V. Other Types of Pressure on Civil Society

The NGO law is only one of several means the government has used to harass and control certain types of NGOs. Other forms of pressure used by the authorities include specious criminal or other charges against organizations or their leaders, police inspections, and interference with an organization’s substantive work. Anti-extremism legislation has also been arbitrarily used to target at least three NGO leaders; its broad and vague provisions raise concern that the law may be applied as a deterrent to those who wish to tackle violations of human rights that the Russian government would rather not be exposed.

State initiated actions have taken place against a backdrop of a number of incidents in which activists have also been the victims of violence by unidentified assailants, none of whom have ever been caught or prosecuted. Whether there is (or the extent of) any official collaboration or tolerance of these attacks has not been possible at this stage to determine, but the attacks contribute to the hostile context in which activists must carry out their work in Russia today.

Administrative and Judicial Harassment

Criminal proceedings against heads of NGOs

In two cases documented by Human Rights Watch, the authorities lodged questionable criminal charges against the head of an NGO, presumably to pressure the organization. The more high-profile of these involved the Moscow-based Educated Media Foundation, a foreign-funded NGO that trained journalists and worked with many media outlets. The organization was the legal successor in Russia to Internews, a global organization headquartered in the United States that seeks to “improve access to information” and “foster independent media.”124

Educated Media Foundation, Moscow

In January 2007 Manana Aslamazyan, the director of the Educated Media Foundation, was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetevo-2 airport for failing to declare excess cash upon returning from a trip to Paris. Aslamazyan was carrying 9,550 euros and 5,130 roubles (the equivalent of US$12,400) in undeclared currency. The limit for bringing undeclared currency to Russia is $10,000. This type of customs violation is usually treated as an administrative offense, punishable by a fine.125

On January 31, 2007, a criminal investigation was opened against Aslamazyan, for contraband (smuggling).126 On April 18 about 20 officers from the Interior Ministry's Economic Crimes Department searched the offices of the Educated Media Foundation for 11 hours. Police linked the search to the criminal investigation against Aslamazyan. Staff and regional journalists attending a training seminar being held that same day in the foundation’s offices were not allowed to leave until the end of the search. Police confiscated financial documents and computer servers, completely paralyzing the work of the organization; as a result, the Educated Media Foundation was forced to suspend its activities. On June 20 the procuracy announced that Aslamazyan had been criminally charged with contraband and that it was considering opening an investigation on two more criminal charges, illegal business activities and money laundering. The accusation of money laundering was related to foreign grants the organization received from December 2006 to March 2007.127

On June 21 the Golovin District Court in Moscow rejected a complaint filed by the Educated Media Foundation that the document seizure at its office was unlawful and unjustified. On July 4 the organization’s founders decided to dissolve the organization, as it was unable to function. Aslamazyan accepted a consultancy position with the US-based Internews Network and left Russia.

Aleksei Simonov, president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation and one of the Educated Media Foundation’s founders, is convinced that “the organization fell victim of a full-scale campaign orchestrated by the government against remaining independent areas of public life in Russia.”128

Russia’s media community protested the persecution of Aslamazyan and the Educated Media Foundation. On April 23, 2007, a television company located in the Siberian city of Tomsk posted on its website an open letter to President Putin, signed by over 2,000 media professionals in support of Aslamazyan and the Educated Media Foundation.129

Center for Assistance to Migrants, Nizhni Novgorod

In August 2007, FSB agents searched the Nizhni Novgorod Center for Assistance to Migrants, an NGO that provides legal counsel to migrants and represents them in court, in connection with forgery charges against the organization’s head, Almaz Choloyan. Observers are concerned that the accusations against Choloyan are questionable. The only known evidence against her was obtained from a migrant in detention who may have been pressured into giving testimony.

On August 27 at 7 a.m. Choloyan was surrounded by six plainclothes FSB officers as she left her apartment building. The agents presented Choloyan with a search warrant for her apartment. During the search the FSB agents cut the phone line to prevent Choloyan from calling her lawyer and confiscated the Choloyan family’s passports, video tapes, and computer diskettes. Choloyan told Human Righs Watch,

They were very rude during the search in my apartment. They cut off my home phone, took away all [cell] phones: from my kids, from my husband. They did not let me call anyone and very rudely yelled, “Give [us] what you have at home! Stamps, passports, clean Russian Federation passports.”… When they took my mother’s passport, a citizen of Russia—she has been living in Russia since 1993—they shouted, “We found it! We found what we were looking for!” … They seized even the VHS from my niece’s funeral.130

Choloyan told Human Rights Watch that at the end of the search FSB agents indicated they intended to take her into custody, and they told her to put on warm clothes and pack money and food. Choloyan believes she was not taken into custody only because the investigator present at the search refused to sign papers necessary to detain her. Choloyan signed a written promise not to leave the city.

After searching Choloyan’s apartment, the FSB agents accompanied her to the Center for Assistance to Migrants. The agents searched the one-room office from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. “We calculated we had here [in a one-room office] two people [agents, witnesses, and the like] per square meter.… They took 12 large boxes with [legal] literature and documents,” Choloyan said. 131 During the search all of the organization’s financial documents, computer equipment, archives, judicial literature, and even posters were seized.132 Confiscation of these materials has paralyzed the Center’s work.133

Choloyan told Human Rights Watch that she believes she is under surveillance, that her cell and office phones are tapped, and that the Center is bugged. Choloyan also said that from May through August 2007, FSB agents approached a group of migrants in Nizhni Novgorod province and forced them to sign pre-written statements against her, and threatened to deport them if they refused to sign. “Two men came and said, ‘Sorry, we signed; two FSB agents came and told us either all of you will be expelled tomorrow or you sign.’”134

In September 2007 Choloyan’s status in the criminal case changed from suspect to witness, as authorities did not have enough evidence to formally charge her within the timeframe stipulated by the Criminal Procedure Code.

Administrative harassment

Human Rights Watch documented tax inspections, police raids, and threats of criminal charges against several NGOs that appeared clearly aimed to intimidate them or to force their closure.

Information Center of the NGO Council, Grozny, Chechnya

The Information Center of the NGO Council (hereinafter, “the Center”) is an NGO with offices in Grozny, Chechnya, and until December 1, 2007, in Nazran, Ingushetia. It distributes daily information bulletins on the situation in Chechnya. In the past two years the Center has been subjected to administrative harassment as well as threats and, on one occasion, a raid of its premises.

In January 2005 masked men speaking Russian, wearing military uniforms, and carrying machine guns raided the Nazran office of the Center. They put six of the Center’s employees—including four women—face down on the floor and searched the office. The assailants neither identified themselves nor explained the grounds for the search, and confiscated the center’s computers “for inspection.”135

In February 2006 the Second Operational Investigative Bureau, a federal police agency based in Grozny, visited the Center’s Nazran office. They questioned staff about their activities and volunteers and, reportedly, openly threatened them.136

The tax service froze the Center’s bank account on February 2, 2007, and on March 7 the Chechen Republic Ministry of Justice filed suit with the Grozny City Court requesting the dissolution of the Center’s Grozny office on the grounds that the Center’s main office was not at its legal address in Grozny. The Center’s headquarters had temporarily moved to a different location while the building at the legal address was undergoing renovation. A note about the temporary relocation and the new address was posted on the Center’s door. Neither the Ministry of Justice nor the Tax Service notified the Center when dissolution proceedings began in court on April 5.

On April 14 the organization was ordered by the Chechen Republic Ministry of Justice to submit, within 48 hours, a full report on its activities, including information regarding the times and places of meetings with international and Russian NGOs, and topics discussed at these meetings. However, when the requested documents were brought to the ministry, officials refused to accept them, saying that the dissolution suit had already been submitted to the court.

The dissolution procedure was stopped in late April after the Ministry of Justice dropped the case against the Center. However, on May 18 the head of the Center was invited to the Chechnya branch of the FSB for a “conversation” and questioned about the organization’s activities, its donors, and funding. The FSB official then said they would contact the Center again if needed.

Throughout summer 2007 the Center was repeatedly inspected by the Ingushetia Tax Service. On June 13 the Ingushetia procuracy ordered an investigation against the organization for operating in Ingushetia without being registered with the Ingushetia Tax Service, a violation of the administrative code. These inspections forced the Center to send its staff on leave for 10 days in July and to suspend all work for that period. In August the Center received a bill for back taxes and penalties for the equivalent of almost US$20,000. The Center has appealed the tax bill and fine in court. At this writing proceedings are ongoing.137

Taisa Isaeva, head of the Center, told Human Rights Watch that in September 2007 an FSB official asked her to become an informer, and that when she refused, FSB officials threatened to close her organization within three days. Several days later, the Tax Service of South Federal District started a new inspection of the Center. No significant violations were found. 138 Isaeva also told Human Rights Watch, “After I refused to cooperate [with the security services] the organization received direct threats and then our landlord was pressured to evict us from our office. Ultimately, we were forced to close our office in Nazran.”139

Human Rights Watch is unable to evaluate whether the Center may have been remiss in its obligation to properly register with the Tax Service. However, the manner in which the inspections were conducted appears to have been intrusive and punitive.

Civic Assistance Committee, Moscow

Civic Assistance Committee, a Moscow-based NGO with a longstanding record of working on refugee issues, became the subject of a criminal investigation by the procuracy after a member of parliament accused the group of giving cover to “ethnic criminal groupings.”140 In October-November 2006 the economic crime unit (RUBEP) and organized crime unit (RUBOP) of the Moscow police thoroughly inspected the Civic Assistance Committee by examining the organization’s statute and the letters it provides to refugees and asylum seekers urging the authorities to respect their rights. Svetlana Gannushkina, chair of the Civic Assistance Committee, was called in for questioning several times: “I told them how we work. They listened, listened and became pretty enthusiastic about that [the work], and said they are tired of having to respond to stupid requests to inspect someone instead of [fighting crime].”141 Even though neither of the two agencies found grounds to open a criminal case, the procuracy continued the investigation. Although ultimately no charges were brought, in January 2007 the procuracy issued Gannushkina with a warning for violating the Law on Refugees. Gannushkina challenged the legal grounds of the accusations against her:

How can I violate the Law on Refugees? I’m not a subject of this law. The law establishes a legal relation between a [refugee] and the state. But I’m neither the state, nor a refugee.… But they warn me that the “next time” there is going to be a criminal case.142

In spring 2007 the Registration Service inspected the Civic Assistance Committee pursuant to a request by the procuracy. The inspection was conducted from April 9 to May 8. “Following the Registration Service’s request we sent them 600 pages of various documents, i.e. our entire staff had been working for the Registration Service,” Gannushkina told Human Rights Watch.143 The Registration Service concluded that the Civic Assistance Committee was operating within its statutes and the law. “The inspection was exhausting but its result was positive for us. It is absolutely obvious, I want to stress that once again, that the procuracy used the Registration Service for the purpose of harassment.”144

Centre for International Protection, Moscow

The Centre for International Protection has been the target of several incidents of harassment, beginning in 2005. The Centre provides legal assistance to applicants to the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Its founder and program supervisor, Karina Moskalenko, is representing Mikhail Khodorkovsky in his case against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights. The Russian government has filed petitions asking the ECtHR to remove the Centre’s lawyers from cases filed with it, and has made repeated inquiries about the nature of the lawyers’ arrangements with the Centre. For instance, in late 2005 the Centre was representing a client who filed a case against Russia for ill-treatment in the penitentiary system. The government presented the ECtHR with allegations that the lawyers were “trying to obtain money from the Government through the European Court on the basis of an unlawful contract” and that one of the lawyers had fabricated her power of attorney.145 Whilst there is nothing unlawful about a government raising legitimate concerns with the European Court of Human Rights about an application, in the context, attempts to discredit lawyers of the Centre for International Protection before the Court, and seeking to prevent the lawyers from representing victims of human rights violations before the Court and to dissuade victims from using the Centre to bring applications to the Court, could also amount to an interference with the right of individual petition.146 If there are allegations of fraud or fabrication in relation to an application it is a matter for the Court to investigate and to determine.

After government interference with the Centre’s work, several staff, including lawyers, have left the organization.147

In July 2006 the group received a bill for back taxes and penalties for the equivalent of US$167,000. The government has charged that grants the Centre received from foreign donors in the period 2002-2005 constitute taxable income; the Centre has argued that the grants are tax exempt.148 If the government enforces the bill, the Centre, which has some 250 cases pending before the European Court, will have to close.

In April 2007 the Procuracy General initiated disbarment proceedings against Karina Moskalenko, arguing that she failed to adequately represent Mikhail Khodorkovsky, even though Khodorkovsky himself rejected these allegations. On June 8 a panel of the Moscow Bar Association rejected the procuracy’s request that Moskalenko be disbarred. The bar association’s board upheld the decision on June 21, and it is not subject to further appeal.149

Tolerance Supp0rt Foundation, Nizhni Novgorod

The Tolerance Support Foundation—an NGO based in Nizhni Novgorod that works to promote tolerance among various ethnic groups in Nizhni Novgorod province and on issues of abuse in Chechnya—and its predecessor, the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (for the closure of which see the section “Anti-Extremism Legislation,” below), have faced a series of administrative and criminal charges.150

On August 29, 2007, officers from the computer crimes department of the local Ministry of Internal Affairs directorate appeared at the organization’s office and presented a warrant for a complete inspection of the foundation’s financial, administrative, and other activities. The warrant did not indicate 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. The computer seizure paralyzed the foundation’s work for 10 days, until the organization purchased used computers to replace the ones that were confiscated.151

On October 2 the procuracy opened a criminal case on software pirating that may result in charges against Oksana Chelysheva, director of the Tolerance Support Foundation, and Stanislav Dmitrievsky, a consultant to the Foundation, under article 146, part 2 of the Russian Criminal Code (violation of copyright and associated rights).152

The office of the Tolerance Support Foundation was once again searched for illegal software on the morning of October 6. The search was conducted by a procuracy investigator and two officers from the anti-terrorist center of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, accompanied by three witnesses who, in violation of procedural norms, helped to search the office. The police seized CDs found in the office. After the search Stanislav Dmitrievsky was taken to the procuracy for questioning and released.153 In the course of the next month, all of the organization’s staff members were also questioned by the procuracy as witnesses.154 At this writing, there have been no further developments in that case.

Human Rights Watch is unaware of similar inspections of organizations working on issues not viewed as controversial. Other harassment against the Tolerance Support Foundation and its predecessor suggest that the organization was singled out because of its work. On September 28, 2007, the Tolerance Support Foundation was informed by its bank branch office that the bank had received a transfer meant for the foundation but would not release the money. The bank branch’s head of security ordered that the money be sent back to the donor, and referred to information received from Rosfinmonitoring (Federal Financial Monitoring Service), without providing further information. The Tolerance Support Foundation has not been able to access its account at all since September 28,155 but it received no notification from any government agency that its account had been frozen, and at this writing has received no written explanations from the bank.

The freezing of the Tolerance Support Foundation’s account combined with other incidents of harassment made it impossible for the organization to hold an international forum in commemoration of Anna Politkovskaia, scheduled to take place in Nizhni Novgorod on October 5-6. On the morning of October 5 the Tolerance Support Foundation learned that the conference room it had reserved for a press conference scheduled for that day was no longer available.156 The next day, the migration police briefly detained five foreign human rights activists, including representatives of Amnesty International, Human Rights First, World Organisation Against Torture, and Barcelona-based League for Human Rights, who had come to Nizhni Novgorod to participate in the event. All five were issued fines for alleged violation of visa rules because their visas specified only Moscow as a destination city.157

Human Rights Alliance, Nizhni Novgorod

In mid-September 2007 Nizhni Novgorod authorities tried to prevent a three-day seminar on freedom of association organized by the Nizhni Novgorod Human Rights Alliance. About 22 activists from eight regions of Russia participated in the event. Sergei Shimovolos, the organizer of the seminar, told Human Rights Watch that authorities threatened conference venue providers with tax, fire, and sanitary service inspections to force them not to host the seminar. The organization held the seminar by relocating to a new place every day.

Shimovolos told us, “Pressure was put not on us as organizers [of the seminar] but on those who would provide a venue and services to us; they used … just harassment with threats: ‘If you don’t get rid of them, you’ll have problems; do whatever you want.’ Problems were real, as they [security agents] worked with their databases looking for possible violations they [service providers renting out premises for events] can be hooked on.… Grey Horse [a horse club], this is a company, was caught for having insufficient fire-prevention measures.”158 Shimovolos also said that the participants of the seminar were under surveillance by people they believed to be security service agents, who followed them in cars.159

Voice of Beslan, Vladikavkaz

Several measures have been taken against Voice of Beslan, an NGO founded by those affected by the 2004 terrorist attack in Beslan. In 2005 the organization addressed an open letter to world leaders appealing for justice for victims of Beslan, effectively blaming the government for the deaths due to its decision not to negotiate with the militants, and condemning President Putin and the Russian government for conducting what it believes to have been an ineffective investigation into the atrocity.160 In June 2007 the organization appealed to the European Court of Human Rights over failure of the Russian authorities to investigate the terrorist attack that left so many dead. 

On August 13, 2007, six weeks after the organization filed its complaint with the ECtHR, Voice of Beslan faced charges of involvement in illegal activity, pursuant to a complaint filed by a former member of Voice of Beslan who had long left the organization. The plaintiff has claimed she is the true head of Voice of Beslan, and the organization under the current leadership of Ella Kesaeva was operating illegally. The plaintiff requested that Kesaeva’s organization be dissolved and that a “new” Voice of Beslan be registered. Kesaeva told Human Rights Watch that she asked the court to investigate whether additional signatures on the plaintiff’s complaint were genuine, but that the court rejected her request. At the end of December, the Supreme Court of North Ossetia ruled to dissolve Voice of Beslan.161

Further, in January 2008 the procuracy of Ingushetia filed suit with a court in Ingushetia against Kesaeva’s Voice of Beslan, alleging that its 2005 open letter amounted to extremism (see also section below, Anti-Extremism Legislation).162

Ella Kesaeva told Human Rights Watch that Voice of Beslan would continue to work for justice despite having been dissolved.163

Anti-Extremism Legislation

NGOs that work on human rights, are politically active, or that express or mobilize dissent are vulnerable to being targeted arbitrarily under the 2002 Law on Countering Extremist Activity (the anti-extremism law). The law itself is problematic,and Human Rights Watch has documented several cases of arbitrary application of the anti-extremism law against political and civic activists, giving credence to concerns that the law is being used to marginalize or silence legitimate political dissent.164 

The law’s definition of extremism and extremist activity itemizes almost a dozen acts including “the forcible change of the foundations of the constitutional system and violation of the integrity of the Russian Federation,” justifying terrorism, incitement of racial hatred, and “propaganda and public display of either Nazi attributes and symbols or the attributes and symbols similar to Nazi attributes and symbols to the extent of confusion.”165 The list of extremist actions was amended twice, in July 2006 and in August 2007. As amended, the law’s definitions of extremism raise concerns that they will be used to silence critics of the government. Two new definitions of what may be designated extremist are particularly open to discretionary application: any allegedly politically or ideologically motivated crime; and making a statement accusing a public official of acts of extremism in the course of fulfilling his duties.166 In a welcome development, however, the amendments removed from the list of extremist activities “humiliating national pride.”

Under article 10 of the law, the activities of an organization believed to be carrying out extremist activities can be suspended. A court can dissolve an organization if it finds the organization to have engaged in extremist activities.167 The law also obliges an organization to distance itself within five days from its head or a member of its governing body if the latter makes a public statement found to be extremist.168 Failure to do so can result in an organization’s dissolution.

Further amendments considered by the State Duma in October 2007, if adopted,  will authorize the Federal Registration Service to issue warnings to public and religious associations for allegedly extremist activities and to maintain a federal list of extremist literature.169 Under article 7 of the anti-extremism law, an organization can be dissolved if such a warning is not appealed or if the warning is upheld by a court, if the organization does not correct violations listed in the warning, or if new facts confirming signs of extremist activities are revealed within 12 months from the date the warning was issued.170

The Registration Service has indicated it would proactively monitor organizations to ensure their compliance with the anti-extremism law. At a June 2007 press conference, Vitally Astakhov, head of the NCO Department of the Penza Registration Service, said that Registration Service officials were paying serious attention to NGO compliance with anti-extremism legislation, adding that “special attention is being paid to ethnic and sport organizations.”171 Ryazan-Memorial, inspected in May-June 2007, told Human Rights Watch that Registration Service officials conducting the inspection into compliance with its statutes and Russian legislation included examination of how the organization was complying with anti-extremism legislation (Ryazan-Memorial received a warning for alleged tax violations, but no violation of anti-extremism legislation was found).172

According to one press report, the press service of Chechnya President Ramzan Kadyrov announced that the Chechnya branch of the Registration Service was cooperating with the Chechnya FSB and the federal and Chechen Republic Ministry of Internal Affairs in order to prevent extremist manifestations in NGO activities.173

In one case the authorities closed an NGO using the anti-extremism law, and many are concerned that this demonstrates the authorities’ ability to arbitrarily apply the law’s many vague provisions to intimidate other organizations they find inconvenient. In February 2006 a criminal court in Nizhni Novgorod handed Stanislav Dmitrievsky, who at the time was executive director of the Russia-Chechen Friendship Society, a two-year suspended sentence with a four-year probation period on charges of “inciting racial hatred.” The charges derived from articles he had published in 2004 in the newspaper Pravozashchita that featured statements from Chechen rebel leaders Aslan Maskhadov and Akhmed Zakaev.174 The statements amounted to protected speech: a statement by Maskhadov, who was killed by Russian forces, called for the international community to facilitate negotiations to end the Chechen conflict. A statement by Maskhadov’s representative, Zakaev, urged Russian voters not to re-elect President Putin and alleged that the war was in only Putin’s interests.

Dmitrievsky has submitted his case to the European Court of Human Rights, which is to review it in an expedited procedure.

In October 2006 the Nizhni Novgorod Province Court ordered the dissolution of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society under the terms of the extremism law for “tacitly approving” of Dmitrievsky’s actions by failing to distance itself from him within five days of his conviction.175 In late January 2007 the Russian Supreme Court upheld the decision to dissolve the organization, 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.”

On August 17, 2007, the Nizhni Novgorod District Court granted a government motion to toughen the terms of Dmitrievsky’s suspended sentence. Under the new terms allowed by the court’s decision, if Dmitrievsky commits two administrative violations within a year at any time during his four-year probationary period, the government can petition to replace his suspended sentence with a two-year prison term. 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. On October 26, 2007, the Nizhni Novgorod Province Court annulled the ruling, stating that the district court violated procedural norms, and returned the case to the lower court for a second review.

In a second case, on December 19, 2007, the procuracy of Ingushetia filed extremism charges with a court in Nazran against Voice of Beslan. The procuracy alleged that an open letter the organization sent to world leaders, blaming Putin and the Russian government for the deaths of so many hostages in the Beslan atrocity, amounted to extremism under the 2007 amendment to the extremism law.176 At this writing a hearing had not been scheduled.

On May 3, 2006, the prosecutor’s office, on the initiative of the Mari-El branch of the Federal Security Service, opened a criminal case against Vitalii Tanakov, a priest of a traditional pagan Mari religion and a board member of Mari Union (see above). Tanakov was accused of incitement to ethnic and religious hatred (article 282, part 1 of the Russian Criminal Code) for writing and distributing a pamphlet entitled A Priest is Speaking. Tanakov was found guilty of humiliating others based on their ethnicity and attitude towards religion, and of incitement of social enmity. On December 25, 2006, Tanakov was sentenced to 120 hours of community work.  In April 2007 the Ioshkar-Ola city prosecutor sought to have the city court declare Tanakov’s pamphlet “extremist literature”. At this writing proceedings are ongoing.177 If Tanakov’s pamphlet is declared extremist literature, Mari Union could face dissolution under article 15 of the Law on Countering Extremist Activity if it fails to publicly distance itself from Tanakov within five days of his conviction.

In August 2006 charges against Nina Maksimova, the head of Mari Union, were separated from the Tanakov case and a criminal case was opened against her for incitement to enmity. The case against Maksimova was closed and the charges were dropped in November 2006 for lack of evidence, although she was notified of that only in March 2007. As reported by Maksimova’s lawyer, Maksimova refused to proceed with a case against the Ioshkar-Ola procuracy and FSB for arbitrary criminal prosecution because she feared further reprisal.178

Threats to Activists

With regard to human rights organizations, while the authorities vigilantly enforce the laws regulating NGOs, they are by contrast lax in reacting to violence and threats of violence against human rights defenders. In her March 2006 report, the United Nations special representative of the secretary-general on human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, expressed concern that “the situation of defenders in the Russian Federation seems to be increasingly vulnerable, and that both defenders and their families reportedly are in almost constant danger both from State actors and non-State actors.”179

On November 23, 2007, Oleg Orlov, chair of the Memorial Human Rights Center, and three journalists from the Moscow-based REN-TV television station—Karen Sakhinov, Artem Vysotsky, and Stanislav Goryachikh—were kidnapped from their hotel rooms in Nazran, the capital of Ingushetia, beaten, and released. Armed men in masks stormed the Hotel Assa in Nazran and abducted the four men. The attackers took all their belongings, including laptops, cell phones, clothes, and money. The assailants, who spoke un-accented Russian, told the four men they were suspected of illegal possession of explosives. They then put black plastic bags over the four men’s heads and drove them to the Ingush border with Chechnya. There they brutally beat the four, threatened to execute them, told them to leave Ingushetia, and then abandoned them. Orlov and the journalists managed to reach a nearby village and eventually gave testimony to police. Two of the three journalists had to be hospitalized for their injuries. Orlov and the REN-TV journalists were in Nazran to report on a demonstration against the authorities’ inability to counter a wave of murders, abductions, and “disappearances” in Ingushetia.180 Police interviewed the four men, but at this writing there is no information about any progress in the investigation.

On September 27, 2007, at about 9 p.m., Aleksei Suslikov, who is deputy chair of the Consumer Rights Protection Center, a Saratov-based NGO, and head of the Saratov Public Chamber, was attacked by two unidentified assailants in the hallway of his apartment building. Suslikov suffered a craniocerebral trauma with nine open wounds, apparently caused by a hatchet. A doctor who examined Suslikov stated that the nature of the wounds indicated that the assailants attempted to kill the activist.181 The assailants took files Suslikov had with him and his keys, but did not touch his money or other valuables. The police did not respond to calls for aid, did not show up at the crime scene, and only talked to Suslikov at the hospital the day after the assault.182 Activists believe that the attack was related to Suslikov’s work, in particular projects on housing and property rights.183 Several days prior the attack, Suslikov had received a threatening text message on his mobile phone saying that in the future he would not be able to help consumers.184 A police investigation for assault was opened, but at this writing the police are not known to have taken any meaningful steps in the investigation.

On January 25, 2007, Galina Kozlova, a member of the Mari Union board, was attacked by an unidentified assailant near her home in Ioshkar-Ola. As a result of the attack Kozlova sustained head injuries and a concussion, and has eyesight problems.185 Two years earlier, on February 4, 2005, Vladimir Kozlov, chair of the Mari Council and Kozlova’s husband, was severely beaten close to his office. The authorities have failed to investigate these attacks. Kozlov told Human Rights Watch that the criminal case was closed “due to absence of witnesses and impossibility to find assailants.”186

In August 2006 the ultra-nationalist webpage Russian Will posted a direct call to kill individuals it listed as “enemies of the nation.” The list contained names, photos, dates of birth, home addresses, and phone numbers. The list has repeatedly appeared on and disappeared from the Russian Will webpage.187 The list included prominent human rights defenders Svetlana Gannushkina and Sergei Kovalev. Gannushkina told Human Rights Watch that after the list was published she and other people included on it received threatening phone calls.188 In November 2006 the FSB rejected opening a criminal investigation into the death threats posted on the Russian Will webpage, arguing that “perception of the information as a call [to murder] is a result of superficial, common [bitovoi] analysis of its content” and that posting of the list “does not represent real public threat due to its insignificance.”189

Those who expose abuses in Chechnya and fight for accountability, like the late Anna Politkovskaia, are especially vulnerable. In March and in September 2005 several hundred leaflets were distributed in Nizhni Novgorod directly calling for human rights defenders Oksana Chelysheva and Stanislav Dmitrievsky to be killed for their work on Chechnya. Nobody has been prosecuted for the production and distribution of the leaflets, and on July 19, 2007, the Nizhni Novgorod procuracy closed the criminal case on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired.190 Human rights defenders and investigative journalists became more conscious of their vulnerability after Politkovskaia was murdered in October 2006.

124 See Internews home page, (accessed January 20, 2007).

125  Code of Administrative Violations, arts 173- FZ, adopted December 10, 2003,  16 (4) and 15 (1). The criminal code at article 188 (1) sets out criminal penalties for smuggling 250,000 rubles or more worth of goods across the border of the Russian Federation.

126 The investigation was opened under article 188, part 1 of the criminal code.

127 “Educated Media Foundation Press Release No.9,” June 21, 2007, (accessed December 6, 2007).

128 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Aleksei Simonov, president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, December 6, 2007. Simonov was appointed acting chair of Educated Media Foundation after Aslamazyan left Russia and chaired its liquidation commission.

129 Open letter to President Putin, (accessed June 25, 2007).

130 Human Rights Watch interview with Almaz Choloyan, head of the Nizhni Novgorod Center for Assistance to Migrants, Nizhni Novgorod, September 18, 2007.

131 Ibid.

132 The posters featured the slogan, “Migrants are not a burden but a blessing for Russia.”

133 Human Rights Watch interview with Galina Kisina, lawyer representing Almaz Choloyan, Nizhni Novgorod, September 18, 2007.

134 Human Rights Watch interview with Almaz Choloyan, September 18, 2007.

135 Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Taisa Isaeva, head of the Information Center of the NGO Council, June 18, 2007.

136 Ibid.

137 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews and email correspondence with Taisa Isaeva, head of the Information Center of the NGO Council, June-September 2007.

138 Human Rights Watch interview with Taisa Isaeva, head of the Information Center of the NGO Council, Moscow, October 8, 2007, and email correspondence with Taisa Isaeva, December 11, 2007.

139 Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Taisa Isaeva, December 11, 2007.

140 Russia has a strict residential registration system: each person should be registered at his/her domicile. Police regularly check registration documents on the streets; people who look non-European are checked more frequently. Often refugees are not registered. Civic Assistance issues refugees so-called “protection letters” in which it explains that the individual has applied for refugee status and asks the authorities to allow the person to remain in Moscow and not to prosecute them. In October 2006 a criminal suspect was killed on the street. Along with a passport and registration card, the police found on the suspect a protection letter supposedly issued by Civic Assistance. This incident became the grounds for an investigation.

141 Human Rights Watch interview with Svetlana Gannushkina, chair of Civic Assistance, Moscow, August 1, 2007.

142 Ibid.

143 Ibid.

144 Ibid.

145 Letter from the Centre of Assistance to International Protection [sic] to the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation V.P.Lukin, undated.

146 The Court has repeatedly emphasized that the right of individual petition to the Court requires that a victim must be able to interact with the Court freely, without any pressure from the authorities. By “any form of pressure” the Court means “not only direct coercion and flagrant acts of intimidation of applicants or their lawyers but also other improper indirect acts or contacts designed to dissuade or discourage them from pursuing a remedy or having a “chilling effect” on the exercise of the right of individual petition by applicants and their legal representatives.” SeeAkdivar and Others v. Turkey, ECHR 1996-IV; Tanrıkulu v. Turkey [GC], ECHR 1999-IV; McShane v. the United Kingdom, judgment of May 28, 2002; Fedotova v. Russia, judgment of April 13, 2006; Nurmagomedov v. Russia, judgment of June 7, 2007.

147 Letter from the Centre of Assistance to International Protection to the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation V.P.Lukin, undated.

148 According to the Center, these grants are tax exempt based on “privilege granted by Art. 251 para 1 of the RF Tax Code (subpara 14) – exemption from taxation of grants provided to implement programs determined by law; and privilege granted by Art. 251 para 2 of the RF Tax Code – exemption from taxation of donations to non-profit organizations.” Letter from the Centre of Assistance to International Protection to the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation V.P.Lukin. See also “Russia: Apparently Politically Motivated Tax Order Threatens the International Protection Centre,” an Appeal by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Moscow Helsinki Group, August 14, 2006, (accessed December 7, 2007).

149 “Council of Moscow Bar Association Refused to Disbar Khodarkovsky’s Defender,”, June 21, 2007, (accessed June 21, 2007).

150 The Tolerance Support Foundation is a successor to the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, which was dissolved by court order in October 2006.

151 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Oksana Chelysheva, director of the Tolerance Support Foundation, October 29, 2007. Around the same time the Nizhni Novgorod Human Rights Alliance was inspected for software licensing; no violations were found.  Human Rights Watch phone interview with Sergey Shimovolos, head of the Nizhnii Novgorod Human Rights Alliance, August 30, 2007. The independent newspaper Novaia Gazeta-Nizhni Novgorod was raided on August 31, 2007, apparently in reprisal for its critical reporting on the local authorities. Much as with the raid on the Tolerance Support Foundation, the authorities presented a warrant for a complete inspection of the newspaper's documents and activities. The police confiscated six computers for examination for illegal software, preventing the newspaper from publishing its next issue, and threatening the loss of the newspaper’s archived data on those computers. Moreover, the editor maintains that the confiscated computers were not even subject to the warrant because they were the personal property of the newspaper's employees. "Russia: Crackdown on Human Rights Groups," Human Rights Watch news release, August 30, updated August 31, 2007.

152 Ibid., and Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Oksana Chelysheva, November 21, 2007. Dmitrievsky may face charges because the confiscated computers belonged to him and were loaned to the Tolerance Support Foundation. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Oksana Chelysheva, October 29, 2007.

153 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Oksana Chelysheva, October 29, 2007.

154 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Oksana Chelysheva, October 29, 2007, and Stanislav Dmitrievsky, consultant, the Tolerance Support Foundation, January 30, 2008.

155 Human Rights Watch email correspondence with the Tolerance Support Foundation, September 28, 2007, and Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Oksana Chelysheva, October 29, 2007.

156 Ibid.

157 See “Nizhni Novgorod: eyewitness accounts,” (accessed October 30, 2007).

158 Human Rights Watch interview with Sergei Shimovolos, head of the Nizhni Novgorod Human Rights Alliance, September 18, 2007.

159 Ibid.

160 For the text of the open letter, see (accessed February 4, 2008).

161 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Ella Kesaeva, chair, the Voice of Beslan, December 20, 2007, and January 28, 2008.

162 Ibid.

163 Ibid.

164 In May 2007, adistrict procuracy in the city of Krasnodar issued an “extremist” warning to the local branch of Yabloko for distributing copies of two books, Unloved Country  and For the Motherland! For Abramovich! Fire!  The books, by political commentator Andrei Piontkovsky, are very critical of the Kremlin. Yabloko challenged the warning repeatedly, but ultimately the Krasnodar Territory Court upheld it in October 2007. In a separate case, in September 2007 the Basmannyi Inter-District Court in Moscow began hearings on charges brought by a district procuracy in Moscow alleging that Unloved Country represents “extremist material.” The court called for an expert linguistic assessment of the book, which at this writing is ongoing. For an analysis of the Russian government’s misuse of extremism laws, see also SOVA Center, “Misuse of Anti-Extremism Legislation: Short Analysis and Recommendations,” May 7, 2007, (accessed November 13, 2007), and SOVA Center, “Anti-extremism Legislation and its Implementation as Instruments of Illegitimate Restrictions on Fundamental Rights in Russia,” March 30, 2007, (accessed November 13, 2007).

165 Federal Law Countering Extremist Activity, No. 114-FZ, 2002, art. 1.

166 Ibid., and Federal Law on Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation in connection with advancement of public administration in the field of counteraction to extremist activity No. 211-FZ, July 24, 2007, article amending article 4 part 2 of the Law on Mass Media No. 2124-1, 1991, by adding the following: “information distribution about public association or other organization included in a published list of public and religious associations, and other organizations with respect to which there is a valid court order on liquidation or prohibition of activities under the terms of Federal Law on Counteraction to Extremist Activity No. 114-FZ, 2002 … without a reference that the public association or other organization are dissolved or that their activities are prohibited.”

167 Federal Law on Counteraction to Extremist Activity No. 114-FZ, 2002, arts.9 and 10.

168 Ibid., art. 15.

169 SOVA Center, “Amendments to transfer to FRS rights to compile extremist materials lists are passed in the first hearing,” October 9, 2007, (accessed October 17, 2007).

170 Federal Law on Countering Extremist Activity No. 114-FZ, 2002, art. 7.

171 Minutes of press conference on results of new NCO legislation realization, Penza, June 5, 2007, (accessed July 20, 2007).

172 Ryazan-Memorial learned they were inspected for compliance with the anti-extremism law only upon reading the inspection report. Human Rights Watch interview with Julia Sereda, October 5, 2007.

173 “Chechnya Registration Service Collected More than 8 million roubles during the First Half of 2007,” REGNUM Information Service, September 7, 2007, (accessed September 8, 2007).

174 Dmitrievsky was editor-in-chief of the newspaper Pravozashchita (Human Rights) published by the Nizhni Novgorod Human Rights Society (NHRS). Three years after publication of the articles concerned, the Nizhni Novgorod district procuracy filed a motion requesting that NHRS be deprived of its publishing rights, that Pravozashchita’s activities be terminated, and that Akhmed Zakaev’s and Aslan Maskhadov’s statements published in Pravozashchita be recognized as extremist materials. On October 11, 2007, a court in Nizhni Novgorod granted the procuracy’s request.

175 RCFS was dissolved under art. 61, part 2, para 2 of the Civil Code and art.44, part 1, para 2 of the Law on Public Associations No. 82-FZ, allowing dissolution of a legal entity for gross and repeated violation of Russian legislation. Among the violations cited were:

  • art. 15 of the Law on Counteraction to Extremist Activity, stating that “[I]f the head of or a member of the governing body of a public or religious association or any other organization makes a public statement calling for extremist activity without mentioning that this reflects his personal opinion, as well as in case of the entry into legal force of a court decision in respect to this person for an extremism offense, the public or religious association or any other organization must publicly state its disagreement with words or actions of such person within five days from the day of the offensive statement. If the public or religious association or any other organization fails to make such public statement, this may be regarded as a fact testifying to the presence of extremism signs in their activity.” (RCFS failed to distance itself from Dmitrievsky.)

  • art. 19, part 3, para 4 of the Law on Public Associations prohibiting person whose actions were recognized as having signs of extremist activities by the court decision to be founders or members of public association. (After conviction Dmitrievsky remained the organization’s founder and head.)

  • art. 29 of the Law on Public Associations stating that a public association is obliged to inform the registration organ about continuation of its activities.

  • art. 14 part 6 of the Law on Public Association stating that only all-Russia public associations are permitted to use in their names the words “Russia,” “Russian Federation” and their derivatives without obtaining a special permit.

  • Email communication from Oksana Chelysheva to Human Rights Watch, November 29, 2007.

    176  “The Procuracy of Ingushetia Requests the Court to Designate as Extremist a Two-Year-Old Letter by “Voice of Beslan,”, January  9, 2008 (accessed February 4, 2008).

    177 The case has been the subject of several hearings, appeals, and re-hearings, and its final outcome is still to be determined. On June 14, 2007, the Ioshkar-Ola city court dismissed the case because the pamphlet in question had not been submitted as evidence. The procuracy appealed this decision to the Mari-El Supreme Court, which returned the case to a lower court for another review. On August 8 the Ioshkar-Ola city court declared the pamphlet to be extremist literature. Tanakov appealed the decision to the Mari-El Supreme Court, which on September 25 annulled the August 8 decision on procedural grounds and returned the case to the Ioshkar-Ola city court for a new hearing.

    178 “Mari Union Leader is Pressured due to her Complaints on FSB,” Civitas, April 27, 2007, (accessed July 13, 2007).

    179 Promotion and protection of human rights. Human rights defenders. Report submitted by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders, Hina Jilani. Addendum. Compilation of developments in the area of human rights defenders. E/CN.4/2006/95/Add.5, March 6, 2006. (accessed November 20, 2007).

    180 See “Russia: Prosecute Attack on Rights Activist, Journalists,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 24, 2007,

    181 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Pavel Chikov, October 31, 2007. AGORA lawyers represent Suslikov’s interests.

    182 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Aleksei Suslikov, February 1, 2008.

    183 Ibid.

    184 Sergei Vladin, “Streets of Broken Housing” (“Ulici Razbitogo Zhilia”), Saratovskie Gubernskie Vedomosti, October 20, 2007, (accessed October 23, 2007).

    185 On March 15, 2007, the European Parliament issued a resolution strongly condemning the attack on Kozlova and continuous harassment against activists in Mari-El. See European Parliament resolution of 15 March 2007 on Galina Kozlova, (accessed February 8, 2008).

    186 Human Rights Watch interview with Vladimir Kozlov, chair of Mari Council, Ioshkar-Ola, May 31, 2007.

    187 Even though as of October 25, 2007, the list was off the Russian Will webpage available at, a slightly modified version was available at a blog in at (accessed October 25, 2007). A comment to the posting said, “These people are still alive, and therefore the information is still useful.”

    188 Human Rights Watch interview with Svetlana Gannushkina, August 1, 2007.

    189 Ibid., and “FSB Abolishes Death Sentence to Human Rights Defenders,” Kommersant, November 16, 2006, (accessed October 25, 2007).

    190 Human Rights Watch interviews with Oksana Chelysheva, director, Tolerance Support Foundation, Nizhni Novgorod, September 17, 2007, and Stanislav Dmitrievsky, consultant, Tolerance Support Foundation, Nizhni Novgorod, September 17, 2007. Copies of the leaflets are on file with Human Rights Watch.