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Russia: UN expert calls for poets jailed in free speech clampdown to be freed

02 January 2024

GENEVA (2 January 2024) – A UN expert today raised concerns about the continuing use of legislation and the judicial system to clampdown on freedom of expression, including artistic expression in Russia, after a court in Moscow jailed two poets for reciting their poems against the war on Ukraine at a public anti-war poetry reading.

On Thursday, 28 December 2023, a Moscow court sentenced two poets Artyom Kamardin to seven years and Yegor Shtovba to five and a half years in prison. The ruling was in response to their participation in a public poetry reading in Moscow, known in Russia as the “Mayakovsky Readings.” On 25 September 2022, both men, acting independently, took part in the event where activists and poets recited anti-mobilisation and anti-war poems.

“The decision starkly contravenes international standards for the protection of freedom of expression,” said Mariana Katzarova, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation. “The sentence by the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow reveals systemic issues concerning the integrity of law enforcement and judicial systems in Russia and their use to suppress dissent and criticism, especially regarding Russia’s war against Ukraine,” Katzarova said.

The poets’ participation in the anti-war event led to a criminal investigation and criminal charges being brought against them under Russia’s national security legislation, for “inciting hatred or enmity or humiliating the dignity of a person or a group of persons, committed by an organised group” and “calling for actions aimed against the State security”, under articles 282(2)(v) and 280.4(3) of the Criminal Code.

When he was arrested on 26 September 2022, Kamardin complained that he was severely tortured and ill-treated by a group of law enforcement officials. However, the Preobrazhensky District Investigative Committee in Moscow refused to open a criminal investigation into allegations of torture. The refusal was confirmed by a decision of the Preobrazhensky District Court.

“The nature of the charges, severity of the sentences, and conduct of the trial itself, based on testimony from a “secret witness”, send a clear message to all of Russian society that dissenting voices, whether through poetry, art, or other forms of expression, will face serious repercussions,” the UN expert warned. “Sham trials have become a go-to tool of intimidation aimed at instilling fear and discouraging others from engaging in anti-war expression,” Katzarova said.

The Special Rapporteur called for the immediate release of Kamardin and Shtovba. She urged Russian authorities to grant the two poets effective remedies against violations of their human rights.

“I call on the Russian authorities to immediately investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment against Kamardin during his arrest and bring officials responsible for these crimes to justice,” Katzarova said.

The Special Rapporteur has documented the clampdown on dissenting voices and peaceful anti-war expression in the Russian Federation in her report to the Human Rights Council in September 2023.

The expert: Mariana Katzarova, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation.

Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, country page – Russian Federation

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