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#9 - JRL 2007-138 - JRL Home
Russian court rejects NGO appeal against seizure of documents

MOSCOW, June 21 (RIA Novosti) - A Moscow district court rejected an appeal Thursday against the seizure of material from a non-governmental organization as part of a criminal probe into smuggling charges against the head of the NGO.

Manana Aslamazyan, head of the Education Media Foundation, was charged with smuggling earlier this year, after customs officers discovered she had failed to declare foreign currency after a trip abroad - approximately $2,800 more than the permitted sum of $10,000.

As part of the investigation, police mounted a raid of the NGO's Moscow headquarters, seizing computers and financial documentation.

Aslamazyan's defense lawyers said they would re-appeal the Golovinsky court's decision upholding a warrant for the confiscation. They believe her actions should be classified as a disciplinary offense only, and that the criminal case against her is politically motivated and related directly to her position as the head of a foreign-funded NGO.

Formerly known as Internews Russia, the Educated Media Foundation is involved with training broadcast journalists, mostly from the provinces. Supported by grants from Western charities, such as the Open Society Institute, and USAID and TACIS assistance programs, the group was forced to suspend its operations following the raids.

Aslamazyan, currently in Paris on a visit, told RIA in a telephone interview, "I'm unhappy with the court decision, of course, as it seems far-fetched. Of course, we will be appealing all action taken in the case."

She said it is a well-orchestrated campaign targeting her personally as well as the foundation she heads.

The case against Aslamazyan prompted more than 2,000 prominent Russian journalists to send an open letter of protest to President Vladimir Putin. They are unanimous in their belief that the proceedings against Aslamazyan were launched as a show case to keep foreign-funded NGOs from meddling in Russian politics.

In late 2005, the Russian parliament passed a Kremlin-sponsored bill preventing foreign NGOs from running branch offices in the country and making Russian groups ineligible for most sources of foreign funding.

Presented by authorities as a measure to protect national security, the bill drew a strong reaction from the Council of Europe and rights activists at home and abroad, who slammed the new piece of legislation as an attempt to weaken civil society.