Human Rights in Russia week-ending 12 March 2021 - with Irina Biriukova [full version]

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This week our guest on the podcast is Irina Biriukova, a lawyer at the Public Verdict Foundation. The issues we discuss with Irina include: getting started as a lawyer in Russia; work at the Civic Assistance Committee and Public Verdict Foundation; her most important court cases; combating torture in Yaroslavl penal colonies; the difference between human rights work in Moscow and the regions; other lawyers whose work Irina admires; the role of the European Court of Human Rights; Aleksei Navalny; last year’s changes to the Constitution; and the future of Russia. The podcast is in Russian. You can also listen to the podcast on Rights in Russia [https://rightsinrussia.org/podcasts/], SoundCloud, Spotify and iTunes. The music, from Stravinsky’s Elegy for Solo Viola, is performed for us by Karolina Herrera.

Sergei Nikitin writes on Facebook: Irina Biriukova became a lawyer in 2005 and began working with the Civic Assistance Committee. At a certain point she became disillusioned with the effectiveness of human rights work – it was a cumulative effect, I guess. The arrests during the Bolotnaya protests changed her perspective and she decided that she could work with human rights defenders, at least on administrative cases. This is how Irina met Natalia Taubina. In our podcst Irina recalls: “I decided I could help people, I took part in cases on which the Public Verdict Foundation was working, I liked the team”. We all remember Irina’s successful work in exposing torture in the Yaroslavl penal colony. Prison staff laughed in her face and told prisoners: “What can your Biriukova do to us? We won’t be affected at all.” Yet Ira has achieved a great deal. Most importantly, she says, “We earned trust – we didn’t just come and go. And we worked hard to gain that trust.” However, no one is going to change the penal system from within, Irina says. It has to be changed root and branch, she believes. And it is encouraging to hear that the circle of people like Irina and her colleagues is widening. The number of human rights lawyers is growing. “It’s hasn’t been a bad start to a career,” according to our interviewee. However, she is less optimistic about the current state of Russian legislation. “All this nonsense, all the changes in the legislation, all this should be abolished. It’s just a question of what to take as the date where the watershed is. Probably – very roughly – we should reset from that moment – probably starting with the laws passed from, say, 2012.” What happens next? “It’s going to get worse by the autumn, by then it will just be unbearable”. And what happens next? Listen to what happens next.

Simon Cosgrove adds: If you want to listen to this podcast on the podcasts.com website and it doesn’t seem to play, please download by clicking on the three dots to the right. A summary of some of the week’s events in Russia relevant to human rights can be found on our website here.

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