Novaya Gazeta – Nizhny Novgorod, 12 July 2007
The Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS) has received from Strasbourg a Memorandum of the Russian Federation on the complaint to the European Court which deals with the sentencing of the Nizhny Novogord-based human rights defender Stanislav Dmitrievsky. The document turned out to be quite illustrative — in all aspects.
For those who are unaware, let us recall briefly the crux of the matter.
In 2004, as editor of a small newspaper called Pravo-Zaschita (“Rights Defence”), Dmitrievsky published two statements by leaders of the Chechen separatists, Aslan Maskhadov and Akhmed Zakaev.
One was addressed to the European Parliament, the other to the Russian people. The authors called for a peaceful solution to the armed conflict in Chechnya. Of course, both expressed a very negative opionion about Putin’s regime in general and its creator in particular.
In January 2006, Dmitrievsky was convicted by a District Court in Nizhny Novgorod for “inciting racial, ethnic, and social hatred” to two years under probation.
They did not, however, manage to impose real jail time, as there was too much attention from friends of Russia, including such “elite clubs” as the G8, the Council of Europe, and OSCE, to this “local” case.
Similarly, the European Court of Human Rights, which was already overwhelmed by complaints from Russia, agreed to consider the case Dmitrievsky vs. Russia as a matter of priority.
This caused a slight panic among the “satraps” of the prosecutor’s office.
By 4 May 2007, Russia had to answer to a series of simple questions:
1. Was the condemnation of Dmitrievsky legitimate in terms of domestic legislation and was it in line with the European Convention?
2. Did the condemnation of Dmitrievsky pursue a legitimate goal?
3. Was it necessary in a democratic society?
4. Does the trial against Dmitrievsky meet the criteria for a fair trial, as established in the Convention?
The Russian Federation, through its new representative in the European Court, Ms Milinchuk, did not fumble in the pocket for an answer. The Memorandum begins as follows:
“The authorities of the Russian Federation categorically oppose the present practice of the Secretariat of the European Court of Human Rights to present as facts various campaign materials, which have been written by a person whom the Russian Federation accusea of committing serious crimes.
The authorities of the Russian Federation do no accept the use of the Court for incitement to hatred or hostility, as well as humiliation of human dignity or group of persons on grounds of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, religion, as well as membership in a social group.”
This is how the Russian authorities regard the printing by the Secretariat of the European Court of the statements by Akhmed Zakaev and Aslan Maskhadov, which were published in the newspaper, Pravo-Zaschita, edited by Dmitrievsky.
The Russian Federation insists on the deletion of the above “statements”, presented by the Secretariat in paragraphs 1-2 of section A (“Facts”), from materials to be considered by the European Court of Human Rights in response to the complaint by Dmitrievsky.
It turns out that the Russian authorities have directly accused the Court of inciting “hatred”, echoing verbatim section 282 of the Russian Penal Code.
Perhaps it is now Europe’s turn to get its portion of the charges for the same criminal offence, which the Nizhny Novgorod court previously found Dmitrievsky guilty of.
The claims are quite extravagant for a state which stands accused in a court case. Ms Milinchuk absolutely flatly violates all principles of legal and business ethics, by showing open contempt of the Court.
The claim by the Russian authorities that the Secretariat of the European Court of Human Rights has presented “various campaign materials under the guise of facts” is untrue.
The European Court did not even consider the question of wheter the facts contained in published statements were genuine or not. The Court only noted their publication. This is not disputed by either the Russian Federation or Dmitrievsky.
Moreover, it was the Russian court [in Nizhny Novgorod] that placed the statements as the basis of its sentence against Dmitrievsky.
Even assuming that the statements published by Dmitrievsky really show signs of hatred as seen in Article 282 of the Russian Penal Code, including them in the “Fact Sheet” is not the same thing as publishing them.
Documents drafted by the Secretariat of the Court are of a procedural nature. They are meant for the Court and the litigants, i.e., for a limited number of interested persons.
If one continues to follow the logic of Ms Milinchuk, the Russian Federation could have just as well been accused of publishing the said statements, given that Russian prosecutors included the statements by Maskhadov and Zakaev in the case against Dmitrievsky.
At the request of the Public Prosecutor, the statements were read out during the the court hearings in the District Court of Nizhny Novgorod, at the presence of a large audience and the press.
Moreover, the public prosecutor, Ms Maslova, read the statements with such inspiration and expression that even drowned out the applause of the public.
Not less strange is the request by the authorities of the Russian Federation to exclude the statements from the “materials to be considered by the European Court of Human Rights”. This can be compared to a demand to exclude the body from the evidence in a murder case.
If you remove the primary evidence in a criminal case against Dmitrievsky from the materials of the Court, considering his case in Strasbourg will become impossible.
Yet another complaint is about to be considered by the Court: the case regards the elimination of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS) as an organisation registered in Russia under the pretext of “combating extremism”…
The law requires that an organisation, a member of which a court has recognised as an extremist, is obliged to declare publicly his opposition to the person’s activities within five days of the court decision. Otherwise, the organisation will itself be declared as extremist and closed down.
The Nizhny Novgorod Prosecutor’s Office has filed a claim for closing down the RCFS. The founders of the RCFS did not abandon their friend. As a result, they now face another court case, which threatens to declare the whole organisation as extremist.
The Nizhny Novgorod regional court did not have any doubts: RCFS was declared “extremist”.
When the Supreme Court was considering a complaint against the regional court’s decision to close down the organisation, there were about a dozen Western diplomats and representatives of international human rights organizations present in the court room. There was a small group of Russian journalists, as well as those who had experienced the charm of the 58th article of the Soviet Penal Code.
The public attention that the case received did not have any effect, however, on its finale. The RCFS in Russia was disbanded.
Despite all these hardships, work continued after the RCFS “immigrated” to neighbouring Finland. But this is not a final solution.
The openly hysterical character of Russia’s Memorandum is evidence of the fact that the authorities are prepared to accuse of RCFS of all deadly sins without any legal basis. Of course, in terms of their tactics at exhausting the strength of the RCFS and those who supported us, the choice is not random. The arbitration process has now been going on for nearly two years.
Even though the tax authorities had to abandon some of their claims against the RCFS, the remaining amount of 500,000 rubles still falls under the jurisdiction of Article 251 of the Penal Code – “large scale evasion of tax and other special charges”.
Overall, the authorities have not abandoned their attempts to initiate another criminal case against Dmitrievsky and send him to prsison, based on the “totality” of cases against him.
On 4 July 2007, prosecutors in Nizhny Novogorod began another process to “protect unspecified persons” from the influence of the newspaper, Pravo-Zaschita.
This time they are demanding that the newspaper, which printed Maskhadov’s and Zakaev’s statements, be closed down, despite the fact that the newspaper has not been published since the closing down of the RCFS.
The reason for the hysterical attitude of the authorities of the Russian Federation is understandable. Once the European Court recognises that the sentence imposed on Dmitrievsky was a violation of the European Convention, the Russian Federation will be forced to cancel the sentence in accordance with its Criminal Procedural Code.
After that, all other cases based on the unjust sentence against Dmitrievsky will fall like dominos.