From the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, via A Step at a Time
Legal Harassment Against the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society
Vienna, 29 November 2005. The legal harassment against the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS) continues. While the efforts of the Registration Department of the Justice Ministry to deregister the RCFS were turned down by the court in Nizhny Novgorod, the criminal proceedings against Stas Dimitrievsky, the head of the RCFS, are proceeding, as well as the procedure at the arbitration court regarding the decision of the tax inspection that the RCFS has violated the Tax Code and has to pay profit tax and a fine totaling 1.001.561 Rubles (around 28.200 Euro).
The next hearing in the criminal case is scheduled for 7 December 2005. The next hearing of the Arbitration Court is tomorrow, 30 November 2005, 14:30.
1. Judicial case against the Pravo-zashchita newspaper. Justice Ministry / Prosecutors Office use Criminal Persecution under Article 282 of the Criminal Code (“Inciting ethnic hatred”)
On 3 November, the hearing on the criminal case against Stas Dimitrievsky (as being responsible for Pravo-zashchita newspaper), ended with the decision to reject two appeals of the RCFS. The case was postponed to the 16 November, which is the same day, when there is the hearing at the arbitration court regarding their tax issue.
On 15 November, the British human rights lawyer Bill Bowring, en route to observe the trial proceedings in Nizhny Novgorod was denied entry to the Russian Federation. Despite being in possession of a valid multiple-entry visa and letters of accreditation as a trial observer from the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales and from the NGO Frontline Defenders, he was held without explanation by border officials for six hours at Moscow's Sheremetyevo-2 airport before being put on an airplane back to the UK. Professor Bowring had visited Nizhny Novgorod already on 16-18 June 2005, when he monitored the situation of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, and made a detailed report on his observations of the situation.
On 16 November, the first main hearing in the criminal case against Stas Dimitrievsky took place in the Nizhny Novgorod Sovetsky district court. Two lawyers are defending Dimitrievsky in court, Yury Sidorov (Nizhny Novgorod), and Leyla Khamzaeva (Moscow). Several members and staffers of the RCFS and the Nizhny Novgorod Society for Human Rights were interrogated as witnesses for the prosecution. They stated to the court that they are absolutely sure that the publications used to
incriminate Stas Dimitrievsky are aimed at establishing peace in the Chechen Republic as they contain calls to political reconciliation of the armed conflict there. Then, the next hearing was fixed for 25 November 2005, but was later postponed for the 28th November.
In the hearing of 28 November, Sergey Kovalev, former Russian human rights ombudsman and former State Duma deputy, Lydia Jusupova, a member of chamber of lawyers of the Chechen Republic and staff member of the “Memorial” Human Rights Center, and Laila Amirkhadshieva, inhabitant of Chechen village Katyr-Jurt, were questioned as witnesses of the defense. They were invited by the defense to acknowledge the actual circumstances in Chechnya, to which the appeal from Aslan Maskhadov to the European Parliament referred, which is one of the two bases of the indictment.
Additionally, the author of the linguist expert opinion, Larisa Teslenko – expert of the Privolzhsky Regional Center of Legal Expertise at the Ministry of Justice, ordered by the chief investigator of the Nizhny Novgorod regional branch of the FSB, on which the indictment is based - was questioned. While firmly insisting that the incriminated materials raise racial, national and social enmity “between Russian and Chechens”, Teslenko refused to give an answer to most of the fifty questions, explaining that they were beyond her competence. She refused, for example to define the terms “race”, “nationality” and “social group”, declaring that on these questions the sociologist, instead of the linguist should answer.
During the trial, about thirty members of the patriotic youth movement “Nashi” (“Ours”) held a picket outside the court building with a poster “A terrorist cannot be a human rights defender".
The next hearing of the case was scheduled for 7 December 2005.
2. The fiscal harassment of the RCFS, threatening the continuation of its activities.
On 16 November 2005, the Arbitration court of Nizhny Novgorod region, to which the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society lodged their complaint about the actions undertaken by the tax inspection of Nizhny Novgorod, decided to postpone the main hearing of the case to Wednesday, November 30, 2005.
Judge Evgenia Belyanina took this decision to postpone the hearing as a result of the alleged illness of two of the staff members of the tax inspection, despite the fact that for a juridical person illness of any of its staff members can't be an obstacle to present the position of the organization in court, creating the impression that the tax inspection was deliberately trying to retard the consideration of the complaint.
A young staff member of the tax inspection appeared in court by proxy. He appealed to the judge to postpone the hearing in connection with the illness of one of the two staff member who had dealt with the case before. Asked about the other one, he answered that she was likely to have fallen ill too. Asked why he was not able to represent the interests of the tax inspection himself, he explained that he was unaware of the details.
On 15 August 2005 the tax inspection of Nizhegorodski district had made Resolution #25 claiming that the RCFS had violated the Tax Code, and that they have to pay profit tax for grants to implement specific human rights projects in the period from 2002 to 2004 from three foreign donors. Additionally the tax inspection ordered them to pay a fine. The total amount of the claims is 1.001.561 Rubles (around 28.200 Euro).
3. Efforts by the Justice Ministry Registration Department to Deregister the RCFS
After having decided on 1 November to postpone consideration of the de-registration-case against the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS) for an indefinite period of time, judge Samartseva unexpectedly changed her mind and scheduled the main hearing for 14 November 2005. This hearing turned out to be the final one. Judge Samartseva made a ruling, in which she refused the Nizhny Novgorod Main Registration Department at the Ministry of Justice in its civil action to liquidate the RCFS, after considering the documents and debates between the sides. As this decision was not appealed by the Justice Ministry within the 10 days period, in which this would have been possible, the judgment is final.
Unknown Persons Broke into the Flat of Dimitrievsky on 28 November
On 28 November, unknown persons broke into the flat of the family of Stas Dimitrievsky in Nizhny Novgorod. When his wife came home at 17:30 she found things scattered on a floor and boxes opened. There were no broken doors, and it seems that nothing was stolen.
IHF statement, “British Lawyer Barred From Entering Russia to monitor trial of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society in Nizhny Novgorod, 15 November 2005
IHF statement, “The ‘Russian-Chechen Friendship Society’s Under Severe Risk of being Destroyed by Russian Authorities. Its Director Stas Dimitrievsky Faces a Prison Term, 2 November 2005
IHF statement, "Russian Federation: Nizhny Novgorod Authorities Launch Final Crackdown on Russian-Chechen Friendship Society. Today’s Protest Picket Dissolved after Five Minutes – Participants Detained", 2 September 2005.
IHF statement, “Continuing Persecution of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society. Its Partner Organisation Nizhny Novgorod Human Rights Society Closed Down by Authorities”, 10 June 2005
IHF statement, “”We Fear for the Safety of our Colleagues in the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society… Russian Human Rights Organization Threatened”, 19 March 2005
IHF statement, “FSB Raids the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society”, 20 January 2005
IHF/NHC Report, The Silencing of Human Rights Defenders in Chechnya and Ingushetia, Sept. 2004
For further information:
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
In Vienna: Aaron Rhodes, IHF Executive Director, +43-1-408 88 22 or +43 -676-635 66 12; Henriette Schroeder, IHF Press Officer, +43-676-725 48 29
In Moscow: Tanya Lokshina, +7 -916-624 19 06
Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, Stas Dmitrievsky, Oksana Chelysheva, +7-8312-171 666 or +7-920 015 9218 (mobile)