Russians deserve to live in a free democracy – the world must come to their defence

Open letter: the violations of constitutional rights and freedoms being meted out by Vladimir Putin demand an uncompromising response

Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Friday 20 September 2019 17:10 BST
Teenage girl reading constitution in front of Putin's riot police becomes symbol of Russian resistance

As residents of the free world concerned about the future of global democracy, we have been observing the disturbing unfolding events in Moscow and other Russian cities over the past month.

The citizens of Russia are merely demanding from their government rights that we in the free world take for granted: tright to participate and vote in free and fair elections, an end to criminal proceedings against activists participating in peaceful protests, and accountability for police officers who unnecessarily use force against peaceful demonstrators.

In Moscow, not a single independent candidate was initially allowed to take part in elections to the Duma, the regional parliament; all were unlawfully denied registration. Moreover, almost all of the opposition candidates who legally challenged this decision were detained and held under arrest for up to 30 days—simply for standing up for their rights!

As a result, residents filled the street in protest. Tens of thousands of peaceful marchers demanded free and fair elections to the city parliament. The authorities responded with police batons, over two thousand people were detained, dozens were beaten, and several had criminal cases opened against them.

Those accused were blamed for “inciting mass disorder” even though video footage showed only violence from riot police. Rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Russian Federation – to gather peacefully without arms and to organise meetings and protests – are now being treated by the government as criminal acts.

Widespread lawlessness, the arrest of political opponents, violence by police officers against peaceful residents, the unlawful detainment of children, threats to parents – all have become common practice in Russia. There are already over 200 political prisoners in the country. Every basic human right has been violated, the Constitution completely ignored, and elections turned into democratic window dressing.

In the face of this repression at home, we have seen how president Putin’s regime has sought legitimacy through the free world, where its corrupt representatives keep their money, own property, have families and residence cards, and even hold citizenship.

These individuals, who break the law and violate the human rights of their own citizens, cynically take advantage of the rights and freedoms of democratic nations. They use our lobbyists, lawyers, former politicians, and intelligence officers for their own ends. They corrupt acting politicians and officials and put pressure on private businesses, pushing many to play by their rules and work in favour of their interests.

The Russian government is increasingly impinging on the lives of people in the free world. Its representatives manipulate foreign elections, spread disinformation and propaganda, enlist hackers and troll factories, deploy spies, take hostages, and even commit murder. The regime annexes sovereign territory and conducts irresponsible nuclear missile testing, which has already led to casualties and degradation of the environment.

Clearly, these actions are dangerous not only for Russian citizens but for the entire world. We call on anyone who cares about democracy and human rights to act immediately to stop the lawlessness of president Putin’s regime. Its actions are unacceptable – and indulgence or weakness with this regime constitutes a threat to democracy worldwide.

Specifically, we must adopt an uncompromising stance toward residents of democratic states who help president Putin and his cronies with the laundering of stolen Russian capital. Bankers, lobbyists, politicians, and consultants must acknowledge that any help provided to such officials and their accomplices is an unconscionable crime (and is often paid for by money of criminal origins).

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We also appeal to international companies whose business is important to the realization of the democratic rights and freedoms that we value. Russian authorities are trying to force such companies, from Facebook to Google, to comply with domestic laws that stifle civil society. We consider this pressure to be illegal and call on the international business community not to succumb and to demand political independence when operating in Russia.

In closing, we thoroughly condemn the political repression and lawlessness taking place today in Russia. With each passing day, the threat of being put behind bars for months, and even years, grows for the few brave political activists that remain in the country. Most have been forced into exile. All of them count on the support of international partners in their continued efforts.

We express solidarity with every member of the worldwide opposition to president Putin’s regime. Every person in the world deserves to live in a country that respects the values of democracy, freedom, and justice and actively works to secure them for every citizen.


Mikhail Khodorkovsky, founder of Open Russia, Russia

Anne Applebaum, Washington Post columnist and senior fellow, Johns Hopkins, US

Anders Aslund, economist and Russia expert, US

Guto Bebb, member of parliament for Aberconwy, UK

Marieluise Beck, former state secretary, Center for Liberal Modernity, Germany

David Benioff, co-creator of Game of Thrones, US

Wolf Biermann, singer and writer, Germany

Arend Jan Boekestijn, Utrecht University, former member of Dutch Parliament, Netherlands

Max Boot, senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, US

Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, former deputy prime minister and former minister of economic affairs, Netherlands

William Browder, head of the Global Magnitsky Justice Movement, UK

Tina Brown, founder and CEO of Tina Brown Live Media/Women in the World, US

Chris Bryant, member of parliament for Rhondda, UK

John Bruton, former prime minister, Ireland

Emmanuel Carrère, writer, France

Bryan Cartledge, former British ambassador to the USSR and Hungary, UK

Viorel Cibotaru, former minister of defense, Moldova

Irwin Cotler, former minister of justice and attorney general, Canada

Herta Däubler-Gmelin, former minister of justice, Germany

Martin Dewhirst, Russia expert, UK

Larry Diamond, senior fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, US

Pr Hon. Gareth Evans AC QC, former foreign minister of Australia and president emeritus of the International Crisis Group, Australia

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, former Minister of Defense and minister of economics, Germany

Stephen Fry, actor and writer, UK

Ralf Fuecks, publicist, Center for Liberal Modernity, Germany

Timothy Garton Ash, Oxford University/Stanford University, UK

Richard Harrington, member of parliament for Watford, UK

Heidi Heitkamp, US senator (retired), US

Geoffrey Hosking, emeritus professor of Russian history, University College London, UK

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former president, Estonia

Gyde Jensen, member of parliament, Germany

Garry Kasparov, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation (NYC), Russia

Bob Kerrey, US senator (retired), US

Tinatin Khidasheli, former minister of defense, Georgia

Stephen Kinnock, member of parliament for Aberavon, UK

Petr Kolar, former deputy minister of foreign affairs and ambassador of the Czech Republic to the US and Russian Federation, Czech Republic

Marcus Kolga, president, Central and Eastern European Council, Canada

John Kornblum, former US ambassador to Germany, US

Patrick Klugman, attorney at law, deputy mayor of Paris, France

William Kristol, director, Defending Democracy Together, US

David J. Kramer, former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, US

Vytautas Landsbergis, former speaker of parliament, Lithuania

Dr Katrina Lantos Swett, president, Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, US

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, former minister of justice, Germany

Bernard-Henri Lévy, philosopher and writer, France

Markus Loening, former human rights commissioner, Germany

Hervé Mariton, former minister, France

Jon Meacham, Rogers Chair in the American Presidency, Vanderbilt University, US

Markus Meckel, foreign minister in the last government of the GDR, Germany

Sarah Mendelson, former US Ambassador to the UN’s ECOSOC, US

Adam Michnik, editor in chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland

David Morris, member of parliament for Morecambe and Lunesdale, UK

Herta Müller, writer and Nobel Prize winner, Germany

Cem Özdemir, member of parliament, Germany

Richard North Patterson, bestselling novelist and political commentator, US

Andrew Percy, member of parliament for Brigg and Goole, UK

Baroness Pidding, member of the House of Lords, UK

Rosen Plevneliev, former president, Bulgaria

Jamie Raskin, member of the House of Representatives, US

Malcolm Rifkind, former secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, UK

Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to president George W. Bush, US

Manuel Sarrazin, member of parliament, Germany

Karl Schlögel, professor of history, Germany

Karel Schwarzenberg, vice-chairman of the foreign committee of the Chamber of Deputies of the parliament and former minister of foreign affairs, Czech Republic

Bob Seely, member of parliament for Isle of Wight, UK

Mikhail Shishkin, writer, Switzerland/Russia

Radek Sikorski, member of the European Parliament, former foreign minister, Poland

Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner and director of Peter Tatchell Foundation, UK

Astrid Thors, former OSCE high commissioner on national minorities, Finland

Laurence Tribe, professor, Harvard Law School, US

Lord David Trimble, former first minister minister of Northern Ireland, UK

Sir Graham Watson, former president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and former MEP, UK

Dan Weiss, co-creator of Game of Thrones, US

James Wharton, former member of parliament for Stockton South, UK

Dana White, chief Pentagon spokesperson for Secretary James Mattis, US

John Whittingdale, member of parliament for Maldon, UK

Sir Andrew Wood, former UK ambassador to Russia, UK

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