Oleg Sentsov: “Catastrophically Bad”

DSCN0173Dmitry Dinze is Oleg Sentsov’s lawyer. Oleg Sentsov is the Ukrainian filmmaker and political prisoner who has been on hunger strike for eight-six days in the Polar Bear Maximum Security Penal Colony in Labytnangi, Yamalo-Nenetsk Autonomous District, Russian Federation. His only demand has been that the Kremlin release the sixty-four other Ukrainian political prisoners currently held in Russian prisons.

Late last night, Mr. Dinze, one of Russia’s best human rights and criminal defense lawyers, wrote“I’m no fan of rumors, of course. I find facts more interesting, even better, confirmed facts, but in this case the circumstances are different. According to diplomats who have been in contact with Russian officials on resolving the issue of Oleg Sentsov, they have no intention of releasing Sentsov. They are thinking his death should be a lesson to other inmates. If this is true, I don’t know what to say.”

Natalya Kaplan
Facebook
August 8, 2018

Things are not just bad, they are catastrophically bad. Oleg sent me a letter via his lawyer. He almost cannot stand up anymore. He wrote the end was near, and he was not talking about being released from prison. He asked whether anyone was still interested in his hunger strike: he is not given the letters sent to him, none of them. He said was in a news vacuum and had no idea what was happening.

The European Court of Human Rights insisted he be transferred to a civilian hospital, one close to his place of residence. Oleg refused. He said he would simply not survive the trip, and he had been bullied even more in the civilian hospital in Labytnangi, where he was hospitalized in the intensive care ward, than he had been in the prison hospital.

That’s Russia for you. I have no clue what else we can do and how we can save him. Things are really bad.

Natalya Kaplan is Oleg Sentsov’s cousin. Thanks to Yana Teplitskaya for heads-up. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

83 Days

83 daysImage courtesy of Askold Kurov

Ukrainian filmmaker and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike in a prison in the far north of Russia for eighty-three (83) days. His only demand is that the Kremlin release the other sixty-four (64) Ukrainian political prisoners it has incarcerated on trumped-up charges in the wake of its illegal, unprovoked occupation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine. {TRR}

#SaveSentsov
#FreeOlegSentsov
#Free64

Our Own Private Romania

ilieni-dinu-lazar

Wages in Russia Catch Up to Wages in Romania
Anastasia Manuylova
Kommersant
July 23, 2018

Wages in Russia are higher than those in the other CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries and comparable with those in Central and Eastern European countries. Those are the findings of the experts at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) who have issued the report “Wage Comparisons among Countries in 2011–2017.” They used purchasing power parity (PPP) indicators to do their calculations.

As 2017 came to a close, Russia was the leader in terms of wages among the CIS countries. Taking PPP into account, the average monthly wage in Russia last year amounted to $671. Kazakhstan lagged behind this benchmark less than the other CIS countries. Its average monthly wage in 2016–2017 was $459 and thus lower than the average wage in Russia by 30–40%. Tajikistan was the farthest behind, with an average monthly wage of $147. The study’s authors note the wage gap between Russia and the other CIS countries has continued to widen since 2011. In particular, this has been due to a deterioration of economic conditions in Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in  2015–2017.

However, Russia’s position looks less attractive when compared with other groups of countries. Thus, among the countries of Central Europe, the level of wages in Russia is comparable only with Romania ($678 a month) and Bulgaria ($602 a month). The average monthly wages in Czech Republic and Croatia, for example, are considerably higher than the average monthly wage in Russia (by 80–90%), despite a downward trend in wages that has been observed since 2011. There is also a considerable gap between wages in Russia and wages in Poland and Hungary. In 2017, they outpaced Russia by 60–70%.

Among the BRICS countries, Russia exceeds the same indicator for Brazil by 5%. This gap has been narrowing in recent years, however. Wages in China outpaced wages in Russia as early as 2014, and the gap between the two countries is now almost 30%. In the long term, as the HSE’s Svetlana Biryukova, the report’s co-author, explains, if the current wage trends in all the countries, including Russia, continue, Russia would retain its leadership only among the CIS countries, but would find itself in last place among Central and Eastern European countries.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of romaniatourism.com

Oleg Sentsov

37388658_2052268531474743_764773632051249152_nThe room in the prison infirmary where Oleg Sentsov is kept. 

Anton Naumlyuk
Facebook
July 19, 2019

Oleg Sentsov

Attorney Dmitry Dinze visited Oleg Sentsov in the Labytnangi penal colony today.

“He looked even worse than last time. He was quite pale. He walked under his own power. Around a week ago, he went through a second health crisis. He got sick. The doctors wanted to hospitalize him and force-feed him as much as possible, to give him IV drips with more nutrients. He refused. He was left in the penal colony on the condition he would ingest the nutrient mix himself under a doctor’s supervision. He takes two spoonfuls a day. He is kept in a room in the prison infirmary. He has no intention of quitting the hunger strike. ‘I’ll hold out as long as I can last,’ he says.”

Sentsov also expressed bewilderment as to why Ukraine and Lyudmila Denisova, human rights ombudsman for the Verkhovna Rada, had ended their vigorious campaign of support for Ukrainian political prisoners.

“Sentsov thinks the Ukrainian side should do more to press for the release of the other political prisoners,” said Dinze.

Sentsov also sent his greetings to Yevgeny Panov (Yevhen Panov), a defendant in the case of the so-called Crimean saboteurs, and to Vladimir Balukh.

Thanks to Askold Kurov and Vladimir Akimenkov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Emir Hussein Kuku: 23 Days on Hunger Strike

274381Emir Hussein Kuku

Anton Naumlyuk
Facebook
July 19, 2018

Emir Hussein Kuku

Guards did not give Emir Hussein Kuku the baby food his wife Meryem brought and tried to have delivered to her husband,  hoping that, if he did not stop his hunger strike, he would at least ease up a bit. Kuku has been on hunger strike for 23 days. He has demanded the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. The guards initially took the care package from his wife, but they quickly returned it, since Kuku refused to quit his hunger strike.

Kuka has written himself about the state of his health.

“On the 22nd day of my hunger strike, my condition leaves much to be desired, to put it mildly. My left kidney (which FSB Special Forces officers beat in 2015) really hurts, as does my heart and something under my left ribs and in the front of my chest; my pancreas, probably. The area around my liver and my right kidney hurt, but they hurt less. I feel the pain if I stand up or sit reading. If I lie down, the pain subsides, but it doesn’t go away entirely. It’s hard to fall asleep. I toss and turn, sleepless, almost until morning. I won’t bother mentioning trifles like dizziness, the weakness I feel when I take five steps in my cell, the constant thirstiness, the vile taste in my mouth, and the smell of acetone.

“On July 16, I was again transported to the hospital for inmates with TB. The doctors have not divulged the outcome of the tests and ECG, but their faces tell me the news is not good. Actually, for several days, the doctors in the remand prison have stopped talking to me about my condition. They have even stopped weighing me. Apparently, this is due to publication of my statement about my health. The big shots with the stars on their epaulettes banned them from playing into the hands of ‘enemies of the state.’ All I found out in the TB hospital was that my ‘official’ weight was 67.8 kilograms, meaning I have lost 11 kilograms. Although, according to my calculations, I should weigh around 66 kilograms, since I weighed 68.5 kilograms on July 12, and I’ve been losing 0.6 kilograms a day.

1530198608-9959Emir Hussein and Meryem Kuku

“They have not been giving me any maintenance therapy—no glucose, no vitamins, nothing. Apparently, top-ranking officials do not want a second Sentsov, someone who would be able to drag out a hunger strike for months if he got care in the form of glucose and vitamins. They realized the mistake they made [with Senstov]. They have to break me quickly.

“Earlier, I was warned that if I didn’t give up the hunger strike, they would be forced to hospitalize me in the TB hospital, a place teeming with inmates infected with tuberculosis and HIV. It’s a TB hospital, after all.”

The trial of the so-called Yalta group in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case is currently underway in the North Caucasus Military District Court [in Rostov-on-Don].

Photos courtesy of 112.International and Unian. Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia Has Over a Million Slaves

Russia Plans to Fight Slavery: The Country Has More than a Million Slaves
Ivan Ovsyannikov
PROVED.RF
June 26, 2018

The Russian government has tabled a law bill in the State Duma that would ratify the protocol to the convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) outlawing forced labor. Russian officials claim ratifying the protocol is a formality, because there is no slavery in Russia. However, the government itself employs forced labor. PROVED has written about how the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) sells the labor of inmates to commercial companies, although it is forbidden by the convention. The Walk Free Foundation (WFF), an international human rights advocacy group, estimates there are over one million slaves in Russia.

The Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour (No. 29) was adopted by the ILO in Geneva in 1930. The Soviet Union signed it only at the dawn of the Khrushchev Thaw in 1956. In 2014, the convention was supplemented with a protocol introducing  new restrictions on the use of forced labor. In particular, the original convention had stipulated people could be forced to work for public purposes. Such voluntary forced labor was widely practiced in the Soviet Union. Blue- and white-collar workers spent their weekends laboring at so-called subbotniks, while university students were sent to the fields of collective farms to harvest potatoes, carrots, and cabbages. The protocol to ILO Convention No. 29 deems this coerced labor a criminal offense.

Post-Soviet Russia has not ratified either the first or second versions of the convention. The Russian Labor Ministry has decided to correct the omission and tabled a law bill in the State Duma approving the statutes in the protocol to the convention.

The protocol requires signatories to take vigorous measures for eliminating slavery. They must pay compensation to victims of compulsory labor, educate law enforcement officers and employers about prohibited labor practices, and develop strategies for combating the slave trade.

The Labor Ministry’s draft bill says slavery has been banned in Russia as it is, and so it does not suggest any special measures for combating compulsory labor nor does it amend existing laws.

Seventh Place in Terms of Slavery
Experts claim, however, that Russian officials are disingenuous. In fact, in its 2016 survey, the WFF estimated there are least one million people in Russia subjected to some form of slavery, i.e., 0.73% of the country’s total population. Russia was thus ranked seventh in the WFF’s 2016 Global Slavery Index of 167 countries in terms of absolute number of people subjected to modern slavery. According to the index, only India (over 18 million), China (approx. 3.4 million), Pakistan (approx. 2.1 million), Bangladesh (approx. 1.5 million), Uzbekistan (approx. 1.2 million), and North Korea (1.1 million) had more slaves than Russia did.

slavery indexAn excerpt from the 2016 Global Slavery Index

Russian officials have not analyzed slave labor in Russia and do not acknowledge the problem. In their way of thinking, the president has not given them any instructions on the matter and nothing needs to be done, explains Yelena Gerasimova, director of the Center for Social and Labor Rights.

“I cannot say the government is a party to the scheme, but it closes its eyes on it. Russian Criminal Code Articles 127.1 (Human Trafficking) and 127.2 (Use of Slave Labor) are vaguely worded. While the ILO has a clear definition of slavery, the Russian police often do not understand what we are talking about. They ask us, ‘What slaves? Where are the shackles?’ But no one has ever kept slaves in shackles, for they have to work,” adds Oleg Melnikov, head of the grassroots organization Alternative.

The Government Protection Racket
Slavery includes forced marriages in which women are used as domestic servants, prostitutes forced to work in brothels, and migrant workers whose passports are confiscated by employers. As Gerasimova notes, however, Russian police, prosecutors, and labor inspectors refuse to acknowledge the problem and do nothing to identify people subjected to slavery.

She cites the example of the slaves of Golyanovo, twelve men and women freed from the basement of a grocery story on the outskirts of Moscow in 2012.

“The police were running protection for the store, which had kept people in bondage for years. They had their papers confiscated and were not paid for their work. Golyanovo is the tip of the iceberg,” argues Gerasimova.

The Russian government is willing to sell the manpower of inmates to commercial clients. For example, as PROVED discovered, Arkhangelsk Commercial Seaport LLC, a subsidiary of Evraz, purchased “workers from the inmate population” at the local penal colony for 860 rubles a day per person [approx. €12 a day]. The contract was posted on the government procurements website, although Arkhangelsk Regional Governor Igor Orlov hotly denied the deal. Now it is clear why. The ILO convention permits courts to impose work as a punishment, but it forbids leasing inmates to private companies.

Russian convicts usually work within the FSIN’s own system. Thus, the FSIN’s Main Industrial and Construction Department used inmates to build an entire residential complex for penitentiary service employees on the outskirts of Krasnoyarsk. Ironically, the complex is located on Work Safety Street.

However, the temptation to pursue public-private partnerships in the field of hard labor is too great. For example, FISN officials in Krasnodar Territory not only make no bones about their cooperation with business, but even brag about it. Inmates there sew uniforms for regular police and the Russian National Guard, cobble shoes, produce construction material, and are employed in woodworking and animal husbandry. Krasnodar Territory subsidizes businessmen who buy the goods produced by convicts. The entire enterprise is part of the territory’s official industrial development program for 2017–2020.

The Slave International
Forced labor is popular not only in the Russian penitentiary system but also in the outside world.

Melnikov describes a typical path to slavery.

“People from the hinterlands who go to Moscow and other major cities to improve their lot can end up as slaves. Someone approaches them on the streets, offering them a job in another region working on a rotational basis. He offers them a drink. Two days later, they wake up as they are arriving in Dagestan, Kalmykia or Stavropol Territory. Usually, the slaves work in cottage industries. The victims are told they have been bought. When they try and escape, they are captured and given a beating in front of everyone,” he says.

Moscow has recently been deluged with young women from Nigeria. Allegedly, they have come to study, but ultimately they are forced into prostitution. The farther workers are from home, the more vulnerable they are, adds Melnikov.

Fly-by-night firms, registered in Russia, recruit laborers in the rural regions of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. So-called foremen act as intermediaries between the firms and the local populace.

“They are often ethnic Russians from Central Asia or elders of the local communities, the mahallahs. They bring young men and women from the villages and hand them over to the managers of the companies that operate as agents. From the viewpoint of the UN and international law, this is human trafficking. But the migrant workers themselves do not see it that way. Many of them regard it as the natural order of things, an act of initiation. If you have not worked as a migrant laborer, you’re not a real man,” notes Andrei Yakimov, an expert on migrant workers.

People who are employed in this manner usually sign no work contracts with their employers. They do not know the names of the companies where they work or the names of their supervisors.

“A female cleaner from Uzbekistan knows only that she works for someone named Feruz. Feruz is her foreman or her foreman’s manager. At most, she will have heard that somewhere at the top of the food chain her work is supervised by someone named Andrei Nikolayevich, say. If I am an unskilled worker named Abdullo who has not been paid his wages, I am going to find it hard to figure where my money is. The foreman, the manager, his managers or contractor could be holding on to it. The chain of command can consist of dozens of links, especially in the construction business,” Yakimov explains.

There is no one to whom the migrant work can complain. If the migrant worker’s ID papers have also been confiscated, his or her enslavement is complete.

Slave labor is employed in different sectors of the economy. In Dagestan, slaves are sent to work at brick factories, while in Moscow they are employed as shop clerks, beggars, and prostitutes. In Novy Urengoy, they work in construction, while in Tver Region they are employed in sawmills.

Employment Off the Books
Yakimov argues that slavery in Russia is one of the shapes taken by undocumented employment. Russian nationals are fine with the fact that foreigners from Central Asia do the dirty, poorly paid jobs. These workers never turn to the authorities for help, fearing they will be punished for not having residency papers and work permits.

Russian nationals sometimes also avoid turning to the authorities, since many of them are employed on the black market and have not signed employment contracts, either. State Duma MP Oleg Shein has calculated that 34 million able-bodied Russians are employed in the illegal labor market, earning 10 trillion rubles [approx. €136 billion] annually. They constitute 40% of Russia’s entire workforce, says Shein. Such workers risk ending up as forced laborers, according to the wording of ILO Convention No. 29.

Translated by the Russian Reader

UPDATE (July 24, 2018). The 2018 Global Slavery Index has updated the figures for modern slavery in Russia. It has this to say in particular about slavery in Russia and efforts to combat it. Continue reading “Russia Has Over a Million Slaves”

Anything Goes

DSCN6137A monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police, in central Petersburg, 6 May 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike for sixty-six days.

Can you imagine not eating for sixty-sixty days? I can’t.

Instead of supporting Mr. Sentsov, most of the world decided to turn its back on him by staying glued to their TV sets during Vladimir Putin’s expensive celebration of his despotic regime’s extraordinary ability to pull the wool over nearly everyone’s eyes.

Certainly he didn’t get any pushback yesterday from the putative “leader of the free world,” who is a vain, spineless traitor who has probably never heard of Oleg Sentsov.

Solidarity with Oleg Sentsov doesn’t mean you have to stop eating, too, but it should mean not having your cake and eating it, too.

The World Cup was cake. Nobody can live for a month on a diet of cake without getting sick. The world has just done it, and now, at least as I see it, the world is a lot sicker than before the World Cup.

When infants are baptized in the Lutheran church, the priest asks the godparents and parents whether they “renouce the Devil and all his ways.”

Putin is a devil. You cannot embrace some of his ways while denouncing others. You either take the whole package or reject it. If you reject it, you show a little bit of willpower—for the sake of Crimean political prisoners Vladimir Balukh and Oleg Sentsov, for the sake of people bombed by the Russian airforce in Syria, for the sake of persecuted Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev, for the sake of Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses, now branded “extremists” and subject to increasingly numerous arrests, for the sake of the innocent young people framed in the New Greatness and Network “terrorist” cases, for the sake of ordinary Russians everywhere fighting the government’s plans to drastically raise the pension age—and you don’t have anything to do with the World Cup or anything else sponsored, promoted, and supported by the current Russian regime.

The sheer number of people, including my own acquaintances, who could not bear to show solidarity with any of these people at all, if only for one month, has shocked me.

Please don’t pretend now that you’re really opposed to the Putin regime. You’ve shown your true colors.

Anything goes, right? || TRR