Team 29 is an informal human rights association of lawyers and journalists that defends those targeted by the state for exercising their right to freedom of speech.
Run by prominent human rights lawyer Ivan Pavlov, Team 29 is based in St Petersburg and named after Article 29 of the Russian Constitution on freedom of expression.
“We use court cases not only as an opportunity to restore justice within a specific case, but also as an excuse to attract public attention to the problems of freedom of information in Russia,” said Team 29.
By taking up high profile human rights cases, and writing and disseminating information about them, Team 29 has found a way around some of the restrictions imposed on campaigners.
The legal part of the Team conducts about 50 court cases annually. These are cases of high treason and the disclosure of state secrets of journalists and citizens whose right to freedom of speech is infringed, the refusal of the state to share information, and cases of extremism.
This year, the journalist section of the team set up a website to report on legal cases, explain the background to policies which threaten free speech, give advice, and explain what is happening to human rights in Russia and the different and myriad ways it is under attack.
It is the successor organisation to the Freedom of Information Foundation (FIF), which existed between 2004 and 2014, but which was shut down by the Russian government after it was included in the state register of “foreign agent” non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
The very right of civil society organisations to exist has been cast into doubt in Russia over the past few years and ever tightening restrictions placed on public protest and political dissent, making the work of Team 29 of increasingly vital importance as the space for free expression shrinks in the country. Most human rights organisations based in Russia have been closed down and it is very difficult to campaign.
Last year, Team 29 lawyers took on the Russian state to find out the fate of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust, but was captured by Soviet intelligence, placed in the Lubyanka prison and never seen again.
Journalists of Team 29 have also developed their niche media about state secrecy this year. Journalists of the team conducted their own investigation into the behaviour of Sochi’s “state officials” on the back of the Sevastidi case and are conducting a special project The Seventeenth Year in which they compare 1917 and 2017 in the history of Russia. They want to have videos on their site and develop their human rights campaigning work.
“It is a great honour for the whole Team 29 to be nominated for the Freedom of Expression Awards together with colleagues from Iran, Egypt, and Kenya, who are risk their lives constantly due to their work,” said Team 29. “Several years ago, it seemed not so dangerous to be a human rights defender or activist in Russia. We just didn’t know about a lot of cases of violence towards activists before; however, today we hear more and more news about tortures by the police, people vanishing, or security services’ secret prisons. The more people who know about our work, the better protected we become and the better chance we have to achieve our objectives and to help people whose rights to information access are abused in Russia.”