Local Authorities Go After Activist’s Account of Chechnya Conflict
July 3, 2013, Update
On July 2, 2013, the Dzerzhinsk City Court in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, rejected a petition by the prosecutor’s office to ban the book International Tribunal for Chechnya on the grounds it was “extremist.” The court accepted the evidence of independent experts, a linguist and a psychologist, called by the defense, who argued that, “by content and style, the book can be classified as a juridical and academic publication of rather anti-extremist than extremist character.”
The book’s main author and a leading local human rights defender, Stanislav Dmitrievsky, told Human Rights Watch, “It’s not that the court sided with us in this case – first and foremost, it sided with the Law.”
“We applaud the courage of a judge from a small Russian town who upheld justice and respect for the rule of law while a vicious campaign against civic activists is raging in Russia,” said Hugh Williamson, director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch. “The significance of this seemingly small victory for Russian civil society cannot be underestimated.”
(Moscow, December 3, 2012) –The Russian authorities should withdraw their petition to ban a human rights monograph as “extremist.” The case is part of the growing misuse of anti-extremism legislation against civil society activists.
On December 6, 2012, the Dzerzhinsk City Court in the Nizhny Novgorod region of Russia will hold a hearing on a petition filed by the local prosecutor’s office to ban a book by Stanislav Dmitrievsky, et. al., International Tribunal for Chechnya. Prospects of Bringing to Justice Individuals Suspected of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity During the Armed Conflict in the Chechen Republic. The 1,200-page book was published in July 2009 with a print-run of 700 copies and made available to broader audiences on the website of Novaya Gazeta, a leading independent newspaper.
“Dmitrievsky’s book is based on meticulous desk research and is an important source of information on the Chechen conflict,” said Hugh Williamson, director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities’ efforts to ban the book as ‘extremist’ have no basis in international human rights law and seem aimed at punishing Dmitrievsky for his human rights work.”
The book provides a detailed analysis of the violations by all parties during the conflict in Chechnya from the standpoint of international criminal law, including the jurisprudence of the international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The book argues that the crimes in Chechnya fall within the scope of universal jurisdiction, and in particular emphasizes the chain of command and responsibility of top Russian leadership. If the book is banned, it will have to be removed from shops, libraries, etc. Also, its electronic version will have to be removed from relevant websites.
Dmitrievsky is a well-known civil society activist from Nizhny Novgorod who has played a prominent role in the local protest movement and is known for his relentless efforts to ensure justice for egregious human rights violations in Chechnya. Local authorities have persecuted him for years with administrative arrests, a criminal prosecution, intrusive inspections, orders to close his office, and arson attacks.
In the most recent example, in November, unidentified assailants attacked his apartment, his office, and the apartment of his grown daughter, smashing the windows and causing other damage. Official investigation into these attacks yielded no tangible results.
Dmitrievsky told Human Rights Watch that he found out about the planned court hearing only on November 28, 2012, when he received an official summons to appear before the court on December 6 as the monograph’s chief-editor and co-author. As the prosecutor’s claim was not enclosed with the summons, Dmitrievsky does not know which parts of the volume the prosecutor’s office considers extremist. The summons clearly indicates, though, that the claim is based on the federal law “on countering extremist activities.”
This is the second attempt by Russian authorities to ban the book. When the monograph was published in 2009, Moscow investigators conducted a criminal inquiry into the alleged presence of extremism in the book, but did not find sufficient grounds to open a criminal case.
Russia’s international partners, particularly the European Union member states and the United States, should publicly voice concern over the attempt to ban Dmitrievsky’s monograph and press the Russian government to stopusing its anti-extremism legislation to stifle legitimate expression, Human Rights Watch said.
The move to ban the book violates Russia’s legal obligations to respect and protect freedom of expression as guaranteed by both the European Convention on Human Rights (article 10) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 19). Russia is a party to both treaties.
Russia should amend its law “on countering extremist activities,” as its current broad and vague provisions appear to encourage misuse by officials and are incompatible with Russia’s international human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said.
“There has been an unprecedented crackdown on civil society in the past six months, and this seems to have sent the authorities a signal that it’s all right to go after Dmitrievsky with a new zeal,” Williamson said. “In the past, he clearly demonstrated that he wouldn’t be intimidated into silence by arrests and attacks, so now they’re trying to silence him by banning his monograph, which Dmitrievsky considers his life’s work.”