THE BLOG

Fighting for Press Freedom in Russia

2013-09-06-chelyshevastanislav11.jpg

Oksana Chelysheva & Stanislav Dmitrievskiy

When the world thinks of censored writers, novelists like Salman Rushdie, Henry Miller and Vladimir Nabokov come to mind.

A real-life legal battle is being waged by the Russian authorities against journalists who for years have seen their work severely intimidated.

Editor Stanislav Dmitrievskiy, along with co-authors Oksana Chelysheva and Bogdan Guareli (the pseudonym of the Chechen journalist Ousam Baysaev) wrote The Tribunal For Chechnya: Prospects of Bringing to Justice Individuals Suspected of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity During the Armed Conflict in the Chechen Republic, 1200 pages in scope.

The book, published in July 2009 with a print-run of 700 copies, exposes a bevy of human rights abuses committed by both sides of the conflict during the years of armed confrontation in the Chechen Republic. It "proposes new strategies of combating impunity via norms of universal jurisdiction," Chelysheva said.

In 2006, Chelysheva and Dmitrievskiy won an Amnesty International UK Media Award for "Human Rights Journalism Under Threat."

A criminal investigation was waged against Dmitrievskiy ever since he was director of the now defunct human rights organization Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS).

In September 2005, Dmitrievskiy was charged under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code for "actions aimed at inciting hatred or hostility and at disparagement of either an individual or a group of people according to their gender, race nationality, background religious beliefs, as well as belonging to any social group that are committed publicly or though mass media outlets," as recorded by Committee to Protect Journalists.

On February 3, 2006, Dmitrievskiy was found guilty at the Soviet District Court in Nizhny Novgorod of "inciting inter-ethnic hatred by using the mass media," with four years of probation and a two-year suspended sentence.

Chelysheva said that the book's goal is "to analyze all the amount of information collected by various human rights groups from the angle of international criminal law."

In July 2009 book review, Karina Moskalenko, a Russian human rights attorney, wrote The Tribunal For Chechnya "[presented] unique fundamental research at the junction of contemporary history, international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international crime law."

The launch of the tribunal book tragically coincided with the still mysterious murder of Natalia Estemirova.

As for Chelysheva, a devoted journalist, she has long been accused of depicting Chechens too sympathetically. A colleague of slain journalist Anna Politkovskya, she continues to devote her career to write about the disenfranchised. She also recently published They Followed Me In the Street about her harrowing experiences as a journalist in the region.

2013-09-06-chely3.jpg Oksana Chelysheva

In December 2012, a new hearing orchestrated by the Nizhny Novgorod Prosecutor's Office commenced to ban The Tribunal for Chechnya. Again, the pretext was on grounds that the book's content was considered "extremist" in nature.

"The persistence with which the Russian authorities have been trying to finally crash us and destroy the book proves that we have chosen the right angle to target them. There is now a sad half-joke in Russia," Chelysheva explained.

"The level of your efficiency is in direct correspondence to the attack you are under."

In an effort to expose Russia's regimented attitude toward the free press, the PEN American Center wrote an open letter last week about the stifling climate in Russia when it comes to press censorship. This letter was published, just as President Obama arrived in St. Petersburg for the annual G-20 summit.

For those who believe in freedom of speech and lawful due process, one ought to invest their time taking note of this free speech case which -- whatever one's politics -- attacks the very heart of what means to have an open, pluralistic and democratic society.

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