Extremism legislation abused to silence dissent

Article 19, Global Campaign for Free Expression, expresses deep concern about the harassment of the Nizhny Novgorod Foundation to Support Tolerance.

On 29 August 2007, police officers entered the Foundation’s premises and seized its computers. This was done in the context of an investigation on possible “extremist activities” by the organisation. The police also warned that they were carrying out an investigation into the Foundation’s finances.

The Foundation was established in March 2007 as a successor to the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS), with the aim of promoting tolerance and understanding within the Russian Federation. The RCFS, which provided information on the conflict in the North Caucasus, became the subject of harassment and was eventually shut down in January 2007.

The former head of the RCFS, a current member of the Foundation, Stanislav Dmitrievsky, was convicted of “inciting racial hatred” in February 2006 after he published peaceful statements by Chechen separatist leaders. On 17 August 2007, the Nizhny Novgorod District Court increased the sentence handed down against Stanislav Dmitrievsky in 2006.

The same policemen who had visited the Foundation to Support Tolerance also raided the Nizhny Novgorod office of independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta on 30 August, seizing computers. The office of the Nizhny Novgorod Human Rights Alliance was also raided on the same day. The Alliance’s staff stated that this was their fourth inspection in seven days.

A pattern of seeking to suppress the provision of alternative information emerges from the actions against the Foundation to Support Tolerance, Novaya Gazeta, the Human Rights Alliance, and the RCFS. This seems to be part of a series of so-called “anti-extremist” actions promoted by the local authorities.

While states are permitted to take measures against hate speech, a clear distinction should be drawn between speech that genuinely incites to discrimination, hostility or violence, and statements which are intended to contribute to a debate about conflicts, their causes and solutions.

International standards permit restrictions to freedom of expression on the grounds of national security only in cases in which an act is intended to incite violence and where there is a direct and immediate link between the act and the likelihood or occurrence of violence.

Article 19 notes that anti-extremism legislation is often abused to silence dissenting voices in Russia, rather than employed to respond to genuine cases of incitement to hatred or violence. Meanwhile, the Russian authorities have adopted a range of measures to restrict any voice that criticise their actions in Chechnya.

Article 19 calls upon the Russian authorities to:

• Return all computers to the raided organisations, and allow them to operate free of harassment and interference.

• Ensure that anti-extremism legislation is used only in the context of statements and actions that are intended to incite violence and where there is a direct and immediate link between the action and the likelihood or occurrence of violence, or statements that incite to discrimination, hostility or violence.

• Take measures to create the conditions for media pluralism in Russia, including the free expression of opinions and information on the situation in Chechnya.

Russia: Extremism Legislation Abused to Silence Alternative Voices
Article 19, 30.08.2007

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