Daily Archives: January 18, 2007

Did the Kremlin try to Execute the Zakayev Extradition Judge?

Reader Jeremy Putley says maybe, and directs us to the following fascinating post from A Day at a Time about an attempt to murder the judge who refused to extradite exiled Chechen resisistance leader Akhmed Zakayev (pictured at left in London with the famous actress Vanessa Redgrave). Note that, unfortunately, ADAAT’s link to the story does not survive due to technical issues at the source:

Neil Mackay, writing in Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper, has published a very long and thorough account of recent developments in Russia’s international intelligence operations. In particular, he focuses on the law passed by the State Duma on July 9 2006, which was unanimously approved and which allows Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) to hunt down and kill enemies of the state anywhere on the face of the earth.

One British intelligence source said: “This marked a blatant return to the bad old days of the cold war when the KGB thought it could act with impunity anywhere it pleased.”

These so-called “Hunter-Killer” powers also curtailed the right of the Russian media – already cowed and under the control of the Kremlin – to report on these operations. However, the enactment of these new laws only put on a legal footing powers which Russian intelligence had been using extra-judicially for years.

In Chechnya, the assassination of enemies of Russia is now so common that it scarcely bears comment, and in 2004 two Russian agents were arrested and sentenced to death in Qatar for the killing of exiled Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The Russian team hunted him down and planted a bomb in his car. The Qatari court ruled that the killing was sanctioned by “the Russian leadership”. The men were not executed but sent back to Russia following promises from the Kremlin that they would be imprisoned. Rumour has it that they were decorated for the assassination operation.

Akhmed Zakayev, a friend of Alexander Litvinenko and a former field commander in the first Chechen war who later became the deputy prime minister of Chechnya, says the killing of Litvinenko proved to the British people that Putin was “destroying democratic freedoms in Russia and beyond”.

Mackay also draws attention to a disturbing aspect of the Zakayev extradition case that has not been widely covered in international media:

One UK source closely linked to British intelligence told how he had a conversation with a Russian intelligence officer in 2004, in which the Russian spy spoke of the killing of a British citizen carried out by Russian agents. In January 2004, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Workman was found shot dead on his doorstep in the Hertfordshire hamlet of Furneux Pelham. The killing seemed completely motiveless.

However, the Russian intelligence source told his British contact that Robert Workman was killed in a case of mistaken identity. The real target had been a judge called Timothy Workman who lived not far from the scene of the murder.

In late 2003, Judge Workman infuriated the Kremlin when he rejected Russia’s extradition request for Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen leader in London. Workman said that Zakayev faced a “substantial risk” of being tortured if he was returned to Moscow to stand trial. The Kremlin accused Workman of playing “cold war politics”.

Also in 2003, Judge Workman called a halt to Russia’s attempt to have Boris Berezovsky extradited from Britain. The billionaire oligarch had fallen out with Putin and has bitterly criticised the ruling regime. Berezovsky was also a close friend of Alexander Litvinenko.

Putley adds: “It was in February 2004 that another “enemy” of the Russian state, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, was assassinated by Russian agents in Qatar. Interviewed by the New York Times, Akhmed Zakayev said that the killing of Yandarbiyev showed that Russia under Putin had reverted to the darkest tactics of its Soviet past, when KGB agents tracked down enemies of the state overseas. He predicted that similar assassination attempts would be made again in other countries. The murder last November of Alexander Litvinenko shows how right he was.”

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The Russian People Speak on Litvinenko

According to a Levada Center poll published on December 15th, three weeks after he perished, here’s what the Russian people think about the Litvinenko killing:

39% have no idea who Litvinenko is or can’ t say who might be responsible

35% say he was killed by his own business partners, including Boris Berezovsky

10% say he was killed by the KGB (and other Russian secret services)

9% say he killed himself, on purpose or by accident

8% say he was killed by the CIA (and other Western secret services)

The upshot? An overwhelming majority of Russians (over 80%) either know little/nothing about the killing or think Litvinenko himself was to blame for it. Less than a fifth of Russians think forces outside Litvinenko’s circle killed him, and half of those believe it was Western forces who were responsible. Less than one in ten Russians polled believed that the Kremlin itself was responsible for killing one of its most vocal critics.

Some people would go soft on the Russians at this point, and argue that they can’t be expected to have a clue when virtually all of their media is controlled by the Kremlin. Under those circumstances, perhaps it’s even impressive than as many as one in ten can recognize the possiblity that the Kremlin might have killed a Kremlin enemy.

But not La Russophobe. How did the Kremlin get control of the Russian media establishment? Because the Russian people sat idly by and allowed it to happen. Again.

The consequences of this are extremely dire: The Kremlin will believe it can pull the wool over they eyes of the people of Russia, and it will go on trying. It’s policies will undermine Russia’s foundation, and ultimately the ediface will collapse. What we are seeing now is exactly the sort of widespread public ignorance and apathy that allowed the USSR to pursue crazed policies that ultimately destroyed it. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on ME!.

Shame on the people of Russia. SHAME ON YOU!

P.S.: It’s worth noting that the author of one crazed Russophile blog cited the foregoing poll as a supposed refutation of the Empire of Lies story by ABC News that LR published on January 12. This maniac, whose blog is not even worth linking to or mentioning by name, quoted the ABC story stating “while the world buzzes with disbelief and fascination over the poisoning and death of a Russian ex-spy, the story has captured scant attention in Russia” and then cited the poll, claiming it proved the author was a “liar.” In other words, he claimed the poll showed Russians were deeply interested in and informed about the crisis. Can you imagine that? One is hard-pressed to decide whether this idiot didn’t even read his own link, or whether he read it and couldn’t understand what it said, or whether he knew perfectly well it didn’t support his claim and simply lied, hoping nobody would check. It actually proves, conclusively, that ABC was bang on the money. It shows that two out of five Russians have never even heard of Litvinenko, and that two of the remaining three have swallowed the Kremlin’s propaganda that he was responsible for his own demise. The publisher also claimed that there had been “hundreds” of stories about Litvinenko published in the Russian media, including state-owned newspapers. And guess what? He didn’t post a link to one single such story. What probably happened is that he read in a state-owned paper that there were such stories, and believed it.

LR had a similar experience with a crazed Russophile a few months ago; she wrote that Russia hates families, and a Russophile reader gave her a link to divorce statistics which she said showed high rates of divorce in countries outside Russia, proving they too hated families (as if this somehow made Russia OK). But Russia was #2 on the list of highest divorce rates, behind only Belarus!

This is the sad state of affairs in Russia today. With “friends” like these, Russia needs no enemies. Russian people are becoming utterly blinded by domestic propaganda, as out of touch with the world as they ever were in Soviet times, and it’s all being accomplished without even the need of resorting to Stalin’s terror tactics. The window of dissent and opposition is wide open now, there have been only a few token killings, but nobody is crawling through it. Russians are allowing themselves to be led right back into the Soviet meatgrinder only a decade after they dismantled it and extracted the bones of millions.

Gazprom Goes Shopping (again)

If you can’t jail ’em, kill ’em, and if you can’t do that, then buy ’em, that’s apparently the Kremlin’s philosophy. First, Gazprom went out and bought itself an ex-Chancellor of Germany, and now it’s gone out and got itself a British nuclear power PR maven:

Gazprom has hired a high-profile public relations director from Britain’s nuclear industry to spearhead its marketing efforts in London, a Gazprom spokesman said Tuesday.

Philip Dewhurst (pictured above left), formerly PR chief for British Nuclear Fuels, or BNFL, will face the task of countering the bad press that Gazprom received in the West during its standoff with Belarus over gas prices last month and a similar dispute with Ukraine a year ago.

The move may be part of a wider campaign to clean up the company’s name. Gazprom is offering a consortium of leading Western PR agencies at least $11 million for their services in 2007 as part of a three-year contract, Kommersant reported Tuesday. The consortium includes PBN Company, Hill & Knowlton and Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, the newspaper said.

Dewhurst’s experience in fending off attacks by environmental groups on BNFL could work to Gazprom’s advantage. The British branch of Greenpeace said in a statement posted on its web site that the company was “notorious for mismanagement, cover-ups and lies,” referring to its record before 2005.

Dewhurst, who worked for BNFL from 2001 until the end of last month, said Tuesday by telephone from London that BNFL’s publicity was “negative” when he started there but that the situation improved later because the company grew more transparent and was “talking to people.”

He started work as Gazprom Marketing and Trading’s first PR chief in London on Jan. 2, he said. A Gazprom spokesman in Moscow, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the appointment. Dewhurst was the best candidate who applied, he said.

Gazprom Marketing and Trading was founded in 1999 and currently has more than 100 staff, including at offices in Houston and Paris, Dewhurst said. The company, which acts for Gazprom in Europe and the United States, could open offices in Belgium and the Netherlands this year, he said.

Gazprom Marketing and Trading entered Britain’s gas market last year with its purchase of the supply businesses of Pennine Natural Gas, it said in a statement on its web site. It has also secured a management deal with Natural Gas Shipping Services, which will administer Gazprom’s supply business, and acquired the right to purchase the company, the statement said.

As well as opening up new markets for Gazprom, its London-based affiliate trades in carbon emissions and made the first deal last year, Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst said he hoped to improve Gazprom’s image as a reliable energy supplier, which has been battered by the bruising pricing disputes it has been involved in over the last year.

“I think the way to do that is just to tell people that Gazprom has a very good record of working with the U.K.,” he said. “For example, Gazprom has supplied gas to the U.K. for 25 years and it’s been a very reliable and secure supplier. That’s the message we have to spell out.”

In the coming months, Dewhurst will try to arrange press opportunities with the company’s London executives, such as Gazprom Marketing and Trading CEO Vitaly Vasiliyev, he said. “I will arrange meetings for him to meet the British press because, when the journalists meet him, they will realize that he is a very good businessman and that Gazprom wants to trade with Europe and wants to trade with the U.K.,” he said. “And the message is that Europe has nothing to fear from Gazprom.”

A lot of criticism of Russia stems from the mistrust that the West developed during the Cold War, he said. “It takes a long time for these perceptions to die away,” he said.

Energy Resources Mean Nothing to the Russian People . . . Nothing Except Continued Suffering

German Gref was once touted by some as a progressive, Westernizing force int the Kremlin. As Vladimir Putin consolidates his power, we see once again a rose-colored projection going up in flames. Writing in the Moscow Times Alexander Zhelenin, a freelance journalist working in Moscow, explains why Russians energy resources are meaningless to the Russian people:

Unless projections by economists turn out to be radically wide of the mark, the Russian economy should post strong growth numbers in 2007 for a seventh straight year. Although 60 percent or more of the growth can be attributed directly to high world commodities prices and the resultant high profits for exporters, particularly in the energy sector, annual gross domestic product growth between 4.5 percent and 7 percent is impressive. Although not as quickly as the government or economists would like, inflation is still slowing and industrial output is on the rise.

LR: “Impressive” is a relative term. Unfortunately, even this insightful author forgets to mention that it’s simply not appropriate to compare rates of economic growth in Russia to those in places like the US, Germany or Japan, because the economic base is so much smaller in Russia. In other words, 1% of America’s economic pie amounts to far more money per American than 2.5% of Russia’s economic pie does for Russians. Before being compared to American growth rates, Russian rates need to be divided by a factor of three, transforming 7% growth into 2.3% growth and 4.5% growth into a borderline recession.

Standard of living indicators for the majority of the population, however, remain low in comparison to overall economic growth. This is a problem President Vladimir Putin has commented on publicly on more than one occasion.

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref recently said that in the near future Russia should expect “a breakthrough in the economic sphere, with an accompanying rise in consumption and personal incomes.”

In July, Gref released data related to this same theme. At a meeting between Putin and members of the government, Gref announced that the average income had reached 11,000 rubles, or about $420 per month. Given past figures this might have sounded like good news. But the number is a bit misleading, as the astronomical earnings of a small number of people at the top of the pile and regional differences distort the picture. It makes about as much sense as calculating the average temperature for the patients at a particular hospital.

In a number of places, like Dagestan and Ingushetia in the North Caucasus, an income of 11,000 rubles would be very high. In a region plagued by widespread unemployment, a monthly salary of 2,000 to 4,000 rubles, or $75 to $152, is considered fairly good. And this is where people often have to pay bribes as high as 12,000 rubles just to land a job in the first place. Nobody appears to be concerned with the question of where poor people are supposed to get their hands on such a sum. Local authorities in the North Caucasus are run by oligarchic clans. It has always been this way and nobody in power is interested in seeing things change. As far as the Kremlin is concerned, as long as everything looks peaceful from the outside, the local authorities can handle the details as they see fit.

One of the results of this situation is an exodus of able-bodied workers from the North Caucasus into Russia’s central regions, where a shortage of laborers means job opportunities with less corruption than at home — a migratory pattern that disturbs ethnic-Russian nationalists. This also contributes to an increase in criminality in the region and a lack of trust in local authorities. But I digress.

I took part in a study in the Black Sea resort of Sochi that provides another example. The results of the research were staggering — 40 percent of those surveyed reported monthly incomes of 3,000 rubles or less. And this in Russia’s resort capital!

I had a remarkable conversation with a woman who worked there as a pharmacist. She and her husband had moved to Sochi from the Far East, where she had been earning 16,000 rubles per month at the same job. This is just one example of the degree to which income levels vary across the country.

The latest average salary figure I have heard for Moscow, for example, is 28,000 rubles (keeping in mind, of course, the hospital analogy above). Moscow is a city of millionaires and billionaires with a high concentration of offices and banks that employ high-salaried managers and middle-income, white-collar workers. This is enough to counter even the notoriously low salaries for the millions of government workers in the capital.

But let’s put geographic differences aside and return to our first figure of 11,000 rubles. In most places this sum is too low to cover reasonable living expenses.

According to calculations by the Russian Academy of Labor and Social Relations, the average subsistence-level income in the country is 14,000 rubles, or about $525, per person. This demonstrates that the government’s official subsistence income of about 2,600 rubles per month is indecently low. The Finance Ministry doesn’t even refer to it anymore.

Leaving averages aside and looking at different groups, we discover that, according to official data, about 65 percent of the population live on less than 8,000 rubles per month, and 50 percent earn less than 6,000 rubles.

So Gref’s talk of a “breakthrough” in salaries should be good news. But is it really going to happen? Not according to some economists.

“Russian incomes cannot grow faster than they are at present,” said Andrei Kolganov, a professor of economics at Moscow State University. “There is no solid foundation to current economic growth.”

Kolganov said that, given the economy’s dependency on world energy prices and the unlikelihood that these prices will grow at the pace seen over the last four years, rapid income growth is unlikely.

The State Duma election in 2007 and the vote to choose a new president next year will likely have an effect. Vladimir Gutnik, head of the Center for European Research at the Institute of World Economics and International Relations, said the elections will drive incomes higher.

“We can expect significant increases in wages for state employees, pensions and government aid,” he said. “It is clear that these increases will outpace the rate of inflation, even if the economy does not grow at the rate forecasted.”

This can be accomplished even if growth slows by using funds accumulated in reserves and the stabilization fund to cover the difference.

So, while expectations of a boom in incomes and consumption from continued economic growth might not be reasonable, an infusion of cash could still make them realistic. Pouring this money into people’s pockets, even if only ahead of elections, isn’t the worst outcome we could hope for, especially as the reserves have been built up from years of economic growth.

As long as this strategy doesn’t put too much upward pressure on prices, it will provide some hope for the economic road ahead.

Russian Can’t Even Beat Jehovah’s Witnesses before ECHR

Forum18 reports that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have prevailed in their court action against Russia for human rights violations before the European Court for Human Rights. Read the full decision here.

That even a group as widely unpopular as the witnesses can find favor in Europe is proof positive of how low Russia really has sunk under the stewardship of that malignant little troll Vladimir Putin (and and even surer sign is that the Kremlin appears to be afraid of these wackos and feels the need to harass them — how pathetic and neo-Soviet can you get?):

Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses are “very glad” about a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that Russian authorities unlawfully interrupted the worship of 103 predominately deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chelyabinsk. Spokesperson Yaroslav Sivulsky told Forum 18 News Service that the ruling is also important because “deaf people in Russia often feel that they are of inferior worth, outside society, but this has made them feel rehabilitated and aware that their rights are respected.” He regretted that the case had not been resolved within Russia. Both parties in the case have three months in which to appeal against the ECHR decision. The community currently rents premises for worship without obstruction. Following another ECHR ruling that Russia had violated the rights of the Salvation Army’s Moscow branch by refusing to give it legal status and by branding it a “militarised organisation”, the judgement became final on 5 January 2007 and so Russia must make its compensation payment to the Salvation Army by 5 April. There is also a pending ECHR case about a ban on the Jehovah’s Witness organisation in Moscow.

Responding to the recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, in favour of 103 predominately deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chelyabinsk (approximately 1,700km [1,050 miles] east of Moscow), their press spokesperson Yaroslav Sivulsky has told Forum 18 News Service that the community’s members are “very glad, of course.” This, he remarked on 16 January, is not just because the ECHR has determined that the authorities unlawfully disrupted their worship. “Deaf people in Russia often feel that they are of inferior worth, outside society, but this has made them feel rehabilitated and aware that their rights are respected.” Sivulsky regretted, however, that the case could not have been resolved within Russia.

In its 11 January 2007 verdict, the ECHR ruled unanimously that the Russian state authorities violated Article 9 (freedom of religion) and Article 6 (the right to a fair hearing) of the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms with regard to the Chelyabinsk Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Convention entered into force for Russia in 1998.

On behalf of the whole group, the verdict awards Jehovah’s Witness Konstantin Kuznetsov 30,000 Euros [1,029,730 Russian Roubles, 249,860 Norwegian Kroner, or 38,760 US Dollars] non-financial damage and 60,544 Euros [2,077,364 Roubles, 504,201 Norwegian Kroner, or 78,238 US Dollars] in costs. Both parties in the case have three months in which to appeal against the ECHR decision. The Russian government must make its compensation payment within three months of the ruling becoming final.

Finding against the Russian state for violating the rights of the Salvation Army’s Moscow branch by refusing to give it legal status and by branding it a “militarised organisation”, the ECHR ruled on 5 October 2006 that the state must pay the Church compensation of 10,000 Euros [343,000 Roubles, 83,260 Norwegian Kroner, or 12,900 US Dollars] (see F18News 12 October 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=854). On 15 January an ECHR press officer confirmed to Forum 18 that the judgment on the Salvation Army case became final on 5 January 2007. This means that the Russian state must make its compensation payment to the Salvation Army by 5 April.

On 17 January a spokeswoman at the Salvation Army’s Russian headquarters told Forum 18 that the organisation has not yet received any compensation payment.

The telephone of Pavel Laptev, the Russian Federation Representative at the ECHR, went unanswered on 16 and 17 January.

As outlined by the ECHR’s 19-page verdict, a group of predominately deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses met for worship on Sunday 16 April 2000 at the premises of Vocational Training College No. 85 in Chelyabinsk. A local Jehovah’s Witness, acting on behalf of the confession’s Administrative Centre in Russia, had concluded a rental contract with the college principal in February 1999, and both parties were operating in accordance with the agreement at the time of the meeting.

During the meeting, Yekaterina Gorina, the chair of Chelyabinsk Regional Human Rights Commission, arrived with two senior police officers and ordered the worship to be stopped. Konstantin Kuznetsov – who is proficient in sign language – relayed this order to the congregation because he found the state representatives’ manner intimidating. The following day the college principal terminated the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ rental contract, “because of certain irregularities committed by the college administration at the time of its signing.”

In subsequent hearings at Chelyabinsk’s Soviet District Court, the three officials claimed that the Jehovah’s Witness event required documented state permission. According to one police officer, “by law I had to stop the activities until documents were produced.” The state representatives also maintained that, since the Jehovah’s Witness community did not hold local state registration, it had no right to hold religious services and its rental agreement had been null and void. Yekaterina Gorina additionally claimed that children had attended the worship meeting without proof of consent from their parents or legal guardians and that she had been “defending the rights of all the children who study at College No. 85.”

On 25 January 2001 Soviet District Court rejected the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ civil complaint against the three officials’ actions after failing to find a connection between their arrival and the early termination of the worship meeting. The court did not consider the testimony of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who had heard Gorina ordering the police officers to halt the meeting, or the police’s similar instructions to Kuznetsov, as “these individuals are interested in the outcome of the proceedings, and for that reason, the court views their submission critically.”

Regarding Article 9 of the Convention (freedom of religion), the ECHR rejects the Russian state’s claim that the Jehovah’s Witnesses did not have appropriate documents for the meeting. “The government never specified the nature of the allegedly missing documents,” it points out, while Russia’s Supreme Court has twice confirmed that “religious assemblies [in premises provided for religious purposes] do not require any prior authorisation from, or notification to, the authorities.”

The ECHR also states that Russia’s 1992 Education Law “does not prohibit the physical use of college space by third parties, but rather the clericalisation of schools through the setting up of religious structures involving students and/or staff.” If there were a defect in the lease, it adds, this would be a matter of concern only to the two signatory parties. Forum 18 notes that the 1997 Religion Law’s official commentary clearly states that premises provided for the use of an unregistered religious group “may be the property of one of the members of the group or rented by one of them.”

The ECHR ruling also points to the lack of evidence that Yekaterina Gorina was following up an official complaint about the unauthorised presence of children. In any case, it adds, she had no authority to issue orders to police officers; “therefore the legal basis for breaking up a religious event conducted on the premises lawfully rented for that purpose was conspicuously lacking.”

Regarding Article 6 (the right to a fair hearing), the ECHR criticises Soviet District Court for remaining silent on the “crucial point” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ testimony confirming that the three officials had ordered their worship meeting to be halted. Whereas “an authority is obliged to justify its activities by giving reasons for its decisions,” it declares, Chelyabinsk Regional Court “repeated verbatim the reasoning of the District Court” and “did not address the arguments set out in the statement of appeal.” In this way, the ECHR concludes, “the domestic courts failed in their duty to state the reasons on which their decisions are based and to demonstrate that the parties had been heard in a fair and equitable manner.”

The Chelyabinsk Jehovah’s Witnesses lodged their case with the ECHR on 17 December 2001, and it was declared admissible on 9 September 2004. Sivulsky of the Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18 that the community currently rents premises for worship without obstruction.

Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses lodged another case with the ECHR on 25 October 2001 due to the excessively drawn-out nature of a trial seeking to ban their Moscow organisation. With the culmination of that trial in a ban in 2004 (see F18News 17 June 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=344), the ECHR accepted a request for its lawfulness to be considered as part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ pending case.

With some notable exceptions (see F18News 22 June 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=591), the Moscow ban has so far remained largely unenforced. (END)

For a personal commentary by an Old Believer about continuing denial of equality to Russia’s religious minorities see F18News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=570

For more background see Forum 18’s Russia religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=509

Russian Can’t Even Beat Jehovah’s Witnesses before ECHR

Forum18 reports that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have prevailed in their court action against Russia for human rights violations before the European Court for Human Rights. Read the full decision here.

That even a group as widely unpopular as the witnesses can find favor in Europe is proof positive of how low Russia really has sunk under the stewardship of that malignant little troll Vladimir Putin (and and even surer sign is that the Kremlin appears to be afraid of these wackos and feels the need to harass them — how pathetic and neo-Soviet can you get?):

Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses are “very glad” about a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that Russian authorities unlawfully interrupted the worship of 103 predominately deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chelyabinsk. Spokesperson Yaroslav Sivulsky told Forum 18 News Service that the ruling is also important because “deaf people in Russia often feel that they are of inferior worth, outside society, but this has made them feel rehabilitated and aware that their rights are respected.” He regretted that the case had not been resolved within Russia. Both parties in the case have three months in which to appeal against the ECHR decision. The community currently rents premises for worship without obstruction. Following another ECHR ruling that Russia had violated the rights of the Salvation Army’s Moscow branch by refusing to give it legal status and by branding it a “militarised organisation”, the judgement became final on 5 January 2007 and so Russia must make its compensation payment to the Salvation Army by 5 April. There is also a pending ECHR case about a ban on the Jehovah’s Witness organisation in Moscow.

Responding to the recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, in favour of 103 predominately deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chelyabinsk (approximately 1,700km [1,050 miles] east of Moscow), their press spokesperson Yaroslav Sivulsky has told Forum 18 News Service that the community’s members are “very glad, of course.” This, he remarked on 16 January, is not just because the ECHR has determined that the authorities unlawfully disrupted their worship. “Deaf people in Russia often feel that they are of inferior worth, outside society, but this has made them feel rehabilitated and aware that their rights are respected.” Sivulsky regretted, however, that the case could not have been resolved within Russia.

In its 11 January 2007 verdict, the ECHR ruled unanimously that the Russian state authorities violated Article 9 (freedom of religion) and Article 6 (the right to a fair hearing) of the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms with regard to the Chelyabinsk Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Convention entered into force for Russia in 1998.

On behalf of the whole group, the verdict awards Jehovah’s Witness Konstantin Kuznetsov 30,000 Euros [1,029,730 Russian Roubles, 249,860 Norwegian Kroner, or 38,760 US Dollars] non-financial damage and 60,544 Euros [2,077,364 Roubles, 504,201 Norwegian Kroner, or 78,238 US Dollars] in costs. Both parties in the case have three months in which to appeal against the ECHR decision. The Russian government must make its compensation payment within three months of the ruling becoming final.

Finding against the Russian state for violating the rights of the Salvation Army’s Moscow branch by refusing to give it legal status and by branding it a “militarised organisation”, the ECHR ruled on 5 October 2006 that the state must pay the Church compensation of 10,000 Euros [343,000 Roubles, 83,260 Norwegian Kroner, or 12,900 US Dollars] (see F18News 12 October 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=854). On 15 January an ECHR press officer confirmed to Forum 18 that the judgment on the Salvation Army case became final on 5 January 2007. This means that the Russian state must make its compensation payment to the Salvation Army by 5 April.

On 17 January a spokeswoman at the Salvation Army’s Russian headquarters told Forum 18 that the organisation has not yet received any compensation payment.

The telephone of Pavel Laptev, the Russian Federation Representative at the ECHR, went unanswered on 16 and 17 January.

As outlined by the ECHR’s 19-page verdict, a group of predominately deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses met for worship on Sunday 16 April 2000 at the premises of Vocational Training College No. 85 in Chelyabinsk. A local Jehovah’s Witness, acting on behalf of the confession’s Administrative Centre in Russia, had concluded a rental contract with the college principal in February 1999, and both parties were operating in accordance with the agreement at the time of the meeting.

During the meeting, Yekaterina Gorina, the chair of Chelyabinsk Regional Human Rights Commission, arrived with two senior police officers and ordered the worship to be stopped. Konstantin Kuznetsov – who is proficient in sign language – relayed this order to the congregation because he found the state representatives’ manner intimidating. The following day the college principal terminated the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ rental contract, “because of certain irregularities committed by the college administration at the time of its signing.”

In subsequent hearings at Chelyabinsk’s Soviet District Court, the three officials claimed that the Jehovah’s Witness event required documented state permission. According to one police officer, “by law I had to stop the activities until documents were produced.” The state representatives also maintained that, since the Jehovah’s Witness community did not hold local state registration, it had no right to hold religious services and its rental agreement had been null and void. Yekaterina Gorina additionally claimed that children had attended the worship meeting without proof of consent from their parents or legal guardians and that she had been “defending the rights of all the children who study at College No. 85.”

On 25 January 2001 Soviet District Court rejected the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ civil complaint against the three officials’ actions after failing to find a connection between their arrival and the early termination of the worship meeting. The court did not consider the testimony of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who had heard Gorina ordering the police officers to halt the meeting, or the police’s similar instructions to Kuznetsov, as “these individuals are interested in the outcome of the proceedings, and for that reason, the court views their submission critically.”

Regarding Article 9 of the Convention (freedom of religion), the ECHR rejects the Russian state’s claim that the Jehovah’s Witnesses did not have appropriate documents for the meeting. “The government never specified the nature of the allegedly missing documents,” it points out, while Russia’s Supreme Court has twice confirmed that “religious assemblies [in premises provided for religious purposes] do not require any prior authorisation from, or notification to, the authorities.”

The ECHR also states that Russia’s 1992 Education Law “does not prohibit the physical use of college space by third parties, but rather the clericalisation of schools through the setting up of religious structures involving students and/or staff.” If there were a defect in the lease, it adds, this would be a matter of concern only to the two signatory parties. Forum 18 notes that the 1997 Religion Law’s official commentary clearly states that premises provided for the use of an unregistered religious group “may be the property of one of the members of the group or rented by one of them.”

The ECHR ruling also points to the lack of evidence that Yekaterina Gorina was following up an official complaint about the unauthorised presence of children. In any case, it adds, she had no authority to issue orders to police officers; “therefore the legal basis for breaking up a religious event conducted on the premises lawfully rented for that purpose was conspicuously lacking.”

Regarding Article 6 (the right to a fair hearing), the ECHR criticises Soviet District Court for remaining silent on the “crucial point” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ testimony confirming that the three officials had ordered their worship meeting to be halted. Whereas “an authority is obliged to justify its activities by giving reasons for its decisions,” it declares, Chelyabinsk Regional Court “repeated verbatim the reasoning of the District Court” and “did not address the arguments set out in the statement of appeal.” In this way, the ECHR concludes, “the domestic courts failed in their duty to state the reasons on which their decisions are based and to demonstrate that the parties had been heard in a fair and equitable manner.”

The Chelyabinsk Jehovah’s Witnesses lodged their case with the ECHR on 17 December 2001, and it was declared admissible on 9 September 2004. Sivulsky of the Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18 that the community currently rents premises for worship without obstruction.

Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses lodged another case with the ECHR on 25 October 2001 due to the excessively drawn-out nature of a trial seeking to ban their Moscow organisation. With the culmination of that trial in a ban in 2004 (see F18News 17 June 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=344), the ECHR accepted a request for its lawfulness to be considered as part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ pending case.

With some notable exceptions (see F18News 22 June 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=591), the Moscow ban has so far remained largely unenforced. (END)

For a personal commentary by an Old Believer about continuing denial of equality to Russia’s religious minorities see F18News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=570

For more background see Forum 18’s Russia religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=509

Russian Can’t Even Beat Jehovah’s Witnesses before ECHR

Forum18 reports that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have prevailed in their court action against Russia for human rights violations before the European Court for Human Rights. Read the full decision here.

That even a group as widely unpopular as the witnesses can find favor in Europe is proof positive of how low Russia really has sunk under the stewardship of that malignant little troll Vladimir Putin (and and even surer sign is that the Kremlin appears to be afraid of these wackos and feels the need to harass them — how pathetic and neo-Soviet can you get?):

Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses are “very glad” about a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that Russian authorities unlawfully interrupted the worship of 103 predominately deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chelyabinsk. Spokesperson Yaroslav Sivulsky told Forum 18 News Service that the ruling is also important because “deaf people in Russia often feel that they are of inferior worth, outside society, but this has made them feel rehabilitated and aware that their rights are respected.” He regretted that the case had not been resolved within Russia. Both parties in the case have three months in which to appeal against the ECHR decision. The community currently rents premises for worship without obstruction. Following another ECHR ruling that Russia had violated the rights of the Salvation Army’s Moscow branch by refusing to give it legal status and by branding it a “militarised organisation”, the judgement became final on 5 January 2007 and so Russia must make its compensation payment to the Salvation Army by 5 April. There is also a pending ECHR case about a ban on the Jehovah’s Witness organisation in Moscow.

Responding to the recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, in favour of 103 predominately deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chelyabinsk (approximately 1,700km [1,050 miles] east of Moscow), their press spokesperson Yaroslav Sivulsky has told Forum 18 News Service that the community’s members are “very glad, of course.” This, he remarked on 16 January, is not just because the ECHR has determined that the authorities unlawfully disrupted their worship. “Deaf people in Russia often feel that they are of inferior worth, outside society, but this has made them feel rehabilitated and aware that their rights are respected.” Sivulsky regretted, however, that the case could not have been resolved within Russia.

In its 11 January 2007 verdict, the ECHR ruled unanimously that the Russian state authorities violated Article 9 (freedom of religion) and Article 6 (the right to a fair hearing) of the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms with regard to the Chelyabinsk Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Convention entered into force for Russia in 1998.

On behalf of the whole group, the verdict awards Jehovah’s Witness Konstantin Kuznetsov 30,000 Euros [1,029,730 Russian Roubles, 249,860 Norwegian Kroner, or 38,760 US Dollars] non-financial damage and 60,544 Euros [2,077,364 Roubles, 504,201 Norwegian Kroner, or 78,238 US Dollars] in costs. Both parties in the case have three months in which to appeal against the ECHR decision. The Russian government must make its compensation payment within three months of the ruling becoming final.

Finding against the Russian state for violating the rights of the Salvation Army’s Moscow branch by refusing to give it legal status and by branding it a “militarised organisation”, the ECHR ruled on 5 October 2006 that the state must pay the Church compensation of 10,000 Euros [343,000 Roubles, 83,260 Norwegian Kroner, or 12,900 US Dollars] (see F18News 12 October 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=854). On 15 January an ECHR press officer confirmed to Forum 18 that the judgment on the Salvation Army case became final on 5 January 2007. This means that the Russian state must make its compensation payment to the Salvation Army by 5 April.

On 17 January a spokeswoman at the Salvation Army’s Russian headquarters told Forum 18 that the organisation has not yet received any compensation payment.

The telephone of Pavel Laptev, the Russian Federation Representative at the ECHR, went unanswered on 16 and 17 January.

As outlined by the ECHR’s 19-page verdict, a group of predominately deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses met for worship on Sunday 16 April 2000 at the premises of Vocational Training College No. 85 in Chelyabinsk. A local Jehovah’s Witness, acting on behalf of the confession’s Administrative Centre in Russia, had concluded a rental contract with the college principal in February 1999, and both parties were operating in accordance with the agreement at the time of the meeting.

During the meeting, Yekaterina Gorina, the chair of Chelyabinsk Regional Human Rights Commission, arrived with two senior police officers and ordered the worship to be stopped. Konstantin Kuznetsov – who is proficient in sign language – relayed this order to the congregation because he found the state representatives’ manner intimidating. The following day the college principal terminated the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ rental contract, “because of certain irregularities committed by the college administration at the time of its signing.”

In subsequent hearings at Chelyabinsk’s Soviet District Court, the three officials claimed that the Jehovah’s Witness event required documented state permission. According to one police officer, “by law I had to stop the activities until documents were produced.” The state representatives also maintained that, since the Jehovah’s Witness community did not hold local state registration, it had no right to hold religious services and its rental agreement had been null and void. Yekaterina Gorina additionally claimed that children had attended the worship meeting without proof of consent from their parents or legal guardians and that she had been “defending the rights of all the children who study at College No. 85.”

On 25 January 2001 Soviet District Court rejected the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ civil complaint against the three officials’ actions after failing to find a connection between their arrival and the early termination of the worship meeting. The court did not consider the testimony of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who had heard Gorina ordering the police officers to halt the meeting, or the police’s similar instructions to Kuznetsov, as “these individuals are interested in the outcome of the proceedings, and for that reason, the court views their submission critically.”

Regarding Article 9 of the Convention (freedom of religion), the ECHR rejects the Russian state’s claim that the Jehovah’s Witnesses did not have appropriate documents for the meeting. “The government never specified the nature of the allegedly missing documents,” it points out, while Russia’s Supreme Court has twice confirmed that “religious assemblies [in premises provided for religious purposes] do not require any prior authorisation from, or notification to, the authorities.”

The ECHR also states that Russia’s 1992 Education Law “does not prohibit the physical use of college space by third parties, but rather the clericalisation of schools through the setting up of religious structures involving students and/or staff.” If there were a defect in the lease, it adds, this would be a matter of concern only to the two signatory parties. Forum 18 notes that the 1997 Religion Law’s official commentary clearly states that premises provided for the use of an unregistered religious group “may be the property of one of the members of the group or rented by one of them.”

The ECHR ruling also points to the lack of evidence that Yekaterina Gorina was following up an official complaint about the unauthorised presence of children. In any case, it adds, she had no authority to issue orders to police officers; “therefore the legal basis for breaking up a religious event conducted on the premises lawfully rented for that purpose was conspicuously lacking.”

Regarding Article 6 (the right to a fair hearing), the ECHR criticises Soviet District Court for remaining silent on the “crucial point” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ testimony confirming that the three officials had ordered their worship meeting to be halted. Whereas “an authority is obliged to justify its activities by giving reasons for its decisions,” it declares, Chelyabinsk Regional Court “repeated verbatim the reasoning of the District Court” and “did not address the arguments set out in the statement of appeal.” In this way, the ECHR concludes, “the domestic courts failed in their duty to state the reasons on which their decisions are based and to demonstrate that the parties had been heard in a fair and equitable manner.”

The Chelyabinsk Jehovah’s Witnesses lodged their case with the ECHR on 17 December 2001, and it was declared admissible on 9 September 2004. Sivulsky of the Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18 that the community currently rents premises for worship without obstruction.

Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses lodged another case with the ECHR on 25 October 2001 due to the excessively drawn-out nature of a trial seeking to ban their Moscow organisation. With the culmination of that trial in a ban in 2004 (see F18News 17 June 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=344), the ECHR accepted a request for its lawfulness to be considered as part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ pending case.

With some notable exceptions (see F18News 22 June 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=591), the Moscow ban has so far remained largely unenforced. (END)

For a personal commentary by an Old Believer about continuing denial of equality to Russia’s religious minorities see F18News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=570

For more background see Forum 18’s Russia religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=509