24 November - Another Black Day for Human Rights and Democracy in Russia

Vienna, 24 November 2007. 24 November 2007 turned out to be a particularly black day for human rights and democracy in the Russian Federation. The chair of the Human Rights Centre “Memorial”, Oleg Orlov, and three journalists of the REN-TV federal television channel were abducted in Nazran / Ingushetia, beaten up and threatened with execution.

The protest demonstration in Nazran, which they wanted to observe, was violently dispersed. A March of Dissent in Nizhny Novgorod was violently dispersed as well and several people were detained, including human rights activist Stas Dmitrievsky. And during the March of Dissent in Moscow, the prominent opposition activist Gary Kasparov was detained alongside human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov and many others. Kasparov was sentenced to five days of administrative detention.

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) strongly protests against these actions by Russian authorities, by which they once again demonstrate that they neither respect the freedom of assembly and freedom of expression nor basic democratic values.

The IHF demands that the Russian government takes prompt and effective steps to investigate the abduction and ill-treatment of human rights defender Oleg Orlov and three REN-TV journalists and holds the perpetrators accountable. The IHF further urges the Russian government to stop interfering with citizens’ right to assemble peacefully. Cases of disproportionate use of violence by law-enforcement officers against civic and political activists must be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

1. Oleg Orlov, chair of the Human Rights Center “Memorial”, was abducted and beaten up together with three REN TV journalists

Around midnight from 23 to 24 November, a group of around 15 armed servicemen in masks and camouflaged uniforms burst into the “Assa” Hotel in Nazran / Ingushetia and abducted the chairman of the Human Rights Centre “Memorial”, Oleg Orlov, and the three journalists from REN TV, Karen Sakhinov, Artem Vysotsky and Stanislav Goryachikh. The journalists were half-dressed and barefooted. The kidnapped had non-transparent plastic bags put over their heads. To note, one hour before the abduction, the patrol police officers stationed regularly at the Assa Hotel had received orders from their higher in command to quit their station of duty. Having introduced themselves as “anti-terror officers” (probably, servicemen of the Anti-Terrorist Centre within the Interior Ministry) the intruders took the mobile phones of the receptionist and two security guards and forced them to
hand over the guest registration book.

They came up to Orlov’s room, made him follow them and took away his computer, cell-phone, identification papers, and money. Then, they forced the REN-TV journalists out of their respective rooms and forced the group into a Gazel vehicle. Oleg Orlov and the journalists were taken, after a long car ride, some place in the rural area, which later turned out to be a field close to the village Nesterovskaya in the Sunzha district of Ingushetia. There they were thrown out on the ground, beaten up and threatened with execution. Particularly Artem Vysotsky and Stanislav Goryachikh were badly beaten with Vysotsky having symptoms of a brain concussion.

At the Sunzha District Police Station they made a formal report of what had happened and made phone calls. In the morning of 24 November, they were taken to the Nazran Police Station where they again gave testimony. After that, the police refused to release them, claiming they had relevant orders from their higher in command. It was only around 11.30 am on November 24 that Oleg Orlov, represented by a “Memorial” lawyer, was released. The journalists were held longer, despite the fact that a doctor called the police station and recommended that Vysotsky be hospitalized. Apparently, the reason behind this was that the police wanted to make sure that the 24 November protest demonstration in Nazran does not get media coverage. Only at 13:00, the journalists were allowed to go to a hospital.

The police in Nazran claim that they received information about the abduction of Oleg Orlov and three REN-TV journalists only at 4.30 in the morning. However, the Director of the “Assa” Hotel maintains that he not only telephoned to report from had happened immediately after the abduction, but went himself to the police station in the city to confirm this.

2. Demonstration in Nazran on 24 November was violently crashed

On 24 November, the protest demonstration in Nazran against kidnappings, police violence and poor economic conditions, in which several hundred people took part, was violently crashed by police. Allegedly, some sixty protesters were detained.

3. After Opposition Rally of “The Other Russia” and the liberal party “Union of Right Forces”, Oppositionary Politician Gary Kasparov, Human Rights Defender Lev Ponomaryov and Others Were Detained

In Moscow, on 24 November, a rally organized by “The Other Russia” and the “Union of Right Forces” took place. After the rally, the activists attempted to march to the building of the Central Election Commission to deliver the rally’s appeal for fair elections. Several of the people who made speeches at the rally were then detained, including the head of the “The Other Russia”, Gary Kasparov and the leader of the “For Human Rights Movement”, Lev Ponomaryov. They were beaten up, according to the news-site www.kasparov.ru . Several dozens of other protesters were also detained. To note, the day before the rally, there had been a police raid of “The Other Russia” headquarters with the apparent aim to intimidate the organizers. No legal reason for the raid was mentioned. In the evening of 24 November, Kasparov was convicted to five days of administrative detention for having “organized an unauthorized March against President Putin and refusing to obey orders to stop given by a riot police serviceman serviceman Utushkin”. Despite official claims that Kasparov resisted the police, numerous observers point out that his behavior was distinctly non-violent.

4. March of Dissent in Nizhny Novgorod on 24 November was violently dispersed as well

In Nizhny Novgorod, the March of the Dissent at the central Gorky Square at around noon was violently dispersed as well, after it had been refused under the pretext that Gorky Square “is not meant for holding public actions”. The Square had been cordoned off with several thousands of Interior Ministry military troops. Several people were detained, among them Stas Dmitriesvky, human rights defender, and Ilya Shamazov, activist of the National Bolshevik Party. Dmitrievsky and others were beaten in a police bus. In a court hearing in the evening of 24 November, Dmitrievsky was found “guilty” of having participated in an unauthorized rally and having shown resistance to the police. He was ruled to pay a 1.000-ruble fine. It did not even help that REN TV journalists brought their video footage proving that Dmitrievsky’s group was standing peacefully when the OMON police officers attacked them, offering no resistance at all. There are also many other witnesses who assert the same.

International Helsinki Federadion for Human Rights