Staunton, October 18 – Like many dictatorships, the Russian government of Vladimir Putin likes to use “legal” means to oppress its population, because that sleight of hand gives the patina of legality to what it is doing, thus confusing both its own people and even more those abroad who might otherwise condemn it.
But three current cases of Moscow’s misuse of law in this regard are so glaring that it would seem that all people of good will would be able to see that what the Kremlin is doing has little to do with a “law-based state” and everything to do with protecting the power and privileges of the Kremlin.
The first is the most horrific. Lawyers for Nadezhda Savchenko, the Ukrainian flier who has been confined in Moscow’s notorious Serbsky Institute, say she is now being subjected to sleep deprivation measures, something that may not rise to the level of the punitive use of psychiatry but which recalls that practice of late Soviet times.
Russian officials have insisted that they are only acting according to Russian law, but if that is true, then Russian law has been bent to the point that it is in violation not only of the Russian Constitution but of international human rights accords to which Moscow is a signatory and the violation of which by others Russian diplomats routinely complain.
The second “law-like” but ultimately illegitimate case involves charges of fraud brought against Ludmila Bogatenkova, the head of the Committee of Soldiers Mothers in two districts of Stavropol Kray. The 73-year-old is now being held incommunicado until October 20 when her lawyer is supposed to be allowed to see her.
Her colleagues in the human rights community say that Bogatenkova’s detention is a reprisal by the Russian authorities for her work in exposing inhumane treatment of soldiers in the Russian military and the losses Russian forces have suffered since their intervention in Ukraine earlier this year.
And the third such case involves Yevgeny Vitishko, the environmental activist who is serving a three-year sentence for exposing ecological disasters and official malfeasance during the run up to the Sochi Olympics. Not only does he remain behind bars, but the authorities have punished him and threatened to punish him further for speaking out to the media about the violation of prisoners’ rights.
Vitishko’s case has attracted international attention, but it is hardly unique: Russian authorities have been arresting other members of his Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus and they have used “law-like” means to declare numerous environmental protection groups “foreign agents.” Indeed, so far, one in four of the organizations so labeled and thus threatened with closure are ecology-related.