For Immediate Release: December 6, 2010
Washington, DC – Following news reports that Microsoft will not support trumped up piracy charges against the Russian-based Baikal Environmental Wave, and ahead of the company’s anticipated release of its new unilateral license for nongovernmental organizations and independent media, Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke issued the following:
“This development and Microsoft’s anticipated new licensing agreement offer the company a chance to reboot on its commitment to protect human rights. We hope this leads to system wide efforts to protect activists and journalists around the world.”
The developments reported yesterday in the New York Times regarding Baikal Environmental Wave are welcome. Microsoft needs to continue to follow through on its promise to oppose antipiracy prosecutions of civil society organizations and journalists, by releasing its unilateral license and taking further steps described below.
Over the past three years, Russian authorities at the federal, regional and local level have worked to stifle dissent through raids and prosecutions, justified on antipiracy grounds. As the New York Times has reported, Microsoft, through its local agents in Russia, lent support for, or acquiesced in selective enforcement actions.
Our organization first became aware of this situation when a Russian human rights defender we work with was targeted, and she reached out to us for help. Anastasia Denisova championed immigrant and minority rights as president of ETHnICS, a nongovernmental organization in southwest Russia. The authorities conducted office and home raids, and she was charged with piracy and faced criminal prosecution, fines and a jail sentence. Microsoft’s local representative played an active role in the case. By the time the charges were dropped, seven months after the raid, for lack of evidence, Ms. Denisova’s organization was no longer functioning.
Ms. Denisova said her experience wasn’t unusual, so we investigated further. Human Rights First documented a pattern of selective enforcement of anti-piracy laws by Russia over the past three years. We uncovered 10 cases (see attached chart). These cases have had a serious impact on individuals and groups advancing democracy and accountability in Russia. As the attached chart shows, on the pretext of antipiracy enforcement, Russian authorities targeted four newspapers and a news organization. They also disrupted the work of an environmental group protesting a paper factory on Lake Baikal, a voter rights group on the eve of federal elections, two minority rights groups preparing to launch awareness campaigns, and a university’s publishing office.
We brought the issue to Microsoft’s attention and made a number of recommendations. The New York Times story prompted a public acknowledgement from Microsoft. General Counsel Brad Smith said that the company was focused on understanding its role in these cases and charting a new course forward, including a new unilateral license for NGOs and journalists. We took this fresh opportunity to work closely with senior leadership on the license and other steps. To help headquarters understand the situation in country, and the role of its local representatives – and implications for any proposed remedy – we also convened a meeting with Russian civil society affected by selective anti-piracy enforcement.
We believe Microsoft is on the right path – but they need to take several steps to ensure that they don’t continue to facilitate politically motivated antipiracy prosecutions of activists and journalists.
First, Microsoft needs to send a clear and unambiguous message to Russian authorities that it will not participate in anti-piracy cases against nongovernmental organizations or small independent media and will discourage any such actions.
Second, it should continue to consult with Russian civil society. This will enable Microsoft to obtain advice on its license, “early warning” of new cases, and suggestions on additional steps to preclude Microsoft involvement in such cases.
In addition, we hope that Microsoft’s ongoing investigation into selective enforcement will lead to personnel and policy changes to promote compliance and discourage complicity in selective enforcement, as well as tighter headquarters level oversight of the Russian anti-piracy team.