A Russian opposition and LGBT rights activist, Ildar Dadin was the first and remains the only, person to be convicted under a notorious 2014 public assembly law. Aimed at punishing anyone who breaks strict rules on protest, the law was enacted to silence dissent after a wave of demonstrations following Putin’s last election victory. Dadin’s crime was to stage a series of one-man pickets, often standing silently with a billboard, attempting to duck the cynical law and push for free expression. For his solo enterprise, Dadin was arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment in December 2015. In November 2016, website Meduza published a letter smuggled from Dadin to his wife, exposing torture he claimed he was suffering alongside fellow prisoners. The letter, a brave move for a serving prisoner, was widely reported. A government investigation was prompted, and Dadin was transferred – against his will – to an undisclosed new location. A wave of public protest led to Dadin’s new location in a Siberian prison colony being revealed in January 2017. In February 2017, Russia’s constitutional and Supreme Courts suddenly quashed Dadin’s conviction, ruling he should be released and afforded the opportunity for rehabilitation.
Активист, долгое время защищавший права ЛГБТ и оппозиции, Ильдар Дадин стал первым и единственным в России осужденным по принятой в 2014 году статье «Неоднократное нарушение установленного порядка организации либо проведения собрания, митинга, демонстрации, шествия или пикетирования».
Пытаясь обойти этот закон, Дадин провел серию одиночных пикетов против нарушений прав человека, за что был арестован и в 2015 приговорен к трем годам тюрьмы. В ноябре 2016, интернет-издание «Медуза» опубликовало письмо, которое Дадин передал через свою жену. В нем он рассказал о том, как его пытали, и о повсеместности насилия в российских тюрьмах. Публикация его письма – смелый шаг для отбывающего наказание заключенного – имело широкий общественный резонанс, вызвав реакцию со стороны правительства и став основанием для расследования. Дадина, против его воли, перевели из его колонии, после чего он исчез внутри российской пенитенциарной системы. Его местонахождение было раскрыто лишь в январе 2017 после волны общественных протестов. После того как Верховный суд отменил приговор, Ильдар Дадин вышел на свободу из колонии, 26 февраля.
Good evening. I am Ildar Dadin, a civil rights activist, writing to you from inside Russia. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to join you in London.
When I first heard I had won an award – from my wife, whilst I was still in a Russian jail – I was glad. Because even though I had been imprisoned, those that wished to silence me had clearly failed.
When I was suddenly released eight weeks ago I began preparing for this trip almost immediately. I wanted to tell the world what I had seen inside Russian jails. But it became clear that the authorities had no intention of letting me join you. When I applied for an international passport, I was told that it could take some time, a very long time. So I may no longer be imprisoned, but Russian security officials want to keep me locked in. They want to try, again, to silence me.
This is a kind of travel ban I now face and I have been clearly told that it is due to my activism.
In 2012, I – like many other brave Russians – took to the streets to protest the dishonest parliamentary and presidential elections. I had been driven to join the demonstrations because I had worked as an observer at the polls and witnessed a large number of voting irregularities. I became convinced that there had been no true elections in Russia. We went through the motions of voting, like an act, but the outcome had already been decided.
Russia’s governmental institutions are a Potemkin put on. Russian police don’t protect citizens. Russian judges don’t adhere to the rule of law. Russian media is not independent and just parrots government propaganda over and over. Russian people – my people – are forced to think only one way, the way the government wants. Our thoughts are the government’s thoughts. Our voices have to follow a script that we are expected to be able to recite on command.
It is like the George Orwell novel Animal Farm. The judges and the police only serve the ruling regime and anyone who speaks their own mind is punished.
Anti-clerics, independent thinkers, the LGBT community: these and any other people who take to the streets and protest, they are punished. Or people who simply write their opinions on Facebook. They are punished. Opposition journalists and politicians aren’t just punished – they are killed. As happened to Natalia Estemirova, Anna Politkovskaya, Boris Nemtsov.
You think, perhaps, this story could not be any worse?
But when I was sent to prison for my activism, I learned about another level in Russia’s horrific dysfunction: torture.
This dehumanising practice debases our nation. It takes us not just back to the time of gulags but deep into the brutal Middle Ages. To “correct” incarcerated Russian citizens, prison staff beat them. They hang them on racks. They pull their legs in different directions as if to quarter them, and break their bones.
This is not speculation. This happened to real people, Russians, in the prison colony where I was imprisoned. I spoke with some of them, others gave their testimony to lawyers that I know. Their injuries and fractures have been documented. There are eyewitnesses to the violence.
This torture also happened to me.
But in every case that I am personally aware of, not one of these sadistic prison guards has been punished. Not one.
Tonight I tell you, that in Russia, there are no human rights. It is a society ruled through levels of cruelty and bigotry where Russians are forced to worship the great leader and any and all dissidents are stoned.
Maybe I cannot join you in London but I can refuse to be silent. And you, friends, can refuse to be silent too. You can refuse to let these people silence me. Together, we can refuse to look away.