Human rights activist attacked in Russia

A prominent Russian human rights activist who has long been critical of the government was assaulted near his Moscow home on Tuesday. Amnesty International has called on the Russian authorities to fully investigate the incident and bring those responsible to justice.

Lev Ponomarev, 67, was attacked by three men late on 31 March, according to For Human Rights, the non-governmental organization that he heads. He was thrown to the ground and kicked and beaten.

“Far too many abuses against human rights and civil society activists, lawyers and journalists have gone unpunished and perpetrators believe they can act with total impunity,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director.

“President Dmitry Medvedev and the Russian government must speak out clearly against the increasing climate of intolerance towards human rights defenders and send a message that such abuses, whether by private individuals or by state officials, will not be tolerated.

“The continuing silence in view of the many recent threats and attacks will be equivalent to condoning such crimes.”

Lev Ponomarev has been speaking out against a wide range of human rights violations in the Russian Federation for decades. More recently, he has been very critical of the authorities’ handling of the case of the oil company Yukos. A new trial of former head of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovskii, and his associate, Platon Lebedev, started on 3 March in Moscow.

Just prior to the attack, Lev Ponomarev had met with Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, the Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, regarding allegations of politically-motivated abuses of the criminal justice system in connection with this trial.

Lev Ponomarev has also criticized the Russian penal system repeatedly. At a press conference in June 2008, during which he described ill-treatment of detainees in penal colonies, he was attacked by a group of young people, allegedly acting on behalf of a Russian parliamentarian.

The young men threw eggs at Lev Ponomarev and another human rights defender, Ludmilla Alekseeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group.

At the end of 2008, Lev Ponomarev told his family that he believed he was under surveillance.