THE BLOG
06/11/2013 06:28 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Respected Russian Campaigner Fears Interpol Alert

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Anstasia Rybachenko, the respected Russian Campaigner

On 28 October, the Russian state news agency reported that a Moscow district court had issued an 'international arrest warrant' against Anastasia Rybachenko, a 22 year-old student and long-time political activist with 'Solidarnost', a mainstream Russian opposition movement.

Fair Trials understands that the Russian authorities will now seek to obtain an INTERPOL 'wanted person' alert against her with a view to her extradition back to Russia. In anticipation of this, in August 2013, Fair Trials wrote to INTERPOL urging it not to become involved in this manifestly political case.

Ms Rybachenko was one of many thousands who, on 6 May 2012, gathered at Bolotnaya Square, Moscow to protest against the re-election of Vladimir Putin as President of the Russian Federation. The demonstration, led by recent Moscow mayoral candidate Alexey Navalny, saw a number of individual clashes between demonstrators and police. The Russian Human Rights Ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, has stated following his observation mission that 'the use of force [by police] soon became manifestly excessive. The police beat people offering no resistance.'

Yet, since the events, dozens of demonstrators have been put on trial for 'participation in mass riots', prompting the European Parliament to voice its concerns about the 'politically-motivated nature' of these prosecutions. The 6th of May Committee, a civil society group, reports that two are now serving lengthy prison sentences, while 15 sit in jail awaiting trial. The European Court of Human Rights has demanded answers from Russia in response to the use of detention powers in seven of those cases.

Ms Rybachenko, however, is in exile, opting not to return from the European Union, where she currently studies, after Russian police declared her wanted. The news that Russia would now seek INTERPOL's assistance generated a flurry a political support, with Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip publicly inviting her to claim asylum (Ms Rybachenko's response here). Out of patriotism, Ms Rybachenko has so far bravely declined to do so, though according to former Minister for Foreign Affairs Kristiina Ojuland MEP, who wrote to INTERPOL asking it not to become involved, she is to be regarded as a political refugee.

Ms Rybachenko has stated on Twitter: 'Article 3 of Interpol's constitution prohibits using it as a tool in the international hunt for the political opposition. Let's see if democracy fares better in Europe than in Russia.'

However, it is uncertain whether INTERPOL will cooperate. Well-established principles (recognised by the OSCE and the Council of Europe) demand that police and courts exercise caution and avoid arresting and prosecuting peaceful protestors. But it is unclear how INTERPOL approaches vaguely defined public order offences relating to demonstrations.

It has previously refused to help Belarus pursue recognised refugee Ales Michalevic in a similar case relating to the post-election demonstrations in Minsk, Belarus in December 2010 - though this did not stop Belarus using INTERPOL's systems obtaining his arrest in Poland. More recently, however, INTERPOL indicated it would retain information on its files concerning Petr Silaev, a Russian activist recognised as a refugee pursued for an offence of 'hooliganism', the offence for which Pussy Riot were tried and of which the Greenpeace 'Arctic 30' activists now stand accused.

As INTERPOL prepares to assist Belarus with the 2014 Ice Hockey Championships, notably by combating 'hooliganism', it is important that INTERPOL publish the guidelines its staff follow in these cases. Without this, law enforcement authorities in other countries will surely hesitate before arresting anyone based on an INTERPOL alert of this nature.