Vladimir Putin’s regime is a threat to our people as well as his own. Britain must speak out
Sometimes it is difficult to make the case for promoting human rights abroad. But a new report by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission shows why we must not stay silent about Russia, writes MP Fiona Bruce
Just before the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s report on Russia, which is launched today, went to print a week ago, we received news that human rights activist Oleg Kozlovsky had been “abducted, beaten, and subjected to terrifying mock executions” in Ingushetia, North Caucasus, before being released, according to Amnesty International. His abductors reportedly claimed to be from the security services.
Mr Kozlovsky wrote on Twitter on 15 October 2018 that his kidnappers brought him to a remote place where they stripped him naked, punched him, broke a rib, took photos, and threatened to rape him. He alleges that they put a gun to the back of his head and said they were going to shoot him. His telephone and camera were confiscated, and they reportedly warned that his children would be killed if he ever spoke about this ordeal.
Oleg Kozlovsky gave evidence to our inquiry. Indeed, he was invited to testify in person, but his visa to come to the United Kingdom was not approved in time. In his written testimony to us, he said: “I have been arrested dozens of times – I stopped counting when it was about 30 – for organising or participating in protests, sometimes beaten in the process. I have been detained for up to 15 days several times … I was illegally drafted into the army on a request to isolate me during [a] presidential campaign … Police have several times raided offices of my organisations, always without any legal grounds. I have been followed and received death threats; my home address has been published by some people. I lost a job in a company after my boss was visited by FSB officers. My Telegram account has been hacked … The one thing I enjoyed was when pro-Kremlin media accused me of being a traitor who was preparing to overthrow Putin on orders from John McCain. It may look like a lot, but in fact it is nothing out of the ordinary. I know a lot of people who face much greater risks and, while it certainly is not good, the fact that such people exist gives me hope. I don’t think that Russian civil society can be destroyed or forced into submission by this regime.”
It is for people like Oleg Kozlovsky that we publish this report today. After holding three long hearings in Parliament where we heard first-hand evidence from Russian dissidents such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky who spent ten years in jail, Vladimir Kara-Murza who survived two attempts to poison him, Marina Litvinenko, whose husband was assassinated in London, Zoya Svetova, a brave Russian journalist who told us about conditions in Russia’s prisons, Garry Kasparov, the world chess champion driven into exile by Vladimir Putin’s regime, and Bill Browder, an American investor expelled from Russia whose lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was beaten and tortured to death, it is an inescapable conclusion that human rights in Russia have dramatically deteriorated in recent years.
All major media, we were told, in Russia today is under the regime’s control, and independent-minded journalists have been murdered, intimidated, imprisoned or silenced.
Civil society is repressed by laws that determine what organisations are “foreign agents” or “undesirable”. Any association with such groups can land you in jail.
Freedom of religion or belief is severely curtailed, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hare Krishna followers, Protestant missionaries and a yoga teacher are among the victims.
According to the evidence we received, torture in prisons and detention centres is rife, the independence of the judiciary is non-existent, abuses in the Caucasus are “particularly acute”, and violations in Crimea are dire.
Perhaps the most shocking evidence we received was of the use of murder to silence critics. Opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza told our Commission that: “Arbitrary detention, slanderous propaganda, electoral disenfranchisement, and even long-term imprisonment are not the worst consequences for those who oppose the regime. Increasingly, murder or attempted murder is becoming a tool of political reprisals in Russia.”
Sometimes it is difficult to make the case as to why Britain should publicly, openly and actively promote human rights in different parts of the world. Sometimes there will be people who will argue that a country is distant, with no particular connection to Britain, and therefore of little concern to us. Other times there will be those who will prioritise trade and investment, or geopolitical concerns, and argue that we should not jeopardise our relations with a given country by raising human rights concerns. But as in the case of Russia, our national interest and our moral duty are clearly and very obviously aligned.
Martin Luther King Jnr said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a simple garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Vladimir Putin’s regime has attacked his critics on our streets, and endangered the lives of our citizens in the process. He is accused of interfering in elections in different parts of the world. Those who support his regime financially own property, do their shopping and invest their assets in London. He has sent submarines and jets close to our coast. His regime is a threat both to his own people, and to ours.
And for that reason it is imperative that we take a stand, to speak out against the grave violations of human rights for which his regime is responsible, and to challenge its behaviour. Just over a week after the brutal attack on Oleg Kozlovsky, we should heed his words to our Commission: “Damage is caused … by inaction or turning a blind eye to rights violations.” I hope that our report – 'Poison, Torture, Lies and Repression: Human Rights in Russia Today' – and its recommendations will be widely read, and acted upon. It is in our own interests to do so.
Fiona Bruce is the Member of Parliament for Congleton and Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission
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