As we watch the Snowden (NSA leaker) episode unfold in Moscow, it is worth recalling the backdrop to Vladimir Putin’s defense of the rule of law in Russia.
Yesterday Putin told the media that Snowden was in transit and thus never admitted to Russia, and anyway Russia has no legal authority to extradite him. Speaking of Snowden and Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, Putin added that "Assange and Snowden consider themselves human rights activists and say they are fighting for the spread of information. Ask yourself this: should you hand these people over so they will be put in prison?"
But in the real Russia, Putin is the enemy of human rights and the rule of law. Last week the following assault on one key activist, Lev Ponomaryov, occurred in Moscow, and we have the report from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:
Prominent Russian rights activist Lev Ponomaryov says he is recovering following a violent eviction from his Moscow office last week amid a nationwide crackdown on nongovernmental organizations critical of the government. Ponomaryov, 72, told RFE/RL that he sustained multiple bruises and scratches after being dragged across the floor and kicked by a group of unidentified men.
"During the night, I was taken to an emergency room by ambulance," Ponomaryov said. "I have a medical report showing that I had numerous bruises: three or four on my head, one on my eye, as you can still see, a bump on my eyebrow, scratches on my neck, and another bump on the back of my head, a bruise on my chest. They beat us in the kidneys, with precision."
Ponomaryov says police officers visited the office of his organization, For Human Rights, on June 21 and ordered employees to vacate the premises but did not provide an eviction order. He says a group of men in plainclothes stormed the office hours later, around 2 a.m, after he and six other people refused to leave.
The men allegedly threw them out on the street and changed the locks on the doors, while riot police watched. Moscow police said the eviction had been ordered by the mayor’s office and was carried out by a private security firm.
Ponomaryov does not buy this "mayor’s office" story: he "believes the eviction was orchestrated by officials in President Vladimir Putin’s administration as retaliation for the group’s refusal to give prosecutors documents during an inspection earlier this year."
Putin also said that Russia’s security and intelligence services "did not work and are not working" with Snowden, but Snowden appears to be at the Moscow airport and entirely out of sight. Next time you’re there, try that one and see if you can accomplish it without assistance from the authorities, day after day. Putin sees an opportunity here to express his disdain for the United States and to assist someone who is seeking to damage our security. As others have written recently, how’s that reset with Russia working out in 2013?