GENEVA, March 26, 2019 — An empty chair sat on stage at the 2019 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy in honor of Anastasia Shevchenko, a Russian political prisoner and democracy activist.

Full remarks:

The empty chair on this panel is dedicated to the Russian human rights activist Anastasia Shevchenko, a single mother who has been under house arrest for over two months, since January 23rd. Her only crime is being involved with a pro-democracy group that opposes the regime of Vladimir Putin.

Ms. Shevchenko is a coordinator for the Open Russia movement, which has been blacklisted as an “undesirable organization” by the Russian government. She was charged with an offense under an authoritarian law which can punish members of “undesirable” organizations that allegedly pose a threat to the country. Ms. Shevchenko is the first person to face criminal charges for participating in the activities of an “undesirable” organization.

She was first arrested on January 21st, and held for two days in a prison cell. Since then, Ms. Shevchenko has been under strict house arrest. At the time of her arrest, she had two young children, a son and a daughter, as well as a 17-year-old daughter, Alina, who was then seriously ill.

Ms. Shevchenko appealed the decision, noting that she was the only adult relative able to care for this child. Unfortunately, on January 29th, a regional court upheld her house arrest. At that time, her daughter Alina was in intensive care, in a critical state. Ms. Shevchenko was only allowed to see Alina hours before she died, on January 31st.

On March 15th, Russia prolonged her house arrest until June 17th. If convicted, Ms. Shevchenko will face up to six years in prison.

Until then, she is banned from communicating with the outside world, and an electronic tag tracks her movements. Her 14-year-old daughter Vlada now has to do the grocery shopping and take her younger brother to school.

The charges against Ms. Shevchenko demonstrate that Russia is willing to use the law’s most repressive provisions to exert pressure on human rights dissidents. Tragically, according to Moscow, when its citizens exercise their right to freedom of expression and freedom of association, through contacts with international civil society, this amount to criminal behavior.

Today we pledge never to forget prisoner of conscience Anastasia Shevchenko, and her children, and we call on Russia to immediately release her from house arrest.