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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Customs Confiscates Amnesty Report




Amnesty International said 100 copies of its report on Chechnya were confiscated by customs agents at Sheremetyevo Airport, who said the report contained "anti-Russian propaganda."


Amnesty International researcher Mariana Katzarova said two boxes containing the copies of the 60-page report were taken from her Sunday when she arrived at the airport. She had intended to distribute the report to officials during a two-day seminar in Vladikavkaz, the North Ossetia capital.


The seminar, which began Tuesday, was co-organized by the Foreign Ministry and the Council of Europe and was attended by Justice Minister Yury Chaika and ombudsman for human rights Oleg Mironov, among others. In a telephone interview from Vladikavkaz, Katzarova said she was attending the seminar at the invitation of the Foreign Ministry.


Katzarova said that when she arrived from London at the Moscow airport, a customs inspector opened the two boxes, flipped through one copy and called for his supervisor, telling him that the report contained "anti-government, anti-Russian propaganda."


The report describes human rights violations committed against Chechen civilians by federal troops and against Russian prisoners of war by Chechen separatists, as well as the persecution of ethnic Chechens in Moscow, she said. It is available on the Internet (www.amnesty.org).


"The inspector said the report was 'taking a dump' on the Russian police and the Russian military," Katzarova said. She also said the customs officials asked her why she was "siding with the Chechens" if she was not a Chechen herself.


After discussing the issue for nearly two hours, Katzarova said, the customs officials told her they were confiscating the report since she could not prove that she was not bringing it into Russia for "commercial purposes."


When reached by telephone Wednesday, Vladimir Sedov, deputy head of Sheremetyevo customs, refused to comment. However, an unnamed top Sheremetyevo customs official told Interfax the report was confiscated because Katzarova had no documents explaining "for what purpose the literature is being imported."


The customs official also said that the copies of the report will be returned to Katzarova as soon as she proves that she was bringing the report into the country "legally."


In a statement published on its web site Tuesday, Amnesty International wrote that "this incident calls into question the real commitment of the Russian authorities to investigate human rights violations, particularly in Chechnya, and their commitment to freedom of speech."


Katzarova said Amnesty International waited until Tuesday to publicize the incident because it hoped the reports would be returned.


Katzarova called the confiscation of the report a "dangerous precedent" reminiscent of "old Soviet practices."


"This incident is a blow to the Russian government's human rights policies," she said. "It can happen again and again to any human rights group in Russia."


Russia has drawn international criticism for alleged violations of human rights committed by the federal troops during the offensive in Chechnya. Until recently, the government has denied any violations.


However, earlier this week, President Vladimir Putin pledged that he would make sure everyone guilty of crimes in the war-devastated region, including federal troops, was punished.


"All violations of the law in Chechnya will be stamped out in the most severe fashion regardless of who committed them," Putin said. "Dozens of lawsuits have already been initiated ... including against military servicemen."


In a statement distributed Wednesday, the Russian Union of Journalists called the confiscation of the report a "demonstrative act of undisguised censure" and a violation of the Constitution.


The Union of Journalists said the customs officials' action was "another answer to the question of whether the new government plans to uphold its own laws and existing international agreements and whether all of its claims to devotion to the freedom of speech are simple statements."


The confiscation of the Amnesty International report brings to mind another incident, during which 1,500 copies of a report on nuclear waste written by the Norwegian environmental group Bellona were seized by St. Petersburg customs in October 1996. Customs officials labeled the report - co-authored by navy captain-turned-environmentalist Alexander Nikitin, who had been jailed on espionage charges in February of that year - "forbidden literature" and said it contained state secrets.


The report became the first book in post-Soviet Russia to be officially banned, even though it still could be found on the Internet.


Amnesty International named Nikitin, who was acquitted last December, a prisoner of conscience.