After banning their website, Mr. Ivanov, the Russian drug czar accuses the only NGO distributing needles in Moscow of selling methadone – our report from the CND!
I like traditions. To come to the press conference of the Russian delegation at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and questioning Mr. Ivanov, the head of the Federal Drug Control Service became a tradition for the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU). As a human rights watchdog NGO, we feel compelled to make his country accountable for denying access to life-saving opiate medications. In 2010 and 2011 we asked him why opiate substitution treatment, one of the most studied form of addiction treatment proven to be effective in reducing drug related death and disease is still illegal in Russia. Mr. Ivanov always amazed me with his answers – he is the kind of person who can speak lies so naturally that you almost believe him even if you know he is not right.
This year there was a special reason to ask him a question: in February his agency banned the website of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation (ARF), a the first and only NGO in Moscow to provide sterile needles and syringes for drug users, with no government support of course. ARF was accused of spreading „drug propaganda” – that is, information on opiate substitution treatment, a key to stop the spread of HIV in a country with a terrible epidemic among injecting drug users. We provided technical assistance to ARF to open their website again at a new foreign host. The banning of the website generated a huge outcry among international HIV organizations and widely criticized in the international press.
At the press conference I asked Mr. Ivanov why he decided to close down this website and is he considering to change his position in the light of international criticisms. He answered that they blocked the website because they were „involved in the sales of illegal substances”, that is, methadone. A lie: the ARF has never been involved in the sale of methadone, they only provided information about methadone treatment! He said other lies about methadone being an unsuccesful experiment and rejected by other countries – we are preparing a film about the press conference and we will ask professionals to react his statements.
Now, if the protection of human rights and public health is an integral element of the international drug control system, as the head of UNODC, himself a Russian diplomat, emphasized at the plenary, nobody speaks out against Russia for repressing a small NGO for nothing else than telling the truth about evidenced based treatment? Freedom of expression is a human right too, and honest, reality-based education and information has a key role in preventing drug problems and HIV.
Our first video with Mr. Ivanov from 2010
Posted by Peter Sarosi