The Information Center of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (ORChD), the Nizhny Novogord-based human rights group, reported on March 15 that unknown persons had the previous day distributed leaflets in several apartment buildings in the city accusing the organization’s editor, Oksana Chelysheva, of supporting terrorism and assisting Chechen separatist fighters. The text of the leaflets were taped to the walls of the entranceways and also stuffed into mailboxes in the buildings, one of which includes the apartment in which Chelysheva herself lives. The text of the leaflets alleged that there are people who “live among us, they look like regular law-abiding citizens, but support terrorist activities carried out by Chechen rebels, receive money from them and offer them all kinds of help. One of them lives among you, ‘Chechen whore’ Chelysheva, Oksana.” The leaflet gave her exact address, concluding: “She is shameful and contemptible! We are ready to fight her.” The leaflet was signed by the “Young Patriotic Front (A.P. Ivanov).”
The ORChD plans to file a complaint with the Nizhegorod Oblast prosecutor’s office about the distribution of the leaflets, which, it said, broke the laws against slanderous accusations of serious crimes, violations of the inviolability of privacy, and hooliganism. The editor-in-chief of the ORChD’s Information Center, Stanislav Dmitrievsky, wrote in a separate statement posted on the society’s website, friendly.narod.ru, that the group “considers the latest provocation, which follows completely in the sinister traditions of the KGB, to be the latest step in the persecution of our organization. Pressure is being brought by organs of the Russian state with the aim of destroying the organization.” Dmitrievsky claimed that the investigation of the group’s publication ‘Pravo-Zashchita’ by the Federal Security Service (FSB), along with “the audits of our organization by the tax inspector and the department of justice, a wave of slanderous news broadcasts and articles in the Nizhny Novgorod media, and, finally, the attempt to intimidate one of our editors,” are all linked. “We also have no doubt that all these acts are directed from one center, where the specters of Dzerzhinsky, Beria, and Andropov loom large,” he wrote. “And it is of no significance whether the leaflets with the threats against Chelysheva where printed at the local FSB building or if their half-brained author, hiding behind the name of an unknown organization, was only inspired by the Chekist-prosecutor’s televised products, whose muddy stream has filled the Nizhny Novgorod TV stations. We emphasize that the source of this squalid attempt, whether indirectly or directly linked to the state, its propagandists, or the power structure, reeks of Chekism.”
In January, the FSB in Nizhny Novgorod questioned Stanislav Dmitrievsky and raided the ORChD’s offices, seizing documents containing the contact details of all the staff of Pravo-Zashchita, which is published jointly with the Nizhny Novgorod Human Rights Society. Included among the material seized was contact information of eight staff members living in Chechnya and the newspaper’s registration documents. The ORChD reported 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 FSB questioned Dmitrievsky about two items that had been published in Pravo-zashchita – an appeal by the late Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov to the European Parliament calling for help in finding a peaceful settlement to the Chechen conflict, and an appeal by Maskhadov’s London-based envoy Akhmed Zakaev to the Russian people not to re-elect President Putin (see Chechnya Weekly, January 26).
On March 19, the Kavkazky Uzel website reported that the Moscow Helsinki Group condemned the actions against the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society in a statement sent to the gazeta.ru website. “Most importantly, someone [taped on walls] and dropped in the mailboxes of citizens leaflets [stating] that the society helps terrorists; what is more, the address of the editor of the society’s newspaper, Oksana Chelysheva, is indicated on the leaflets,” Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alekseyeva told Ekho Moskvy radio. “The Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, its branches in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Nizhny Novgorod, are partners of the Moscow Helsinki Group in preparing yearly reports on the human rights situation in Russia’s regions: they prepare the reports on Chechnya and Ingushetia. We have appealed to the [Nizhny Novgorod regional] prosecutor’s office; we are demanding that the people who distributed these leaflets and are engaged in the defamation of this society be found. Of course, it is naïve to seek protection from the prosecutor’s office that called them [the ORChD employees] in for questioning, but the fact that someone has been fingered as a terrorist without a trial or an investigation is something within the jurisdiction of the prosecutor’s office. We wrote about that, appealed to the Human Right Ombudsman [Vladimir Lukin] and the Presidential Council [for Assisting the Development] of Civil Society and Human Rights [headed by Ella Pamfilova]; we have done everything that we could do.”
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights Executive Director Aaron Rhodes called on the Russian government to provide protection for the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society employees, Kavkazky Uzel reported on March 19.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also weighed in on the ORChD’s behalf. “We call on President Vladimir Putin to ensure that the FSB and other government agencies end their campaign of harassment against journalists working for the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper was quoted as saying in a March 16 press release.
Meanwhile, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) issued a press release on March 15 expressing concern about “the continued legal effort initiated by the Prosecutor’s office of Ingushetia to bring to a halt the activities” of the Chechen Committee of National Salvation. According to the IHF, the Nazran-based organization is “again on the verge of being closed” after a ruling by Russia’s Supreme Court in February invalidated an earlier verdict by the Nazran District Court, which had rejected charges by the Prosecutor that the committee’s press releases were aimed at inciting public hostility against state representatives and discrediting Russian armed forces and law-enforcement bodies.
The IHF called the charges against the Chechen Committee of National Salvation “politically motivated, with the prosecutor’s office pursuing the NGO for its human rights work and the exercise of its right to freely express opinions on the Chechen conflict and the violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed in this context, both in Chechnya and in Ingushetia.” “The recent judgment of the Supreme Court based on political charges brought by the Prosecutor’s office further reflects the lack of independence of the judiciary in the Russian Federation,” the IHF added.