For Immediate Release: January 23, 2007
NEW YORK — In a decision with ominous implications for independent human rights organizations in Russia, the Federal Supreme Court of Russia today denied an appeal of a judicial order to close the Russian Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS). The RCFS, based in Nizhny Novgorod, was one of the few remaining organizations in Russia that was reporting on human rights conditions in Chechnya and the North Caucasus.
“With the closure of the RCFS, the world has lost a window on the catastrophic human rights consequences of the enduring conflict in Chechnya,” said Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director of Human Rights First, adding. “The court’s decision sends a chilling message to all independent critics of the Russian government’s human rights practices.”
For the last few years, RCFS has been the subject of intense persecution and harassment, apparently in reprisal for its work on the Chechnya conflict. More than a dozen employees, volunteers, and journalists associated with the RCFS or their family members have been pursued, beaten, or killed. Despite the risk associated with its work, the organization has continued its essential activities of monitoring and reporting on the situation in Chechnya. In the weeks prior to today’s court hearing, press reports in Russia repeated defamatory accusations against the organization accusing it of being “supportive of terrorists.”Russian authorities have manipulated Russian laws to force the organization to close. The organization’s director, Stanislav Dmitrievsky, was convicted in February 2006, of “inciting ethnic hatred,” under an article of the Penal Code designed to combat racist extremism. He had published articles advocating a peaceful resolution of the Chechen conflict. On October 2006, the authorities invoked the new NGO law to order the organization to close, since Dmitrievsky, as a convicted offender, was no longer eligible to run a non-governmental organization.
Human Rights First condemns the closure of the RCFS and calls on the Russian government to uphold basic rights of freedom of expression and association. Functioning, independent, non-governmental organizations are essential to free societies and play a vital role in ensuring accountable, democratic government in Russia.