Russia Update: European Anti-Torture Activists Expelled from Russia

May 21, 2015
Participants in a conference organized by the Committee Against Torture (KPT) in Nizhny Novgorod with Europeans from the Danish Institute Against Torture (Dignity), broken up by the Federal Migration Service May 21, 2015. Photo by KPT.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

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Russia This Week:

From Medal of Valor to Ubiquitous Propaganda Symbol: the History of the St. George Ribbon
What Happened to the Slow-Moving Coup?
Can We Be Satisfied with the Theory That Kadyrov Killed Nemtsov?
All the Strange Things Going On in Moscow

Special features:

With Cash and Conspiracy Theories, Russian Orthodox Philanthropist Malofeyev is Useful to the Kremlin
Alexey Navalny On the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Novaya Gazeta Releases Sensational Kremlin Memo

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European Anti-Torture Activists Expelled from Russia for Training Nizhny Novgorod Group

Russian authorities have expelled European human rights advocates working with a local group in yet another incident  related to control of foreign contacts in the wake of the “foreign agents” law and the new “undesirable organizations” law.

According to reports in RIA Novosti and Yod News, the Nizhny Novgorod Committee Against Torture said about 10 officers of the regional office of the Federal Migration Service burst into the hotel where they had been having a conference and asked the Europeans to come with them.

The names of the foreigners were not provided by the Russian media.

The Federal Migration Service said they were “checking information coming in about a possible violation of migrant law and are conducting procedural actions,” said RIA Novosti.

A Nizhny Novgorod court then fined and expelled a staff person from the Danish Institute Against Torture (Dignity), attorney Pyotr Zaikin told RIA Novosti (translation by The Interpreter):

The court reviewed only one of the three cases today and two others are pending. A citizen of German was tried for an administrative offense under Art. 18.8, part 2 of the Code of Administration Offenses and fined 2,000 rubles and expelled from Russia.

The article concerns the violation of rules for entry and exit of Russia for activity “incompatible with the purpose of travel.” This article has been used before on visiting foreigners who worked with Russian NGOs if they came on tourist visas rather than business visas approved by the Foreign Ministry.

Yet according to Anders Bernhoft, a spokesman from the Danish organization who spoke to the Moscow Times,

“They were traveling in good faith and the trip was publicly announced. … As far as I know they applied for a work visa and received one.”

The Moscow Times said all three experts — from Germany, Denmark and Latvia — were from the Danish Institute Against Torture. The names of two of the experts were not released, but the Nizhny Novgorod Committee Against Torture said in a statement that psychologist Uwe Harlacher was among the foreigners who were detained.

A spokesperson for the FMS told AFP that he had to pay a 2,000-ruble fine ($40) and leave Russia within 10 days:

“He had a multi-entry business visa, but since he
was participating in a socio-political event, he needed to have a
regular humanitarian visa,” spokeswoman Olga Zaitseva said.

Kalyapin complained that the authorities had not explained what visas were required.

In a statement on their web site, the Nizhny Novgorod NGO said their conference completed one day of work but was now disrupted. They had planned to have European psychologists assist them in helping victims of torture recover after their ordeals.

The Committee Against Torture, now in its 15th year of operation is one of the leading groups documenting and reporting on torture in Russia’s prisons and other facilities. They have repeatedly presented their findings to the UN Committee Against Torture and have been harassed and pressured in various ways for their work, including through detentions.

The group was declared a “foreign agent” last year.

As we reported last December, Igor Kalyapin, head of the group, challenged Kadyrov’s policy of ordering the homes of captured or suspected terrorists to be torched. The office of the Joint Mobile Group of human rights advocates in Grozny of which he is a member, was set on fire after threats from masked men.


Last month, a British academic using archives in Nizhny Novgorod was deported and labeled a “spy” by Russian tabloids, Moscow Times reported.

As we reported last year, both US professors and US students taking part in trainings or exchanges have been expelled for “incompatibility” issues.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick