EU Watch

Arrests Don't Deter Italian & Russian NGOs' Cooperation on Prisoners' Rights

NGOs from Italy and Russia have established a strong working relationship to share information and experiences in the field of prisoners rights. This cooperation comes despite the arrests of activists from the Italian NGO by Russian police.

by Sofia Antonelli

Antigone & Man and Law cooperate

With the support of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Italian NGO Antigone and Russian NGO Man and Law, two organisations that work on issues related to detainees' rights, participated in the project 'Rights in prison. EU-Russia Civil Society Forum and the defence of fundamental rights in the penitentiary system'. The programme consists of the establishment of a close collaboration to share information and experience and, in general, to achieve a broader cooperation between Russian and European civil society organisations engaged in the protection of the prisoners’ rights.

In this framework, the two organisations began a close collaboration. In July 2016, a Russian delegation came to Italy for a visit to exchange information, culminating in the seminar 'Civil society in Russia and in Italy. Exchange of experience and opportunities for cooperation'. The seminar was mainly a place to discuss the difficult working conditions in which the Russian activists carry out their work and on possible future opportunities for cooperation.


Subsequently, an Italian delegation went to Russia to meet with Man and Law and other civil society organisations. Unfortunately, their mission ended earlier than expected when Russian police raided their meeting and arrested the Italian activists. They were held at a police station for 10 hours and subjected to long and persistent interrogations. Thanks to the intervention of the Italian authorities and the logistical support of Man and Law activists, the unpleasant situation ended quite quickly with the payment of a small fine.

The aim of the police raid was not to evaluate the lawfulness of the Italians' entry into Russia, but more likely as just one of the many intimidating control operations undertaken by Russian police against NGOs, especially in the presence of suspect foreign people.

In spite of the unpleasant incident, the cooperation between Antigone and Man and Law continued.

Strasbourg and rights protection in prison

Recently, the two organisations jointly produced a report on how the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) could be an effective tool for the protection and the advancement of prisoners’ rights.

The case law of the ECtHR reported in the publication created a set of standards for detention that can be used by human rights defenders to strengthen their cases in front of national courts, decision-makers and the public, not to mention cases before the ECtHR itself, whose decisions could be used to improve prison conditions nationally.

Database of prisoners’ rights organisations

Finally, Antigone and Man and Law created a database of all the civil society organisations engaged in the protection of fundamental rights in prisons in Russia and Europe. The database is intended to facilitate data exchange and cooperation among the countries.
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