Back to All Events

Russia state secrets and Australia’s foreign interference bills

Since 2012, Russia has adopted dozens of laws that widen the legal grounds for treason, for criminalising speech that is controversial or that criticises the government, and that demonise independent organisations, such as human rights groups, and media by branding them as “foreign agents” intent on undermining Russia’s stability and values.

As people in Australia contend with proposals to expand espionage and secrecy offences and to restrict foreign funding to civil society, it is a good time to hear about how the Russian laws and their enforcement have deepened Russia’s authoritarianism.

Ivan Pavlov and Rachel Denber will discuss these and other human rights issues facing contemporary Russia, with Dr Aruna Sathanapally, who has been examining the Turnbull government’s proposed foreign interference laws, and the effect these would have on Australia’s democracy.

Moderated by Dr Carolien van Ham, Australian Human Rights Institute

When: 12pm - 1.30pm, Tuesday 3 April
Where: UNSW CBD Campus, Lecture Theatre 7, 1 O'Connell Street, Sydney, NSW
RSVP: the event is free, but you need to register

About the speakers

Rachel Denber is Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division, specialises in countries of the former Soviet Union. Previously, Denber directed Human Rights Watch's Moscow office and did field research and advocacy in Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Estonia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. She has authored reports on a wide range of human rights issues throughout the region. Denber earned a bachelor's degree from Rutgers University in international relations and a master's degree in political science from Columbia University, where she studied at the Harriman Institute. She speaks Russian and French.

Ivan Pavlov is a human rights lawyer and activist in Russia, defending those wrongly accused by security services of disclosing state secrets, high treason, and espionage. He is also well-known for his tireless efforts to ensure public access to government information and to provide guidance to activists threatened by the state. Pavlov has persevered against overwhelming odds, including intrusive government surveillance, harassment by security officials, and work-related threats of violence. In 2004, Pavlov founded the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)—with the aim of monitoring public access to socially significant information and pressuring key state institutions to make information related to their activities available online. In 2014, the Russian government designated IDFI a “foreign agent” under the 2012 repressive law, which demonises foreign-funded advocacy groups as foreign agents. Undeterred, Pavlov continued his work by forming Team 29, an informal association of human rights lawyers Team 29 provides free consultations and legal aid to individuals asserting their right to receive and distribute information, defends victims abused by law enforcement and security agencies, and publishes user-friendly advice for activists and others who face harassment by security officials.

Dr Aruna Sathanapally leads the Human Rights Law Centre’s Sydney office and its work on democratic freedoms. Since 2014, Aruna has practised as a barrister specialising in public and regulatory law and international law. She served for two years (2016-2017) as the legal adviser to Australia’s parliamentary Joint Committee of Human Rights, assisting the Committee to scrutinise legislation against Australia’s human rights obligations. Previously, Aruna was a senior lawyer at the Australian Government Solicitor where she defended Australia’s tobacco plain packaging regulations from international legal challenges. Before returning to Australia, Aruna was a strategy consultant at McKinsey & Company, based in London, where she specialised in regulatory strategy, sustainable development and global public health. Aruna has spent a significant part of her career in the United Kingdom, completing her masters and doctorate at the University of Oxford, as a Menzies Scholar in Law and a John Monash Scholar. She is the author of Beyond Disagreement: Open Remedies in Human Rights Adjudication (Oxford University Press, 2012), and has also published on the constitutional role of parliaments, and methods to enhance democratic deliberation.