The Observatory has been informed about the raids on the office of the Crew Against Torture-Russia (CAT-Russia) in Nizhny Novgorod, as well as on the homes of several staff of the organisation, including its deputy chairperson Olga Sadovskaya. CAT-Russia is a prominent and one of the oldest anti-torture human rights organisation in the country and a member of the OMCT SOS-Torture network. Among other things, CAT Russia helps victims of torture through efforts to further accountability, particularly in regions like Northern Caucasus. The organisation provides assistance to victims of torture and conducts independent investigation of torture cases. Since its creation, the organisation has received at least 3178 complaints, won 78 cases in European Court of Human Rights and contributed to verdicts to 159 perpetrators of torture.
Ms Sadovskaya is a member of the OMCT Executive Council. She is a lawyer and joined CAT-Russia in 2002. As a lawyer, she is specialised in the submission of applications to the European Court of Human Rights for violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“prohibition of torture”). She received the Moscow Helsinki Group Award in the category "Protection of the rights of prisoners and other vulnerable groups" on April 27, 2023.
On April 28, 2023, officers of the Centre for Combating Extremism (Centre-E) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs searched CAT-Russia’s office in the city of Nizhny Novgorod in connection with a criminal case opened against one of CAT-Russia’s beneficiaries in North Ossetia who reported torture at a police station. During the search, several USB flash drives were seized. Centre-E officers also searched the apartments of three staff of CAT-Russia in Nizhny Novgorod, including Olga Sadovskaya’s residence, where they seized her laptop, a mobile phone and 80 hunting cartridges belonging to her ex-husband.
Previously, on April 14, 2023, CAT-Russia’s North Caucasus branch’s office in the city of Pyatigorsk was also searched in connection with the same case, the details of which remained unknown at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal. On that day, the police seized an old laptop and an USB flash drive. CAT-Russia team’s position is that law enforcement officials are using the criminal case brought against their beneficiary to put pressure on the organisation, as it continues operating in the Russian Federation.
The Observatory recalls that it is not the first time that CAT-Russia and its members face harassment and obstacles to their right to defend human rights. On June 10, 2022, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation designated CAT-Russia as a non-registered foreign agent organisation under the “Foreign Agent” Law. On June 11, 2022, the human rights organisation announced its liquidation due to the impossibility to continue carrying out its human rights work in a safe manner under the label of “foreign agent”. Yet, on June 15, 2022, the organisation announced the continuation of its work under a new name – from Committee Against Torture-Russia to Crew Against Torture-Russia. The organisation was likewise listed as a “foreign agent” in January 2015. After that, the organisation changed its name and it was again declared a ”foreign agent” in January 2016.
The Observatory further recalls that the harassment against CAT-Russia and its members takes place in the context of an increased crackdown on the Russian civil society, including the systematic liquidation of human rights organisations and independent media outlets under the “Foreign Agent” Law. This is the case of the International Memorial and the Human Rights Center “Memorial (HRC Memorial), the Moscow Helsinki Group, as well as the independent human rights media project OVD-Info.
The Observatory condemns the searches conducted in the offices of CAT-Russia and the apartments of three of its members and calls on the Russian authorities to put an immediate end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against them and all human rights defenders and organisations in the country.
The Observatory expresses its concern over the ongoing targeting of CAT-Russia as well as over the crackdown on all independent human rights organisations in Russia and urges the authorities to guarantee, in all circumstances, the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, as enshrined in international human rights law, and particularly in Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
How You Can Help
Please write to the authorities of Russia, asking them to:
- Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of all members of CAT-Russia, as well as of all human rights defenders in Russia;
- Put an immediate end to all act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against CAT-Russia, its members, as well as against all human rights organisations and defenders in Russia, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
- Immediately repeal the designation of the CAT-Russia as a “foreign agent”;
- Guarantee, in all circumstances, the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, as enshrined in international human rights law, and particularly in Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
- Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, Twitter: @KremlinRussia_E
- Mr. Mikhail Mishustin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Twitter:@GovernmentRF
- Mr. Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mr. Igor Krasnov, General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation, email@example.com
- Mr. Alexander Bortnikov, Director of Federal Security Service (FSS), firstname.lastname@example.org
- Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. E-mail: email@example.com
- Embassy of the Russian Federation in Brussels, Belgium. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Permanent Representation of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe, France. Email: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Russia in your respective country.