Next step – Strasbourg
On 23 January 2007 the Russian Supreme Court reviewed the appeal lodged by the Russian – Chechen Friendship Society against the ruling of the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Court to close down the civic organization. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling.
As already reported here, the ruling to close down the Russian – Chechen Friendship Society was issued in October 2006 on the basis of an application from the regional prosecutors office. The Court ruled that the Society was guilty of repeated and flagrant violations of federal legislation and that it had “an extremist bent”.
The Society had asked the Supreme Court to revoke this ruling and to call for a new review of the case.
The ruling of the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Court was based on the fact that the executive director of the Russian – Chechen Friendship Society Stanislav (Stas) Dimitrievsky was convicted in February and received a two-year suspended sentence in February on a charge of “inciting inter-ethnic enmity”. In the newspaper “Pravozashchita” [“Human rights defence”] he had published an appeal from Chechen separatist leaders which called for peace negotiations to end the armed conflict in Chechnya and criticized the actions of the Russian authorities in the Caucuses.
A large number of Russian and foreign public figures have spoken out in defence of the Russian – Chechen Friendship Society. They believe that the decision to close down the Society is politically motivated and shows the arbitrary and selective application by the authorities of the new law on extremism against criticism of the regime.
“Freedom of speech and of association involves the right to disseminate information without obstruction and to criticize the actions of the authorities. Democracy and the power of the people are based on citizens being able to act in non-violent ways to influence the state of affairs in their country. These vital principles are the basis of our Constitution. The Russian authorities through their ruling to close down the Russian – Chechen Friendship Society have yet again failed the test of commitment to the Main Law of the country”.
The Societys lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya reports that the Court found the closure lawful on the grounds that Dmitrievsky had been convicted under Article 282 of the Criminal Code – incitement to inter-ethnic, religious or racial enmity.
She stated: “The Court referred to the law on countering extremist activities. In my view the law is about something else. It states that actions aimed at inciting any form of enmity must be accompanied by violence or the threat of applying violence, yet in Dmitrievskys sentence there is nothing about violence… Even the conviction does not show that there were any signs of extremism in Dmitrievskys actions. … Furthermore the Court applied a law which could not be used since it was not in force at the time.
Dmitrievsky intends to appeal against the judgment of the Supreme Court in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. After receiving the full text of the judgment, his lawyers will consider whether to appeal the decision to close down the Society in the Constitutional Court.
The prosecutors office stated: “We agree with the ruling of the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Court to close down the organization as considerable infringements were established in the activities of the organization.”