Toggle navigation menu.
Helsinki Default Banner

Russian Human Rights in Retreat Under Putin’s Watch, Witnesses Testify

WASHINGTON – Human rights in Russia are definitely in retreat under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, according to witnesses who testified Tuesday in a hearing before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

CSCE Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and other members of the Commission heard testimony from Igor Malashenko, First Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of Media-Most and President of NTV in Moscow. Malashenko’s offices were the subject of the Russian Government raid, following an attack by armed government security agents on the Media-Most headquarters in Moscow. The raid sparked questions about Putin’s commitment to protecting human rights, in particular the right of free speech in a country struggling to build a democratic system.

“They carted away documents, tapes, computer discs and equipment. Russian officials issued contradictory and unsatisfactory justifications for this raid. Whatever the rationale, however, it is clear that the forces involved in the operation were clearly disproportionate to any declared purpose,” according to Malashenko’s testimony. Chairman Smith expressed alarm over the Media-Most raid, suggesting the move is an indication that human rights in Russia are in retreat under Putin’s leadership. “There is growing concern, however, that Russia’s development in the area of human rights is taking a turn for the worse under recently-elected President Vladimir Putin,” Smith said.

CSCE Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) expressed grave concern with recent actions taken by the authorities against independent media as well as the conduct of Russian forces in the ongoing war in Chechnya. Turning to the economic dimension, Campbell noted that remedy of Russia’s ailing economy will require President Putin to quickly get a handle on rampant corruption and continuing capital flight. “Following such a path, however, would put the Russian President on a collision course with Russia’s modern day robber barons, including some of the individuals instrumental in his rise to power,” said Campbell. “When I was in Russia last year as the Co-Chairman of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I met with American companies and heard first hand about the problems they were facing with corruption, crime and bureaucracy,” Campbell added. “Russia’s new leadership needs to address these problems to foster a more conducive climate for foreign investment.”

Ranking Member Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) expressed outrage that the Russian defense minster had hosted the Serbian Defense Minister, recently indicted for war crimes by the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal. Helsinki Commission Member Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR) also participated in the hearing expressing interest in the alleged human rights abuses under Putin’s watch. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) called the raid against Media-Most, Corporation “a step in the wrong direction and seriously jeopardize the hope of democracy in Russia.”

Former National Security Agency Director Lt. General (Ret.) William E. Odom also testified before the Commission in Tuesday’s hearing. Odom said the United States should not treat Russia as a major power, nor should the U.S. try to solve Russia’s problems through “ventriloquism.” Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) also was on hand to deliver a statement before the Commission, stressing the critical role of a free press in a truly democratic society.

On Thursday, May 11, armed government security agents attacked the headquarters of Media-Most corporation and it’s subsidiary, the NTV television station, seizing what a security service spokesman claimed were illegally acquired tapes and transcripts of private conversations. NTV had criticized some members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration, as well as the government’s conduct in the continuing war in Chechnya. As a result of his reporting from besieged Grozny last year, Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitsky remains in Moscow under investigation for allegedly “participating in an armed formation.” Babitsky was recently awarded the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s journalism prize for journalism.

Tufts University Assistant Professor of International Politics Dr. Sarah Mendelson also testified before the Commission. Mendelson said the treatment of Andrei Babitsky and the FSB raid on Media-Most should be seen as “part of a larger pattern of harassment that has grown steadily worse over the last year and a half.”

Northwestern University Sociology Professor Georgi Derluguian testified that Putin faces an “uphill battle” to refurbish Russia’s status as a world power. “The political change in Russia since Putin’s appointment last August amounts to a successful coup carried out by formally constitutional means,” Derluguian said. “In the spirit of KGB culture, Putin gives every signal of being pragmatic and professionally loyal to the idea of the Russian state rather than any ideology. He now faces the uphill battle to consolidate the new regime and use its levers to restore Russia as a respectable world power.”

Human Rights Watch Deputy Director Rachel Denber testified that in Grozny, “the graffiti on the walls reads ‘Welcome to Hell: Part Two.’ The bombing campaign has turned many parts of Chechnya to a wasteland even the most experienced war reporters we have spoken to told us they have never seen anything in their careers like the destruction of the capital Grozny.” Denber also described summary executions of civilians, including the death of three generations of one family shot to death in the yard of their own home.

In written testimony submitted to the Commission, Babitsky said Chechens are often refused their civil rights because of their ethnicity. “On the entire territory of Russia, the Chechens today are deprived of their civil rights simply because of their ethnic membership,” Babitsky said. “No serious positive changes in this situation can take place as long as the authorities and public opinion conceive the Chechen nation as a threat to the existence of Russia.”

Media contact

Category
Country
Issue
Date
Filter Topics Open Close
Hearings

Hamas’ Hostages, Putin’s Prisoners, and Freeing Inte...

Oct 25, 2023

The practice of seizing hostages and political prisoners, as well as actively terrorizing civilians is a constant displayed by Hamas in Israel and Russia’s war against Ukraine. To highlight issues related to the United States’ strategy to free hostages and political prisoners, last year the Commission’s Ranking Member Congressman Steve Cohen and Chairman Joe Wilson […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin’s Personal Prisoner

Sep 20, 2023

Stream here: HEARING: Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin’s Personal Prisoner – YouTube Vladimir Kara-Murza, a father, husband, and a freedom fighter, has been in detention for over five hundred days and is currently being transferred to a prison in Siberia. As he is being moved, his family has lost all contact with him and are faced with worry […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Leadership Celebrate Pardon of N...

Jun 23, 2023

Washington—Today, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Steve Cohen (TN-09), applauded Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili’s decision to issue a presidential pardon for journalist Nikoloz “Nika” Gvaramia. Mr. Gvaramia, an outspoken media figure and […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

HELSINKI COMMISSION SENDS APPEAL TO GEORGIAN PRESIDE...

Apr 28, 2023

WASHINGTON— The leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), and Ranking Members Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Senator Roger Wicker (MS) sent a letter to Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili urging her to intervene to break […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Congressmen Cohen and Wilson Introduce Resolution Re...

Oct 28, 2022

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Commission’s Ranking Member, Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), today introduced a resolution recognizing October 30 as International Day of Political Prisoners. Congressman Cohen was recently named the Special Representative on Political Prisoners […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Slams Shutdown of Novaya Gazeta

Sep 08, 2022

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) today condemned the shutdown of Novaya Gazeta in Russia, following the decision of a Moscow court to strip the outlet of its print media registration. They issued the following joint […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Co-Chairman Cohen Calls for the Release of Political...

Aug 09, 2022

Washington – On the second anniversary of the sham presidential election in Belarus, the Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “Two years ago today, Belarus’s autocrat Aleksander Lukashenko put up a show of an election that he had hoped would legitimize his […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Deeply Concerned Over Latest Ele...

Jul 27, 2022

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and  Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) today expressed deep concern about an effort by the international community’s High Representative in Bosnia to impose changes on the country’s electoral system barely two months prior to general elections in early October. They issued the following joint statement: “We share the concerns […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

CO-CHAIRMAN COHEN APPOINTED AS OSCE PARLIAMENTARY AS...

Jul 21, 2022

WASHINGTON—Margareta Cederfelt, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA), has appointed Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) as the first-ever OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners. “I welcome the chance to serve as the voice of political prisoners across the OSCE region,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “Every day, we witness more political arrests of […]

screen-reader-text
Publications

HELSINKI COMMISSION DIGITAL DIGEST JUNE 2022

Jun 30, 2022

screen-reader-text
Publications

Helsinki Commission Digital Digest May 2022

Jun 01, 2022

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Slams Legislation in Belarus tha...

May 20, 2022

WASHINGTON—Following the approval of legislation in Belarus that would apply the death penalty to pro-democracy activists and those opposing Russia’s war in Ukraine, and ahead of the May 21 commemoration of the Day of Political Prisoners in Belarus, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Members Sen. Roger […]

screen-reader-text