The Russian government should end its campaign to silence political dissent by intimidating and harassing human rights groups, such as the police seizure yesterday of computers belonging to the Tolerance Support Foundation, Human Rights Watch said today. The police seized the computer equipment in an apparent attempt to stop the group from continuing its work, and in retaliation for its connection to an embattled human rights defender.
“The move against the Tolerance Support Foundation shows the government’s readiness to use legal measures to harass organizations dedicated to helping victims,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Cases like this are happening all too frequently and must stop.”
The Tolerance Support Foundation works to promote tolerance among various ethnic groups in Nizhegorodskaia Province. Formed after the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society was liquidated in 2006 by a court order under Russia’s law on extremism, the foundation also works on issues of abuse in Chechnya.
According to Oksana Chelysheva, director of the Tolerance Support Foundation in Nizhni Novgorod, about 280 miles east of Moscow, three officers from the department of computer crimes in the Russian internal affairs directorate, accompanied by two witnesses, appeared at the foundation’s office. They presented a warrant ordering a complete inspection of the foundation’s financial, administrative and other activities. The warrant did not contain the grounds for the inspection.
After the search, the police confiscated all four of the organization’s computers, claiming that the foundation could not provide licenses for the software installed on them.
Chelysheva and Yuri Staroverov, the foundation’s system administrator, received orders to appear for questioning at the Nizhni Novgorod police station on August 31 in relation to unlicensed software discovered in the office.
“We believe that the Tolerance Support Foundation was singled out for inspection in retaliation for its activities,” said Cartner. “The foundation cannot work without its computers, but confiscation of its computers is just the beginning. Given what’s in the warrant, there’s a risk that the organization will be buried with endless inspections.”
The inspection of the Tolerance Support Foundation appears to be a reprisal for the organization’s affiliation with Stanislav Dmitrievsky, an advisor to the foundation who in February 2006 received a two-year suspended sentence on charges of “inciting racial hatred” for articles he had published in the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society’s newspaper and who organized the Dissenter’s March in Nizhni Novgorod in April. Chelysheva told Human Rights Watch that the first question the police asked upon arriving at her office yesterday morning was, “Where is Dmitrievsky?”
The articles Dmitrievsky published 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.