Chechen comments lead to editor’s conviction for ‘inciting hatred’

New York, February 3, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the criminal conviction of Stanislav Dmitriyevsky, director of the human rights organization Russian-Chechen Friendship Society and editor of its newspaper Pravo-Zashchita. Today’s verdict is based on the newspaper’s publication of comments from Chechen rebel leaders calling for peace talks.

A judge in the Soviet District Court in the central city of Nizhny Novgorod, where Pravo-Zashchita is based, found Dmitriyevsky guilty under the Russian penal code of “inciting interethnic hatred by using the mass media.” The court issued a two-year suspended prison sentence and a four-year probation period, the journalist told CPJ today. Defense lawyers are planning an appeal.

“We condemn the politicized verdict against Dmitriyevsky and call on the Russian courts to overturn it,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Today’s sentence sends the alarming message to journalists that the Kremlin will not tolerate independent news reporting on the war in Chechnya.”

The charges against Dmitriyevsky stemmed from publication of two statements by Chechen rebel leaders calling for peace talks, which appeared in the March 2004 and April 2004 editions of Pravo-Zashchita. The 5,000-circulation monthly was distributed in the North Caucasus and several other Russian cities before it ceased publishing in September 2005 for financial reasons, Dmitriyevsky told CPJ. Russian journalists regarded Pravo-Zashchita as one of the few reliable sources of independent news about Chechnya.

Dmitriyevsky’s criminal conviction comes against the backdrop of growing state restrictions on nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs. On January 10, President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill giving the Justice Ministry’s Federal Registration Service broad authority to shutter NGOs for engaging in activities that are counter to the “political independence of the Russian Federation” or that violate the constitution.

As part of the verdict, Dmitriyevsky may not move from Nizhny Novgorod, must report to authorities regularly, and must notify authorities of any travel plans, the journalist told CPJ. The verdict leaves him vulnerable to imprisonment for minor infractions, he said, including ones provoked by government agents.

The Russian-Chechen Friendship Society could be vulnerable to closure as well. The new NGO law bars people “convicted and incarcerated by the decision of a court of law” from involvement in such organizations. “I think in the next few months authorities will use every possible measure to shut down our organization,” Dmitriyevsky told CPJ. Read more about Dmitriyevsky’s case.