(Moscow) - European Union leaders should address the hostile climate for human rights defenders in Russia during talks at the EU-Russia Summit on June 9 and 10, 2011, in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, Human Rights Watch said today. Specifically, they should raise the harassment and intimidation experienced by a number of civil society activists in the run-up to the summit.
Human Rights Watch said President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, and High Representative Catherine Ashton should voice their concerns publicly with the Russian delegation to the summit, led by President Dmitry Medvedev, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and Minister for Economic Development Elvira Nabiullina.
"Despite repeated pledges by Russiaīs leadership to ensure normal working conditions, human rights activists in Russia regularly face intimidation and harassment," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Itīs outrageous that activists are being harassed because of their activities in the lead-up to the summit. EU leaders should make it clear they wonīt tolerate threatening activists for their legitimate human rights work."
Examples of recent government interference with human rights activists include:
Sadovskaya told Human Rights Watch that while driving to the prosecutorīs office for the meeting, she noticed that her car was being followed by an unknown vehicle.
Sadovskaya described the meeting with officials at the prosecutorīs office as non-contentious, with officials simply asking her to inform them of the plans of the Civil Society Forum during the summit. However, when Sadovskaya returned to her car after the meeting, she found that the license plates on her car were missing. She reported the apparent theft to the nearest patrol police officer, who ignored her and drove off without taking any action. Within 30 minutes, the same police officer pulled over Sadovskaya for driving without license plates and took her to the police station to document an administrative offense. Driving without license plates is punishable by a fine and possible confiscation of a driverīs license for up to three months. In addition, all of Sadovskayaīs bank cards, which she holds in three different banks, were blocked for "technical reasons" a few days before the summit and remain blocked as of this writing.
The EU normally restricts its conversations, at least in public, on human rights in Russia to twice-yearly human rights consultations.
"Human rights and the protection of activists shouldnīt be confined solely to occasional human rights consultations, which have done little to improve the situation in Russia," Williamson said. "It is high time the EU put human rights discussions firmly on the agenda at the summit level."