Flawed court case based on flawed NGO law leads to ruling to close down the Russian-Chechen friendship society

Report
from International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
Published on 13 Oct 2006
Vienna, 13 October 2006. Today, the Court of the Nizhny Novgorod Region ruled to close down the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS). The motivational part of the ruling outlining the reasons behind this judicial decision will be sent to the RCFS within the next five days. As the RCFS already appealed this decision with the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation the court decision on liquidation of the organization has not entered into force yet. Additionally, the RCFS - with the support of the Public Verdict Foundation - is planning to lodge a complaint with the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, arguing that the legislative provisions of the anti-extremism law and the NGO law package, to which the Prosecutor referred to, are unconstitutional.

The ruling came only four days after the Nizhniy Novgorod Prosecutors Office had lodged its new suit to close down the RCFS. On 11 October the first hearing had taken place.

The claims of the Prosecutors Office were related to provisions of the new flawed NGO law package, signed by President Putin in January 2006, and to the flawed Law on countering extremist activity, to which several new worrisome amendments have been adopted by the Russian Parliament and endorsed by President Putin in July 2006.

The Prosecutor's Office had the following claims against the RCFS:

1. Stanislav Dmitrievsky, despite being convicted(1)for an "extremist crime" ("inciting hatred or enmity on the basis of ethnicity and religion", Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code), failed to step down as a member of the RCFS Founding Board and to resign as the RCFS Executive Director.

2. The RCFS failed to publicly denounce Stanislav Dmitrievsky after he had been found guilty of an "extremist crime". (This makes the RCFS qualify as an extremist organization.)

3. Stanislav Dmitrievsky organized an unsanctioned picket in September 2005 before the Nizhny Novgorod Tax Inspection, and the RCFS failed to publicly condemn this action (Dmitrievsky had notified the city authorities of his intention to hold the picket and received a negative answer from the City Hall as well as a warning from the Prosecutor's Office).

4. The RCFS did not comply with a warning by the Registration Department of the Ministry of Justice, demanding to change the name of the organization, and did not appeal in due time either.

The RCFS had made a serious effort to comply with the demand to change their name and had submitted all the necessary papers, in order to change their name to Russo-Chechen Friendship Society. However, this had been rejected with the reason given that the RCFS also would have to hold a joint conference of the two branches of the organization deciding on this change of names.

Earlier Attempt to close the RCFS in 2005 Failed

In 2005, parallel to the criminal persecution of RCFS head Stanislav Dmitrievsky and a financial persecution by the tax authorities, there was already an effort of the Federal Registration Service (FRS) to close the RCFS down. In April 2005, this claim was based on the organisation's failure to produce originals of documents concerning its financial operations, despite the fact that at the time, these documents were in the possession of the tax authority. When the FRS finally received the documents, they renewed the organisation's registration.

However, already in October 2005, the FRS again sent a warning to the RCFS that they were in breach of Article 14 of the federal law "On Public Associations" by using the word "Russian" in the name of the organisation, which according to them could only be used to refer to all-Russian organizations. The RCFS tried to comply by changing the official name to the Russo-Chechen Friendship Society. Later in October, the FRS changed its argument why they wanted the closure of the RCFS, stating that the documents the organisation submitted in June had been provided late. On 14 November 2005, the court ruled not to close the RCFS.

NGO Law and Anti-extremism Legislation Seriously Flawed

Today's ruling is one more evidence how easily Russia's anti-extremism legislation and the NGO legislation, particularly after the July 2006 and January 2006 amendments, can be used for the disproportionate and illegitimate curtailment of civil rights.

The new NGO law poses a serious threat to NGO activities by tightening state control, with stricter registration procedures and the power for the state the power to close them down easily. Already before the enactment of these new provisions, particularly in the past two years, authorities had stepped up pressure against critical human rights organizations. State control over their registration and funding has been intensified, with the apparent aim of encouraging the growth of organizations loyal to them, and restricting the operation of independent NGOs.

And while the "Anti-Extremism Law" as such had already been severely criticized as it combined an excessively broad definition of "extremism" in combination with excessively harsh sanctions provided against individuals, organizations, and the media, the new amendments enacted in July 2006 made the already broad and vague definition of extremism even broader and even more effective a tool for selective use against independent NGOs and independent media

The IHF is convinced that the RCFS was chosen as a target because of his critical reporting on human rights violations in Chechnya.

See also:

IHF/MHG appeal, "Russia: Apparently Politically Motivated Tax Order Threatens the International Protection Centre", 14 August 2006

IHF open letter to the Leaders of the G8: New and Dangerous Amendment to the Russian Anti-extremist Legislation, 3 July 2006

IHF report, The Assault on Human Rights Defenders in the Russian Federation, Belarus and Uzbekistan: Restrictive Legislation and Bad Practices. Report to the OSCE Conference on Human Rights Defenders and National Human Rights Institutions, Vienna, 30-31 March 2006.

IHF statement, "A Fair Trial for Stas Dmitrievsky? Trial against Russian-Chechen Friendship Society Head Stas Dmitrievsky - Prosecutor Demands a Four Years Colony-Settlement Term

IHF statement, "Legal Harassment Against the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society - Another Update", 10 January 2006

IHF statement, "Legal Harassment Against the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society - An Update", 29 November 2005

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 Dmitrievsky 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

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, Stanislav Dmitrievsky, Oksana Chelysheva, +7-8312-233 7334

Note:

(1) The culmination of the persecution of the RCFS so far was the March 2006 conviction of Stas Dmitriyevsky to a two-year suspended sentence for allegedly having incited ethnic hatred by publishing two peace appeals of representatives of the Chechen rebels, former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov (who was killed in March 2005) and his envoy Akhmed Zakaev.