Here is an article from our friends at Harm Reduction International, writing about a truly appalling situation (another one) to emerge from Russia -affecting our dear friends and peer activists at Andrey Rylkov Foundation. This courageous HIV/AIDS, drug and human rights organisation has consistently raised their head above the parapet (in a country where it can be literally be beaten off), and given people much needed health and harm reduction information in a climate of fear and intimidation. One can only imagine what that must be like, to work every day knowing that you could be arrested, imprisoned, fitted up on a trumped up charge (which has happened repeatedly to other HIV and human rights activists) while thousands upon thousands of people are desperate for the sterile syringes that you give out, and the HIV information you impart. Last World AIDS day, December 1st 2011, ARF were instrumental in supporting us at BP (and INPUD) to coordinate the global Russian embassy protest, an attempt to shame Russian officials about their inaction and lack of response to the HIV catastrophe unfolding in their country. We are deeply concerned at this latest attempt by the Russian government to silence anyone or any organisations that discuss methadone in what is an ” ongoing assault on HIV prevention” taking things to the “next level by moving to silence public health advocates whose only infraction has been to spread life-saving information online and to criticize the government for its own failures.” We will keep you posted of developments. Catch ARF on facebook, and join to keep up to date with what is looking to be a highly charged time in Russian life and politics.
Vladimir Putin wrote a recent column praising the potential for “internet-based democracy”. But the Russian government adopts rules allowing for websites to be shut down on a
He talked about free medical care being one of the priorities of Russian citizens. But that care denied to millions of Russian people.
While Prime Minister Putin spoke glowingly of digital democracy, his anti-drugs agency is censoring websites for writing about WHO essential medicine.
“[It’s over] methadone, plain and simple” said Anya Sarang, President of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, which had its website shut down over the weekend.
The government’s anti-drugs agency, FSKN Moscow Department demanded that the Andrey Rylkov Foundation’s service provider block their website, utilizing new rules adopted last year. The notification states it was due to “placement of materials which propagandize (advertise) the use of drugs, information about distribution, purchasing of drugs and inciting the use of drugs”
What the Foundation was doing was spreading the word about basic HIV prevention measures and commenting on the Russian government’s policies.
Amidst pro-democracy protests, the Russian authorities have taken what is an ongoing assault on HIV prevention to the next level by moving to silence public health advocates whose only infraction has been to spread life-saving information online and to criticize the government for its own failures.
Russia is home to one of the biggest populations of injecting drug users, and one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world. It is estimated that there are just under two million injecting drug users in Russia. In some regions, more than 80 percent of people living with HIV in the country contracted the virus through injecting with contaminated equipment.
According to the World Health Organization, methadone is an essential medicine, for treating heroin dependence and for preventing HIV transmission by reducing the practice of injecting. Multiple scientific studies back this up.
But the Russian government’s ‘zero tolerance’ approach to illicit drugs is well known and has resulted in the outright denial of methadone (or ‘opioid substitution therapy’). It is illegal in Russia.
The net result of these policies is a massive increase in the number of people living with HIV in the country over the last decade.
According to UNAIDS, “In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, there was a 250% increase in the number of people living with HIV from 2001 to 2010. The Russian Federation and Ukraine account for almost 90% of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region’s epidemic. Injecting drug use remains the leading cause of HIV infection in this region”.
“People all over the world take this medication for granted” says Sarang, “but here in Russia it’s central to our struggle against HIV and it’s banned. Now, even our speaking about it seems to be banned.”
This is not the first time Russia has attempted to censor civil society voices for public health. At the UN General Assembly talk on HIV last March the Russian delegation tried to stop a Ukrainian drug user from speaking about HIV prevention. Fortunately, others were not happy with such censorship and the effort failed.
“The right to information is essential to realizing the right to health,” said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, in a statement. “A government agency such as Federal Drug Control Service should not have the ability to ban websites at the whim of a bureaucrat. This is particularly so when considering the impact of censoring discussions relating to drug addiction or HIV/AIDS.”
For years, human rights advocates like the Andrey Rylkov Foundation have argued that Russia’s colossal failure to provide vital services is a breach of its obligation under international law to respect, protect and fulfill the right to health. The government’s latest crackdown against public health activists has turned the matter into an issue of freedom of expression.
Mr. Putin says that democracy needs “efficient channels for dialogue… communication and feedback,” while the government’s actions silence people fighting to raise issues the government is refusing to face. This silences the spread of information. It silences the democratic process.
Source of publication: http://www.huffingtonpost.com
- Vladimir Putin, Falling Czar (businessweek.com)
- Violent ‘Russian Spring’ protests could follow a Vladimir Putin victory: Opposition leader (news.nationalpost.com)
- Hackers Expose Emails About Bribes Within Russian Media (newsy.com)
- Zakaria: How oil is propping up Putin (globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com)