Russia: Closure of key NGO condemned

Amnesty International has condemned the closure in Russia today of a key non-governmental organisation run by two distinguished Russian journalists.

The organisation, the Russian Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS), was forced to close after the Russian Supreme Court in Moscow today ruled against the RCFS’s appeal against an earlier closure order.

The RCFS, which monitors the human rights situation in Chechnya, was originally ordered to close down in October last year on the basis of a new NGO and anti-extremism law that made it illegal for an NGO to be headed by a person convicted of "extremist" activities.

The RCFS’s executive director - Stanislav Dmitrievskii - was convicted in February last year on “race hate” charges for publishing non-violent articles by Chechen separatist leaders. He was, in Amnesty International’s view, convicted for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and should not have faced trial in the first place.

The RCFS also co-publishes the newspaper Pravo-zashchita (‘Rights Protection’), and last year Mr Dmitrievskii - and his fellow RCFS member and journalist Oksana Chelysheva - received the 2006 Amnesty International UK media award for human rights journalism under threat. The award was presented by John Simpson, the distinguished BBC journalist.

Mr Dmitrievskii and Ms Chelysheva have both received death threats for their work at the RCFS and the affiliated Russian Chechen Information Agency, which specialises in reporting on Chechnya. The two have been the target of a sustained intimidation campaign that has - among other things - seen the distribution of threatening leaflets calling them “pro-Chechen vermin”.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“Today’s decision is yet another heavy blow to freedom of expression in Russia.

“If Russia cannot tolerate distinguished journalists like Stanislav Dmitrievskii and Oksana Chelysheva, then Russia appears unable to tolerate freedom of expression at all.

“This is a sad day for journalism and a sad day for civil society in Russia.”

Speaking shortly after the Supreme Court announced its decision, Mr Dmitrievskii told Amnesty International that the RCFS would seek justice at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He said:

"The Supreme Court's decision is dangerous for civil society and for Russia as a whole. It is a political decision and clearly illustrates that the Russian authorities do not care about civil society. It sends the wrong signal and has not gone unnoticed by the international community.

“In our appeal we have shown that the initial verdict of the court in Nizhnii Novgorod was unlawful. The Supreme Court's decision has put a number of administrative problems before us but it will not stop our work on human rights."

In recent weeks an international campaign of support for Mr Dmitrievskii and Ms Chelysheva has included expressions of solidarity from leading journalists, writers, politicians and academics. These have included Nobel Prize laureates Harold Pinter and Elie Wiesel, as well as people like Francis Fukuyama and Noam Chomsky.

Amnesty International supporters in the UK have also been sending messages of concern over the possible closure of the RCFS directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • Send an urgent appeal to the Russian authorities urging them to safeguard freedom of expression in Russia
  • Read the statement from the Russian Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS) (pdf)

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