Civil Rights Defender of the Year 2021 – OVD-Info

The Russian human rights and media project OVD-Info is awarded the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award 2021. OVD-Info is a lifeline for the thousands of people who suffer from political persecution in Russia. For 10 years, they have been publishing data on arrests of peaceful demonstrators and assisting them with legal aid. OVD-Info receives the prize for their courage to speak up against human rights violations in Russia – a country where the space for dissidence is shrinking at a rapid pace.  

“Russian authorities are doing everything in their power to stifle civil society and silence independent media. Despite this, OVD-Info tirelessly continues to spread information about the repression and help those affected. This kind of courage and dedication deserves attention, it is projects like OVD-Info that keep the hope of democracy alive,” says Anders L. Pettersson, Executive Director at Civil Rights Defenders. 

Russia’s Lifeline for Arrested Protesters 

OVD-Info. Photo: Semen Katz for Medusa.

The Russian human rights and media project OVD-Info is awarded the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award 2021. OVD-Info is an independent human rights project focusing on the political persecution of those who exercise their right to peaceful assembly. They provide information on arbitrary arrests during protests offer legal aid to those who have been arrested. They have been described as “Russia’s lifeline for arrested protesters”.  

Under Vladimir Putin’s rule, the space for human rights defenders and independent journalists has shrunk to a minimum. Repressive laws have further limited freedom of assembly and expression. Anyone who takes to the streets to protest risks sizeable fines or imprisonment.   

“I have no dreams, I have a plan. I am quite sure that one day the Russian civil society will be stronger than this oppressive state apparatus. I don’t know when it will happen, but I am sure it will. We are supporting those people who are dreaming about it, who are doing something to make it happen. It won’t be easy, but someday people will take their responsibility and build real institutional frameworks to protect human rights in Russia,” says Grigory Okhotin, co-founder of OVD-Info, to Civil Rights Defenders. 

The right to freedom of assembly has become one of the most attacked rights in Putin’s Russia, where the regime frequently cracks down on dissent. People exercising their constitutional right to participate in peaceful demonstrations are one of the main targets for political persecution. 

Daniil Beilinson, co-founder of OVD-Info. Photo: Semen Katz for Medusa. 

“It’s getting worse and worse. When we started ten years ago, the legislation was completely different. Now, it is much more restrictive and aggressive. I believe this is a strategy to scare the people. Instead of protecting freedom of speech, they actually do the opposite,” says Daniil Beilinson, co-founder of OVD-Info. 

Playing a Key Role in Russia’s Democracy Movement for 10 Years 

OVD-Info was created in December 2011 when its co-founders, journalist Grigory Okhotin and programmer Daniil Beilinson, witnessed police violence for the first time during a demonstration against the false results from the parliamentary elections. They launched a website to enable swift monitoring of arrests during mass protests.

OVD-Info. Photo: Semen Katz for Medusa.

During the last 10 years, OVD-Info has become an essential resource for the victims of political persecution in Russia, as well as for civil society and independent media. Many key reports on freedom of assembly in Russia use the monitoring and analytical materials that OVD-Info provides. Both domestic and international media outlets rely on their data. During the 2020/2021 protests in Russia, OVD-Info was essential in providing data on the number of arrested protesters. 

“In January and February this year, there were huge protests in 200 cities across Russia. More than 17 000 people were detained. As a result, more than 150 were arrested and faced criminal charges”, says Grigory Okhotin. 

Awarded for Their Dedication to Human Rights

Civil Rights Defenders has awarded the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award every year since 2013. With the award, Civil Rights Defenders supports human rights defenders such as OVD-Info who, despite the risk to their own safety, continue the struggle for democracy and human rights.  

The motivation from the Board of Directors of Civil Rights Defenders reads as follows:  

“The human rights media project OVD-Info is a vital source of independent and reliable information on political persecution in Russia. Despite all efforts of the authorities to suppress dissent, crush the opposition and withhold facts about its attacks on the democratic movement, OVD-Info manages to document arrests and provide legal aid to thousands of protesters. Brilliant and brave, they stand out for their innovative solutions to surmount challenges to civil society in Russia. Thanks to their work, dissent cannot be silenced in secret. For their fearless commitment to the struggle for democracy and human rights, OVD-Info is awarded the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award 2021.”   

Despite the developments in Russia, OVD-Info is convinced that the emerging protest movement in the country will keep growing and eventually force the authoritarian regime to respect and uphold democracy and human rights in the country. 

“Being acknowledged with this award means recognition not only of our team efforts, but also of several thousands of volunteers and tens of thousands of supporters,” says Daniil Beilinsson. 

“It will open up possibilities to speak about our agenda and about the extent of political persecution in Russia, an issue that many Europeans are still unaware of. It is important for us that the whole world knows about the repression. We want the world to know that Russia is not Putin, but a country of many freedom-loving people who actively oppose political violence,” says Grigory Okhotin.  

About the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award

The Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award is awarded every year by Civil Rights Defenders for outstanding work in defence of civil and political rights. With the award, we recognise prominent human rights defenders who, despite the risk to their own safety, continue the struggle for civil and political rights. 

The award highlights the situation of human rights defenders at risk. It enhances their human rights work by providing international recognition and support. The award recipient is a person or organisation who carries out their work without the use of violence. 

For more information, read our FAQ.

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