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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chelysheva: Our Worst Fears are Coming True

Oksana Chelysheva (pictured), writing on FinRosForum:

On 20 March 2008, the authorities in Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod and Arzamas launched a new wave of raids on the offices of the Nizhny Novgorod Foundation to Promote Tolerance and the homes of several opposition activists.

The Foundation to Promote Tolerance is a Russian-registered NGO, which was established to continue the work of the banned Russian-Chechen Friendship Society. The latter has since been officially registered in Finland.

The police confiscated all computers at the offices of the Foundation to Promote Tolerance. The office was then sealed. They also confiscated the mobile phone of Stanislav Dmitrievsky, advisor to the Foundation and Chairman of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society.

In addition, the police conducted searches in the private flats of several people associated with the opposition Other Russia coalition: Ilya Shamazov, Yuri Staroverov, Yevgeni Lygin, Yelena Yevdokimova, Yekaterina Bunicheva, and Igor Voronin in Nizhny Novgorod, as well as Dmitry Isusov and Maxim Baganov in Arzamas.

Ilya Shamazov, Yelena Yevdokimova, and Yury Staroverov are all staff members of the Foundation to Promote Tolerance.

After the search in Baganov’s flat was over, authorities opened a criminal case under article 282.2 of the Criminal Code (”Extremism”) against him. Baganov was summoned to an interrogation at 3:30 pm today. The police confiscated his passport.

Dmitrievsky turned to the Investigations Committee to find out what was the reason for the mass raids. When I reached him, Dmitrievsky had just returned from the regional prosecutor’s office to the premises of the Nizhny Novgorod Committee against Torture.

In Dmitrievsky’s words, the order to search the offices of the Foundation to Promote Tolerance was signed by Vladimir Kozitsyn, chief investigator at the regional prosecutor’s office. A special unit has been formed at the regional prosecutor’s office to investigate the case. Staff members of other district prosecutor’s offices were assigned to the case as well.

Dmitrievsky feels that the prosecutor’s office is aware of the likely international outcry that will ensue from the actions of the authorities, which have totally paralysed the work of the Foundation to Promote Tolerance.

The Foundation was busy developing a project initiated by the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society on the application of international law to the assessment of the armed conflict in Chechnya.

Earlier, a number of people associated with the Other Russia coalition in Nizhny Novgorod, mostly members of the banned National Bolshevik Party, and former staff members of the Foundation to Promote Tolerance were interrogated as witnesses to another criminal case initiated against the Foundation in October 2007. The case related to the alleged use of pirated software.

During questioning, the investigators posed similar questions to each: Who did you see in the offices of the Foundation to Promote Tolerance? What sort of access to the internet does the office have? What material have Oksana Chelysheva and Stanislav Dmitrievsky written for other media outlets and whether they were paid?

All of us remain under constant surveillance. Ilya Shamazov and I had to lodge an official complaint to the prosecutor’s office because we had been followed everywhere by up to six plain-clothed policemen for some three days. They were visibly interested in our visits to banks where we withdrew cash. All our phones are being tapped.

Last Saturday, the National Bolsheviks in Nizhny Novgorod held a meeting in one of the city parks. They had set the time of the meeting by phone, and at the given time, the park and the area around it was quickly manned by officials from the criminal police.

Ilya Shamazov believes that the authorities are about to fabricate charges under Article 282 (”Extremism”) of the Criminal Code against several people. Charges may be presented within one month. Given that the authorities lack any evidence of criminal activity, we fear that they will fake “extremist” fliers in our name or make up some unexpected “victim”. Some sort of provocation is highly probable.

We fear that the authorities are preparing to hold a mass show trial in Nizhny Novgorod.

The authorities are fully aware that the research we have conducted on the application of international criminal law to the armed conflict in Chechnya is a detonator which might undermine them. Given that they have now gained access to the material we have developed, they have full knowledge of the project. We fear that they might try to obstruct our work.

In addition, the authorities are aware of my role in contacting the West and disseminating information on the situation in Nizhny Novgorod and the region. They clearly feel that we pose a threat to them, given that we enjoy the trust of Chechen refugees abroad, leftist groups in Russia, politicians, and public figures.

Moreover, there are members of the banned National Bolshevik Party on our staff. We are very different from many other human rights organisations in that we have managed to cooperate despite our differences. Both the National Bolsheviks and we are deemed “extremists” by the authorities, following court rulings. Both of us have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

We fear that the authorities may target both Stanislav Dmitrievsky and me, accusing us of “extremist” statements in some of my articles. Dmitry Isusov, member of the National Bolsheviks in Arzamas, was told that “experts” had found signs of “extremism” in the interview of Kirill Klyonov, an imprisoned member of the National Bolshevik Party, which I did for

All this is taking place against the background of the continuing consolidation of law enforcement agencies in Russia. Next autumn, Russia will establish its own FBI, which will be called the Federal Service of Investigation. The new agency will be above all other law enforcement agencies. Its establishment has already been approved already in the Kremlin. Both candidates to head the new agency, Alexander Bastrykin and Alexey Anichkin, were President Vladimir Putin’s classmates at the St Petersburg State University.

In addition, a special group is being established at Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office to assess various publications on “signs of extremism”. The purpose is to make the work of prosecutors easier. Deputy Prosecutor Yevgeny Zabarchuk stated that “the group will be made up of human rights defenders, linguists, psychologists, and lawyers”. The group will be headed by the Chief of the Department on Combating Extremism and Implementing State Security Laws, Vyacheslav Sizov. The unit will have 22 scientists, human rights defenders, and members of the Public Chamber. The group will hold its first session today.

Alexander Brod, director of the Moscow Bureau on Human Rights, and one of those who initiated the establishmenr of this group, stated that prosecutors are having great difficulty in establishing cases of extremism, and the group will help prosecutors to conduct expertise into publications and statements of politicians that seem radical.

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