Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

These are not the crimes you are looking for

The Russian president is adamant: no one is prosecuted for their political views.

Putin denies dissent crackdown as trials test legal system
President Putin
While one Russian court imposed heavy fines on the country’s only independent election-monitoring group and another heard contentious testimony in the trial of a top opposition leader, President Vladimir Putin on Thursday defended himself against accusations that he is cracking down on dissent.

In a nationally televised call-in session lasting nearly five hours, Mr. Putin said: “People aren’t put behind bars for political reasons. People get sentenced not for their political views or actions, but for abusing law.”…

But the fairness of Russia’s laws and legal system were at the heart of two prominent court cases taking place the same day…

The measure is seen by many as a move to limit critics and undermine their credibility. Critics say its definition of political activity is so loose that it could be used against almost any NGO and say the term “foreign agent” tars groups’ images.

The law was passed in the wake of the major anti-Putin demonstrations that broke out in December, 2011, and continued through his inauguration…
Russia cracks down on U.S.-linked NGOs
Two months ago, a civic-minded history professor in the picturesque city of Kostroma invited a U.S. diplomat to take part in a roundtable about Russian-American relations. The event was open, the conversation spirited — and Monday the professor’s organization goes to court, accused of being a foreign agent.

The Kostroma Center for the Support of Public Initiatives has run afoul of a new law requiring organizations that receive funds from abroad and engage in political activity to register as foreign agents.

The center’s chairman, and civic activists across Russia, says his group is neither political nor in the pay of foreign governments.

The law, they say, is being used to silence advocacy groups and frighten supporters, and it reminds some of the Cold War era, especially since many of the targets have U.S. connections.

“You know, Kostroma is a small city,” said Nikolai Sorokin, the historian, “and everyone’s talking about this, and everyone’s shocked by what’s going on. Some people say we shouldn’t even talk to foreigners, it’s dangerous. It’s like in Soviet times when you could go to jail for that.”...

The roundtable dragnet also swept up the Kostroma chapter of the Soldiers Mothers, which defends draftees. Irina Reznikova, the chairwoman, attended the roundtable and not long after got a call at home from prosecutors who wanted to examine all records.

Soon deemed guilty of political activity, the group got off with a warning: Do it again and you’ll be fined. Its crime — some of the Mothers had served as election observers in December 2011, and small grants have been received from the National Endowment for Democracy...

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