A Nizhny Novgorod court on February 3 found Stanislav Dmitrievsky, head of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, guilty of inciting ethnic hatred and gave him a two-year suspended sentence, the Associated Press reported. Dmitrievsky was convicted for publishing two peace appeals by Aslan Maskhadov and Akhmed Zakaev in the society’s newspaper, Pravo-Zashchita, in March and April 2004 (see Chechnya Weekly, November 10 and 17, 2005; January 26, 2005), with prosecutors originally charging him with terrorism and later changing the charge to inciting ethnic hatred. Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of four years in prison. Both the prosecutors and Dmitrievsky said they would appeal the verdict, with Dmitrievsky telling the AP that the case against him was “politically directed” and “part of a major assault on NGOs in Russia,” and that the verdict was “illegal and unfair.” According to Reporters Without Borders, Dmitrievsky will have to serve his prison sentence if found guilty of any other serious offense during the next four years.
The For Human Rights group denounced the verdict as “a continuation of the shameful practice of false accusations against human rights defenders and active opponents of the war in Chechnya,” while Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, said it created a climate of intimidation aimed at silencing rights activists who criticized the policies of President Vladimir Putin. Human Rights Watch said in a February 4 press release that Dmitrievsky’s conviction was “an unacceptable infringement on freedom of expression.” Holly Cartner, Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia director, said the case against Dmitrievsky was politically motivated and called for his exoneration. “Freedom of speech is in real jeopardy in Russia, and the Dmitrievsky case sends an unmistakable message to journalists and human rights defenders throughout Russia, that they too could be prosecuted for doing their job,” she said.
Reporters Without Borders said in a February 3 press release that the verdict in the Dmitrievsky case was “yet another confirmation of the taboo about Chechnya, which no one may discuss freely without being accused of expressing extremist opinions. Only information coming out of Moscow may be used to mention this region, where all independent information is excluded.” The group added: “Dmitrievsky was convicted as an example, simply because he published statements by former Chechen leaders and for once allowed Russian citizens to hear an alternative to the Kremlin’s views. We voice our solidarity with Dmitrievsky and we call for this conviction to be quashed on appeal.”
As Human Rights Watch noted, the Nizhny Novgorod tax inspectorate has claimed that the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society owes one million rubles (about $35,000) in back taxes on a grant, which the inspectorate designated as “profit.” The organization is challenging the tax charges. According to the Associated Press, the society has received $170,000 since 2001 from the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy, as well as grants from the European Union and Norway.