On January 20, the regional branch of the Federal Security Service in Nizhny Novgorod summoned Stanislav Dmitrievsky, chief editor of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society’s Information Center, for questioning. That same day, FSB officers raided the organization’s offices in Nizhny Novgorod, seizing documents containing the contact details of all the staff of its newspaper, Pravozashchita, which is published jointly with the Nizhny Novgorod Human Rights Society. Included among the material seized was contact information on eight staff members living in Chechnya and the newspaper’s registration documents.
The Russian Chechen Friendship Society’s website (Friendly.narod.ru) reported on January 21 that the Nizhny Novgorod regional prosecutor’s office had launched a criminal case on the basis of Article 280 of Russia’s Criminal Code, which prohibits “public calls for the forcible change of the Russian Federation’s constitutional system.” The society reported in a press release on January 20 that the FSB had questioned Stanislav Dmitrievsky about two items that had been published in Pravozashchita – Maskhadov’s appeal to the European Parliament to assist in finding a peaceful settlement to the Chechen conflict, which was published in the newspaper’s April-May 2004 issue, and Akhmed Zakaev’s appeal to the Russian people not to re-elect President Putin because “nobody needs the war besides him,” which the newspaper published in its March 2004 issue.
“We do not believe that the Russian citizens are cattle,” the Russian Chechen Friendship Society’s Information Center wrote in a January 21 press release. “Therefore we think that they have the right to know the official points of view of both sides of the armed conflict – the Russian leadership and the leadership of the unrecognized Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. And to let them make an independent assessment. All the more so, when the matter concerns proposals for the peaceful resolution of the crisis. Unfortunately, the Putin regime, having formed the notorious ‘vertical of power’ on the bones of its own fellow-citizens, is not interested in such proposals.”
On January 24, the FSB in Nizhny Novgorod questioned two more employees of the Russian Chechen Friendship Society’s Information Center – Tatyana Banina, editor in charge of Russian-language information distribution, and Natalya Chernilevskaya, its bookkeeper. Kavakzky Uzel reported on January 24 that the interrogation was conducted in the presence of a lawyer, Yuri Sidorov, who was provided by the Nizhegorod Oblast regional organization Committee Against Torture and paid for by the Public Verdict Foundation, the human rights watchdog set up last year to provide legal counseling and protection to victims of police excesses.
Amnesty International said in a January 20 press release that it is “extremely concerned” the eight Russian-Chechen Friendship Society staffers working in Chechnya “are in danger of being arbitrarily arrested, tortured and ‘disappeared’.” The press release noted that Amnesty International “has reported on a worrying trend of Russian authorities targeting human rights defenders, activists and independent journalists, and in some cases subjecting them to extreme levels of harassment, ‘disappearances’ and killings.”