Vienna, March 3 – A group of 25 leading Russian writers, lawyers, and human rights activists have appealed to the country’s top prosecutor to stop using the country’s anti-extremism laws to persecute those who express “perfectly legal” criticism of the government and to issue explicit instructions on that score to his subordinates.
In an open letter posted on the Grani.ru site today, the 25, who include among others, the writer Boris Strugatsky, rights activist Lev Ponomaryev, and journalist Boris Vishnevsky, say it now appears that Yury Chaika’s subordinates equate President Medvedev’s call for a struggle against extremism as a directive to carry out a struggle against those who think differently.
Many of them, the signatories say, view the kind of criticism that in a democratic society would be viewed as entirely legal and normal as incitement of inter-ethnic hatred and thus deserving of punishment under Paragraph 282 of the Criminal Code.” Such attitudes, they said, “pervert the meaning of the struggle with xenophobia” (grani.ru/Society/m.148174.html).
In support of their content, the writers cite two recent cases, one involving the editor of the Daghestani newspaper “Chernovik” and the other involving people who took part in a demonstration against Moscow’s decision to transfer a small amount of territory to China in order to reach a border agreement with Beijing.
“Both Russian law and international norms treat the excitement of interethnic hostility exclusively as attacks against concrete ethnic and ethno-confessional groups,” the letter says. And consequently, “criticism, even very sharp criticism of one’s own powers that be and the policies of foreign states” cannot be considered as manifestations of interethnic hatred.”
That is something that Chaika’s subordinates do not appear to understand, and the letter’s signatories call on him to “immediately issue a directive on the treatment of accusations of inciting ethnic hatred in which it will be understand exclusively as the norms of international law obligatory for our country define it.”
The writers continue by pointing out that “at the same time, we have learned about massive introduction of [government] informers into peaceful, legally organized and acting social-political organizations and about the way in which law enforcement organs are now engaged in a new round of checking the documents of opposition figures without cause.”
“We are convinced,” the open letter says, that this testifies to the existence of certain list on the basis of which the organs are carrying out unconstitutional surveillance [against those who disagree with the government] and about a broad campaign against the opposition,” despite constitutional bans on such activities.
The letter concludes with a demand that the persecutions of those who criticize the government under the pretext of “the struggle with extremism” cease and that prosecutors launch an investigation into whether “the interior ministry, the FSB and other law-enforcement agencies” are maintaining lists of regime opponents and into how these lists are being compiled.
Meanwhile, a statement at the end of last week by Ludmila Alekseyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, that the Russian interior ministry as early as 2002 issued a classified directive giving the militia the right to employ lethal force to disperse anti-government demonstrators.
On Saturday, “Gazeta” reported that Maj. Gen. Leonid Vedenov, the deputy chief of the interior ministry’s department for maintaining public order, had told the media that his ministry had “never published acts permitting militiamen to shoot” at protesters and any claims to the contrary are false (www.gazeta.ru/politics/2009/02/27_a_2949997.shtml?incut1).
But the paper added, Viktor Biryukov, a spokesman for the Moscow city militia, called Alekseyeva to say that the order, which Vedenov said had never been issued, had in fact been “annulled.” But Alekseyeva said, he did not provide “any official confirmation” of this. He simply “advised” the dean of Russia’s human rights community “by telephone.”
Ingushetia.org provided yet more details not only about the contents of the 2002 decree (www.ingushetia.org/news/18454.html) and about how it was applied in Daghestan and Blagoveshchensk, the subject of two extensive reports by the For Human Rights Movement (www.zaprava.ru/hronica/Blagoveschensk.pdf and www.zaprava.ru/hronica/Dagestan.pdf).