A Lawyer’s Perspective on Political Asylum in Modern Day Russia


Political Persecution in the Post-Soviet Space

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was expected to usher in the end of political persecutions in the post-Soviet space.  Unfortunately for many, this expectation remains woefully unfulfilled as political persecution continues within the region, including the Russian Federation, the successor state to the Soviet Union. 

Persecution in Modern Russia

Recently, with the upcoming winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to release prominent political prisoners. Among those pardoned was Mikhail Khodorovsky, oil tycoon and Putin’s political nemesis, Maria Boronova, organizer of massive opposition rally in 2012, and Maria Alyokhina, member of the activist band Pussy Riot.  This supposed act of amnesty, however, did not generate much gratitude from the political prisoners or from the international community. Overall, this attempt by President Putin at clearing his long record of human rights violations was not successful and most opposition members believe this amnesty is short lived. Just last year on May 6, 2013, Russian police arrested protesters at a rally that was timed to coincide with the anniversary of a riot in Bolotnaya Square — a riot followed by widespread arrests and sham prosecutions. The list of human rights violations is not limited to excessive police force at rallies and protests; activists and members of opposition parties are routinely intimidated, detained, and even tortured. The persecution of the opposition has been so relentless that one activist,Alexander Dolmatov committed suicide while seeking asylum in the Netherlands. In light of President Putin’s history of political oppression and persecution, the recent release of prominent political dissidents is most likely an attempt to “sanitize his human rights record” rather than a positive turn in Russian politics.

Seeking Asylum In the US Based on Political Persecution in Russia

The United States possesses a large and dynamic Russian diaspora in many metropolitan areas.  These communities have long been home to dissidents that have flowed into the country for ever decade over the last century.  Within these communities, particularly the ones in NYC and Washington DC, immigration and asylum lawyers have actively aided political refugees in receiving asylum from Russia and Soviet Union.  Each political asylum case is fact sensitive so consulting with a qualified attorney is advisable.

Political Parties and Persecution in Russia

United Russia, the party of Vladimir Putin, is the dominant political party in Russia.  The party heads have used this position of prominence to marginalize minority parties, and in many cases arrest and prosecute members of opposition parties.  For an individual seeking asylum in the US, it is important to detail how you stand in opposition to the dominant political party.  One does not need to belong to an opposition party to have a viable claim of asylum; one can also show that he or she holds a set of beliefs that are contrary to the dominant political party, that these beliefs are an essential part of the identity of the asylum seeker, and that the individual has been threatened for holding such beliefs.  For example, the members of Pussy Riot are not part of a clearly defined political party as much as they hold a set of belief that are contrary to the dominant political group is Russia.

Political Refugees from Russia

Political refugees can be grouped into two categories: those who have been persecuted in the past, and those that fear persecution in the future.  For those that have experienced persecution in the past it is critical to document and preserve evidence of that persecution.  For those who are concern about future persecution, it is critical to detail why that person feels that persecution is forthcoming upon return to his or her home country.

Asylum Consultation

A good political asylum case does not only include evidence and testimony of persecution.  It also can include expert reports on country conditions, psychological reports, and a comprehensive legal brief.  It can be difficult for an individual asylum seeker unfamiliar with US immigration laws and procedures to compile a effective asylum application, so it is recommended to at least seek a basic consultation with an immigration lawyer.

At Sethi & Mazaheri, our attorneys have extensive experience in filing asylum applications on behalf of political refugees and asylum seekers. Both partners in our firm, Mr. Sethi and Mr. Mazaheri, have an academic and professional background in international human rights, and are well equipped to assess the viability of a political asylum claim from Russia and the post-Soviet space.  Every day, there is an on-call attorney assigned to handling all queries on asylum, so if you are a political refugee or seeking asylum status, please call us now at 201-606-2267,646-397-1287, or 703-791-9279.

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