Russia does not have a functioning criminal justice system at all, in the sense of a trial mechanism aimed at determining innocence or guilt. Exactly as in Uzbekistan, the conviction rate in criminal trials is over 99%. If the prosecutors, who are inextricably an arm of the executive government, want to send you to jail, there is absolutely no judicial system to protect you. The judges are purely there for show.
When critics of Putin like Alexei Navalny are convicted, therefore, we have absolutely no reassurance that the motivation behind the prosecution or the assessment of guilt was genuine. Which is not to say that Navalny is innocent; I am in no position to judge. People are complex. I sacrificed my own pretty decent career to the cause of human rights, but in my personal and family life I was by no means the most moral of individuals. I see no reason for it to be impossible that all of Navalny’s excellent political work did not co-exist with a fatal weakness. But his criticisms of Putin made him a marked man, who the state was out to get, and the most probable explanation – especially as prosecutors had looked at the allegations before and decided not to proceed – is that he is suffering for his criticisms of the President rather than a genuine offence.
It fascinates me that the Western media view the previous decision by the prosecutors not to proceed as evidence the case is politically motivated against Navalny; but fail to draw the same conclusion from precisely the same circumstance in the Assange case.
David Ward MP has not been sent to jail. He has however had the Lib Dem whip removed, which under Clegg’s leadership perhaps he ought to consider an honour. It is rather a commonplace sentiment that it is a terribly sad thing, that their community having suffered dreadfully in the Holocaust, the European Jews involved in founding the state of Israel went on themselves to inflict terrible pain and devastation on the Palestinians in the Nakba. Both the Holocaust and the Nakba were horrific events of human suffering. For this not startling observation, David Ward is removed from the Liberal Democrats. He also stated that, with its ever increasing number of racially specific laws, its walls and racially restricted roads, Israel is becoming an apartheid state. That is so commonplace even Sky News’ security correspondent Sam Kiley said it a few months ago, without repercussion. In Russia you cannot say Putin is corrupt; in the UK you cannot say Israeli state policy is malign. Neither national state can claim to uphold freedom of speech. Meanwhile, of course, David Cameron announces plans to place filters on the internet access of all UK households.
In the United States, the House of Representatives failed by just 12 votes to make illegal the mass snooping by the NSA which was not widely publicised until Edward Snowden’s revelations. What Snowden said was so important that almost half the country’s legislators wished to act on his information. Yet the executive wish to pursue him and remove all his freedom for the rest of his life, as they are doing to Bradley Manning for Manning’s exposure of war crimes and extreme duplicity.
Around this complex of issues and the persons of Manning, Navalny, Snowden and Assange there is a kind of new ideological competition between the governments of Russia, the US and UK as to which is truly promoting the values of human freedom. The answer is none of them are. All these states are, largely in reaction to the liberating possibilities of the internet, promoting a concerted attack on freedom of speech and liberty of thought.
States are the enemy. We are the people.