Human Rights in Russia week-ending 28 January 2022 - with Vitaly Ponomarev

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Our guest this week on the podcast is Vitaly Ponomarev, head of the Central Asia programme of the Memorial Human Rights Centre. Since 2005 Vitaly Ponomarev has also been head of the Centre’s monitoring programme, ‘Combating fabrication of criminal cases of Islamic extremism in Russia.’

In the podcast we discuss the human rights situation in the countries of Central Asia, the relationship between Russian policy in the area of human rights and that of the Central Asian countries, the situation of refugees and the fabrication of criminal cases of Islamic extremism in Russia.

The questions discussed are:

1) Where does your interest in eastern countries come from?

2) How do human rights in the Russian Federation compare with those in Central Asia?

3) To what extent do Russia and the countries of Central Asia copy each other’s policies in the area of human rights - for example Russia and Tajikistan or Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan?

4) There are reports that there are a large number of religious and political prisoners in Uzbekistan. Could you shed some light on this situation?

5) What is the situation of refugees persecuted in Central Asia and Russia? How realistic is the threat of forced return in the post-Soviet space?

6) You have been banned from entering Kyrgyzstan since 2017. How did this come about and how common is this phenomenon in relation to researchers such as yourself?

7) To what extent are anti-extremist laws and practices based on the Russian model being used as a tool of suppression?

8) Please tell us about the monitoring programme "Countering fabrication of criminal cases of Islamic extremism in Russia. How does it work and what are the main trends in this area?

9) Does this mean Russia is drifting towards the East? How do you see the perspectives for human rights in Russia?

This podcast is in Russian. You can also listen to the podcast on our website, SoundCloud, Spotify, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Anchor and YouTube.

Sergei Nikitin writes on Facebook: Central Asia is a region that includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. In Soviet times, it was called ‘Central Asia and Kazakhstan.’ Simon Cosgrove and I recently spoke with an expert on the region, Vitaly Ponomarev, head of the Central Asia programme at Memorial Human Rights Centre. At the same time, he has headed the Centre’s monitoring programme ‘Countering fabrication of criminal cases of Islamic extremism in Russia’ since 2005. The five countries have chosen different models of development, and the range - Vitaly Ponomarev explained to us - is large: from Turkmenistan with its totalitarian regime to Kyrgyzstan. "These are different countries, different cultures, and the more time passes since the collapse of the USSR, the more these differences become apparent. When mass repression began in Uzbekistan in the late 1990s, Russia was a relatively democratic country. Now there is this metamorphosis: Russia is becoming more and more repressive. In some aspects of criminal law, Russia has already surpassed in terms of certain restrictions some of the countries of Central Asia that we once cited as examples of serious human rights violations." Vitaly believes that Central Asian countries these days are often borrowing from Russian experience, in terms of the the toolkit for suppressing dissent, including both legislation and law enforcement practices related to so-called anti-extremism legislation.

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