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Four activists face charges for criticising Soviet statue removal

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an ARTICLE 19 press release:

Estonia: Court Urged to Throw Out Incitement to Rioting Charges

ARTICLE 19 has urged an Estonian court to uphold the right to freedom of expression in the criminal trial of four ethnic Russians charged with inciting public disorder. The four stand accused of organising the riots which rocked Tallinn in April 2007 after the authorities decided to remove the Bronze Soldier, a monument to Soviet war dead, from the city centre.

The removal of the Bronze Soldier, viewed by the authorities as a symbol of Soviet occupation, sparked widespread indignation amongst Estonians of Russian origin, who considered it a symbolic affront and part of a general policy of "derussification". Protests organised by the four defendants erupted into violence on 26-28 April 2007, causing 50 injuries, one death and extensive material damage. The four are charged with incitement to public disorder. Specifically, they are alleged to have created a willingness in members of the Russian minority to resort to violence by organising unauthorised protests, by publicly alleging police brutality and by portraying the situation in Estonia as one of generalised official discrimination.

In its submission to the Harju County Court, which is hearing the cases, ARTICLE 19 notes that harsh criticism of official policy is protected by the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined by international treaties to which Estonia is a party. In order to justify charges of incitement to disorder, the authorities must show both that the defendants intended to promote violence and that their statements were the direct cause of the riots. The submission argues that the authorities have failed to establish either of these two elements convincingly and accordingly warns that a conviction would breach international standards.

Three of the defendants, Dmitry Linter, Dmitry Klenski and Maksim Reva, are leaders of the "Night Watch" movement, established in 2007 to prevent the relocation of the Bronze Soldier memorial to a military cemetery. The fourth defendant, Mark Siryik, is the leader of "Nashi", a Russian youth group allied with Night Watch.

The analysis is available at:

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.

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