08 october

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“Compatriots abroad represent Russia and we must fight for their rights” — Maria Butina

Experts discussed ways to protect Russian citizens who were imprisoned in foreign countries

“Compatriots abroad represent Russia and we must fight for their rights” — Maria Butina

Opening the meeting on October 8, the First Deputy Chairman of the Commission of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation on Security and Cooperation with Public Supervisory Commissions Mikhail Anichkin noted that in recent years the number of Russian citizens who faced pressure and persecution from representatives of foreign services had sharply increased.

“Our compatriots abroad have their rights infringed upon and sometimes they find themselves in difficult situations unlawfully. They are subjected to persecution and torture, and are held in harsh conditions of detention. Today, more than one hundred people are imprisoned in foreign countries. They are faced with distortion of events, fabrication of materials and open Russophobic sentiments on the part of foreign citizens,” said Mikhail Anichkin.

The social activist is sure that there is an urgent need to form a clear algorithm for the actions of the state and society in relation to compatriots who have ended up in places of imprisonment or who are threatened by foreign special services. “For efficiency of work, an integrated approach is needed, which implies the interaction of public organizations and executive bodies of state power,” he said.

Member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation Maria Butina said that in 2018 she was arrested and was held in terrible conditions of imprisonment in the United States on trumped-up charges of acting as a foreign agent in favor of the Russian Federation, and in October 2019 she was deported to her homeland with a ban on entry to the United States. She noted that almost a year had passed since her release, and all this time she had been actively involved in the problems of compatriots imprisoned abroad, striving to help those who were in prison in foreign countries. She knows and understands the whole situation from the inside.

“Amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation have entered into force, establishing the rights and guarantees for the protection of our compatriots abroad. It is important to emphasize that we are talking not only about the citizens of the Russian Federation, but also compatriots who are historically connected to Russia. In addition, legislative acts have been adopted that make it easier for compatriots to obtain citizenship,” the social activist stressed.

Maria Butina noted the lack of a well-coordinated mechanism and regulations for providing assistance to compatriots abroad as the main stumbling blocks. Existing norms have led to a mismatch of actions and a waste of time, when every day for a person in prison lasts like eternity.

“Our citizens are persecuted on the basis of citizenship. Recently, a similar case occurred in the United States when a Russian citizen was detained under the article on foreign agents for her social activities. I hoped my story was over but it set a precedent. We can see the rise of Russophobic sentiments in other countries. Our people abroad represent Russia, and we must fight for those who find themselves in a difficult life situations, and not leave them to the mercy of fate. People are detained for political reasons, journalists are persecuted for trying to truthfully cover certain events, football fans, public figures and just ordinary people who, due to difficult life circumstances, fall into involuntary confinement," said Maria Butina.

The First Deputy Chairman of the Commission of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation on Development of Information Community, Mass Media and Communications Alexander Malkevich believes that there is a need to create a public-private fund that could provide emergency support to compatriots abroad.

“People are caught off guard and don't know who to turn to. I believe that every person traveling abroad should have a brief reminder, perhaps in the form of infographics, where and who to contact in case of unforeseen circumstances. Today there is an information war going on, for any violation, real or contrived, our citizen can be accused by a foreign state. Russians can become hostages in any country on the basis of citizenship,” said Alexander Malkevich.

Alexander Malkevich proposed taking an initiative in the Federal Assembly in order to adopt a Russian analogue of Logan's law. Logan’s Law, as the public figure recalled, provides for a fine or imprisonment for any US citizen who directly or indirectly enters into negotiations with any foreign government or its official who has disagreements with the USA.

Furthermore, the experts noted the importance of granting the right to communicate with relatives, delivering reliable information about the current situation to their loved ones, and the possibility of receiving things and household items from relatives if the detention had already taken place.

The Deputy Director of the Consular Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ruslan Golubovsky noted that the topic of persecution of compatriots abroad was multifaceted and the situations in which people found themselves differed from case to case. “The solution to problems must be divided by each direction and assistance to compatriots must be provided in a targeted way as it is difficult to find a single algorithm. According to our information, about six thousand people are in custody in foreign countries. It is important to remember that by entering the territory of another country, you have accepted the laws of the foreign state. It is necessary to be aware of the legislation of each foreign state you enter. Offenses are committed out of ignorance of the norms of the law and the consequences for certain actions. Of course, legal support is required, but the issue of financing remains open. Consulates do not have the funds to pay for lawyers – this is the objective reality. I agree that a citizen should have a memo when entering a foreign state, it is worth considering creating such a document.”

Member of the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, well-known journalist Kirill Vyshinsky suggested developing an insurance mechanism for providing legal assistance in the first hours or days of detention. “It is necessary to create conditions for providing prompt legal assistance to imprisoned citizens. Russians should be able to receive the services of lawyers who will protect their interests and not be affiliated. Legal insurance options should be regulated by analogy with medical insurance for citizens abroad. It is imperative to think through this mechanism and exclude legal obstacles preventing insurance companies from offering such a product.”

Summing up the results of the meeting, Mikhail Anichkin said that the working group of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation on monitoring the situation and analyzing materials related to the events of January 13, 1991 in Vilnius would continue its activities, expanding the range of work to support compatriots abroad, not only in Lithuania, but also in other foreign states.

Tags: Mikhail Anichkin, Alexander Malkevich, Maria Butina


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