Absolute disregard for law: liquidating the Russian Chechen Friendship Society

Oksana Chelysheva [Deputy executive director, Russian-Chechen Frienship Society]: "On 23 January 2007 the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation upheld the decision of the Regional Court of the Russian Federation to liquidate our organization, the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society.

We were originally ordered to close down in October last year on the basis of a new NGO and anti-extremism law that made it illegal for an NGO to be headed by a person convicted of "extremist" activities. The Russian authorities wanted us to denounce the acts of our chair Stanislaw Dmitirevskiy and to remove him from our board. Furthermore, they expected us to announce this big news about our act of repudiation from our friend and colleague in public. It would have been dishonorable for us. Neither people in Nizhny Novgorod nor in the North Caucasus permitted such a disgraceful option of saving our bacon by sacrificing our friend.

The proceedings at the Supreme Court were observed by representatives of the European Commission Delegation as well as embassies of the USA, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Lithuania, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Representatives of the Amnesty International and Human Rights watch also attended the court session. There were also observers from Russian human rights organizations, including Memorial human rights center, Civic Assistance Committee and For Civic Assistance Foundation. There were several journalists working for foreign media outlets as well as for "Echo of Moscow" radio. All of them became witnesses of absolute disregard to the law.

Although we have expected this outcome, the undisguised farce of "considering" the appeal at the Supreme Court that the Russian authorities didn't hesitate to organize in presence of international observers was absolutely shocking. Although we did our utmost to prevent Russia from losing its face once again at the world scene, no miracle is possible under the current circumstances in Russia. We, the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, have been liquidated as a Russia-based organization. Thus, the Russian authorities have proved once again that they remain absolutely indifferent to all voices of protest, regardless of what countries people who speak up in defense of liberal values and democracy come from or what is their level of recognition in the world community.

We have been supported by more than hundred public figures from some twenty countries, including Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, France, Slovakia, Serbia, Montenegro, Estonia, Czechia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Norway, Ukraine, Turkey, Mexico, Belgium, Brazil, Finland, Portugal, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, the USA, Canada, Malaysia, Philippines, Syria, Zimbabwe. More than one hundred Russian human rights people and journalists have signed their Open Letter to President Putin in support of our organization.

It is evident that the so-called positive image of Russia is also of no concern for the present Kremlin authorities. They keep complaining about somebody's evil intention to discredit them in the eyes of their free world counterparts when murders of dissident politicians and journalists in the contemporary Russia are raised at the international fora from time to time. They have got used to avoiding answering unsuitable questions about Chechnya for so long that now they feel free to mockingly neglect them. There has been no other response from the Russian authorities to the claim of the international public figures to the murder of Politkovskaya but mere words about continuing investigation. The Russian authorities have responded to the concerns expressed about the ruling to liquidate the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society on absurd extremist charges with the final decision to crack down on us.

The court session held at the Supreme Court yesterday was a farce. Firstly, the hearing was postponed until late afternoon without warning. It was an obvious attempt to get rid of observers but all of them were at the door of the Supreme Court at 3 pm. Then officers of justice claimed that there was not enough room for all the observers in a tiny court room where the hearing was organized. However, it turned out that they had deliberately brought a group of people who just occupied the seats in an attempt not to let observers attend the trial. When those people were asked what organization they represented, they mockingly responded, "No organization. We are just public". Later two of those people confessed that some of them were students of the Law Academy and that they had been ordered to stay in the court room.

All the arguments of the defense side presented by our lawyer Anna Stavitskaya and Stanislaw Dmitrievskiy were ignored by the judges whereas the prosecutor's side didn't offer any grounded proofs of extremism in actions of Stanislaw Dmitrievskiy in his positions of the chief editor of the newspaper and the executive director of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society.

The liquidation ruling came into force immediately after the judge had read it out. At present, the inter-regional public association Russian-Chechen Friendship Society has stopped their activities as a Russian legal entity. However, it doesn't mean that we, members of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, have ceased our work. Due to the circumstances, we have moved the legal entity to Finland. The Russian-Chechen Friendship Society in Europe has been registered there with Stanislaw Dmitrievskiy, Oksana Chelysheva and Tatiana Banina being board members. We have Nizhny Novgorod Foundation for Promoting Tolerance established in Nizhny Novgorod and another regional Tolerance association was registered in Chechnya a few days ago. We are continuing our projects — informational, humanitarian and the legal project on the tribunal - in spite of our innumerous problems.

We are definitely going to appeal to the European Court on Human Rights in the liquidation ruling as we deal with obvious violations of Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention."

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