Drug dependency is a disease, not a crime! Support Denis Matveev!

Denis Matveev is a harm reduction activist who for a long time has worked on social projects in the region where he was born. However he is also one of the many people in Russia who are drug dependant and who treated by the authorities as criminals rather than people in need of rehabilitation.

In July 2009 Denis Matveev was arrested and found in with an amount of heroin over 0.5g, he has been detained ever since and is awaiting trial. His lawyer states that the drugs were planted on him by the police which is a frequent occurrence in Russia. There is little transparency among the judiciary in drug prosecutions and the details of Mr Matveev’s case have not been published by the press. Press freedom and civic freedoms have declined in recent years and civic activists and journalists are often victims of state sponsored intimidation campaigns which occasionally end in death. There have been many high profile murders of human rights activists who work in troubled regions such as Chechnya. However there is little international press coverage of the repression of harm reduction activists.

Critics argue that the current juridical procedure involved in drug cases is directed more at drug users than large-scale drug dealers. The possession of a quantity of heroin substance, regardless of purity, above 0.5 grams is deemed by the Russian authorities to be a large amount and carries a 15 year maximum prison sentence.

There are an estimated 900,000 people living with HIV/Aids in Russia and nearly 12% of the estimated 2,000000 intravenous drug users (IDU’s) are HIV positive. Previously Russia ran a lot of harm reduction programs due to funding from Global Fund grants. However the country is now deemed to rich to apply new grants, meaning closure for a lot of HIV prevention programs.

Recently the head of the Russian anti-narcotics service stated that the country was now the biggest heroin consumer in the world. Despite this in Russia Opioid Substitution Therapy is illegal and the law involving Needle Exchange Programs is ambiguous and in many states the service is only offered by NGO’s.

Russia faces big challenges in the harm reduction sphere and work by activists such as Denis Matveev has been crucial in reducing the level of new HIV infections and improving the lives of many people suffering from addiction.

Please click here to sign a petition supporting Dennis Matveev as well as calling for reform on the legal process for drug-related cases.