Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chapter 29- a new dialogue?

A welcome sign this week that the legislature will revisit the Federation's much discussed and highly controversial Chapter 29 (Section X) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Chapter 29 relating to "Crimes against the fundamentals of the Constitutional System and State Security" includes statues relating to high treason, espionage and state secrets.

The review of the broadening of the interpretation of these laws seen over 2008 is being openly supported by President Medvedev in what Kremlin officials are using as a display of Medvedev's increased willingness to enter into a dialogue with the the public. The measures have been highly controversial and the debate over the interpretation has moved beyond jurists and freedom of speech NGOs to be discussed widely in the press.

A rare dialogue well worth continuing.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Memorial raid ruled illegal

On Tuesday 20th January, a ruling was heard at the Dzerzhinsky District Court which declared a 4th December 2008 raid on the offices of human rights NGO memorial illegal.

The December raid was conducted by several masked and armed men who claimed to be from the local Investigative Committee of the General Procurators' office acting upon alleged social and ethnic hatred incited by an article by St. Petersburg journalist Konstantin Chernyayev Paper files and computers were confiscated in the course of the raid.

The ruling to dismiss the legal grounds for the raid was based on the fact that Memorial was denied the right to have legal counsel present during the raid. Video evidence submitted to the court showed the investigators ignoring the attempts of Memorial's lawyer to enter the offices.

The case is now pending an appeal.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mikhail Mihailyuk

OBITER RU is currently monitoring reports that the burnt body of Mikhail Mikhailyuk, Ukrainian high economic court judge, has been found in his car outside of Kiev. Police investigating the crime have reported unofficially that there is an 80% certainty at least that the body in the car is that of the judge. No official confirmation has been forthcoming and no comment has been made on the cause of death.

Judge Mikhailyuk came to prominence over several high profile commercial court cases including that of Altimo v. Telenor which resulted in a temporarily punitive sanction applied to Altimo, owned by Russian Alfa Group, in the New York Southern District Court at the end of 2008.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Access to Information law

The Russian state Duma yesterday heard the third reading of a bill ("Об обеспечении доступа к информации о деятельности государственных органов и органов местного самоуправления") akin to the freedom of information act. The bill would give citizens the right to gain access to government documents and require officials to disclose information upon request which is not protected by as a state secret.

The bill, first mentioned in a 2005 address by then-President Vladimir Putin, is being backed by the Duma's Information Policy Committee.

While there is legislation currently on the books which allows for official disclosure to citizens, requests are often rejected by the judiciary if they are not submitted by an interested party, that is someone directly concerned with, or mentioned in, the information.

Only time will tell if an increased application of the restrictions in place covering state secrets will limit access to the most potentially damaging and damning information vulnerable to disclosure, such as budgets and expense reports.

The bill now moves to the Federation Council of the RF for consideration. If approved there, it will go to President Dmitry Medvedev to be signed into law. The law would come into force in January 2010 if successful.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Stanislav Markelov and Russian Law under threat

On Monday 19th January at 2:30pm, Stanislav Markelov and his companion, the 25-year old freelance journalist Anastasia Baburova ,were assassinated in Moscow's city centre.
Markelov, only 34, was a human rights lawyer, a champion of the rule of law and a Russian patriot. His assassin did not have the courage to face his victim, shooting him from behind and fleeing to the nearby Kropotkinskaya metro station.
Everyone who cares for Russia, the law, and the all too delicate and tenuous relationship between the two, will mourn the death of Markelov. They will mourn the death of a good and decent man whose humanity was matched only by learning and doggedness. However, they will also mourn the end of his tireless work in defence of those usually deprived of access to the law and to justice. Those such as Elza Kungayeva; only one among many he represented.
Such work is increasingly dangerous, and often fatal, in a country where international posturing and economic extremes can obscure a real systemic crisis at the heart of Russia. Inevitably, the murder to Markelov and Baburova will be marshaled by those who wish to occupy their time engaged in facile Kremlin-bashing. However, the motives of those (for assuredly it was more than one person) behind the killings are unlikely to be so straightforward and attributable. They are more likely to lie in the disenfranchisement, racism, and criminality which is increasingly creeping to the surface in Moscow as elsewhere in the vast country.
We offer our condolences to the family and many friends of Markelov and Baburova, and good luck to those professionals charged with bringing justice to them and to the country.