Vienna, June 2 – After transferring thousands of Interior Ministry officers from the fight against organized crime to the struggle with extremism, the Russian government has broadened the application of “extremism” charges to keep them busy, a trend that threatens the rights and freedoms of every more law-abiding Russian citizens.
In the third of her articles in “Yezhednevny zhurnal” on how Moscow is conducting its fight against extremism, Irina Borogan of Agentura.ru today points out that “since the spring of this year, thousands of militiamen throughout the entire country have been forced to occupy themselves with the search for extremists” (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=9133).
But, she continues, “it is already obvious that there are not enough extremists for all of them,” and consequently, the authorities want “to boost the number of extremists” in order to justify the new direction of MVD work. Unfortunately, for the militia, “it is not [yet] a simple matter to do this legally through the courts.”
In 2008, the specialist on the security services says, Russian courts “refused to recognize” the presence of “an extremist motive in almost half of the cases” brought before them, and the cases the militia and prosecutors had brought thus “collapsed.” As a result, the MVD extremist fighters are now focusing on “’the prevention’ of [such] crimes.”
As several recent court cases have shown, Borogan says, that involves the covert monitoring of telephone conversations, letters, and physical movement around the country and across its borders of those the authorities suspect of being potential “extremists” and to compile “black lists” of such people, regardless of whether there is any court judgment on their activities.
The existence of this practice was confirmed during a case brought against Sergey Shimovolos, the head of the Nizhny Novgorod Human Rights Society, in April 2009. At that time, prosecutors acknowledged that the authorities had compiled such lists already in 2007, and that already then, there were 3865 Russian citizens on them.
All those on this list, the prosecutors acknowledged, were subject to monitoring, and now Borogan says, “their names are included on the very same electronic card files that include data on criminals who are at large and being sought” by the authorities, thus blurring an important distinction between law-abiding citizens and criminals.
Rights activists had already called attention to this practice, having noticed that the militia and the FSB seemed prepared to stop their colleagues who were seeking to travel to various social and political measures, including protest marches. But the Nizhny case, which by the way led to the conviction of Shimovolos, confirms what they reported.
According to Borogan, the electronic data base on which those suspected of “extremism” are now included specifies how militia officers are to respond when they come in contact with such citizens, even though the individuals on this list “are not suspected of having committed a crime.
In a second case, that involving Roman Dobrokhotov, a member of the For Human Rights Movement, in May 2009, provided yet another confirmation of the existence of such black lists. He was stopped by officials from the MVD Department for Preventing Extremism while travelling from Volgograd to a Moscow meeting.
Dobrokhotov’s case also focused attention on yet another aspect of these lists: the use by the authorities of portable computers, which feature not only names but also photographs of people the MVD suspects of “extremism,” something that suggests just how institutionalized these “black lists” have become.
But what is perhaps most discouraging, Borogan concludes, is that the authorities seem able to put anyone they want on these lists and those who are entered on them have little or no chance of getting off them. Indeed, she says, the courts by acknowledging the existence of such lists appear to have declared them “absolutely legal.”
In that respect too, the situation Russian citizens find themselves in is very different than in most other countries where, when officials do compile such lists and when there is evidence of their existence, those on them can appeal to the courts and force the authorities to justify what they have done or to remove the individuals bringing a complaint.