HomeNewsA Note Concerning Pressure against Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in Cases Monitored by the Public Verdict Foundation

A Note Concerning Pressure against Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in Cases Monitored by the Public Verdict Foundation

March 26, 2007 15:11

Our analysis of the cases detailed below reveals that litigation is currently the most effective remedy against arbitrariness faced by human rights defenders at the hands of authorities. Government officials employ all methods and means, including unlawful criminal or administrative proceedings, to discredit human rights defenders in the public opinion, and to limit or deny them the possibility of engaging in their professional work.
There is well-documented evidence of increased government persecution targeting civil society organizations and their members in connection with their professional activity.
On 15 November 2005, in Khasavyurt (Republic of Dagestan), law enforcement officers detained Osman Boliev, director of ‘Romashka’ NGO. Boliev was active in human rights defense in Dagestan. In order to stop his human rights activity, authorities first subjected Boliev to unlawful administrative detention, then initiated unlawful administrative proceedings against him, and eventually launched a criminal prosecution under art. 222 part 1 of the Criminal Code (illegal acquisition and possession of firearms) and took him in custody pending trial. Lawyer Sergey Brovchenko representing Boliev succeeded in having the arrest warrant issued by the magistrate overruled, proceedings closed due to absence of evidence, and Boliev acquitted of charges brought against him under art. 222 part 1 of the Criminal Code. Today, the Public Verdict Foundation works to bring to justice the officials responsible for unlawful actions against Boliev.
On 19 August, 2005, criminal charges were brought against Georgy Pirogov, a long-standing leader of the Journalists Union in Marii El Republic. The criminal proceedings were triggered by a complaint made by Marii El President L.I. Markelov alleging that Pirogov disseminated slanderous information damaging the President's honor, dignity, and reputation. The proceedings were launched under art. 129 part 3 of the Criminal Code.
Pirogov’s lawyer Tamara Kuchma studied the criminal case file and found a series of blatant procedural violations committed during preliminary investigation. In particular, the Russian rules of criminal procedure were violated in obtaining the evidence  used to bring charges against Pirogov.
The charges were based, in their entirety, on the findings of a repeated linguistic assessment, which failed to produce an unequivocal opinion on whether anything that Pirogov did damaged the President’s honor and dignity. A total of three linguistic assessments were performed in the course of preliminary investigation, two of which produced diametrically opposed opinions.
The three assessments focused on a copy of a videofilm showing a public rally where Pirogov made a statement. At no point during more than 12 months of the preliminary investigation did the investigators request the original video or make any attempt to check the authenticity of the reviewed copy by ordering technical and criminological assessments of the recording.
Having studied the case materials, lawyer Kuchma filed a motion with the investigator requesting the criminal proceedings to be closed under art. 24 part 1 par.2 of the Criminal Procedure code (absence of corpus delicti).
The investigator never responded to the motion; moreover, he removed from the case file all procedural documents involving lawyer Kuchma. The case was sent to court. At the court hearing, lawyer Kuchma made a series of motions, including requests to return the case to the city prosecutor of Yoshkar Ola and to close the case. The next hearing is scheduled to be held on 26 March 2007.
Well-known human rights defender Nikolai Gusak of the Republic of Bashkortostan (RB) has been active in the area of human rights since 1996 and currently coordinates a labor dispute resolution program at the office of the ‘International Standard’ NGO in Tuimazy.
In 2005, Gusak won a labor dispute against his employer and was reinstated in his former job after three years of litigation at the Tuimazy District Court. In 2005, he filed another statement of claim with the Tuimazy District Court alleging a violation of art. 6 and 13 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The respondents were the Tuimazy District Court, the RB Supreme Court, and the RF Supreme Court.
Gusak reported that soon after he filed his claim, he met with presiding judge M. N. Kalmetyev of the Tuimazy District Court, who expressed concern over Gusak’s fate and that of Gusak’s son. Following this conversation, Gusak sent a request to the FSB Office in Bashkortostan asking to verify the information available to judge Kalmetyev about potential attacks against Gusak. Then strange things started to happen.
Over a period of two weeks between 15 August and 1 September, ten individuals filed complaints against Gusak – a 43 year old man with no history of either criminal or administrative liability – alleging offensive language and behavior. In addition, on 11 August 2005, M.N. Kalmetyev filed a complaint with the Tuimazy Inter-regional Prosecutor’s Office accusing Gusak of organizing blast attacks against the Tuimazy District Court, justices of the peace, police, and prosecutors. The Prosecutor’s Office refused to open a criminal investigation into the allegations.
In September 2005, Kalmetyev filed a request with the Tuimazy Inter-regional Prosecutor's Office to prosecute Gusak under art. 306 part 2 of the Criminal Code (for knowingly false report of a crime, combined with accusing someone of a serious or very serious offense), and in November 2005, Kalmetyev filed a request with the RB Prosecutor’s Office to prosecute Gusak under art. 306 part 2 and 298 (parts 1 and 3) of the Criminal Code (knowingly false report of a crime against a court assessor or another person participating in the administration of justice in connection with the trial of a case or judicial review of materials, combined with accusing the person of a serious or very serious offense). On both occasions, the prosecutors denied the request to open criminal proceedings.
Currently, first-instance courts, appeal courts and supervisory courts are processing a number of cases launched against Gusak for allegedly offensive behavior.  Lawyer Konstantin Gorobets representing Gusak in courts of the first and second instance takes every measure to defend his client. A total of five criminal investigations were opened against Gusak within less than one year.
Stanislav Dmitrievsky is executive director of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS). In 2005, Dmitrievsky faced criminal charges under art. 282 part 2 par. b of the Criminal Code. On 3 February 2006, Sovietsky District Court in Nizhny Novgorod found Dmitrievsky guilty, and the verdict came into force on 11 April 2006. The “offense” was Dmitrievsky’s publication of an interview with Maskhadov and Zakayev in RCFS’s newspaper - the court found it to incite inter-ethnic conflict.
On 15 August 2005, the Federal Tax Inspectorate in Nizhny Novgorod decided to instigate proceedings against ORCF for a tax-related offense. RCFS challenged the decision, and currently the case is pending before the Court of Arbitrage in Nizhny Novgorod.
In September 2005, the Head Office of the Federal Registration Service in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast (HO FRS) warned RCFS that the society was in violation of the Federal Law on Public Associations by failing to provide information about their activities in a timely manner and to notify the authorities of their change of address. The Federal Registration Service gave the NGO until 25 October 2006 to correct the deficiencies.
The facts above suggest a comprehensive effort to use official inspections to hinder the group’s professional activity and, as subsequent events reveal, to liquidate the NGO.
Six months later, on 9 October 2006, the Prosecutor’s Office of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast filed a request with the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast Court to liquidate RCFS for alleged violation of art. 19 of the Federal Law on Public Associations (whereby the NGO should have ousted Dmitrievsky after he was convicted of an “extremist offense”), systematic and gross violations of the tax legislation, and for failing to provide information about their 2005 activities to the HO FRS.
On 13 October 2006, the Judicial College on Civil Proceedings of the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast Court satisfied the request, disregarding the fact that civil law cannot be applied retroactively (art.19 of the Federal Law on Public Associations came into force on 18 April 2006, whereas Dmitrievsky was convicted on 11 April 2006), that the decision of 15 August 2005 made by the Federal Tax Inspectorate in Nizhny Novgorod was not effective at that time, in view of the appeal proceedings, which are still pending before the Court of Arbitrage in Nizhny Novgorod, and that the deadline established by the HO FRS for compliance with the reporting requirements did not expire at the time.
Lawyer Anna Stavitskaya representing RCFS appealed the judgment in the Judicial College on Civil Proceedings of the RF Supreme Court, claiming that the above judgment substantially contravened a number of effective legal provisions. The appeal proceedings were held on 23 January 2007 and the lawyer’s complaint was rejected.
In early March 2007, the European Court of Human Rights communicated, as a matter of priority, Dmitrievsky’s application alleging a violation of his rights under art. 6 p. 1 (right to a fair trial) and 10 p. 2 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention.
In February 2006, Olga Kiriy, head of the Southern Regional Bureau, ‘First Channel’ Federal TV Company, came to the Emergency Care Hospital in Vladikavkaz (North Ossetia – Alania) together with her TV crew to film a report about victims of recent blasts in the city's gambling rooms.
On the hospital premises, police officer G. A. Totoev tried to stop Kiriy from carrying out her professional duty as a journalist; he punched her several times in the face and kicked her in the stomach. Lawyer Vladimir Gevorkov who represented Kiriy, with support from the Public Verdict Foundation, during the investigation and in the courtroom did his best to bring to justice the police officer responsible for attacking the journalist while on duty. As a result, the court found the policeman guilty under art. 286 p.3 (a) (abuse of power combined with violence) and 144 part2 of the Criminal Code (seeking to stop a journalist from legitimate professional activity by someone in an official capacity). The appeal court upheld the judgment.
An important focus for the Public Verdict Foundation, human rights NGO, is to offer legal advice to, and to represent during investigation and in the courtroom, civil society organizations and their members affected by pressure or abuse at the hands of government authorities in connection with their civic activity. The Foundation supports and will continue to support the work of lawyers representing civil society organizations and their members affected by government pressure. 
Working to defend civil society organizations and their members is a priority for the Foundation.