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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Annals of the Amsterdam Video: Amsterdam 1, Putin 0

Robert Amsterdam reports:

A reader kindly [NB: he's talking about us!] sent us an email alerting us to the fact that the BBC is broadcasting a segment featuring clips of the Yekaterinaburg prison abuse tape, which this blog first brought to public attention (on Dec. 10) on our YouTube channel. The BBC report, which can be viewed online here, includes interviews with Lev Ponomarev and a surviving paratrooper who had been paralyzed by the beatings, torture, and human rights abuses he suffered during his imprisonment in the much feared Yekaterinaburg facility.

The story of this video and its exposure to a wider audience has taken some interesting turns in recent months. The video was up on this blog and YouTube for about two months before Lev Ponomarev (a Russian human rights leader frequently featured here) traveled to the United States to raise awareness of the issue, and then following a breakthrough investigative article by Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal including a link to the video, within days tens of thousands of people had viewed it and commented on it. After the video reached about 45,000 views in just three days, there appeared to be an organized wave of hostile comments - consistently against the victims and in support of the OMON and the Russian government. Using similar language, a variety of YouTube users attacked us for the provocation of putting this video up, and, in masse, flagged the video for "inappropriate content" and forcing the website to remove it (see Robert Amsterdam's statement on the issue here). A few weeks later, after complaints and a secondary review, the video was successfully reinstated, and the event was covered by the Wall Street Journal.

However, all is not well. Once Lev Ponomarev returned to Russia from his trip to the United States, criminal charges were filed against him for slander against General Yuri Kalinin, head of the prison system. Stay tuned for more information. We are happy to see that this important story is finally getting covered by major media, and we hope that more people can be brought around to initiating a dialogue with Russia over human rights in its prison system.

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