"Russian-Chechen Friendship Society" is under severe risk of being destroyed by Russian authorities
The "Russian-Chechen Friendship Society" is Under Severe Risk of being Destroyed by Russian Authorities. Its Director Stas Dimitrievsky Faces a Prison Term
Vienna, 2. November 2005. In March and April 2004, the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS), together with the Nizhny Novgorod Society for Human Rights (NNSHR) (re-)published two articles on the Chechen conflict, Aslan Maskhadov’s open letter to the European Parliament and Akhmed Zakaev’s appeal to the people of Russia. Both articles advocated a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
In January 2005, in the aftermath of the Beslan tragedy, the authorities initiated criminal and administrative procedures against the RCFS, carried out by the prosecutor’s bodies, the Ministry of Interior, the tax inspection and the Ministry of Justice. These measures were clearly politically motivated and aimed at destroying the RCFS, one of the few independent and critical voices in Russia vis-à-vis the policy of the Government in the North Caucasus.
The main target of the campaign of the Russian authorities is once again the freedom of speech, particularly on topics like Chechnya. It shall serve as a warning against all NGOs that they to could be persecuted any time, if they act in a way not liked by the Kremlin, for example by accepting foreign money for what the Kremlin regards as “political activities”. Russian President Vladimir Putin has again warned this summer that this is not tolerable for him.
The different layers of the campaign against the RCFS are as follows:
1. Judicial case against the Pravo-zaschita newspaper. Justice Ministry / Prosecutors Office use Criminal Persecution under Article 282 of the Criminal Code (“Inciting ethnic hatred”)
On 2 September 2005, Stas Dimitrievsky, as chief editor of the “Pravo-zaschita” (Human Rights Defence) newspaper, was officially charged under paragraph b of part 2 of Article 282 of the Criminal Code (“inciting hatred or enmity on the basis of ethnicity and religion”), offences which carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison, for allowing the (re)-publication of two peace appeals by Aslan Maskhadov and Akhmed Zakaev. The bill was signed by the chief investigator of the Prosecutors Office of the Nizhny Novgorod region, Oleg Kiryukov.
The case commenced in January 2005, when the Prosecutor’s Office of the Nizhny Novgorod region initiated a criminal investigation into the publishing activities of the Pravo-zaschita newspaper, and Stas Dimitrievsky and his colleagues in Nizhny Novgorod, as well as their correspondents in Chechnya and Ingushetia were questioned “as witnesses” since then. Some of them, particularly in Chechnya, quit their job after that, because they felt threatened.
The main evidence for the charge is based on an expert opinion, which the chief investigator of the Nizhny Novgorod regional branch of the FSB ordered on 18 January 2005. It was carried out by the expert of the Privolzhsky Regional Center of Legal Expertise at the Ministry of Justice, Larisa Teslenko. Dimitrievsky did not have the right to acquaint himself with the order to carry out the expert opinion, nor could he put questions to he expert, nor did he have the right to challenge the expert or to offer his explanations, or to require to conduct an expertise by another expert agency.
The preliminary hearing under this case is to be held on 3 November 2005, and the main hearing will be most likely scheduled for 8 November 2005.
2. The fiscal harassment of the RCFS, threatening the continuation of its activities. Authorities use tax claims, treating operating funds as profit
On 15 August 2005 the tax inspection of Nizhegorodski district made Resolution #25 claiming that the RCFS had violated the Tax Code, and that they have to pay profit tax for grants to implement specific human rights projects in the period from 2002 to 2004 from three foreign donors. Additionally the tax inspection ordered them to pay a fine. The total amount of the claims is 1.001.561 Rubles (around 28.200 Euro).
It had been in March 2005, when the Federal Tax Inspectorate commenced an irregular audit of the RCFS’s accounts for the past three years and confiscated accounting and registration documents of the organisation.
The money that is treated as if it would be profit was for projects with the National Endowment for Democracy (under the US State Department), the European Commission and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. All three projects are clear cut human rights projects without any part that could be seen as profit. Additionally, the USA and the European Union have bilateral agreements with the Russian Federation that such grants are not taxed.
On 24 August the RCFS appealed this resolution at the arbitrage court, because they regard this as unlawful. Nevertheless, on 26 August, the bank accounts were frozen, and money compulsory withdrawn on orders of the tax inspection. Only on 4 October 2005, the RCFS again obtained access to their bank accounts, when finally the tax inspection of Nizhny Novgorod followed a 12 September resolution of the Arbitrage Court to suspend the orders to collect profit tax and fines from the RCFS pending a decision about the appeal by this same court. The tax inspection first had refused to follow the order of the court for more than two weeks and only complied after a further appeal to the Federal Service of Officers of Justice in the Nizhny Novgorod region.
At the same time the RCFS submitted a complaint to the superior body of the tax inspection of the Nizhegorodski district, that is Federal Tax Service of the Nizhny Novgorod Region. On 14 October, the RCFS received their answer that they are no complying with the request of the RCFS, stating that the RCFS has published Maskhadov’s and Zakaev’s peace appeals in its newspaper, which according to the Federal Tax Service contradicts both the statutes of the RCFS and to article 2 of “some federal law”. The conclusion that the Federal Tax Service draws is that the RCFS has received the funds for implementing charity activities, and that “they are considered as a profit of the organization as it has spent the received funds beside the purposes of the projects.” Therefore, by stating that the tax claims were motivated by the publication of Maskhadov’s and Zakaev’s peace appeals, the Federal Tax Service acknowledged the political motivation behind their action. There is the strong impression that administrative pressure is imposed on the judge of the arbitrage court, Ms. Belyanina.
The hearing of 26 October2005 was postponed until 16 November. The RCFS has invited international observers, which was strongly protested by the lawyer of the tax inspection who himself came with five (!) staffers of the tax authorities.
3. Interior Ministry uses criminal prosecution based on the tax claim
On 6 October 2005, Stas Dimitrievsky was interrogated at the Nizhny Novgorod Region Department of the Ministry of Interior as a witness to the criminal case that charges the RCFS of “evading payment of taxes or dues in a big scale” (Article 199, Part I of the Criminal Code). This criminal case was already commenced on 2 September on the basis of the conclusions made by the tax inspection in their audit, even though their decision has been appealed. The RCFS learned about this only on 23 September, when Mr. Dimitrievsky was ordered to appear for a first interrogation.
4. Justice Ministry Registration Department uses the registration issue
In late September the Justice Ministry held a hearing to nullify the registration of the RCFS on the ground that by law it cannot use “Russian” in its name.
This case had begun in April 2005, when the Federal Registration Service (FRS) under the Ministry of Justice had undertaken an audit and then initiated a court case against the RCFS because of its failure to provide the FRS with required documents (documents, which had been confiscated by the Tax Inspectorate just some weeks before).
For some time the attitude of the involved persons from the side of the Justice Ministry was that they would call the suit back as soon as the RCFS has changed the name of the organisation. But in the court hearing on this case on 26 October the representative of the Justice Ministry claimed to close the organization down. Through informal channels the RCFS was told that on this same day the head of the Nizhny Novgorod branch of the Ministry of Justice, Ms. Istomina, held a meeting telling her staffers that she had received an order from Moscow, and that they had to do whatever possible to close the RCFS down.
The next, and maybe final, hearing of this case, was set for 1 November 2005. The organization then has one month to appeal the decision at the Supreme Court.
5. Unknown perpetrators use threats with leaflets
On 9 September 2005, leaflets containing threats against the director of the RCFS, Stas Dimitrievsky, and the editor Oksana Chelysheva were distributed in the house where Dimitrievsky lives. Unlike similar leaflets which were distributed in March 2005 against Oksana Chelysheva, these leaflets contained real names and telephone numbers from a real organization, the National Bolshevik Party (NBP) of Nizhny Novgorod. From the beginning the RCFS believed in a provocation aimed at threatening the RCFS and discrediting the NBP. Contacts with the NBP confirmed this.
On 13 September the local TV company “Kremlin” recorded a TV interview with Oksana Chelysheva, in which Chelysheva clearly said that the RCFS did not connect the threats with the NBP, and that the RCFS considered it as a clear provocation aimed at causing a clash between the RCFS and the NBP and at setting the investigation at a wrong track. When the “Kremlin” TV company then brought their report these statements were not included and the of-screen commentary stated that it was the national Bolsheviks that the RCFS suspects of threatening them.
Therefore, Stas Dimitrievsky called the program editor of the TV company, Tatiana Ivanova. In the course of the discussion, which was recorded by Dimitrievsky, Ivanova claimed that the words of Chelysheva were not distorted, and added “we have information that the erasing of the site is part of the criminal prosecution” (Note: on 11 September 2005 hackers attacked the web-page of the RCFS and destroyed the database at the server of the provider; the RCFS could repair the damage).
The RCFS, which was founded in 2000, is based in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, and has branch offices in Nazran and Grozny. The NGO distributes independent information about the human rights situation in Chechnya, Ingushetia and other North Caucasian republics, defends the interests of victims of war crimes and assists children and disabled people victimized by the conflict in Chechnya. The RCSF has repeatedly criticised the authorities of the Russian Federation for severe human rights and humanitarian law violations in Chechnya and surrounding areas.
The RCFS received the 2004 Recognition Award of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF).
The series of investigative and other measures in the past months targeting the RCFS, have apparently been aimed at obstructing their activities. As a result of official action taken in the most recent period, the important human rights work of the RSCF is now seriously threatened, and the safety of the members of the organization is endangered because of continued harassment in media and elsewhere.
The outlook to the coming weeks is, that if the RCFS is indeed closed down on 2 November, the authorities can claim that the plaintiff in the arbitrage court (about the tax claims) does not exist any longer, and therefore close the appeal. By this they would have also automatically won the tax-case and could exact the rest of the claimed taxes. Stas Dimitrievsky then could be charged with all the accusations simultaneously (for “gross tax evasion” under Article 199, for enciting public enmity under Article 282), and the case would be considered by the court of general jurisdiction, where he could face a long prison term.
The International Helsinki Federation (IHF) urges the authorities of the Russian Federation to:
• Put an end to all harassment against the RCSF and take effective measures to ensure the safety and integrity of Stanislav Dimitrievsky, Oksana Chelysheva and other members of the RCSF;
• Protect the rights of all human rights defenders in the country in accordance with international standards, including the Declaration on Humans Rights Defenders (adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998), article 1 of which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”;
IHF statement, "Russian Federation: Nizhny Novgorod Authorities Launch Final Crackdown on Russian-Chechen Friendship Society. Today’s Protest Picket Dissolved after Five Minutes – Participants Detained", 2 September 2005.
IHF statement, “Continuing Persecution of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society. Its Partner Organisation Nizhny Novgorod Human Rights Society Closed Down by Authorities”, 10 June 2005
IHF statement, “”We Fear for the Safety of our Colleagues in the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society… Russian Human Rights Organization Threatened”, 19 March 2005
IHF statement, “FSB Raids the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society”, 20 January 2005
IHF/NHC Report, The Silencing of Human Rights Defenders in Chechnya and Ingushetia, Sept. 2004
For further information:
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
In Vienna: Aaron Rhodes, IHF Executive Director, +43-1-408 88 22 or +43 -676-635 66 12; Henriette Schroeder, IHF Press Officer, +43-676-725 48 29
In Moscow: Tanya Lokshina, +7 -916-624 19 06
Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, Stas Dimitrievsky, Oksana Chelysheva, +7-8312-171 666 or +7-920 0115 3306 (mobile)