UK: Russian winners of Amnesty journalism award voice concerns in meeting with UK human rights minister

Two leading Russian journalists have today urged the UK government to raise concern at deteriorating press freedoms in Russia.

In a meeting with the UK minister responsible for human rights - Ian McCartney - in London today, Stanislav Dmitrievskiy and Oksana Chelysheva, editor-in-chief and editor respectively of the Russian Chechen Information Agency, called for the UK government to support the work of journalists and human rights groups in Russia to defend press freedoms.

The meeting, arranged by Amnesty International, comes in the same week the journalists received an Amnesty International UK “Special Award For Human Rights Journalism Under Threat”, part of the organisation’s annual media awards for distinguished human rights journalism.

The award, presented by the BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson on 27 June in a ceremony in London, was given in recognition of Mr Dmitrievskiy and Ms Chelysheva’s steadfast work in reporting on Chechen affairs despite death threats and state-led harassment.

Stanislav Dmitrievskiy said:

“The UK government has genuine influence in Russia and I urged Ian McCartney to make defending press freedoms a real priority in Anglo-Russian relations.

“I am optimistic. I believe the minister understands that press freedoms are currently coming under serious assault in Russia and that Britain has a duty to do something about it.”

Oksana Chelysheva said:

“Our message to Mr McCartney was the same as that sent out by Amnesty’s award: journalism and human rights are under threat in Russia and the international community needs to say to the Russian authorities ‘enough is enough - start valuing your journalists and let them operate freely and without intimidation’.”

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“We’ve been concerned at Russia’s deteriorating press freedoms for some time and it is now becoming increasingly important for other governments - not least the UK - to speak out on this issue.

“A free press is obviously the oxygen of democracy and the danger is that as Russia attempts to stifle brave journalists like Mr Dmitrievskiy and Ms Chelysheva, the country will slip into intolerance and repression.”

Besides their role at the Russian Chechen Information Agency, Mr Dmitrievskiy and Ms Chelysheva are also leading members of the Russian Chechen Friendship Society, a human rights organisation that co-publishes the newspaper Pravo-zashchita (‘Rights Protection’).

Stanislav and Oksana have both received death threats because of their work at the news agency and in February this year Stanislav was convicted of “extremist activity” and given a two-year suspended sentence for publishing articles by Chechen leaders calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The agency has also been subjected to apparently intimidatory checks by the tax authorities and the Ministry of Justice - a common tactic of state harassment in Russia and former Soviet countries.

Their work has seen them reporting on serious human rights abuses in Chechnya and attempting to mediate in the Beslan school siege in 2004.

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