Lawyers seek to overturn ban
“It’s ridiculous that Canadians should be prosecutable in Russia for doing human rights work in Canada.”
–David Matas, human rights lawyer
By CHRISTOPHER GULY
The Lawyers Weekly (Canada), Feburary 17, 2012
[Note from FOFG editor: we just found this article.]
Two Canadian lawyers nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize are seeking to appeal a string of Russian court decisions banning them from entering the country over a report they wrote about Falun Gong followers — in China. International human rights lawyer David Matas wasn’t aware of the ban until last May, when he was the keynote speaker at a conference on Internet hate speech in Kyiv.
A Russian human rights activist informed him that the 2007 “Report into allegations of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China,” which Matas co-wrote with former Crown prosecutor and MP David Kilgour, and which was translated into Russian and 17 other languages, was “banned as extremist literature” under a 2002 law against extremist activities.
The decision, made by a court in Krasnodar, southern Russia, in August 2008, was overturned by a regional court the following year after an appeal by Russian Falun Gong supporters.
However, the case was revived when the public prosecutor in Krasnodar asked the original court to investigate more fully the ban on the Matas/Kilgour report and other human rights-related writings on Falun Gong, relying on the testimony of experts chosen by Russia’s Ministry of Justice.
Last October, the court reaffirmed its decision, and based on a translation of the written judgment, referred to a court expert who concluded that the Matas/Kilgour report “can create for readers a negative image of China, its social and political system, representatives of authorities, medical workers, military, etc.”
The court concluded that the report has “pronouncements which engender strife and dislike toward people who do not apply to this religious association.”
Russian human rights and democracy activists again appealed the decision but an appellate court upheld it in December.
The Matas/Kilgour report, which became the 2009 book Bloody Harvest, found that hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners in China who refused to renounce their practices even under torture were sent to Chinese gulags, and alleged that some had their vital organs pillaged for sale on the black market. The Chinese government regards the Falun Gong movement as a dangerous cult and banned it in 1999.
“I didn’t know about the October decision when it was made and heard about the December decision,” said Matas, who also practises refugee law in Winnipeg and won’t be able to speak ata human rights conference in Russia later this year as a result of the ban.
“We were never notified, but David Kilgour and I are not that hard to find.”
Since they risk criminal prosecution should they attempt to enter Russia, both men — who have also been banned from China — sent a letter electronically to the appellate court the day before it upheld the ban on Dec. 22.
They argued that their report cannot be considered “extremist simply because it is critical of the policies and practices of any government system, representatives or officials,” and that the Russian law on extremist literature was not intended to include “investigative reports into allegations of wrongdoing where there is evidence in support of the conclusions of the investigation.”
Under article 1 of federal law 114, signed by then-Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2002, “extremist activity” is defined, in part, as the incitement of “racial, national or religious strife” and the “abasement of national dignity.”
In their letter — which they are not even sure was read in court — Matas and Kilgour wrote that neither international nor Russian law “is intended to render the policies or practices of any government system, representatives or officials, whether domestic or foreign, immune from criticism.”
Furthermore, Russia’s Supreme Court released guidelines last June regarding judicial procedure in cases involving criminal extremism that reinforced the need for balance between protecting public interests and Russia’s constitutional guarantees of freedom of opinion and speech.
Matas said that he and Kilgour plan to appeal to the Russian high court to overturn the ban. If they’re unsuccessful, they will seek relief at the European Court of Human Rights.
“It’s ridiculous that Canadians should be prosecutable in Russia for doing human rights work in Canada,” said Matas, who last visited Russia in 1998 when he was investigating the disappearance of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg on behalf of then-foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy.
Matas and Kilgour have asked current Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to issue a diplomatic note of protest to the Russian government on their behalf.