CPJ fears silencing of critical Web site on Chechnya

New York, October 13, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the closure today of a Russian nongovernmental organization which publishes an online newspaper regarded as one of the few reliable sources of news on Chechnya.

The closure comes just six days after the murder in Moscow of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of the Kremlin’s policies in Chechnya. For more on that murder, see http://www.cpj.org/news/2006/europe/russia10oct06na.html

The Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS), a human rights group based in Nizhny Novgorod, southeast of Moscow, was ordered closed by a regional court under new legislation restricting NGOs. The law was enacted by President Vladimir Putin in January amid local and international criticism.

RCFS publishes Pravo-Zashchita (Rights Defense) online. The fate of the publication is unclear. A printed edition of Pravo-Zashchita with a circulation of 5,000 was distributed in the North Caucasus and several other Russian cities until September 2005 when it ran out of money, RCFS director, and Pravo-Zashchita editor Stanislav Dmitriyevsky told CPJ. He said he planned to appeal the closure.

“The closure of Pravo-Zashchita would further limit independent information from Chechnya. The Russian people need this information more than ever, now that Anna Politkovskaya’s voice has been silenced by her terrible murder,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

Dmitriyevsky told CPJ that the court closed down his organization because of his criminal conviction in February for inciting ethnic hatred. Dmitriyevsky was given a suspended two-year jail sentence for publishing comments from Chechen rebel leaders calling for peace talks in 2004. Under the new legislation, no one with a criminal record can head an NGO.

“We are witnessing an intensified campaign of shuttering every single voice that has covered the Chechen conflict independently,” Dmitriyevsky said.

Dmitriyevsky and colleague, Oksana Chelysheva, an editor for Pravo-Zashchita, have both received threats in the past because of their work for RCFS.