Chechen human rights workers believe authorities may soon increase pressure on NGOs
By Liza Osmayeva
CHECHNYA / INGUSHETIA - Representatives of local NGOs working in Chechnya and Ingushetia note that regional authorities and law enforcement agencies have recently begun to show an increased interest in their activity.
According to them, officials of various power ministries and agencies have begun to use all kinds of pretexts in order to call on representatives of human rights organizations and independent media active in the region. As a rule, such visits are made for purposes of familiarization and so far no concrete complaints about the work of the NGOs have been presented.
Taisa Isayeva, head of the Information Centre of the Council of Non-governmental Organizations (SNO), said a "friendly" visit of this kind was recently made to her office which is located in the town of Nazran, Ingushetia. The other day a man arrived there introducing himself as an official of one of the law enforcement agencies and demanded to be given data on volunteers and also on all other sources from which the Centre’s information is drawn.
"While the talk was of a preventive kind, the ‘visitor’ none the less hinted that if he so wished, he would be legally authorized to seal up the office and stop the work of the organization. I think they are simply letting us know that our activity is being closely watched by the law enforcement agencies. In addition, I know of several other cases in which the taxation services and other inspecting authorities have been used in order to exert pressure on this organization or that, and also on the media. It is possible that this pressure will soon increase, especially on those NGOs which are monitoring the human rights situation in Chechnya,” Isayeva told PW’s correspondent.
This opinion is shared by the well-known Chechen human rights worker Ruslan Badalov, chairman of the Chechen National Salvation Committee (ChKNS). In a conversation with PW’s correspondent he also expressed fears that the local authorities may interpret the new federal law on NGOs as the signal for an offensive.
"The law gives officials a big opportunity to stiffen control over NGOs, all the way to liquidating them. I think they will make use of this. Take the Dmitrievsky trial and the recent ‘spy scandal’, which involved a trustworthy human rights organization. These events show that today no NGO is safe from such accusations and suspicions,” he observed.
In this connection it should also be noted that during the last week of February the hearings of the case concerning the Chechen National Salvation Committee are due to resume in Nazran, Ingushetia. The republic’s prosecutor’s office has perceived an “anti-constitutional and anti-Russian" direction in the Committee’s activity and for the past year and a half has been trying to have the organization’s information materials branded as extremist.
Badalov categorically disagrees with such conclusions and assesses the proceedings as an attempt to forbid the activity of the organization. "There is no anti-Russian or anti-constitutional direction in any of our statements and press releases. On the contrary, we inform the Russian and world community about cases we know of where the law has been violated. In this instance I see the actions of the prosecutor’s office as an attempt to liquidate our organization. But we nevertheless hope that the judicial inquiry will be fair and objective, and that all the charges against the Committee will be dropped,” Ruslan Badalov said in this regard.
Chechen human rights workers fear that pressure on NGOs in the region may intensify soon. In their opinion, the accusations against Russian human rights activists, the ban on the activity of the Danish Refugee Council in Chechnya, the legal proceedings against the ChKNS are all links in the same chain, and this cannot really be explained simply as an excess on the part of the authorities.
Translated by David McDuff.