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A demonstrator holds up a sign that reads, “Entering marriage may cause beatings.”

Russia's Justice Ministry says journalists distorted its argument that domestic violence claims in Russia are exaggerated. Fine, here's the full quote.

Source: Meduza
A demonstrator holds up a sign that reads, “Entering marriage may cause beatings.”
A demonstrator holds up a sign that reads, “Entering marriage may cause beatings.”
Sergey Fadeichev / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Why is the Justice Ministry talking about domestic violence in the first place?

In June of 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) notified the Russian government of four complaints submitted by women who argue that the Russian authorities did not react properly to the domestic violence they faced. Natalia Tunikova was convicted of attacking a partner who was beating her. Yelena Gershman’s husband beat her as well, but investigators refused to open a case against him. Irina Petrakova’s husband was penalized for his abuse, but that penalty was cancelled. Margarita Gracheva’s husband cut off her hands before being sentenced to 14 years in prison. The four women’s complaints to the ECHR have been unified into a single case. In its communication on the case to the Russian government, the court posed three overarching questions:

  1. What did the Russian authorities do to protect the complainants from their partners?
  2. What guarantees do women in Russia have against discrimination in the context of domestic violence?
  3. Given the complaints submitted, does a systemic problem exist in Russia that requires a response from the Cabinet of the President of the European Council?

According to the newspaper Kommersant, the Justice Ministry’s response to the ECHR’s communication argued that the scale of domestic violence in Russia and, correspondingly, the scale of discrimination against women, are “sufficiently exaggerated.” Meduza reported briefly on Kommersant’s story in English and Russian.

What’s the Justice Ministry’s beef with those media reports?

The state-owned wire service TASS published the following segment of a statement provided by the Justice Ministry’s press service: “Claims published by a number of media outlets that Russia’s Justice Ministry believes the scope of domestic violence to be exaggerated distort the nature of the Russian Federation’s official position as it was conveyed to the European Court of Human Rights. [These claims also] contain statements that have been removed from their original context. In addition, media reports have included excerpts from the Russian government’s stated position that were mistranslated from English into Russian.”

Justice Ministry representatives emphasized that the problem of domestic violence exists outside Russia, not only within it. They also argued that discrimination was not the issue at hand because “the state is obligated to provide unconditional protection from violence regardless of who its victim is: a child, a woman, or a man.”

What did the Justice Ministry actually say about domestic violence?

Question 2 from the ECHR’s communication to the Russian government read as follows:

As regards the alleged violation of Article 14 of the Convention, taken in conjunction with Article 3, did the Russian authorities acknowledge the gravity and extent of the problem of domestic violence and its discriminatory effect on women? Did they implement measures for achieving substantive gender equality that would enable the applicants to live free from fear of ill-treatment or attacks on their physical integrity and to benefit from the equal protection of the law?

Meduza obtained the text of the Justice Ministry’s response to the communication. The Ministry’s answer to Question 2 begins as follows (the Justice Ministry’s diction has been retained):

As for the alleged violation of Article 14, the Government emphasize that yet the phenomenon of domestic violence is regrettably widespread all around the world and do exist in Russia as well as in any other county, the scope of the problem of violence within family and household as well as the gravity and extend of its discriminatory effect on women in Russia is sufficiently exaggerated.

Report by Mikhail Zelenskiy

English version by Hilah Kohen