Controversial Ombudsman Mikhailov Dismissed
Published: October 23, 2009 (Issue # 1520)
A United Russia politician who was elected as St. Petersburg’s first ombudsman in the summer of 2007 amid indignant protests from the local human rights community, Igor Mikhailov, was stripped of his duties this week by the city’s Legislative Assembly.
According to the official version offered by the parliament’s speaker Vadim Tyulpanov, Mikhailov brought the trouble on his own head by endorsing several members of his administrative staff to participate in the municipal elections held this fall.
The ombudsman, who has vowed to defend his rights in court and said that he is prepared to take the fight to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, maintains he has apparently irritated the authorities by doing his job too vigorously. “Democracy is vanishing in St. Petersburg,” the ombudsman said about his firing.
The St. Petersburg Human Rights Council may well agree with the ombudsman about the state of democracy, yet many human rights advocates refused to buy into Mikhailov’s version of events, instead issuing an official news release welcoming his dismissal. “Our council has always regarded Igor Mikhailov as completely unfit for the ombudsman’s job, and the parliament’s decision simply proves us right,” the statement reads.
When Mikhailov assumed the ombudsman’s post, a group of the city’s leading human rights organizations refused to cooperate with him and formed an informal council of ombudsmen comprising experts from the city’s nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups.
At the same time, Olga Kurnosova, the St. Petersburg representative of Garry Kasparov’s United Civil Front said Mikhailov might be paying the price for his recent efforts to win the political opposition the right to hold public meetings without constantly getting in trouble with the authorities.
Mikhailov dismissed all allegations concerning his involvement with his staff’s election campaigns. “I personally never engage in any political activity; as for my staff, they have a legal right to take part in elections so I do not see a problem here,” he said. “Besides, two of my staff had previously been successfully elected to municipal councils and back then my colleagues at the parliament did not make an issue of it. The excuse the parliament has used to get rid of me is absurd.”
Reports that Mikhailov’s position was weakening began to appear in the summer, with the ombudsman’s critics — some of them members of his own party — alleging that he had made a joke of himself by regularly uttering ridiculous comments that attracted nationwide coverage and even reached foreign audiences. A glaring example was his opinion on children’s punishment, voiced during a televised discussion on Channel Five in June 2009. Pages: