PRAGUE, 3 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- If there was a surprise in Nizhny Novgorod's Sovetsky district court today, it was that the judge sentenced Dmitriyevsky not to four years imprisonment, as requested by the prosecution, but to a two-year suspended sentence.
His crime is to have published two appeals by Maskhadov and Zakayev in the "Pravozashchit" newspaper, of which he is the editor in chief, in which the former Chechen leader called for a peaceful resolution of the Chechen conflict and severely criticized President Vladimir Putin, the Russian government, and the Russian armed forces.
He was charged under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code of actions intended to foment hatred or enmity on grounds of race or nationality. In sentencing Dmitriyevsky, the judge said that the appeals, which were taken from the as pro-separatist Chechen Press website, contained passages intended to foment racial, national, and social discord.
Dmitriyevsky described the sentence as politically motivated and said there was nothing in the publication that could possibly be seen as fomenting national hatred: "I don't accept my guilt because none of the publications concerned contain any negative or humiliating descriptions or assessments of any racial, national, or social groups, or of any representatives of such groups."
He said he would appeal against the sentence in the regional Nizhny Novgorod court and, if that failed, would take his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Human Rights Groups' Support
He can count on the support of Russia's human rights organizations, many of which were present as the sentence was read out in Nizhny Novgorod today.
Aleksandr Podrabinek, a former dissident and head of the Prima news agency, which reports on human rights abuses, mostly in the former Soviet Union, spoke to RFE/RL shortly after the trial had ended.
"This is yet another defeat for Russian justice and perhaps the most powerful attack in recent years on freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Russia," Podrabinek said. "The sentence is clearly politically motivated. In my opinion, Dmitriyevsky is a man who deserves public gratitude not a conviction."
Not everyone would agree. The case has stirred strong emotions in Russia. Members of the pro-government "Nashi" youth organization mounted a picket outside the court building and accused Dmitriyevsky of betraying the memory of all the victims of terrorism.
They too are dissatisfied with the court's verdict though they may feel that the political pendulum is swinging their way. Certainly, that's the view of the human rights activists, who see this as another nail in the coffin of political freedom.
Human rights activists point out too that the organization Dmitriyevsky works for -- the Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship -- could now become victim of "harsh new legislation on foreign funding of nongovernmental organizations. " The society is funded by the European Union and the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.