Staunton, December 26 – The past year will go down in history as a defeat for religious life in Russia and as the beginning of a widespread effort by the Kremlin to destroy the human rights movement, Lev Ponomaryev says; but it will also be remembered for the growth of popular opposition to these government moves.
2019, the longtime rights activist says, saw “bestial repressions of the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” a campaign that may be ebbing but that appears to have emerged less by design than by the desire of siloviki to find work for themselves that would gain them preferment and promotion (credo.press/228321/).
Because many grew up in Soviet times and remember how the communists treated “sects,” many in Russia’s growing siloviki fraternity have decided that going after the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the same way is a low risk operation that will bring those who carry it out only benefits, Ponomaryev says.
Even worse in many respects, he continues, have been official moves against Khizb ut-Tahrir members, a group that never has taken part in terrorist actions or supported them. One of its members has been sentenced to 24 years in prison on the basis of the authorities’ insistence that it is a terrorist group.
Ponomaryev says he and his colleagues are seeking to challenge that definition, but despite forming an experts’ group, they face many challenges. His own For Human Rights Movement has been under attack, and he expects it to be finally liquidated by the courts this week.
In response, he has created a parallel organization with a similar name, but it won’t be able to function as a legal entity, rent a place to work or receive grants. That will make things exceedingly difficult; indeed, it will force the human rights effort to return to the place it found itself in Soviet times.
“The authorities now have gone over to the destruction of the human rights movement,” Ponomaryev says. “Consistently and step by step. Human rights activists must be suppressed and destroyed. The simultaneous existence of this power and the rights movement as something legally existing is imply incompatible.”
As a result, “the professional rights movement is being transformed into a dissident one.” That means that those involved will work more as individuals than as a groups, an arrangement that will significantly reduce their effectiveness. They will come together if at all in kitchens rather than offices.