Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 4

On January 23, Russia’s Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Nizhegorod Oblast Court’s decision of last October 13 to support the closure of the Nizhny Novgorod-based Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (ORChD) by the regional prosecutor’s office, (Chechnya Weekly, October 19, 2006). The Supreme Court, Interfax noted, thereby rejected an appeal filed by ORChD head Stanislav Dmitrievsky challenging the Nizhegorod Oblast Court decision.

Dmitrievsky was convicted in 2005 for publishing two peace appeals by Aslan Maskhadov and Akhmed Zakaev in the society’s newspaper, Pravo-Zashchita, in March and April 2004 (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. Last February, Dmitrievsky was found guilty of inciting ethnic hatred and given a two-year suspended sentence (Chechnya Weekly, February 9, 2006). When the Nizhegorod Oblast prosecutor’s office ordered the ORChD to be closed last October, it cited Dmitrievsky’s conviction for “extremist” activities and the fact that the ORChD had not dissociated itself from those alleged activities and that Dmitrievsky remained the group’s head.

Interfax quoted Dmitrievsky as saying during the Supreme Court session devoted to the ORChD closure that the oblast court’s decision had been “unlawful and baseless.” According to the news agency, he emphasized that after the ORChD was ordered to be closed last October, “In a sign of solidarity and support, more than 50 foreign citizens, among them deputies of the European Parliament and well-known writers, joined the organization.” He added: “I believe that my rights guaranteed under articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights – [the right to] freedom of expression and [to] freedom of assembly and association – were violated. Not only were my rights violated, but also those of other members of our organization, as well as those who joined it.”

Dmitrievsky’s lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, said that one of the main bases for the ORChD’s liquidation was the fact that he had been convicted under Article 282 of Russia’s Criminal Code, forbidding the incitement of inter-ethnic, religious and racial hatred. “The court cited the law on opposing extremist activity,” she said. “In my view, the law says something different. According to it, actions aimed at inciting any hatred must be accompanied by violence or the threat of violence; however, there is no reference to violence in Dmitrievsky’s verdict.”

The Washington Post, on January 24, quoted Oksana Chelysheva, the ORChD’s deputy executive manager, as saying that the organization would fight the Supreme Court ruling. “We are going to take our case to the European Court of Human Rights and, possibly, our Constitutional Court,” she said. The newspaper quoted from an open letter from a group of Western politicians and intellectuals, including members of the European Parliament, written earlier this month to President Vladimir Putin asking him to allow the group to continue its work. “Neither the act of printing statements by separatist leaders, nor the content of the statements themselves, would be considered extremist in most Western countries, no matter how unpopular the cause involved,” the letter stated. “Moreover the flood of genuinely extremist material that appears almost daily in the Russian media, which has gone without comment from the Russian prosecutor’s office, makes it clear that the law is being selectively applied in order to silence the society.” As the Washington Post noted, the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society was almost entirely underwritten by the European Union, the U.S. government-funded National Endowment for Democracy and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.

Meanwhile, Ekho Moskvy radio reported on January 24 that a successor organization to the ORChD, the Society of Russian-Chechen Friendship in Europe, had been registered in Finland.