Russia: Evenk community Sergei Nikiforov identified as a political prisonerPublished by MAC on 2016-03-21
Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre
From previous article on MAC: Russia: Indigenous community leader opposing mining sentenced to 5 years
Memorial recognises leader of the Evenk community Sergei Nikiforov as a political prisoner
Memorial human rights centre statement
11 February 2016
Resident of Amur Region Sergei Nikiforov has been sentenced to four years in a colony and fined 3 million roubles. He was found guilty under point “v” of part 5, article 290 of the Russian Criminal Code (Receiving of a large bribe by an official) and under part 2, article 285 of the Russian Criminal Code (Use by the head of a body of local self-government of the powers of his position against the interests of the service for selfish or other personal interests).
According to the sentence, Nikiforov, as the head of the Ivanovskoe village council, concluded a contract in 2012 with the DalTeploEnergo company for the renovation of the boiler house and water system, knowing in advance that the company had no revenues. The director of DalTeploEnergo Zhakova supposedly gave Nikiforov bribes to allocate a prepayment, and the investigation thinks that the contracting company didn’t complete the work on the first contract, and didn’t do the second one at all.
Nikiforov himself asserts that he was forced to allocate a prepayment so as not to disrupt the work and get it done on time (repairing the boiler house before the heating season), but didn’t receive bribes for this and didn’t know in advance about the company’s lack of revenues. When he found out that DalTeploEnergo was avoiding fulfilment of the second contract, he made a report on fraud by Zhakova, but he himself was charged with a criminal offence. From October 2013 he was under house arrest, and on September 28, 2015 after sentencing he was taken into custody.
Memorial considers that the Nikiforov case has obvious signs of falsification, and he himself was denied the right to a fair legal investigation. The most absurd fact in the Nikiforov case is that the investigation didn’t try to prosecute Zhakova, although, if the story in the charges is true, she gave bribes on her own initiative and, after receiving a prepayment for the second contract, didn’t fulfil it. Moreover, she is not hiding and is a prosecution witness.
It is notable that, according to the investigation, Nikiforov sometimes received part of the bribes in Blagoveshchensk, and then on the same day put them into his account. But the defence proved that Nikiforov put these sums into a branch of Sberbank in the village of Ekimchan, which is over 600 km from Blagoveshchensk, and the roads that lead to it are extremely bad. The investigation obviously created an impression of credibility by making real payments into the account seem like an imagined bribe.
This kind of falsification could have had the motive of corruption, but we think that the case doesn’t end here. Nikiforov’s trial coincided with a struggle between residents of the village of Ivanovskoe and a group from the Petropavlovsk company, which received a licence to engage in gold mining work 2 km from the village. According to our information, Nikiforov was coordinating the actions of his fellow villagers, who were holding demonstrations in favour of environmental protection, and preparing to prevent the work. By
taking Nikiforov into custody this activity was halted. Previously in 2012 Nikiforov had already disrupted the gold mining work of another company by threatening to organise a boycott of the presidential elections.
This gives us grounds to believe that the authorities were not interested in a fair examination of the falsified case against Nikiforov and had a political motive to isolate the public activist. Amnesty International considers Nikiforov a prisoner of conscience. The Memorial human rights centre demands the release and fair examination of the case of Sergei Nikiforov.
Recognising a person as a political prisoner or as prosecuted for political motives does not mean that the Memorial human rights centre agrees with their views or statements, or that it approves of their statements or actions.
More details on our position can be found here - http://memohrc.org/special-projects/nikiforov-sergey-savelevich
Indigenous Leader and Environmentalist in Jail
Amnesty International Urgent Action - UA: 291/15 Index: EUR 46/3094/2015 Russian Federation
17 December 2015
Sergei Nikiforov, an Evenki indigenous people’s leader and environmental rights defender has been imprisoned for opposing a gold mining project in the Amur region, in Russia’s Far East, after an unfair trial. He is a prisoner of conscience.
Sergei Nikiforov is an environmental rights defender and an Evenki indigenous leader in Ivanovka village in the Amur region. On 29 September 2015 he was sentenced to five years in a prison camp and a fine of 16 million roubles (£152,000) for bribery and fraud by a court in Blagoveshchensk, in the Amur region. On 8 December, the sentence was reduced on appeal to 4 years and the fine was reduced to 3 million roubles (£28,000 pounds). Sergei Nikiforov is currently in detention in Blagoveshchensk awaiting transfer to a prison colony.
The charges relate to a building project that he commissioned in 2012 from an engineering firm. Despite receiving payment in advance, the firm never carried out the works and in September 2013 Sergei Nikiforov lodged two complaints against the firm for fraud and bribery. His complaints were successful and the firm was asked to refund him, but in a strange turn of events, in October 2013, Sergei Nikiforov was accused by the engineering firm of fraud and bribery. He was put under house arrest pending trial and there was no further action until September 2015.
In July 2015, the Petropavlovsk mining company was granted a licence to extract gold using explosives within 2 km of Ivanovka village without any consultation with the affected Evenki community as required under Russian law. Talks between the Evenki, representatives of the company and the local government failed, but the works went ahead. Until then, the mining company had been extracting gold in the region for some years and relations with the Evenki were good. On 10 September, the villagers asked for all works to stop pending an ethnological and ecological survey and declared their intention to oppose the mining by all legal means. Sergei Nikiforov led the opposition to the latest licence despite being under house arrest.
There are reasons to suspect that Sergei Nikiforov’s trial was unfair and intended to discourage opposition to the mining project. The 2013 case was reactivated in September 2015 just at the time when the villagers made clear their opposition to the mining project. Sergei Nikiforov’s initial testimony was taken before his lawyer could be present and Sergei Nikiforov later withdrew his testimony in court. The court also refused to consider vital defence evidence and to call crucial witnesses. For example, the court refused to consider banking documents which proved that Sergei Nikiforov could not have accepted bribes on particular dates in the city of Blagoveshchensk as he was in the regional administrative centre of Ekimchan, 650 km away carrying out banking operations.
Please write immediately in Russian or your own language:
- Urging the Russian authorities to immediatly and unconditionally release Sergei Nikiforov as he is a prisoner of conscience;
- Calling on them to carry out a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the circumstances of Sergei Nikiforov’s arrest and conviction;
- Reminding the Russian authorities that they have a responsibility to protect human rights defenders and ensure they can carry out their legitimate actions without fear of reprisals.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 28 January 2016 to:
15 A, Bolshaia Dmitrovka Street
Fax: +7 495 692 17 25
Salutation: Dear Prosecutor General
Prosecutor of Amur Region
Ul. Pionerskaya 37
Fax: +7 4162 77-50-01
Salutation: Dear prosecutor
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:
URGENT ACTION INDIGENOUS LEADER AND ENVIRONMENTALIST IN JAIL - ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Sergei Nikiforov is a respected member of his local community and under his leadership the village has grown and flourished. He established a dance troupe to revive Evenki culture, and the Petropavlovsk mining company funded some of their activities.
The charges against Sergei Nikiforov relate to a building project that he commissioned in 2012 from an engineering firm to repair the water tower and heating system for the kindergarten in the village. Fair trial concerns include the refusal by the court to consider vital defence evidence. The court also refused to admit documents proving that a transfer to Sergei Nikiforov’s account alleged to be a bribe was in fact a refund for transportation costs, and did not come from the engineering company. The engineering company was not called as a witness and has not been charged for offering the bribes.
Name: Sergei Nikiforov
Gender m/f: m
UA: 291/15 Index: EUR 46/3094/2015 Issue Date: 17 December 2015