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18.01.2013 | Halya Coynash

Nowhere to turn: Suicide of Russian asylum seeker

   

Alexander Dolmatov, member of the Other Russia opposition party, killed himself in the early hours of 17 January in a Rotterdam detention centre.  He had fled to the Netherlands in June after being initially detained with others following the anti-Putin demonstration on Bolotnaya Square on 6 May. 

It is not clear whether, as some reports suggest, he was already awaiting deportation, or whether his appeal had yet to be heard.  What is clear is that he expected to be deported, and that he took his own life.  

According to human rights activist, Oksana Chelysheva, the Head of the United Network against Racism, Netherlands, Gert Alis told her that any number of norms had been infringed in the case. Alexander Dolmatov had presented considerable evidence that he was being persecuted for political motives, and United Netherlands had found him a lawyer. She says that he had, however, been warned to get ready for deportation and that last Sunday he had made two suicide attempts. According to United Netherlands, his lawyer was not informed of these attempts, and Alexander was still sent to the deportation centre where, tragically, his third attempt to end his life succeeded. 

A Justice Ministry spokesperson is reported as saying that his application had been turned down after “careful procedure”  What this entailed is quite unclear since events over the last year in Russia surely make it more than evident why this young man believed he had cause to fear being returned to his home country.

Grani.ru reports that he was detained for “showing resistance to police officers” during a demonstration protesting against Putin’s highly controversial third term as President. Searches were carried out of his parents’ home where he was registered as well as at his work on 10 June.  The police did not find him as he had by then left the country.  This was because, as he told fellow party members, pressure was being brought to bear on him.  It is possibly significant that he worked as a designer in one of the biggest companies within Russia’s military industry.  He had apparently moved away from political activities over recent years (he had been a member of the now outlawed National Bolshevik Party), but had been active in the protests of 2011-2012. 

So what is the careful procedure which fails to take into account the political nature of so many prosecutions of late in Russia?   Are we to believe that in the Netherlands protesters could still be held in custody awaiting trial almost a year after the relevant demonstration?  Since Dolmatov had initially been released, there was almost certainly no clear proof of any offence which would be regarded as serious in the Netherlands. The Dutch authorities must surely also be aware of cases such as the abduction from Ukraine and prosecution of Leonid Razvozzhaev.  Not only was he forcibly returned to Russia and placed in custody while already within the asylum procedure, but this original detention order was effectively based on claims made in a television documentary aimed at discrediting the opposition.  It is likely that the decision to take Razvozzhaev to Siberia over a 15-year-old criminal case, due within days to become time-barred, was to put pressure on him and extract testimony against the prominent leftwing activist, Sergei Udaltsov and other opposition activists. 

And then there are the grotesque corruption charges against Alexei Navalny, generally acknowledged as one of the most important opposition figures in Russia and a person who has consistently spoken out against the ruling party “of thieves and scoundrels.”

This is without listing the considerable number of people whose imprisonment or prosecutions are generally acknowledged to have been politically motivated.

With Ukraine having demonstrated twice over the last six months that the country is not a safe place for asylum seekers, and only a day after Freedom House reported a further sharp decline in democracy in Putin’s Russia, it would seem imperative that the Netherlands – and other European countries – consider what their “careful asylum procedure” would seem to be totally overlooking.. .  

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