Authorities intensify persecution of independent newspaper

New York, March 16, 2005—Russian authorities in Chechnya and the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod are escalating their campaign of harassment and intimidation against Pravo-Zashchita (Rights Defense), a monthly newspaper that covers human rights abuses in Chechnya, according to local press reports.

The newspaper is published by the nongovernmental organization Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS) and is distributed in the North Caucasus and several other Russian cities.

In early March, Nizhny Novgorod tax inspectors and local officials with the Main Directorate for Justice began investigating the RCFS’s activities. At the same time, Federal Security Service (FSB) agents in Chechnya questioned seven RCFS reporters and former employees about their work for the RCFS.

“We call on President Vladimir Putin to ensure that the FSB and other government agencies end their campaign of harassment against journalists working for the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.

On the evening of March 14, unidentified individuals in Nizhny Novgorod distributed leaflets threatening an editor working at RCFS, Oksana Chelysheva. The following day, RCFS issued a statement accusing the FSB of orchestrating the abuses against them.

On November 26, 2004, the Nizhny Novgorod regional prosecutor’s office summoned Pravo-Zashchita Editor-in-Chief Stanislav Dmitriyevsky for questioning about articles the newspaper had published earlier in the year that included statements made by Chechen rebel leaders calling for peace talks.

The March 2004 edition of Pravo-Zashchita included a statement made by the London-based Chechen rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev, and the April-May 2004 edition included a speech made by Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov to the Strasbourg, France–based European Parliament.

On January 11, 2005, the Nizhny Novgorod regional prosecutor’s office launched a criminal investigation against Pravo-Zashchita for publishing those statements, which prosecutors consider to be calls for extremist action, the Moscow Times reported.

The criminal case is being investigated under Article 280 of Russia’s Penal Code, and Dmitriyevsky faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

On January 20, FSB agents questioned Dmitriyevsky again, this time about the newspaper’s sources of financing, how he obtained the two statements, and who authorized their publication, according to local press reports.

Later that day, four FSB agents raided the office of the RCFS without a search warrant, seizing registration documents, back issues, and work contracts for RCFS staffers in Nizhny Novgorod and Chechnya, according to local press reports.

Oksana Chelysheva, editor at the RCFS’s Information Center, told CPJ that FSB agents questioned the eight other RCFS employees based in Nizhny Novgorod in the weeks after Dmitriyevsky was questioned.