The Times: Time to Free Russia’s Prisoners of Conscience

August 1, 2012

To coincide with Putin’s visit to the Olympics in London, former UK Foreign Secretaries Sir Malcolm Rifkind and David Miliband, Chair of the International Development Select Committee Sir Malcolm Bruce, Article 19’s Executive Director Agnes Callamard and Film Director Terry Gilliam, joined together to call for the release of Russia’s political prisoners in a letter to the Times’ Editor.

Sir, We welcome Vladimir Putin’s attendance at the London Olympics, his first time back in the UK since being re-elected as President. We hope that on his return to Russia he will address an urgent issue that is fully in his power to resolve.

On February 8, 2012, the independent experts on the Kremlin Council on Civil Society and Human Rights gave to Mr Putin’s predecessor and the new Prime Minister, Dmitri Medvedev, a list of 32 people — among them doctors, economists, professors, entrepreneurs and writers — whom they regarded as being unlawfully imprisoned in Russia, whose trials had not been in accordance with the rule of law and who, they believed, had been persecuted for their views. Alongside the council members, a number of personalities from the Russian intellectual and artistic community advised Mr Medvedev to release these 32 wrongfully jailed individuals.

Mr Medvedev did not act on this issue, and the resolution of this matter grows more urgent by the day.

Some of these prisoners are in critical condition with their health failing, such as Taisiya Osipova, the mother of a 5-year-old girl, a member of “The Other Russia” opposition movement, who is diabetic and suffering from pancreatitis. She was handed a ten-year sentence on drug charges late last year.

Others on this list have been in jail for nearly a decade, men such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, both recognised as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

Three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot, also recognised by Amnesty as prisoners of conscience, face up to seven years’ imprisonment in what is increasingly being reported as a politically motivated case against them.
Other well-known prisoners are not on this list because they died as a result of inhumane conditions and torture in Russian jails.

Sergei Magnitsky and Vasily Aleksanyan were both lawyers and both under 40 years old when they died in prison conditions unworthy of a State which is supposed to be sharing the common values recognised by the European Convention on Human Rights. No one else should suffer their fate.

We recognise that all countries and all justice systems make errors, sometimes. But we believe that it is an honour that falls to Mr Putin, as President, to recognise this and free these persons as is his authority under the Russian constitution.

We are all seeking to improve relations between Russia and the UK, but this will only be possible in an environment that promotes, respects and guarantees the rule of law.

One of the individuals on the council’s list, Sergei Mokhnatkin, has already been pardoned — demonstrating that it can be done. We ask for the immediate release of these men and women so Mr Putin can send to his own people, and also the world, a sign of a new Russia — modern, democratic and respectful of universal human rights. Such human rights values that the UK, which welcomes Mr Putin, honours and respects.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Foreign Secretary, 1995-97)
David Miliband (Foreign Secretary, 2007-10)
Sir Malcolm Bruce, Chair, International Development Select Committee
Agnès Callamard, Executive Director, Article 19
Terry Gilliam film director

In May 2012 a similar letter was published in Le Monde to coincide with Putin’s first visit to Paris to meet the new French President Francois Hollande.

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