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The Russian government’s latest attempt to silence a leading human rights advocate reflects a deepening crackdown on critical voices in Russia, Human Rights Watch said today. A court in Nizhni Novgorod will today rule on whether to impose tougher terms on Stanislav Dmitrievsky, who was convicted in 2006 for publicizing human rights abuses in Chechnya.

At the hearing, set for 9:40 a.m. today, the Nizhegorodski district court will decide whether to grant a government motion toughening the terms of the two-year suspended sentence Dmitrievsky received in February 2006 on politically motivated charges that related to his work on human rights in Chechnya. If the court grants the motion, filed at the request of the Nizhni Novgorod Province Procuracy, Dmitrievsky’s suspended sentence could be replaced by a prison term of two years if he commits two administrative violations within a year at any time during his four-year probationary period. Administrative violations might be as minor as crossing the street in the wrong place and are routinely used against activists for participating in public demonstrations.

“The worrying developments in the Dmitrievsky case show Russian authorities are intensifying their campaign to limit criticism of the government,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Dmitrievsky told Human Rights Watch that he believes the authorities have a two-fold goal – to stop his participation in civic and political activities and to put him in detention.

Dmitrievsky was among the organizers of the Dissenters’ March in Nizhni Novgorod in April 2007. Around the same time other Dissenters’ Marches were held in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The marches were banned or severely restricted by local authorities and, when organizers assembled anyway, their peaceful protests were violently broken up by police.

On April 14, 2007 several hours after the Dissenters’ March in Nizhni Novgorod, the special task police unit OMON briefly detained Dmitrievsky for participation in the march. On June 5 and 6 a court fined Dmitrievsky for organizing the Dissenters’ March and for not fulfilling the legal demands of the prosecutor, who had issued him an official warning not to organize or participate in the march. On July 17, the Nizhni Novgorod District Department of Supervision of Criminal Sentences, which filed the motion against Dmitrievsky, showed Dmitrievsky a written warning that his suspended sentence might be revoked. Dmitrievsky told Human Rights Watch that the Supervision Department refused to issue him a copy of the warning, thus preventing him from formally appealing it.

Dmitrievsky was originally sentenced on February 3, 2006 by a Nizhni Novgorod courton charges of “inciting racial hatred” for articles he had published in the newspaper of his organization, the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS). The articles featured statements from leading Chechen separatists that Human Rights Watch found did not contain any language that could legitimately be prohibited under international human rights law. Dmitrievsky appealed the sentencing to the European Court of Human Rights, which is to review the case in an expedited procedure.

In October 2006, a Nizhni Novgorod Province Court ordered under the terms of the extremism law the liquidation of RCFS for “tacitly approving” of Dmitrievsky’s actions by failing to distance itself from him within five days after his conviction. In late January 2007, the Russian Supreme Court upheld the decision to liquidate RCFS, prompting the European Union to issue a public statement voicing concern that the NGO law and the law on extremism “can be implemented in an arbitrary manner.”

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