Thursday, February 02, 2006

Dmitrievsky: A Fair Trial?

Via Joachim Frank,
Project Coordinator
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
Wickenburggasse 14/7A-1080 Vienna
Tel. +43-1-408 88 22 ext. 22
Fax: +43-1-408 88 22 ext. 50
Web: http://www.ihf-hr.org/


A Fair Trial for Stas Dmitrievsky?

Trial against Russian-Chechen Friendship Society Head Stas Dmitrievsky - Prosecutor Demands a Four Years Colony-Settlement Term

Vienna, 2 February 2006. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) is concerned about apparent restrictions on the independence of the court in the criminal trial against Stas Dmitrievsky, Executive Manager of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS), which suggest that the trial is mainly political. The Prosecutor and Deputy Prosecutor of the Nizhny Novgorod region founded their accusation on a shallow expert opinion, while an alternative opinion was rejected by the court; put the judge under pressure; and committed numerous other breaches of the law during the investigation and indictment.

It is expected that the court session in Nizhny Novgorod on Friday, 3 February 2005 will be the last when the defendant can make his final statements, after which the court will pronounce the sentence on the case.

Prosecutor and Deputy Prosecutor of the Nizhny Novgorod Region Try to Put the Judge under Pressure

A.N. Maslova, deputy prosecutor of the Sovetsky district of Nizhny Novgorod and dealing with the case against Dmitrievsky, in the 18 January 2006 hearing expressed her conviction that, “Dmitrievsky is dangerous for the society … all his actions can be regarded as extremist activities aimed at undermining state security”, and she also referred to “the extremely tense situation in the country when accidents like the recent crime in a Moscow synagogue happen more and more often”, which in her opinion make it necessary that publications like those of the RCFS are inadmissible. She demanded a 4-year colony-settlement term for him.

A week earlier, the prosecutor of Nizhny Novgorod Region, Vladimir Demidov, expressed his certainty both about the conviction of Stas Dmitrievsky and the inevitable term of imprisonment, stating “I am sure that Dmitrievsky will be put to prison and, being on the side that supports the accusation, we are going to press for his criminal responsibility,” further stating “it is important for our multinational society, which supports a positive attitude towards all nationalities, that calls made by bandits inciting to ethnic hatred be not published by newspapers”, pointing out that “we mustn’t allow any attempts to destabilise the situation”.

As this can be regarded as imposing pressure upon the court, contrary to the Guidelines on the role of Prosecutors[i], the lawyers of Dmitrievsky lodged a complaint.

Additionally, the IHF has received credible reports that staff members of the Prosecutors Office are under pressure to make sure that Stas Dmitrievsky is indeed convicted and sentenced to a colony-settlement term. They were summoned to work late hours and informed that should they fail to win the case, some of them would be fired.

Accusation is Founded on a Shallow Expert Opinion, While Alternative Opinion is Rejected by the Court

The accusations are based on an expert opinion of Larisa Teslenko, expert of the Privolzhsky Regional Center of Legal Expertise at the Ministry of Justice, who asserted that Dmitrievsky’s actions were aimed at inciting animosity by taking advantage of his official position. While firmly insisting that the incriminated materials raise racial, national and social enmity “between Russian and Chechens”, Teslenko refused to answer most of the 50 questions raised by the defense, 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.

Judge Bondarenko refused to attach an alternative expertise conducted by Galina Vronskaya, senior lecturer at the journalism department of the Chuvash State University and president of the Chuvash Guild of Linguists and stated that the reason was that “it had been carried out not by the court’s request and for money”, and therefore was biased. This expert said that in her estimation the statements by Maskhadov and Zakaev contained no degrading descriptions, negative appraisals or statements in relation to racial, ethnic or social groups or individuals representing them. Additionally, the articles contained factual statements that in themselves cannot be regarded as inciting any hostility unless proven untrue.

In the framework of preparing the grounds for opening a criminal case, on 29 December 2004, the office of Nizhny Novgorod Region’s Prosecutor requested an analysis of RCFS publications from Olga Khokhlysheva, professor at Nizhny Novgorod State University.[ii] The analysis, which was delivered quickly, in January 2005, stated that “the publications in Pravo-zaschita can be regarded as serious violations of the Russian Criminal Code and undermining of the Constitutional order”, also contain xenophobic statements that violate Russian law and humiliate people according to their nationality.[iii] This analysis, predictably, was not used in the criminal proceedings but read during the trial on the demand of the defense.

Prosecutor's Office Committed Numerous Breaches of the Law During the Investigation and the Bringing of Charges

Dmitrievsky's lawyer Leyla Khamzaeva called the attention of the court to numerous breaches of law perpetrated by the prosecutor's office in the process of investigation and bringing charges against him. She pointed out that such cases have always been considered in administrative legal proceedings, not in criminal ones. There is a list of expressions that are regarded to be extremist and if they are published, a media venue receives a warning. The RCFS case started immediately with bringing charges under Article 280 and then under Article 282. The lawyer insists there is a clear breach of legal procedure and that Dmitrievsky has the right to demand that charges against him be considered in administrative legal proceedings.

Ombudsman, Head of Human Rights Council and Human Rights Defenders Reject the Accusation

In a statement from 1 February 2006, the Russian Ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, and the head the Human Rights Council under the President of the RF, Ella Pamfilova, not only expressed their conviction, that in the incriminated texts there were no appeals to any, including interethnic enmity[iv], but they also criticized the prosecutor’s demand for a 4-year colony term as disproportionate, particularly given the (non-)persecutions of extreme nationalists and ideologists of pogroms.

Ludmilla Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group commented,
“The case against Stas Dmitrievsky is politically motivated. The real aim of those who are behind the charges against the editor of the anti-war newspaper is to close down an independent source for information on Chechnya. I have known Dmitrievsky for many years as a person who has always defended the right of people to live in peace, and when he encountered among his Chechen acquaintances mistrust against the Russian people as such he was always rejecting accusations of their common responsibility for what happens in Chechnya. Stas always fought for human rights and condemned discrimination on racial or ethnic basis. The Moscow Helsinki Group always supported RCFS activities and often used the information of RCFS about the situation in the republic while drafting its annual reports.”

In a 15 November 2005 statement, Amnesty International declared that they would consider Stas Dmitrievsky to be a prisoner of conscience if imprisoned on these charges.

The IHF agrees with Russian human rights defenders who believe that the government’s assault upon the RCFS shall set a precedent for a wider campaign against civil society. It is especially important in the context of the new NGO law. Yuri Dzhibladze, President of the Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights, regards the trial as an attack on the human rights movement as a whole, and commented,
“In case Dmitrievsky is convicted and even if the sentence will be suspended, he loses the right to establish an NGO, be a member of a board of any NGO or even simply be a member of an any NGO. Moreover, the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society and Dmitrievsky will face renewed attack in an arbitration process where the tax authorities claim that profit taxes should have been paid for grants received by the RCFS. Finally, foreign donors who supported RCFS (the European Commission and the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, DC) will also be under attack: it will be widely publicized that they were funding not legitimate human rights work but extremist activity. Very much like in the “spy scandal” that happened in Russian last week, the verdict against Dmitrievsky will be used against independent NGOs and their foreign donors. This may have very serious implications for freedom of association in Russia.”

Background:

Particularly since January 2005, the RCFS was subject to a series of different forms of harassment, includingcriminal proceedings against the RCFS. A criminal investigation was conducted originally by the FSB, after it had been commenced by the Prosecutors Office in January 2005, referring to article 280 of the Criminal Code (“public calls to extremist activities”). Later, it was reclassified and transferred to the prosecutor’s office of Nizhny Novgorod Region. On 2 September 2005, Stas Dmitrievsky was officially charged under paragraph b, of part 2 of Article 282 of the Criminal Code (“inciting hatred or enmity on the basis of ethnicity and religion”), offences which carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison, for allowing the re-publication of two appeals by Chechen leaders Aslan Maskhadov and Akhmed Zakaev, in the newspaper Pravo-zashchita (‘Rights Defense’), in March and April 2004, urging the international community to help end the war in Chechnya, and calling on Russians not to vote for Putin and thus help end the conflict.

Simultaneously, starting in March 2005, the Federal Tax Inspectorate commenced an audit of the accounts of the RCFS for the past three years, and in June 2005 issued “order Nr. 25”, claiming 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). They claim that foreign grants the RCFS is receiving amount to profit. The RCFS appealed this decision with the arbitration court. This procedure is still ongoing, but the arbitration court complied with the petition of the tax inspection to postpone the consideration of the case until a decision by the criminal court in the case against Dmitrievsky is taken. The tax authorities claim that if Dmitrievsky is found guilty on extremist charges, it will be a proof that the grant money was used for illegal purposes and not according to the grant agreement, and that therefore the money cannot be considered tax-exempt anyway and a profit tax and penalty should be paid. As a result, the organisation may be destroyed. Parallel to these proceedings, in September 2005, the Nizhny Novgorod Department of the Ministry of Interior commenced a criminal case on the basis of the conclusions made by the tax inspection for “evading payment of taxes or dues in a big scale” (Article 199, Part I of the Criminal Code) and interrogated Dmitrievsky and both present and former accountants of the organization.

A third form, the civil action by the Justice Ministry Registration Department to deregister the RCFS, which had begun in April 2005 (after an off-schedule control in February) because of RCFS’s “failure to provide the Federal Registration Service with required documents” (that had to be handed over to the Tax Inspectorate at the same time), stopped after a court turned down this request on 14 November 2005.

The criminal and legal cases are accompanied by campaigns in the media against the organization and its heads, threatening leaflets and phone calls, and an burglary into the flat of Dmitrievsky.

See also:
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, Stas Dmitrievsky, Oksana Chelysheva, +7-8312-171 666

Endnotes:

[i] These guidelines were adopted by the 8th United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in Cuba (1999), and state that “in the performance of their duties, prosecutors shall “perform their duties fairly, consistently”, “carry out their function impartially”, and “act with objectivity, take proper account of the position of the suspect and the victim, and pay attention to all relevant circumstances, irrespective of whether they are to the advantage or disadvantage of the suspect”.
[ii] This request from 29.12.2004 was signed by the prosecutor with the department on protecting constitutional rights and freedoms at the prosecutor’s office A.V. Malyugin and bears the № 7/2-31-04.
[iii] It casts her doubts on the existence of the Chechen, Jewish and Arab nations, justifies the deportation of the Chechen people in 1944 on Stalin’s orders by “the historic circumstances and the objective necessity that had emerged by that time”. Therefore, these conclusions contradict with the Russian Law “On Rehabilitation of the Repressed Peoples” from 1991 according to which Stalin’s repressive acts against different peoples of Russia, including their deportation, were “unlawful and criminal” (Article 1). The law also defines these acts as cases of genocide (Article 2) and establishes criminal responsibility “for agitation and propaganda aimed at preventing from rehabilitation of the repressed peoples” as well as for inciting to such actions (Article 4).
[iv] At the same time they said that it did contain a not always adequate judgment of the actions of the Russian Federation in the North Caucasus.

__________________
Endnotes:

[1] These guidelines were adopted by the 8th United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in Cuba (1999), and state that “in the performance of their duties, prosecutors shall “perform their duties fairly, consistently”, “carry out their function impartially”, and “act with objectivity, take proper account of the position of the suspect and the victim, and pay attention to all relevant circumstances, irrespective of whether they are to the advantage or disadvantage of the suspect”.
[1] This request from 29.12.2004 was signed by the prosecutor with the department on protecting constitutional rights and freedoms at the prosecutor’s office A.V. Malyugin and bears the № 7/2-31-04.
[1] It casts her doubts on the existence of the Chechen, Jewish and Arab nations, justifies the deportation of the Chechen people in 1944 on Stalin’s orders by “the historic circumstances and the objective necessity that had emerged by that time”. Therefore, these conclusions contradict with the Russian Law “On Rehabilitation of the Repressed Peoples” from 1991 according to which Stalin’s repressive acts against different peoples of Russia, including their deportation, were “unlawful and criminal” (Article 1). The law also defines these acts as cases of genocide (Article 2) and establishes criminal responsibility “for agitation and propaganda aimed at preventing from rehabilitation of the repressed peoples” as well as for inciting to such actions (Article 4).
[1] At the same time they said that it did contain a not always adequate judgment of the actions of the Russian Federation in the North Caucasus.
Post a Comment