Statement by Amnesty International on the arrests in Beslan

posted 5 Sept 2016, 03:02 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 5 Sept 2016, 03:04 ]
1 September 2016


Dear colleagues,

On the anniversary of the Beslan school tragedy Russian police have arrested protesting relatives of the victims, as well as two journalists from Moscow. In the morning, when the acting head of North Ossetia, Vyacheslav Bitarov, and other officials arrived at the commemoration ceremony at School №1, five mothers of those killed in the assault, including the leader of the non-governmental organisation Voice of Beslan Ella Kesaeva, took off their jackets and coats to reveal T-shirts with a slogan addressed to the Russian President. According to the newspaper Novaya gazeta, whose correspondent Elena Kostyuchenko was at the scene, "FSB officers and plainclothes police forcibly removed the women from the centre of the hall and blocked them in a corner of the room." While the official delegation led by Bitarov passed by, they concealed the victims’ mothers with their backs.

Later, police detained the mothers as well as Kostyuchenko and a correspondent from the publication Takie dela, Diana Khachatryan.

"The arrest of the Beslan mothers on the anniversary of the tragedy is a blatant case of legal blindness and emotional deafness on the part of the authorities. Everyone has the right to express what he/she wants and in the way that he/she sees fit. This right is not absolute, but any infringement thereof must be justified by law and pursue a legitimate legal aim. Forbidding mothers from demanding an investigation into the death of their children on the anniversary of their death can have no legitimate legal aim", said the head of Amnesty International in Russia Sergei Nikitin.

According to Novaya gazeta, people in plainclothes demanded that Kostyuchenko stop filming and tried to seize her camera as the journalists were arrested. The detainees are charged with an offence under Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offences (violating the established procedure for organising or holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches or pickets). The journalists were released shortly after being held without any protocols being drawn up.

"The intervention of the law enforcement agencies in the work of journalists in Beslan can be regarded as nothing less than an attack on freedom of speech", Nikitin added.

Amnesty International has not conducted its own investigation into the storming of School №1 in Beslan, but immediately after the tragedy expressed concern that the government concealed the true scale of the crisis and misinformed the public about the number of hostages.