Last week was my first time in a Russian appeals courtroom. I and a colleague were there to support Semyon Simonov, a Russian human rights defender, who is taking a case against police for misconduct. Simonov had worked with Human Rights Watch to document worker abuses on stadium construction sites for Russia’s June hosting of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. In April 2017, he planned to interview workers about their treatment and working conditions on the stadium site in Volgograd when police detained him – he believes arbitrarily – for several hours.
Determined not to allow the police to get away with unlawful tactics and intimidation against him for carrying out lawful and legitimate human rights work, Simonov has been seeking accountability for his treatment ever since.
We weren’t the only observers in the tiny courtroom. FIFA, world football’s governing body, sent a representative too. Human Rights Watch had called on FIFA to act on its new human rights policy, which explicitly states it will protect human rights defenders and help them find remedies. This demonstration of support for Simonov and his work is therefore notable.
Unfortunately, the appeals court upheld a lower court decision finding no violation by the authorities against Simonov, even though this flies in the face of the facts. On the day of his arrest, a plain clothed person working with police approached Simonov saying, “Are you Semyon?” Simonov learned last month that he is on two Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) lists of “persons under particular control,” apparently as a result of his human rights work on behalf of workers ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. He believes this to be the reason for other unexplained detentions by police, like the one in Volgograd.
As for the police, they provided no evidence to support their false claim that Simonov tried to illegally enter the stadium. They did not even write-up his detention on suspicion of this offence, as required under Russian law.
Simonov will appeal this latest decision. In line with its commitment to protect “freedoms of human rights defenders and media representatives … including by using its leverage with the relevant authorities” FIFA could question the FSB’s designation of Simonov as “a person under particular control” and publicly affirm their backing of the work of rights defenders.