of public activists and reporters) is their factual falling out of the loop due to the absence from the public life in Russia, which is equated to the prevailing victory of the law-enforcement agencies at power, since it was their objective from the get-go to put an end to a certain activity of a definite person. Many people continue to keep working on their old projects, however, that work, as usual, becomes less systematic and with the lack of the financial support, it quickly ceases to exist.

Political emigrants from Russia

Those political emigrants who have not requested asylum status for themselves because of one reason or another are placed in very different situations. And at the very same time, it happens so that in the majority of the cases it is not in their own best interest to go back to Russia. Their number is much grander in its magnitude than that one of the refugees, in other words, we are speaking about thousands of them. They depend on their migration status and their level of economic independence. In other words, some of them do not have any problems, maybe the only issue for them is the learning of the German language. Meanwhile, there are some other people facing the need to renew their residence permit on a regular basis, and having to prove that they are economically viable, which is causing them stress and apathy.

That is why a role of crucial importance is played by the initiatives of the primary consultation assistance, as well as the possibility to continue working (in the very least within the framework of some internship arrangements) in some familiar socially significant fields. To have an opportunity to use the workplace with the Internet access and social interactions in one’s professional environment may be very important at the initial stages, especially for those ones who left in a hurry. 

The “atmospheric” emigrants

A great deal of them represents the so-called “middle class,” which did not have time enough to mature into some powerful and influential part of the Russian society, and is forced now to find solutions for the issues of their economic future in other countries and to do so on their own.

The majority of them are mainly scientists, people representing creative fields and high-tech occupations, along with some representatives of small and medium – scaled businesses, who have managed to save up and accumulate a small amount of capital. They do not seek asylum, but rather they leave the country to commence a new life in a healthy, competitive environment. And at the very same time, most of them do not forget about Russia and put their best efforts into exploring all the venues available to them in order to keep informed about what is going on there.

Alexey – an entrepreneur: “I had a business in Moscow, we developed Internet projects and various online solutions for business. In the beginning of 2012, I started thinking about opening an account in Lithuania and about transferring some part of the cash proceeds through it for a rainy day, so to speak. After the referendum in the Crimea, I decided that the time has come to get ready for the move. I researched the conditions of doing business in Germany, Lithuania and a couple of other countries, and I picked Germany. By that time, I had accumulated a sufficient amount of money to open my own company over there and I moved, taking several of the managers along with me. The remaining part of the company is working in the remote locale regime, so I did not have to rebuild the team all over again. In Berlin we began to expand into Europe, in here everything is so much easier to do and to resolve the problems. Quite frequently the officials themselves help us out, and tell us about the best way of doing things.”

In general, modern political emigration from Russia has become a prominent phenomenon in Germany. Structurally so, it is still at the stage of its evolving development, but as far as its numbers are concerned it quite possibly is the biggest one in Europe after Ukraine. It is exactly Germany that might become some kind of a reserve center for a new, democratic Russia, preserving, and possibly perhaps even empowering the potential of the scientists, journalists, environmentalists, human rights advocates and many other people, who were forced to leave Russia but have plans to go back there.

In 2015, Crimea realized it did not become a special region for Russia. Now it is time to reflect on the changes in peninsula’s economy, tourism, human rights situation and its relations with mainland Ukraine.

Continue reading Farewell to sacredness. What 2015 brought to Crimea