The Arab Spring’s positive and eager atmosphere for democracy has been the most evident democracy news of the year. Unfortunately, human rights and democracy activists are not given a level playground all over the world – for example in Russia and Belarus their actions are often suppressed by brutal means. Meanwhile North African countries are voting in their first democratic elections, Russia and Belarus are sinking deeper into authoritarian regimes.
On the 15th of November, The Finnish League for Human Rights presented the annual report of Observatory – a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The objective of Observatory is to intervene and prevent situations of repression against human rights defenders. The Finnish League for Human Rights had reserved one seat in the event for the vice-presidetn of FIDH, Ales Bialiatski, a belarusian activist who has been imprisoned since early August for tax evation. Bialiatski is the founder of Belarusian activist group Viasna that has been banned by the country’s government.
Journalist and human rights activist Oksana Tšelyševa presented the alarming human right situation of Russia. According to her, the action of human rights and democracy activists is prevented by threatening, blackmailing, violence and made up charges. Tšelyševa told about a six year old boy who was interrogated only because the police identified him as a son of Sergej Aksjonov, an opposition activist.
Tšelyševa does not see the situation getting any better and thinks that these kind of incidents are becoming more and more common. Also, president Dimitri Medvedev and prime minister Vladimir Putin are strenghtening their grip and authority. According to Tšelyševa the elections next year are not going to be anything else than a political show.
Kristiina Kouros of the League for Human Rights raised the question of Finnish media’s silence on these neighbouring issues. The least Finland can do “is to keep doors open and give moral support”, stated Kouros. Tšelyševa added that taking the message forward plays a crucial role.
Democracy and human rights go hand in hand – one will not happen without the other. Sadly, Russia and Belarus are in a situation in which civil society and multi party system are being suppressed. By this, the possibility of free speech and of building a healthy democracy with a respect for human rights, is taken away from the citizens.