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Russia: Kremlin Critics Threatened With Travel Ban

The right of movement is an essential attribute of our global society. But, as it turns out, it can be easily taken away by the same state that is bound to protect this right.

On July 6, 2011, leading political opposition activists Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov suddenly found themselves banned from leaving Russia by the country's Federal Bailiff Service.

Travel ban

The concept of a travel ban has a special place in the hearts of people who lived during the Soviet Union; the regime had a habit of punishing its citizens for thinking differently by not granting them a permission to leave the country.

Lock. Photo by ztephen/Flickr

Lock. Photo by ztephen/Flickr

Only “trustworthy” members of Soviet society enjoyed the privilege of traveling abroad, while actual or potential critics of communism became “travel-banned” (“Nevyezdnoy,” the word that became a synonym to a “dissident” in Russian language). The punishment was actually to force people to live in the Soviet Union. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

Allegedly, the ban for Nemtsov and Milov has been “pushed through” by prominent businessman Gennady Timchenko who got very upset by claims about him made in a report titled “Putin. Results. 10 Years” (An unofficial translation can be found here). Produced by Nemtsov and Milov, the report claimed that Timchenko had became a billionaire due to his close ties to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

A Russian court later ordered the authors of the report to publicly retract the accusation which they did on the pages [ru] of popular Russian newspaper Kommersant.

“Mr. [Gennady] Timchenko was unhappy that the font was too small in that retraction,” Nemtsov subsequently told Radio Free Europe. “So he demanded that we should be kept inside the country for six months.”

Russia's Federal Bailiff Service denied the travel ban at first, but later announced the inquiry into the incident and lifted the ban calling it “premature.”

Human rights activist Oleg Kozlovsky commented [ru] this decision on Twitter:

Сообщают, что запрет Немцову на выезд из страны отменен как “преждевременный”. Время еще не настало то есть.

They say that the ban for Nemtsov to leave the country is lifted as “premature.” That is, the time has not come yet.

Outraged response

The ban has outraged Russian bloggers. Russian political activist Ilya Yashin wrote [ru]:

Эта история – прецедент. Впервые выезд из страны закрыт гражданину за претензии нематериального характера, при том что сами приставы признают: решение суда выполнено.
Кажется, приставы уже сами испугались своего решения и скандала, которым оно чревато. Как еще расценивать тот факт, что они начали сами себя опровергать?

This story is a precedent. For the first time, a citizen is banned from leaving the country for claims not related to finances. At the same time, bailiffs themselves admit that the court's decision has been fulfilled. It seems that bailiffs got afraid of their decision and the scandal that can follow. How else can one interpret the fact that they started to deny their own statements?”

He continues:

Судя по всему, это “наш ответ Чемберлену”: реакция российских властей на “список Магнитского”.

It looks like it is a reaction of Russian authorities to “Magnitsky's list.”

“Magnitsky's List” contains the names of Russian officials connected to the death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. In December 2010, the European Parliament voted for a visa ban for the people on the list.

“At the same time, all media post the headlines that bailiffs never banned Nemtsov from leaving the country,” commented [ru] blogger habivara hinting at a government-controlled media.

Blogger ziptop provides [ru] his (and not unlikely) version of the event:

Something happened that prevented Nemtsov and Milov from following the court's decision properly. Timchenko's lawyers complained about it to bailiffs who were scared and impressed by the influence of the billionaire and rushed to issue the ban. This turned into a scandal on the topic of “Iran Curtain” and Russian authorities realized that this only harms the image of the country and promotes Nemtsov and Milov. Russian authorities quickly decided to lift the ban.

“At the end, it turned out silly and funny,” wrote ziptop.

Russian author Andrey Malgin (avmalgin) offered [ru] his take:

Думаю, дело было так. Как только выступление Немцова на судилище в Брюсселе было анонсировано, один человек в Белом доме стал топать ножкой и истерить: “Да запретить ему ездить за границу и нас там грязью поливать!” Тут же и выполнили. Но на высоком уровне (это видно по другим опубликованным документам), вниз не доложили. А низ сдуру опровергать начал. По-другому объяснить трудно.

I think it happened like this. As soon as it was announced that Nemtsov will be in Brussels, one person in the White House [House of the Russian government] started kicking his leg and yelling: “Stop his trips abroad and his dirt against our country!” And they did it immediately. But they did it on a high level (one can see it in another published documents) and did not inform a low level. And the low level started denying it. It is hard to explain it differently.

“I am not ‘ALSO'”

Boris Nemtsov (his name comes up in blogs much more than Milov's, who, in turn, complained about the amount of pro-Nemtsov bloggers spinning the issue and leaving him out) has been lumped together with scandalous political dissident Eduard Limonov whom bailiffs also prohibited from leaving Russia. Although he certainly doesn't enjoy the association; “I am not ‘ALSO,'” Limonov wrote [ru] on his blog:

Я вам не “ТОЖЕ”, господа, я давным-давно невыездной,а по постановлениям приставов, на протяжении двух с половиной лет, с 15 декабря 2008 года. […] Так что не нужно меня тут рядом с Немцовым через запятую ставить, который в настоящее время сидит, между прочим в городе Страсбурге, Франция. И мотается куда ему надо, когда вздумает. Вот когда его не пустят за границу, тогда напишите : “Борис Немцов стал невыездным, и таким образом пополнил собой список невыездных российских оппозиционных политиков, среди которых Эдуард Лимонов…” и так далее.

I am not “ALSO,” gentlemen, I have been travel-banned for two and a half years because of bailiffs’ decision, since December 15, 2008. […] So, don't put me next to Nemtsov who is at this moment sitting in Strasbourg, France. And he travels where he wants and when he wants. When he is not allowed to travel abroad, then write “Boris Nemtsov became travel-banned and, in this manner, added to the list of Russian opposition politicians banned from travel, among which is Eduard Limonov.”

As it turns out, all's well that ends well. Nemtsov and Milov can travel abroad and travel bans still, for the most part, remain a relic of the Soviet era. It is about time to realize that punishing a person with the denial of their right to live in his/her country for political reasons doesn't have a place in the 21st century.

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