19 May 2009

A Victory for Memorial

The End of the “Case of the Raid” and Some Lessons Learned

A Public Statement from 'Memorial'

On 6 May 2009 the City Court of St Petersburg upheld the decision of the Dzerzhinsky Region Court, which had ruled that the raid on the premises of the Research and Information Centre “Memorial” in St Petersburg on 4 December 2008 was illegal.

On the same evening representatives of RIC “Memorial” (lawyer Ivan Pavlov, director Irina Flige and Tatiana Kosinova, a member of the organisation’s governing body), accompanied by two independent observers (Boris Pustyntsev, head of the organisation “Civic Control” [Grazhdanskii kontrol’] and Svetlana Ekimova, representative of the Human Rights Ombudsman for St Petersburg), arrived at the Prosecutor’s Office to collect the items which the officials from the Prosecutor’s Office’s Investigative Committee had illegally confiscated. These items included twelve computer hard drives, which at the time of the raid contained databases with the results of twenty years of research into the history of political terror during the Soviet period.

The representatives of Memorial made a record of the procedure by which the items were returned, and this record was witnessed by the independent observers. All returned items were then packed into boxes, sealed and taken to “Memorial’s” premises.

On 13 May independent technical experts tested the hard drives for their functionality and the integrity of the data held on them, once again in the presence of representatives of the public. All drives turned out to be functional and data samples confirmed the integrity of the data. The test report states that the drives show no sign of having been read, with the exception of a single drive which was unsuccessfully connected to a computer in the night of 4 December. It seems that during all this time the drives were simply kept at the Prosecutor’s Office, without anyone taking an interest in their content.

A total of four court hearings took place in the five months that passed since the raid, during which RIC “Memorial” demanded that the raid be declared illegal and the confiscated items returned. As early as March the Prosecutor’s Office declared its willingness to return the confiscated items “since they were not needed”, but now it has been forced to do so by court order.

Obviously, the return of the confiscated items does not compensate for the damage done to RIC “Memorial’s” work: as a consequence of the raid almost the entire IT system was put out of service and large parts of the information and reference material held on the confiscated hard drives were inaccessible for five months. Moreover, the issue of the moral damage inflicted on our organisation remains open: investigator M.G. Kalganov’s absurd suspicion that “Memorial” could be involved in funding rightwing extremist publications, publicly reiterated by the permanent representative of Russia at a session of the OSCE, was not refuted during the court proceedings. The court refused outright to address this issue. “Memorial” intends to take further steps in order to defend its good name.

Nevertheless - our organisation’s rights have been rehabilitated and our property has been returned to us. We believe this outcome would have been impossible without the wave of protests and acts of solidarity that began immediately after the raid on 4 December, internationally as well as within Russia. As members of “Memorial” we wish to express our sincere gratitude to the scholarly community in Russia and abroad, the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation and the regional Human Rights Ombudsman for St Petersburg, the human rights section of the European Council, the democratic civic and political organisations in Russia, the mass media in Russia and abroad (in particular the information portals Polit.ru and “Human Rights in Russia” [Prava cheloveka v Rossii, hro.org), foreign politicians and many others for the support they offered to us.

Memorial would like to draw attention to the fact that several conclusions can be drawn from the “case of the raid”:

Firstly, despite widespread opinion to the contrary, it is possible in certain cases for non-governmental organisations in Russia to defend their rights in court, if they invest a considerable amount of effort and display insistence. Such a victory does not come cheap: in this case it has cost the staff members at “Memorial” much time and energy – over a period of five months they had to put their main work aside time and again in order to stand up for the rights and the good name of the organisation.

Secondly, public solidarity campaigns are not merely symbolic acts of protest. They can yield practical results.

Thirdly, we have seen that under the present conditions a full triumph of law and justice is unlikely when the case in question concerns official interests. In the “case of the raid” this was evident from the fact that the court refused to address the issue of the illegality of the search warrant itself on the grounds that it was wholly unjustified, limiting itself to pointing out that the decision to carry out a raid is the exclusive prerogative of the investigator. Thus the court in practice confirmed the right of the investigative agencies to take such arbitrary decisions, infringing upon rights of legal persons without having to fear subsequent legal investigation. “Memorial” believes such practice to be anti-constitutional.

Fourthly, during the court process it became clear that the law enforcement agencies (at least the Centre for the Fight Against Extremism at the Main Administration of the Russian Ministry for Internal Affairs for the North-Western Federal District) consider “Memorial” to be an “extremist” organisation, something that warranted the decision to place our office under “operative observation”, in other words “external surveillance”. All our attempts to establish why our Research and Information Centre in St Petersburg has become the object of operational investigations have been unsuccessful so far. The Centre for the Fight Against Extremism refused to reply to our enquiry, pointing out that the law prohibits disclosing the classified information about operational investigations. However, the very fact that the efforts in the “fight against extremism” are directed against organisations such as “Memorial” throws a specific light on the reasons why real extremism in St Petersburg, as well as in the whole of Russia, is on the rise, while the percentage of extremist crimes solved remains catastrophically low. The story of how RIC “Memorial” was placed under external surveillance ought to serve as yet another stimulus for a serious public debate, during which we need to arrive at an evaluation of the present aims and priorities of the law enforcement agencies with regard to the “fight against extremism”. We expect interested government agencies to join in such a public debate.

Thus the “case of the raid on RIC “Memorial”” is over, at least in as far as the rehabilitation of our injured rights are concerned, but there are certain aspects of this case that still need to be evaluated by society.

International “Memorial” Society

“Memorial” St Petersburg

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