Bjørn Engesland and Enver Djuliman of the Helsinki Committee were participating in a seminar in Murmansk entitled “The Dialog on Human Rights with Journalists” when the administrative charges were brought against them by Russian authorities. Engesland said they left the country when a fine was levied against them.
The visa violation charges were brought against the members of the the Norwegian Helsinki Committee for an alleged “discrepancy with performed activities and stated goals of entrance” to Russia.
Engesland and Djuliman had taken part in the international seminar, which was organized by the Helsinki Committee in conjunction with the Murmansk administration’s Commission for Human Rights and Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression.
Engesland and Djuliman pointed out, however, that their trip to Russia, which included Engesland’s prior visit to Moscow, was not exclusively for the purposes of the seminar.
The seminar drew journalists and NGO representatives. Discussion at the seminar centered around how attracting the attention of the mass media would help defend human rights from arbitrary government incursions, specifically from Russia’s secret services.
Evidently, Russia’s visa officials saw the Helsinki Committee’s participation as an abrogation of their visa condition and found a pretext on which to break up the seminar and prevent ones similar to it from occurring in the future.
On the day following the opening of the seminar, visa service officials served Engesland and Djuliman with notification of an administrative breach, saying that the tourist and business visas with which the Helsinki Group’s members had entered Russia did not give them the right to engage in civil activities.
Engesland and Djuliman disagreed with this assessment and turned to Nina Popravko, a lawyer with the Environmental Rights Centre, Bellona, Bellona’s St. Petersburg office.
“We considered the actions of the visa services to be illegal and unfounded and carried out with significant violations of norms of material and professional rules,” Popravko said.
“In accord with a July 6th 2003 Government Decree, a business visa entitles one to take part in international and public events. A tourist visa entitles one to take part in professional and business activities that are not connected with collecting an income (for such activities). As such, the visit of the foreign citizens did not violate visa regulations.”
She said that, “the migration service has its own departmental acts on the basis of which, as a rule, decisions are taken, but sometimes these are in contradiction of legislation that is in force.”
She added that, “We are glad that the court took into account the conclusions of our complaints, that the decree of the visa services was overturned and that administrative proceedings have been brought to an end.”