Last summer, as Vladimir Putin’s regime was hardening its crackdown on the pro-democracy movement, opposition activist Alexander Dolmatov fled to the Netherlands, where he applied for political asylum. His “guilt” in the eyes of the Russian authorities was his participation in the May 6th rally in protest at Putin’s inauguration, which was brutally dispersed by police. As of now, 19 people have been charged with “mass disturbances” in connection with the protest—despite the findings by the Kremlin’s own Human Rights Council that no such “disturbances” took place. One of the protesters, Maxim Luzyanin, has been sentenced to four and a half years in prison. Eleven more are currently in pretrial detention. Among them is Sergei Krivov, a 51-year-old scientist and father of two minor children, who is in the sixth week of hunger strike in protest at his unlawful arrest.
The Dutch authorities, apparently, thought otherwise. Dolmatov’s asylum application was rejected. He was detained and placed in a deportation center in Rotterdam, to be forcefully returned to Russia, where he would almost certainly have faced arrest. Last week, Alexander Dolmatov committed suicide. He was found hanged in his cell last Thursday.
“Not only in Russia do they have scoundrels in government,” commented Boris Vishnevsky, a leader in the liberal Yabloko party. “This was murder, not suicide.” The Coordinating Council of the Russian Opposition issued a statement placing the blame for Dolmatov’s death on “the authorities of the Russian Federation, who forced him to leave the country”—but also expressing concern “about the actions of the authorities in the Netherlands.” Opposition leaders have called “on the Council of Europe, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and international human rights organizations to pay special attention to the obvious political motives of the persecution of the participants in the sanctioned public protest of May 6, 2012.”
“During the cold war, Western public opinion was resolutely on the side of harboring persecuted Soviet dissidents,” noted columnist Oleg Kashin. “But as the European Union has drawn closer to Russia economically, interest in Russian human rights has waned.” It is, however, one thing—although still shameful—to stay silent about the Kremlin’s despicable record on human rights. It is quite another to refuse to protect specific human beings who are pleading for help.