WASHINGTON —U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), today said the denial of an appeal from Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov over his New Year’s Eve arrest signaled a further shrinking of freedom in Russia.
Mr. Nemtsov had appealed charges he disobeyed police instructions at an anti-Kremlin rally on New Year’s Eve. Judge Yelena Stashina upheld a 15-day prison sentence for Mr. Nemtsov.
“It was bad enough that Mr. Nemtsov was even arrested, then it got worse with the sentence he received,” said Senator Cardin. “Clearly, 2011, an election year in Russia, is off to a bad start. The fact Kremlin-controlled courts uphold sham arrests signals Moscow’s continued retreat from democracy.”
“The persecution of Mr. Nemtsov and others goes far beyond a violation of their rights to freedom of assembly and association,” Cardin added. “The arrests instead signal a further shrinking of the already limited space the Kremlin allows for public expression of views that do not conform with those of the current Russian leadership.”
The New Year’s Eve arrests of Nemtsov and 70 other opposition members are part of a regular crackdown that occurs on the holiday and throughout the year. On the eve of 2010, authorities arrested 82-year-old Ludmilla Alexeeva and others at an opposition rally.
“I have the honor of knowing Boris Nemtsov and applaud his courage in standing up for the most basic right of publicly expressing dissent,” Senator Cardin said. “Sadly, Russia has a tradition of imprisoning many of her most noble and loyal sons. Nemtsov now joins an elite group that includes the Decembrists, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, and too many others whose liberty was attacked by officials seeking to silence their call of freedom.”
Federal Judge Yelena Stashina, who denied Nemtsov’s appeal, is one of 60 individuals Senator Cardin recommended to be barred from travel to the United States based on their connection to the death of anti-corruption whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky. In 2009 Judge Stashina denied Mr. Magnitsky’s complaints about the lack of medical treatment he was receiving in prison. Mr. Magnitsky died four days later.
Mr. Nemtsov spoke at a U.S. Helsinki Commission event with Senator Cardin in November at the world premier of the film “Justice for Sergei.” Upon his return to Moscow from that event, members of a pro-Kremlin youth group through a net over his head in an act of harassment.