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Attack on Civil Rights?

Dmitri Minaev, who runs the Russia history blog De Rebus Antiquis Et Novis, submitted the following article about the strange incident involving a human rights group called Froda and their run in with the FSB in Novorossiysk. The article is a compilation to two posts Minaev did on the story. I’ve demarcated the break between the posts below.

I should note that this incident was followed by a raid on Institute of War and Peace Reporting by North Ossetian police in Vladkavkaz. There is no direct connection whatsoever between the two incidents except to say, as Valery Dzutsev, IWPR’s North Caucasus coordinator, put it to the Moscow Times, “The problems with the authorities began a month after the NGO law went into effect last April.”

You can draw your own conclusions.

In the meantime, I present Dmitri Minaev’s article on the incident in Novorossiysk.—Sean

Attack on Civil Rights?

By Dmitri Minaev

I found this shocking news by serendipity, it could have passed by totally unnoticed:

Nine members of Froda, a group that campaigns for ethnic minority rights, were found guilty of holding an illegal meeting and fined after they had tea with two German students visiting a friend in the southern city of Novorossiysk. … “We were told that, under the new law, any meeting of two or more people with the purpose of discussing publicly important issues had to be sanctioned by the local administration three days in advance,” Mrs. Karastelyova said.

More details in The Telegraph. Frankly, the story is so weird even for Russia, that I would like to find more information before posting this bit, but the same weirdness of the event gives me creeps so huge that I just can’t put it aside.

It seems to be a very strange organization, this Froda. They don’t have a web-site. They are not mentioned anywhere in the Internet, with two exceptions: the article from The Telegraph (reproduced in a number of other newspapers) and the 2004 report on human rights practices in Russia. The more I read, the more I suspect that there is something wrong with the whole story. Or, at least, I hope there is.

********

Unfortunately, I was wrong. The story was not fake. The newspaper Noviye Izvestiya writes (article in Russian) that on January 23, a group of human rights activists from Novorossiysk and students of local universities were meeting their guests from Germany in a local children’s art school. The German businessmen visited an exhibition of children’s drawings and they went to a room where a table was set for them all. An interpreter and an operator of a local TV channel were also present. The visitors planned to discuss the idea to spread tolerance towards ethnical minorities with posters and friendly football matches. At this moment, a group of 15 men dressed in the police uniform came in. The group was led by an FSB lieutenant colonel Dmitri Fedorenko. The group also included Anatoly Nilov, head of the culture department of Novorossiysk administration. They checked the documents of everyone present in the room. When asked what were the legal pretexts, they did not give an answer. Some time later, one of the policemen said that they should have notified the city administration of the planned meeting. The participants referred to the Constitution, but major Ovcharenko said that the meeting was not sanctioned by the authorities and falls under the law on demonstrations, rallies and picketing. The Germans consulted the embassy and decided to leave Russia, even though they had all documents and visas.

The authorities say that it was a usual raid of the immigration service and that the visit to the art school was not planned in advance, that it happened by chance.

Anyway, some days ago the human rights activists were officially accused of holding the meeting without notifying the authorities in advance. The participants and the principal of the school (Marina Dubrovina, Vladimir Serdyuk, Vadim Karastelev and Tamara Karasteleva) were found guilty and fined 500 to 1000 rubles. Tamara Karasteleva (or Karastelyova), on of the activists’ leaders, explained that the people were just sharing impressions, making acquaintance and watching photographs, but the judge Vera Abshtyr said that it must be done at home, not at a school. The activists intend to appeal.

On February 12, the Novorossiysk Human Rights Committee issued a press-release. It says that one more participant of the meeting, Vladimir Pyankov, was fined 1000 rubles.

More links (all in Russian):
Novorossiysk Human Rights Committee
A blog that with a number of posts on the topic

BTW, I couldn’t find the name Froda in any of these articles. The Karastelevs couple are known as the leaders of the School of Peace foundation (the web-site was working two days ago but it is down now. For what reason and for how long, I do not know), an organization that promoted tolerance towards ethnic minorities and protects the rights of children from ethnic minorities. They are known for the activity in protection of human rights of Meskhetian Turks, who were removed by Stalin to Uzbekistan, fled from pogroms to Russia in 1989, but were given a cold shoulder here and forced to emigrate to USA. This activity of the School of Peace became the hidden reason for the closure of the organization in 2003.

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