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Courts delay action on media NGO's complaint about raid on office; part of a campaign to silence critical NGOs, says CJES

(CJES/IFEX) - The Moscow Golovinsky Court on 11 May 2007 rejected a complaint filed by Manana Aslamazyan, the head of the foundation Educated Media, which is a successor of Internews, the international non-governmental organization (NGO) that fosters independent media and access to information.

In her complaint, Aslamazyan alleged that the 18 April confiscation of documents from the Educated Media office was illegal, reports the "Kavkazsky Uzel" newspaper. The documents were confiscated in line with a probe opened against Aslamazyan on 31 January, when she and Jillian McCormack, general director of Internews Europe, were detained at the Sheremetyevo-2 airport. Aslamazyan was then accused of trying to bring into Russia from Paris some 10,000 euros and 5,000 rubles (approx. 143 euros). Russian laws allow only up to US$10,000, approx. 7,382 euros, per person to be brought in undeclared.

Work at the Educated Media foundation was suspended following the confiscation of documents from the office.

The Golovinsky Court has forwarded the complaint to the Savyolovsky Court at the request of the prosecutor's office, reports "Kavkazsky Uzel".

Aslamazyan's defense lawyers believe the consideration of the complaint is being dragged out. "The court is now to decide whether it is legal or not. What the prosecutor's office is doing is that they are getting in line and are forwarding the case from one investigations body to another," said lawyer Boris Kuznetsov.

Kuznetsov said there is no evidence of a crime in Aslamazyan's actions and what she has done can only be classified as "an administrative violation". The defense lawyers are also arguing that there is no connection between the confiscation of the documents and the criminal case opened against Aslamazyan. "I believe what we see is a political game involving commercial organizations," said Kuznetsov. "They are simply manipulating the law," he said.

CJES expert Mikhail Melnikov fully agrees with him. "I see the pressure put on Manana Aslamazyan and the organization she heads as part of the campaign against NGOs. It's an NGO-cleansing campaign. After the law on NGOs was passed, the authorities decided to toughen control over organizations that are believed to be financed from abroad to conduct 'anti-government' activities. The law enforcement agencies now have to report that they are doing their job," he said.

"As to the trial, the prosecutor's office's actions are understandable: they are dragging out the time because they have no evidence whatsoever. There is no evidence of a crime here. It is an administrative violation . . . The thing is that the authorities need to intimidate Aslamazyan and the NGO. The press has already been intimidated and now they have started on NGOs," said Melnikov.

Russian journalists have written an open letter to President Vladimir Putin, calling on him to intervene in the Aslamazyan case. The letter has been signed by more than 2,000 people.

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