Johnson's Russia List
30 October 2003
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A CDI Project
October 20, 2003
Falling birth rate linked to poor human rights
By German Prokhorov
Russian authorities have set up a dictatorship of power-wielding
structures, lavishly flavoured with Orthodoxy, a leading Russian human
rights activist said on Wednesday. Russian scientists are afraid to
communicate with their foreign counterparts, whereas civilian service,
introduced as an alternative to military duty, has been turned into a
punishment worse than imprisonment. As a consequence, the birth rate in
Russia is sinking.
Leading Russian human rights groups including the Moscow Helsinki Group,
Memorial, the Grazhdanskoye Sodeistviye Committee, the Human Rights
Institute, the Union of Soldiers' Mothers' Committees, the For Human Rights
movement, the Sakharov centre and the Glasnost Defence Foundation took part
in a TWO-DAY ALL-RUSSIAN CONFERENCE OF CIVIC ORGANISATIONS, held
in Moscow this week.
The participants of the conference adopted a statement denouncing the
arrest of YUKOS CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky. With the tycoon's arrest "a war
has been declared on civic society", the statement reads. In the opinion of
human rights groups, Russian authorities "have embarked on a path of
undisguised repressions". "Khodorkovsky's arrest is not the proof of
equality of all citizens before the law. This is the demonstration of all
citizens' equality before arbitrariness," the document reads.
The participants of the conference also condemned the unlawful actions of
law enforcement agencies against defence counsel Sergei Brovchenko, who has
been held in prison for six years now on fabricated charges, after "drugs
were placed on him", and Mikhail Trepashkin, arrested without a court's
sanction and held in custody ever since.
The state, human rights advocates believe, openly backs arbitrariness of
force-wielding agencies. The conference called for instituting public and
parliamentary control over the Federal Security Service. "The FSB's
arbitrariness of late against scientists, entrepreneurs, lawyers,
journalists, environmentalists and representatives of other public
organization shows that special services, unreformed and beyond control of
the public and the legislature, have become extremely dangerous for
society, citizens and the state."
According to human rights activists, the FSB has never had any evidence of
the guilt of Nikitin, Pasko, Sutyagin, Babkin, Danilov and all the cases
against them were fabricated.
Resulting from the security services' actions, "scientists and diplomats
are afraid to communicate with their foreign counterparts," for they may be
accused either of espionage or of divulging state secrets. That is why the
conference demanded President Vladimir Putin "to oblige the FSB to act
within the framework of the law, and to place that service under public and
On their part, state-owned media outlets "service the authorities,
forgetting their function," and thereby violate Russian citizens'
constitutional right to information, the conference said.
Human rights groups voiced their intent to enter into a public agreement
with the RSPP (the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs), the
Delovaya Rossia (Business Russia) business support group and the Opora
Rossii small businesses association, that Russian businesses would use only
private media for advertising and thus "restrict the inflow of funds to the
state-owned and state controlled media".
Participants of the conference also voiced alarm in connection with the
ever-increasing political role of the Russian Orthodox Church. In another
statement adopted at the conference, human rights groups warned of the
clericalization of Russia. In the opinion of human rights activists,
Russian authorities are pursuing an "anti-constitutional religious policy",
whereas the liberty of conscience enshrined in the Constitution is but a
According to the participants of the conference, the authorities violate
the rights of unprivileged religious minorities and atheists, having in
fact made Orthodoxy the official religion in a secular state.
To prove their case, the human rights activists recalled the defacement in
January this year of an exhibition entitled ''Beware: Religion!'' by
vandals, charges against whom were later dropped. The attack was reportedly
backed by the Moscow patriarchy.
The ''Beware: Religion!'' exhibition, organized by the Sakharov Museum in
Moscow, dealt with issues such as religious fundamentalism and church-state
relations, and the title reflected the need to be cautious and respectful
in matters of faith.
In a separate statement the conference denounced the authorities' attempts
to introduce compulsory basic military training in Russian schools, and
called for amending the controversial law on alternative civil service. .
Furthermore, the participants of the conference accused Russia of its
failure to observe international laws concerning the well being of children
According to statistics, in the past ten years the child population in
Russia sank from 44 million to 32 million, of which over 700,000 are
orphans, many with living parents deprived of their parental rights.
Russia's human rights envoy Oleg Mironov, who did not take part in the
conference, said on Wednesday, he agreed with many issues raised by human
rights advocates. "I have many questions concerning Khodorkovsky's arrest,
whether it was really necessary, for he had many times said he would not go
anywhere from Russia. Even more so that he stands accused of economic
crimes, he is no murderer, no terrorist," the Russian ombudsman told
Gazeta.Ru in a telephone interview from Strasbourg, where he is taking part
in the EU conference on indigenous peoples' rights.
Despite the fact that most statements of human rights groups usually go
unnoticed by the authorities, Mironov believes that their efforts will not
prove futile. "Constant dropping wears away the stone, if we act jointly,
the authorities will have to hearken to us," the ombudsman said.