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The twentieth anniversary of Andrei Sakharov’s death was not forgotten in Russia. But it’s distressing to note how it was remembered. A television special ran on Russian state television celebrating Sakharov’s life—but the Sakharov it celebrated was the father of the hydrogen bomb and a key contributor to the military technology of the former Soviet Union, not the tireless advocate of “peace, progress, and human rights.” Fedor Lukyanov, a prominent foreign affairs journalist, wrote in the daily Gazeta that Sakharov’s ideas about human rights had been “discredited.”
On the other hand, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev attempted to distance himself from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin by sending a message to a gathering of human rights activists in which he saluted Sakharov. “Andrei Sakharov, a world-renowned scientist and human rights activist, firmly believed that the future is created by all of us, and that it is important to strive for moral self-improvement,” Medvedev wrote. “He clearly understood that freedom and responsibility are inseparable. His own destiny serves as an example of a life spent following one’s conscience and adhering steadily to the principles that he defended, fearlessly and selflessly.”
By contrast, Vladimir Putin’s Russia marked the twentieth anniversary of Sakharov’s death with persecution and repression. Yuri Samodurov, a human rights activist and the former director of the Andrei Sakharov Center in Moscow, and Andrei Erofeyev, a former curator at the State Tretyakov Gallery, are standing trial for their roles in organizing an exhibition entitled “Forbidden Art—2006.” Sakharov’s friend Ed Kline describes the trial in a plea published in the Huffington Post:
More than one hundred witnesses are testifying against the defendants, quite a few producing word-for-word matching statements. They accuse Erofeyev and Samodurov of inciting religious hatred, even though many admit they did not see the exhibition–they were simply told that it was blasphemous and incited hatred of Russian Orthodox beliefs. It seems Erofeyev and Samodurov are blamed for everything under the sun: damaging public morals, “recrucifying Jesus,” undermining “the psychological health” of those who saw the art works. Simply put, the trial clearly violates the letter and spirit of the rule of law.
I have known Yuri Samodurov for nineteen years. He is an honest person and a dedicated, energetic, fearless, compassionate, law-abiding human rights activist. Erofeyev and he committed no crime. They did nothing that is not permitted by the Constitution of the Russian Federation. We are witnessing yet another misuse of the antiextremist legislation to target human rights activists and other nonviolent activists who are critical of the government.
The Samodurov-Erofeyev trial bears vivid witness to the Putin regime’s intolerance and its exploitation of the Russian Orthodox Church as cover for political repression. It shows a reach for legalistic techniques that make the Russian Constitution’s guarantees of free speech stand on their head. But above all it shows a fear of free thinking and criticism. If convicted, Samodurov and Erofeyev face a possible sentence to a labor camp—for curating an art exhibit.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.
The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.
Number of Turkish college students detained in the last year for requesting Kurdish-language classes:
Turkey was funding a search for Suleiman the Magnificent’s heart.
A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”