Human rights defenders demand end to persecution of the Novorossiysk Human Rights Committee


A significant number of Russian NGOs and civic activists have expressed their outrage and demanded an end to the unlawful and politically motivated persecution of the Novorossiysk Human Rights Committee [NHRC] headed by Tamara and Vadim Karastelev.

The court hearings into the Prosecutor’s application to have NHRC dissolved as being an extremist organization began on 17 September. “All of us, some more, some less, are aware of cases of abuse of anti-extremist legislation, including against independent NGOs. Yet the persecution of NHRC even against this background arouses bemusement and outrage for at least the following reasons.

Firstly, the Karastelov’s, and with them the NHRC, are being persecuted on grounds far removed from the subject of anti-extremist legislation, however broadly one understands this to be. They were running a campaign in Novorossiysk against a curfew for people underage in public places not accompanied by an adult.

Secondly, the Novorossiysk Prosecutor’s Office in approaching the court has openly cited an application by the Deputy Mayor where the latter presents purely political accusations of criticizing the city authorities and working on foreign grants. The Deputy Mayor’s application calls on the Prosecutor’s Office to find legal grounds for terminating the organization’s work.  Such an open “political order” of the executive branch of power, documented and publicly made the foundation of the Prosecutor’s position in court, is rarely encountered even in our times, rich as they are with “legal nihilism” It is difficult to name it as anything but stupidity or openly demonstrated contempt for the law.

Thirdly, the only basis for the accusation of extremism was one of the slogans at a picket: “Freedom is not given – it’s taken”, which through the efforts of unprincipled specialists, Prosecutors and judges is interpreted as inciting to extremist activity. This is with no other proof of such incitement being provided, while the very context of peaceful pickets could arouse associations with terrorism only in very biased people.

Fourthly, the Prosecutor’s Office and court, as is very often so in cases of alleged extremism, have totally relied on the opinion of specialists whose level of qualification in the given case arouses great doubts. ….

Fifthly: The Prosecutor’s Office, having won the court case in which Tamara Karasteleva tried to appeal against the warning issued her as director of the organization immediately applied to have NHRC declared an extremist organization – on the grounds that the Karastelevs had supposedly continued their “harmful” campaigning after they had received the warning. The only fact put forward by the Prosecutor’s Office is totally denied by the Karastelevs and it certainly looks unconvincing,

Sixthly: the number of procedural infringements in this case is absolutely staggering. It is enough to mention that the placard in question was not shown at the picket in question, and that they tried to prevent not only the public attending the hearing, but also the lawyer representing T, Karasteleva …”

The statement concludes that the Novorossiysk law enforcement bodies are clearly acting on the commissioning of local, and probably, area authorities. Even with the broadest framework of the current definition of extremist activity, one can hardly use this to describe a picket for children’s rights and a slogan which is a paraphrase of words from Maxim Gorky. As reported already, an official assessment found that the slogan “Freedom is not given – it’s taken” (adapted from Gorky’s: “Rights are not given, they’re taken”) is extremist and “undermines the moral pillars of society”

The statement stresses that the court case could result in the dissolution of NHRC, “which will not only destroy one of the most active human rights organizations in the South of Russia, but will bring with it a ban by its activists of the same activities on threat of criminal liability”.

The court ruling sought by the Novorossiysk Prosecutor’s Office would be the first case where a human rights organization was prohibited as extremist.

“We express solidarity with our colleagues from Novorossiysk and demand an end to overtly political persecution of civic activists for their human rights work over many years”.  The list of signatures is cheeringly long.

15 September 2009

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