In just one year, Alexander Sidyakin, a member of the Duma from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, went from little-known functionary to the regime’s most prominent attack dog on the Russian pro-democracy movement. He has used the parliamentary rostrum to accuse Putin’s opponents of being a “fifth column” and “instigators of mass unrest,” and to stomp on a white ribbon, the symbol of the pro-democracy protests, which he called “a symbol of treason, a color of an exported revolution, which foreign political technologists are trying to impose on us.” He has accused Russian NGOs that advocate for human rights and democratic elections of “being, in one way or another, under the [US] State Department,” because “someone is trying to poke their snotty nose in our affairs.” He has defended the police crackdown on anti-Putin demonstrators in Moscow last May, because, as he put it, “if we allow [the protesters] to dictate their own terms, we will end up with an ‘Arab Spring.’”
Sidyakin’s words were backed up by action: he was the author of two of the most notorious repressive laws signed by Putin last year: the law on public rallies, which raised the maximum fines for “violations” to 300,000 rubles ($9,900—ten times Russia’s average monthly salary), and the law on nongovernmental organizations, which forced Russian NGOs that receive funding from abroad to tag themselves as “foreign agents.” According to Sidyakin, the groups targeted by his law will likely include the anticorruption watchdog Transparency International, the poll-monitoring Golos Association, and Memorial Society—one of Russia’s most respected human rights organizations, founded by Andrei Sakharov. As for the new law on rallies (which, as he boasted, he “wrote personally”), the lawmaker boldly declared that “the right to protest is not absolute.”
It is worth mentioning that the OSCE Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, which apply to Russia as a member of the organization, establish peaceful assembly as “a fundamental right,” that “should, insofar as possible, be enjoyed without regulation.” The Guidelines specifically state that “any restrictions imposed on freedom of assembly must be proportional,” and that “organizers of assemblies should not be held liable for … the actions of non-participants or agents provocateurs” or “for the actions of individual participants.” Sidyakin’s law violates all of these norms.
In the context of Alexander Sidyakin’s views, it is rather puzzling why he would choose to spend his hard-earned vacations in the very country he demonizes—the United States. Yet this is precisely where he spent both his summer break (San Francisco) and his Christmas holiday (New York City and Florida). “Where else should an implacable crusader against … ‘orange revolutions’ and a Russian patriot spend his vacation?”, Moskovskii komsomolets newspaper sarcastically enquired. “Sidyakin hates America, but greatly enjoys visiting it,” observed opposition activist Natalia Pelevine.
He may enjoy it, but the question is whether the chief author of the laws restricting the freedom of assembly and the freedom of NGOs in Russia should have this privilege. The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which took effect in December, is clear in this regard: those “responsible for … gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals seeking … to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms, such as the freedoms of religion, expression, association, and assembly, and the rights to a fair trial and democratic elections, in Russia” are “ineligible to receive a visa to enter the United States.” This law is now on the books. It must be backed up by proper enforcement.