Legal Case of the Week
Legal Case of the Week: Investigation into March 2016 attack on journalists and human rights defenders in Chechnya suspended
On 15 February 2017 Investigative Committee suspended its investigation into the March 2016 attack on a group of journalists and human rights activists in Chechnya, The Moscow Times reported. The Moscow Times quoted the lawyer acting for the victims of the attack, Andrei Sabinin, as saying that the case had instead been closed due to a lack of leads. The incident happened on 9 March 2016 when a gang of masked men attacked the minibus in which the group of journalists - Russian, Swedish and Norwegian - and members of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture were travelling near the Chechnya-Ingushetia border. They group were travelling in order to interview victims of torture and their families. Many had reported being followed by cars with Chechen number plates. The attack, which prompted international outrage and was condemned by the Kremlin, resulted in members of the group being hospitalized with broken bones. Their vehicle was torched. The Moscow Times quoted Tanya Lokshina, Russia's programme director at Human Rights Watch, as saying of the attack: "It is supposed to be a signal to journalists, including international reporters, asking them to think twice about whether it's really worth working with this organization, and going to Chechnya."
The day after the attack, as The Moscow Times reported, 'Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the country's Interior Ministry to take the case under control. He asked the ministry to probe into the circumstances of the incident and report on what happened. His statement came several hours after presidential aide Dmitry Peskov called an attack on the journalists “absolute hooliganism,” expressing “hope” Ingush law enforcement agencies would take “effective measures” to find those responsible.' For their part, Chechen authorities denied involvement in the attack, describing it as a 'publicity move' to promote the work of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture. In August 2016 Human Rights Watch issued a report on Chechnya which described journalism as 'the most dangerous profession' in the region.
Photo: Logo of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation
Source:'Russian Police Abandon Investigation Into Attack on Journalists in Chechnya,' The Moscow Times, 15 February 2017
On 10 February 2017 the Constitutional Court ruled Ildar Dadin’s case must be reviewed and the Criminal Code amended. As RFE/RL reports, Ildar Dadin was the first person convicted under 'a controversial new statute authorizing criminal prosecution of Russians who take part in more than one unsanctioned protest in a 180-day period.' Dadin is currently serving a 2.5 year sentence in a prison in Altai region, having been transferred there from a prison in Karelia where he alleged he had been the victim of torture. In its ruling, as RFE?RL reports, the Constitutional Court 'confirmed the government has the right to prosecute people for repeated noncriminal offences', however it also ruled that 'the authorities should base their application of the statue decisions on "the real scale of public danger" and only jail protesters after rallies that were not peaceful.' The Constitutional Court went on to propose that the legislation be amended accordingly.
Amnesty International issued a statement stating that the ruling of the Constitutional Court 'offers a rare glimmer of hope for the right to peaceful assembly' and called for the immediate release of Dadin, whom it has recognized as a prisoner of conscience. The same statement by Amnesty International reiterated that Dadin had been 'detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his rights.'
'Russian Constitutional Court Orders Review Of Jailed Activist Dadin's Case,' RFE/RL, 10 February 2017'Russia: Court offers "chink of light" in case brought by jailed protester Ildar Dadin,' Amnesty International, 10 February 2017
'Ildar Dadin,' Wikipedia
On 2 February 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay more than 63,000 euros in compensation to opposition politician and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny for multiple violations of his right to peaceful protest, the BBC reported. The BBC describes Aleksei Navalny as 'Vladimir Putin's most prominent and vocal critic.' The BBC reports that in its ruling the European Court of Human Rights said Aleksei Navalny's right to peaceful protest had been violated multiple times during a series of political gatherings dating back to 2012. The ruling also said Navalny had been denied his right to a fair hearing. Navalny described the ruling as 'a kicking' for Russia's 'lying, corrupt and hypocritical justice system'.
The day before (1 February) Leninsky district court in Kirov, which is hearing the retrial of the Kirovles embezzlement case, prohibited Navalny from leaving Kirov until 10 February 2017, RAPSI reported. In February 2016, as RAPSI reports, the European Court of Human Rights had ruled that the right to a fair trial of Aleksei Navalny and his co-defendant Petr Ofitserov had been violated and 'ordered Russian authorities to compensate Navalny with €48,000 of legal costs and Ofitserov with €22,000. Additionally, Russia was obliged by court to pay 8,000 euro each in damages.' This was followed by a November 2016 ruling of the Supreme Court which, taking into account the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, set aside the convictions of Navalny and Ofitserov and sent the case for a retrial - which is now beig heard in Kirov. On 2 February the Leninsky district court in Kirov dismissed a motion by Navalny to summon all defence witnesses to give testimony at the court, RAPSI reported.
RFE/RL reported on 3 February 2017 that prosecutors on that day asked the judge to convict Aleksei Navalny and give him a suspended five-year sentence which would effectively bar him from taking part in future elections, including the presidential election in 2018. The judge said he would issue the verdict on February 8. RFE/RL reports: 'In a defiant final statement, Navalny accused "Putin's band" of stealing Russia's wealth from its people and vowed to continue his political activities regardless of the trial's outcome. He promised the judge and court staff that he would serve them and all other Russian citizens if elected president. When the judge ordered him to speak only about issues related to his case, Navalny said that everything he says is related to the case because the case is "politically motivated." "Unfortunately, in modern Russia a courtroom is the only platform where honest people, including me, are able to openly and freely express their political views," Navalny said.'
'Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny wins European human rights payout,' BBC, 2 February 2017
'Navalny’s motion for interrogation of witnesses in Kirovles case denied,' RAPSI, 2 February 2017'Navalny Denounces "Putin's Band" As Retrial Draws To Close,' RFE/RL, 3 February 2017
'Alexei Navalny', Wikipedia
On 24 January 2017 the chair of the Jehovah’s Witnesses branch in Dzerzhinsk was fined 4,000 roubles for ‘extremist’ literature. According to RAPSI, the Nizhny Novgorod Region Court announced on its website that day that the fine was imposed for 'for keeping and distributing extremist literature banned in Russia.' RAPSI reported that the materials in question consisted of two booklets, which were seized by the court. RAPSI reports that among the many legal problems the Jehovah's Witnesses have face in Russia are the following:
'On October 12, a court in the Jewish Autonomous Region ruled to ban a branch of “The Jehovah’s Witnesses” in Birobidzhan because of distributing extremist literature by the organization. On June 16, Russia’s Supreme Court declared “The Jehovah’s Witnesses of Stary Oskol” in the Belgorod Region an extremist organization and ruled to liquidate it. On June 9, the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Belgorod was banned as extremist organization. In March 2015, a court in Tyumen fined the organization 50,000 rubles ($792) and seized prohibited literature. In January 2014, a court in Kurgan ruled to ban the organization’s booklets as extremist. The books talk about how to have a happy life, what you can hope for, how to develop good relations with God and what you should know about God and its meaning. In late December 2013, the leader of the sect’s group in Tobolsk, Siberia was charged with extremism and the prevention of a blood transfusion that nearly led to the death of a female member of the group. In 2004, a court in Moscow dissolved and banned a Jehovah’s Witnesses group on charges of recruiting children, encouraging believers to break from their families, inciting suicide and preventing believers from accepting medical assistance.'
Photo of international headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses in Warwick, New York: Wikipedia
Source:'Chair of Jehovah’s Witnesses branch fined for distributing extremist literature,' RAPSI, 25 January 2017
On 19 January 2017 the Constitutional Court ruled Russia need not comply with a ruling of 31 July 2014 by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued in the case 'Yukos v Russia'. According to RAPSI, the Constitutional Court found that the ruling by the ECtHR 'contravenes the Russian Constitution.' Chair of the Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin was reported as saying that Russia is free to deviate from its obligations if it is the only way to avoid violation of the Constitution. On 12 October 2016 the Ministry of Justice made a formal request to the Constitutional Court to review the ruling by the ECtHR on the grounds that obligations placed on Russia by the ECtHR 'conflict' with the Constitution of the Russian Federation. RAPSI reports that in December 2016 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe said that it expects Russia to abide by its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and pay former Yukos shareholders the awarded compensation of €1.9 billion in compensation and €300,000 legal expenses to former Yukos shareholders.
RAPSI notes that at the end of 2015 'Russia's Constitutional Court was granted the right to recognize decisions of international courts, including Strasbourg based European Court of Human Rights, as non-executable.'
On 20 January 2017 the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muižnieks, said in a statement: 'Yesterday’s decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation on the Yukos case bears far-reaching consequences for human rights protection in Russia and elsewhere in Europe. Preventing the implementation of a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights weakens the safeguards for individuals and companies against possible State abuses. It also threatens the very integrity and legitimacy of the system of the European Convention on Human Rights, because it sends the signal that the standards of democracy, human rights and the rule of law a State subscribes to when joining the Council of Europe can be disregarded at will. I therefore urge the Russian Government and Parliament to change the Federal law which gives the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation the power to prevent the implementation of judgments of the Strasbourg Court.'
Nils , Non-implementation of the Court’s judgments: our shared responsibility, Council of Europe, 20 January 2017
'Russia allowed not to abide by ECHR ruling on €1.9 bln compensation to Yukos,' RAPSI, 19 January 2017
On 9 January 2017 the trial began in St. Petersburg of yoga teacher Dmitry Ugai [also written 'Dmitry Ugay' in English] on charges of illegal missionary activity. RFE/RL reports that computer programmer and yoga teacher Dmitry Ugai was detained by police in St. Petersburg on 22 October 'while giving a talk at a festival about the philosophies behind yoga, a discipline for achieving physical and spiritual well-being.' RFE/RL notes, 'The 44-year-old faces a fine for allegedly conducting illegal missionary activity, an administrative offense under the new Yarovaya Law, a package of legal amendments intended to fight terrorism that is named after its author, lawmaker Irina Yarovaya. Signed by President Vladimir Putin in July, the amendments include restrictions on religious groups and missionary activity that could potentially put pressure on followers outside what the government considers "traditional" religions. The charges against Ugay are not criminal, but observers fear that a guilty verdict in the misdemeanor case against him would set a precedent for the harassment of even yoga instructors.'
The Moscow Times quoted Dmitry Ugai as telling the Meduza news website: “If I’m convicted, then it’s clear that the mere act of speaking publicly will be enough to find a person guilty, and they’ll be able to prosecute anyone just for practicing yoga."
On 31/12 the remains of 109 people, buried in two mass graves near Grozny and presumably killed during the first military campaign on the territory of Chechnya, were transported from Rostov to the Chechnya, the news website Caucasian Knot reported. Caucasian Knot notes that on 31/12 'marks the 20th anniversary of the withdrawal of the last federal troops from Chechnya' in 1996. Human rights defender Aset Malsagova told Caucasian Knot: "They were men, women, and children. Two of them are identified, and their remains were taken by their relatives. If some of your relatives disappeared during the First Chechen War, then you could find out through the DNA examination if the number of 109 victims included your disappeared relatives.' Caucasian Knot points out that, 'according to various sources, 4000-14,000 Russian soldiers and officers, 3000-10,000 Chechen fighters, and 50,000-100,000 civilians were killed' in the First Chechen War.
On 5/1 Caucasian Knot reported that lawyers with whom its correspondents had spoken had said the 'remains of victims of the Chechen war of 1994-1996 were given out to relatives after the expiry of criminal liability for persons involved in their deaths and proved the ineffectiveness of the investigation.' Nadezhda Ermolaeva, an expert on international law and a legal adviser of the programme 'The Right to Asylum' of the Human Rights Institute, was quoted as saying: 'The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found violations in more than 200 complaints about disappearances of people. The Russian Federation has found no violation in any of the above cases. The authorities argued that the kidnappings had been committed by militants and that the federal forces had not been involved in the disappearances. When it comes to effectiveness, it comes to a dead end. No search actions ever took place.'
Photo: Caucasian Knot
'Remains of 109 victims of First Chechen War brought to Chechnya,' Caucasian Knot, 31 December 2016
'Lawyers criticize investigation into deaths of victims of First Chechen War,' Caucasian Knot, 5 January 2017
On 23 December 2016 environmental activists Aleksei Knedlyakovsky and Victor Chirikov were jailed in Krasnodar for 15 days for alleged involvement in attaching a wooden crucifix to a memorial to Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the first head of the Soviet era secret police, the Cheka. According to reports, the crucifix appeared on the Dzerzhinsky monument on 20 December, the anniversary of the creation of the Cheka by Vladimir Lenin in 1917, a day officially held to honour members of the Soviet and Russian security services from the Cheka to the FSB. Movement of the 14% reported: 'On 20 December someone in Krasnodar marked the day by mounting a wooden cross on the memorial to Feliks Dzerzhinsky. Two Krasnodar environmentalists – activists from Environmental Watch Viktor Chirikov and Aleksei Knedlyakovsky – have been accused of doing this. [...] Viktor Chirikov and Aleksei Knedlyakovsky themselves state they had nothing to do with the mounting of the cross on the memorial. Despite that, on 22 December the two men were detained by the police. They were charged with ‘petty hooliganism’ under Article 20.1 of the Russian Administrative Code. The trial lasted a mere four minutes. The main evidence was a very faded photo in which Judge Stanislav Burenko said he recognized Knedlyakovsky and Chirikov. He handed down the maximum possible sentence.' Both men deny the charges.
Halya Coynash, writing in Human Rights in Ukraine, reports that while Chirikov was sentenced in a closed court, the trial of Knedlyakovsky was open, yet the judge had refused to wait until his the latter's lawyer could get to Krasnodar. She comments: 'It is possible that the FSB, the modern version of the same security service, just used the cross as a pretext for repressive measures against two "dissidents", however they also appear to have gone into overdrive in their reaction to the cross, intimidating even the local media into removing their reports about the cross. There is no real proof that Alexei Knedlyakovsky (Nekrasov) and Viktor Chirikov actually fixed the wooden crucifix to the bust of Dzerzhinksy, nor, in fact, is it entirely clear what the action was really saying.
On 28 December 2016 Caucasian Knot reported that the two men had gone on hunger strike. The Movement of the 14% announced on 28 December that the two men had reported being held in torturous conditions: 'They are held in a small cell that does not meet regulation standards. There are 11 people in the 11 square metre cell, in other words each person has one square metre of space. There is no access at all to fresh air in the cells and most of those detained are continuously smoking. The detainees have limited access to drinking water, and this at a time when the two men have been on hunger strike since the first day of their detention, and already are into their sixth day without food. Today it became known that an ambulance was called to Viktor Chirikov because of a sudden deterioration in his health. Aleksei Knedlyakovsky’s health also continues to deteriorate, and the conditions of detention remain inhuman.' The organization urged the public to call on both the Public Oversight Commission and the Public Prosecutor's Office to investigate the conditions in which the two men were being held and their treatment.
Mikhail Savva, an academic and former victim of persecution from Kuban now living in Ukraine, is quoted by Halya Coynash as seeing in the convictions nothing more than the desire of the FSB to punish two Russians who spoiled their ‘Day of the Chekist’ and make them the object of ridicule: 'The FSB set up the police, prosecutors and judges who took part or will still take part in this case. The names of all officials who dirtied themselves through their involvement in this lawlessness are known. There is no chance that we will remember these names. Ladies and Gentlemen, you will be held to answer. The regime that is protecting you is not for ever. Are you sure that you need this?'
Photo: Movement of the 14%
Sources:'Hunger strike of blogger Knedlyakovsky in Krasnodar supported by activist Chirikov,' Caucasian Knot, 28 December 2016
Halya Coynash, 'Russian activists jailed for crucifix protest at monument to notorious secret police chief,' Human Rights in Ukraine, 27 December 2016
'Movement of the 14%' on the Cases of Viktor Chirikov and Aleksei Knedlyakovsky [Facebook],' Rights in Russia, 28 December 2016
On 20 December 2016 blogger Aleksei Kungurov was convicted and imprisoned for 2.5 years by a court in Tiumen for a post criticizing the government’s military operation in Syria. As RFE/RL reported, prosecutors said Kungurov's blog was sympathetic to terrorism and the court found Kungurov guilty of 'publicly justifying terrorism.' The blog post had been published soon after the beginning o f Russia's intervention in Syria last year. RFE/RL describes Kungurov as 'an activist who has been involved with strident nationalist and anti-Western groups, argued in the October 2015 post that the extremist group Islamic State (IS), which is banned in Russia, had characteristics of an actual government. He also asserted that President Vladimir Putin's intervention was aimed primarily at propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and not, as the Kremlin has said, defeating IS militants and other "terrorists" in the country.' RFE/RL notes that the Sova Center, based in Moscow, said there was nothing illegal in Kungurov's post. The Memorial Human Rights Centre included Kungurov in its list of 'political prisoners.'
The day Kungurov was convicted, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement calling on Russian authorities to release him. Nina Ognianova, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said: "We call on Russian authorities in Tyumen to immediately release Aleksei Kungurov and drop all charges against him. Since the Kremlin's control over traditional media is nearly absolute, blogs have become an important platform in Russia for independent reporting, analysis, commentary, debate, and information-sharing. Now authorities are contracting that space as well."
On 15 December 2016, Moscow City Court reduced the fine imposed on blogger and Internet entrepreneur Anton Nosik, who had been convicted of extremism, from 500,000 roubles (approximately $8,000) to 300,000 roubles (approximately $4,800), RAPSI has reported. In October 2016 Anton Nosik had been convicted of 'extremism' under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code for views he expressed about events in Syria in the radio programme 'Osoboe mnenie' on the radio station Ekho Moskvy. Nosik said: 'I consider that if the name of Syria disappears from the map, it won't be bad for anyone, just the opposite. In fact, a country like that should be wiped of the face of the earth, just as once Nazi Germany was destroyed and is no longer on the map.' Prosecutors had asked for Anton Nosik to be sentenced to a term of two years in prison. That day, Anton Nosik published the same sentiments in a post on LiveJournal, entitled 'To wipe Syria off the face of the earth.' A judge sitting in Presnensky district court in Moscow one year later found that Nosik's post had been intended to incite enmity and hatred of a group of individuals ('the Syrians') on the ground of ethnic origin and territorial location, which contravenes Article 282. Anton Nosik had pleaded not guilty to the charges on the grounds that the post he had distributed on the Internet contained his private opinion. After sentencing, Anton Nosik pointed out that the fine of 500,000 roubles was the largest ever issued under Article 282.
Anton Nosik has since launched a campaign to abolish Article 282. As Isaac Webb writing on Global Voices points out, Nosik 'submitted his proposal to “Russian Public Initiative” (ROI), a website designed to filter proposals from the private citizens through to the federal government. Nearly two months later, he received a response from ROI saying that his proposal had been approved and that a petition would be posted on the website beginning on November 30. Russian citizens over 18 years old who register through a government portal will be able to vote for or against the petition until November 30, 2017. The proposal needs 100,000 supporting votes in order to be sent to the federal government for discussion.'
Anton Nosik, 'Стереть Сирию с лица Земли,' LiveJournal, 1 October 2015Yellow Dog, 'АНТОН НОСИК - ПРИГОВОР И ФРАГМЕНТ СКАНДАЛЬНОГО ЭФИРА НА "ЭХО МОСКВЫ",' YouTube, 3 October 2016
Gennady Zubov, '500 тысяч с Носика,' Gazeta.ru, 3 October 2016