For Immediate Release: March 22, 2007
Police officers in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, today came to the office of the Nizhny Novgorod Foundation to Support Tolerance, with the apparent intention of detaining two of its leaders, Stanislav Dmitrievsky and Oksana Chelysheva. The two human rights leaders deterred the officers from carrying out their plan by contacting international human rights organizations and western diplomats in Moscow.
“The continuing threats and harassment against Russia’s independent human rights organizations must end. Dmitrievsky and Chelysheva have done nothing except to seek to exercise their right to criticize government policies peacefully,” said Maureen Byrnes, executive director of the New York-based group Human Rights First.
“Targeting these two leaders as reprisal for exposing violations of human rights in the context of the conflict in Chechnya is inconsistent with Russia’s international human rights obligations,” Byrnes added.
The raid on the office is only the latest in a series of police actions against the leaders of the human rights organization in recent days. They have been subjected to heavy police surveillance, and uninvited visitors have presented themselves at their residences.
Last October the Russian Chechen Friendship Society was the first Russian human rights organization to be ordered to close under the restrictive new Russian law on associations. The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation upheld this closure order in a hearing on January 23, 2007, and the organization was forced to cease its activities. It has since reconstituted itself as three new organizations, including the foundation that was the subject of today’s harassment. Official pressure on RCFS’s former leaders to discontinue their human rights activities has continued unabated.
The escalation of tension in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s third largest city, precedes a protest march scheduled for Saturday, March 24. The planned “March of Dissent,” which follows on a similar event held in St. Petersburg on March 3, brings together a broad coalition of opposition political parties and civic organizations that are critical of the policies of the government of President Vladimir Putin.The authorities have banned the march and organizers fear that the authorities will use force to break up any demonstrations that may occur in the city on Saturday.