Vienna, November 7 – Moscow city officials are refusing to renew the leases of two leading Russian human rights activist groups, an action that the groups are appealing but that some observers are explaining as official retribution for the participation of these groups in recent anti-government protests and as a reflection of negative trends in Russian life.
Yesterday, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the dean of Russian human rights activists and the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said that Moscow city officials were refusing to extend the lease the Group has for offices in the Russian capital. Lev Ponomaryev, head of the For Human Rights Movement, said officials had taken the same action against his group.
Both of them have appealed to Vladimir Lukin, the Russian government rights ombudsman, and Aleksandr Muzaykantsky, Lukin’s Moscow city counterpart, as well as to Ella Pamfilova, the head of President Dmitry Medvedev’s Council for the Support of the Development of the Institutions of Civil Society and Human Rights (lenta.ru/news/2009/11/06/oust/).
Alekseyeva told the Russian media that all three of these individuals had promised to help the two groups reverse these decisions. But Ponomaryev said that the fact that officials had taken nearly simultaneous actions against the two groups suggests that broader Russian government policies were behind the move.
In a comment posted on the Grani.ru portal, the For Human Rights Movement leader suggested that Moscow officials appear to have “listened to Medvedev’s ‘Russia, Forward!’ appeal and decided that the time had come to push the human rights activists into the street” (grani.ru/Politics/Russia/activism/m.161740.html).
Eduard Limonov, the leader of the National Bolsheviks, expressed the view on his blog that the Moscow city authorities had acted either at the behest of or with the implicit approval of the federal government, many of whose members are angry at Alekseyeva and Ponomaryev for taking part in the October 31 protests (limonov-eduard.livejournal.com/27382.html).
And the radical leader called on his followers to be ready to come to the defense of the two groups in a non-violent way if and when officials from the government of the Russian capital try to expel the Moscow Helsinki Group and the For Human Rights Movement from their offices.
In many ways, one might think that the timing of this action could not be worse: This week marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dawning of what many hoped would be a new era of freedom; and last week, the German government decorated Alekseyeva for her “many years of struggle for democratic values and human rights.”
But unfortunately, it is just possible that the Russian powers that be which have been taking ever more steps against the rights groups like these seek to defend may have correctly calculated that they will escape criticism from many in the West who continue to hope that under Dmitry Medvedev, Moscow is moving in a more positive direction.