Acts of harassment against several human rights NGOs in Nizhny-Novgorod
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about recent acts of harassment, including searches and confiscation of material, of three non-governmental organisations and one newspaper in Nizhny-Novgorod, namely the Nizhny-Novgorod Foundation to Support Tolerance, the Nizhny-Novgorod Centre to Support Migrants, the Nizhny-Novgorod Human Rights Alliance and Novaya Gazeta.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in the Russian Federation.
Brief description of the situation:
According to the information received, on August 27, 2007, members of the police and the Federal Security Service (FSB) came to the office of the Nizhny-Novgorod Centre to Support Migrants to inform Ms. Almaz Choloyan, Chairperson of the Centre, that she was suspected of having stamped a passport of a migrant with a real stamp of the Ukrainian border point of Nekhotevka. Ms. Choloyan was also ordered not to leave the city. In the framework of their investigation, the police and the FSB seized all the materials from the office of the Centre, including passports and official documents of several migrants. It is therefore to be feared that those people might come under pressure from the police and the FSB if they try to take their passports back. They also searched her flat.
In addition, the police and the FSB questioned the manager of the last project carried out by the Centre, which is financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and aims at providing migrants with legal assistance. To that extent, the FSB members would have made some remarks, hinting that the Centre members could be “easily accused of stirring up ethnic hatred between Russians and migrants providing migrants with such help”. For no apparent reason, Ms. Almaz Choloyan was also asked about her relations with Mr. Stanislav Dmitrievsky, former Executive Director of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS).
Furthermore, on August 29, 2007, the office of the Nizhny-Novgorod Foundation to Support Tolerance was raided by the police from the Department to Combat Crimes in relation to information technology, with an order signed by the Ministry of the Interior General Tsyganov, in order to hold an inspection of the financial, economical, entrepreneurial and other types of activities of the Foundation. Yet, the motion did not give any explanation of the reasons for such a full inspection.
As a result of this inspection, the police established that the Foundation could not provide the licenses to some of the software installed in four of its computers. The police then seized the computers in order to carry out their full inspection, after agreeing that members of the Foundation copy the information recorded on the four computers.
The Observatory recalls that the Nizhny-Novgorod Foundation to Support Tolerance is the name under which the RCFS reconstituted itself after its definitive closure in January 2007 (See background information).
Besides, on August 28, 2007, at a press conference which was organised subsequent to the regular meeting of the Regional Anti-Terror Committee of the Nizhny-Novgorod district, the regional governor announced the creation of a “list of extremists” and the need “to check the work of all public organisations where young people work”.
Finally, on August 30, 2007, the office of the Novaya Gazeta in Nizhny-Novgorod, one of the only independent Russian newspaper, was also raided by policemen acting on the grounds of a motion signed by General Tsyganov and their computers were seized. Later on the day, the office of the Nizhny-Novgorod Human Rights Alliance was also raided by policemen on the grounds of another motion signed by the same General. When the staff of the organisation said that the computers did not belong to the Alliance, the police announced that they would come back with a new motion in order to seize the computers.
The Observatory expresses its deepest concern regarding these acts of harassment against these two non-governmental organisations in Nizhny-Novgorod, which are further evidence of the determination of the Russian authorities to hinder the activities of human rights defenders.
To that extent, the Observatory recalls that in June 2007 the District Court of Nizhny-Novgorod issued an abusive decision, ordering that the International Youth Human Rights Movement (YHRM), an international NGO present in more than 30 States, be taken off the Federal Registration Service (FRS) register of recognised NGOs, for “absence of activities” due to its “failure” to provide details about its actions and finances to the regional department of the FRS1.
As a consequence, the Observatory, recalling that the Russian Federation was elected to the Human Rights Council in June 2006 for three years and is committed, in this regard, to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”2, urges the Russian authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment against the Nizhny Novgorod Foundation to Support Tolerance and the Nizhny-Novgorod Centre to Support Migrants as well as all NGOs and human rights defenders in the Russian Federation.
On January 23, 2007, the Supreme Court confirmed the decision of the Regional Court of Nizhny-Novgorod, which had decided, on October 13, 2006, to close down the RCFS on the ground that Mr. Stanislav Dmitrievsky had been sentenced to a two-year suspended prison sentence for “incitation to national hatred” in February 20063. Indeed, according to article 15 of the Law on the Fight Against Extremist Activities, “if the head or a member of the leadership of an NGO makes a public declaration in which he or she calls for an extremist act or if he or she was sentenced for an extremist act, his or her organisation must publicly declare its disapproval within five days […]; the failure to do so by an organisation will be considered as an extremist act on the part of this organisation”. Moreover, the judge based himself on article 19 of the Federal Law on NGOs, according to which “a person who was sentenced on the basis of the Law on the Fight Against Extremist Activities cannot be co-founder of an organisation”.
Consequently, the organisation was forced to cease its activities. It has since reconstituted itself as three new organisations, including the Nizhny-Novgorod Foundation to Support Tolerance, and moved its legal entity to Finland. Since then, official pressure on RCFS’s former leaders to discontinue their human rights activities has continued unabated. In particular, they have been subjected to heavy police surveillance, and uninvited visitors have presented themselves at their residences.
For instance, on March 22, 2007, police officers came to the office of Foundation, demanding to search their office and with the apparent intention of detaining two of its leaders, Mr. Stanislav Dmitrievsky and Ms. Oksana Chelysheva. The latter managed to obstruct the police officers’ plan by contacting international human rights organisations and western diplomats in Moscow.
Finally, on August 17, 2007, the Nizhegorodskiy District Court of Nizhny-Novgorod considered a motion lodged against Mr. Dmitrievsky by the Inspection to Enforce Sentences of the Nizhegorodskiy District of Nizhny-Novgorod for “breaching administrative law”4. The Court decided to impose on Mr. Dmitrievsky a “ban to violate the administrative law”, which, according to law, can lead to his imprisonment if he is found guilty of infringing this ban on two occasions. As a consequence, the Observatory fears that this ban might be used to turn into a real term imprisonment the conditional sentence Mr. Dmitrievsky is currently serving.
The Observatory urges the authorities of the Russian Federation to:
i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Almaz Choloyan, Ms. Oksana Chelysheva, Mr. Stanislav Dmitrievsky as well as of all members of the Nizhny Novgorod Foundation to Support Tolerance, the Nizhny-Novgorod Centre to Support Migrants, Novaya Gazeta and of the Nizhny-Novgorod Human Rights Alliance, and of all human rights defenders in the Russian Federation;
ii. Put an end to all acts of judicial harassment against Ms. Almaz Choloyan, as they seem to merely aim at sanctioning her human rights activities;
iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment against the Nizhny Novgorod Foundation to Support Tolerance and the Nizhny Novgorod Centre to Support Migrants as well as all human rights defenders in the Russian Federation;
iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December, 9, 1998, in particular with Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels“, as well as with Article 12.2 which reads that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration“;
v. Comply with the provisions of the Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the 2nd Conference on the Human Dimension of the Cooperation and Security Conference in Europe (CSCE) (1990), and uphold in all circumstances the principles and provisions enshrined in the international and regional human rights instruments ratified by the Russian Federation and which, in particular, guarantee freedoms of association, demonstration, expression and opinion, in particular the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, President of the Russian Federation, Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, Faxes:+ 7 095 206 5173 / 230 2408, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
Prosecutor’s office of Nizhny Novgorod, Fax: + 7 831 2 61 85 03 Nizhegorodskiy district police office, Fax: +7 831 2 34 02 02 Governor of the region, Vasily Shantsev, + 7 831 2 39 08 19
Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Ustinov, 103793 g. Moskva K-31, Ul. B. Dimitrovka, d 15a, Russian Federation, Fax: + 7 095 292 88 48; [N.B. present Prosecutor General is Yury Chaika.]
Chairwoman of the Presidential Human Rights Commission of the Russian Federation, Ella Pamfilova, 103132 g. Moskva, Staraya ploshchad, d 8/5,pod 3, Russian Federation, Fax:+70952064855;
Minister of Internal Affairs, Rashid Nurgaliev, ul. Zhitnaya, 16, 117049 Moscow, Russian Federation, Telegram: Rossiia, 117049, Moskva, Fax: + 7 095 237 49 25;
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, Smolenskaya-Sennaya pl, 32/34, 121200 Moscow, Russian Federation, Telegram: Fax:+ 7 095 244 2203;
Ambassador Leonid Skotnikov, Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva Av. de la Paix 15, CH-1211, Geneva 20, Switzerland, e-mail : email@example.com, fax: +4122 734 40 44;
Embassy of the Russian Federation in Brussels, 31-33 boulevard du Régent, 1000 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 513 76 49.
Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of the Russian Federation in your respective country.
*** Geneva – Paris, August 30, 2007
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need. The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line: E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 20 11 / +33 1 43 55 18 80 Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29