Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Harassment of Mari Activists

"Escalating Harassment of Mari National Activists"

issued by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) today.

For further information, please contact Henriette Schroeder
schroeder@ihf-hr.org
__________________________________________

Press and Public Information, Henriette Schroeder
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
Wickenburggasse 14/7, A-1080 Vienna, Austria
Tel. +43-1-408 88 22; Mobile: ++ 43 - 676 - 725 48 29
Fax: +43-1-408 88 22-50
Internet: http://www.ihf-hr.org



Escalating Harassment of Mari National Activists

Vienna/Moscow, 15 February 2006. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG) are concerned about reports of escalating harassment of Mari national activists in the Republic of Mari El, one of Russia's so-called ethnic regions.

According to information available to the IHF and the MHG, the authorities of Mari El have recently stepped up their efforts to stifle the activities of two local organizations committed to promoting the rights of the Mari minority, Mari Ushem and Mer Kanash. An investigation has been opened to consider grounds for closing down the two organizations and leading members of the organizations, as well as their family members, have been subject to pressure. The chair of Mari Ushem, Nina Maksimova, has been threatened by dismissal from her position as a teacher at a children's center.

There are indications that the problems faced by Mari activists may have intensified after the publication of a joint IHF-MHG report about the Mari minority of Mari El on 1 February 2006. This report shows that members of the Mari national movement have been the targets of a growing crack-down on their activities during the period in office of the current president of Mari El, Leonid Markelov. Involved in peaceful efforts to communicate their concerns about the protection of the Mari minority and to challenge official policies of the republic, members of the movement have been ridiculed and denigrated in state-controlled media and have been subject to intimidation, arrest, prosecution, dismissal and violent attacks.

The new developments in Mari El take place in the context of an ongoing broader assault on civil society groups in the Russian Federation, which includes the adoption of a highly restrictive NGO law and efforts to silence leading human rights groups working at the federal level.

The IHF and the MHG call on the authorities of Mari El, as well as the Russian Federation, to immediately stop all forms of harassment against civil society organizations involved in efforts to publicize and address problems with respect to minority and other areas of human rights protection and to instead work together with such organizations toward ensuring compliance with international human rights standards.

The recent IHF-MHG report - The Human Rights Situation of the Mari Minority of the Republic of Mari El - is available, in English and Russian, at

http://www.ihf-hr.org/documents/doc_summary.php?sec_id=3&d_id=4185

A Finnish summary can also be found at the IHF website.

Fore more information:
Vienna: Aaron Rhodes, IHF Executive Director, +43-1-408 88 22, +43-676-635
66 12; Henriette Schroeder, IHF Press Officer, +43-1-408 88 22; +43-676-725
4829; Ann-Sofie Nyman, IHF Researcher, +43-1-408 88 22
Moscow: Irina Sergeeva, MHG Project Coordinator, +7-495-207 0769

(via MAK)
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