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Court rules seizure of media organisation's documents to be legal

(CJES/IFEX) -On 21 June 2007, the Moscow Golovinsky Court ruled as legal the January 2007 seizure of documents in the office of Educated Media Foundation (formerly known as Internews Russia), which is headed by Manana Aslamazyan. Thus, the court took the side of the prosecutor's office, which linked Aslamazyan's alleged violation of legislation governing currency import into Russia with the work of the foundation

Aslamazyan's defense lawyers had insisted that the alleged customs violations, which occurred at the Sheremetyevo airport in January, were not related to Educated Media Foundation, according to the Internet portal "The New Times".

The first hearing of the case took place in the Moscow Tverskoi Court on 30 May, when Aslamazyan's lawyers tried to contest the prolongation of the investigation, which they argued was illegal. Although the Moscow Tverskoi Court found violations in the procedures governing the prolongation of the investigation, it upheld the legality of the extended term, allowing the law enforcement agencies to continue the investigation and leaving Aslamazyan's lawyers without the right to demand that the case be closed.

However, the defense lawyers continued to insist that the criminal case involving the confiscation of the undeclared currency was opened illegally because, as lawyer Boris Kuznetsov told "The New Times", the currency found on Aslamazyan exceeded the amount allowed to be brought into Russia without a declaration by only 81,000 rubles (approx. US$3,141). Under article 188 of the Criminal Code, a person can only be held criminally liable if the amount of currency smuggled into the country reaches 250,000 rubles (approx. US$9,694). Yet investigators continued to take into account the total amount of currency Aslamazyan was carrying.

The defense lawyers alleged that the currency case was in no way linked to the work of the foundation, and therefore the searches and seizures in the foundation's office should be recognized as illegal and the documents need to be returned. The judge disagreed and did not cancel the search warrants issued by the investigator.

In addition, the judge rejected the defense lawyers' arguments that Aslamazyan was being persecuted for political reasons - specifically, her professional activities as the head of a non-profit organization receiving foreign grants.

Following the Golovinsky Court's decision, Aslamazyan's lawyer Viktor Parshutkin said an appeal will be filed with a higher court. "I am very disappointed. I had expected the court to order the investigators to return the confiscated documents, as the law requires," news agency Interfax quoted him as saying.

Aslamazyan told "The New Times", while commenting on the Golovinsky Court's decision, that "this horribly unfair ruling" will be contested.. . . This case has nothing to do with the law. We are being persecuted. We will fight because we do not believe we are guilty," she said.

Aslamazyan also said she did not know who was waging this campaign against her and the foundation. "In any case, it is not in the interests of the country and the people we have been working for," she said.

Aslamazyan is currently abroad. Before the trial, she issued a statement through the Russian media. A complete text of the statement was published by REGNUM information agency.

"It is not a political manifesto. It is my personal, sincere letter to you, my dear friends. I cannot thank each of you, and therefore I am addressing all of you at once. Thank you for signing the letter in defense of Educated Media Foundation. I could not even imagine that we, both the organization and me personally, have so many friends all over the country," Aslamazyan said in her statement.

"The situation is such that, contrary to any logic, a violation of the law committed by me personally is reflecting on the fate of the foundation in Russia. It is still unclear what plans the investigative bodies have for me. The numerous complaints and statements made by our lawyers have not yielded any results. And, honestly speaking, I don't understand what to expect, taking into account the current situation in the Russian criminal justice system. I am scared. I will work in America, Asia, Africa and Europe, pay taxes in Russia, and wait for the court to find out how my personal mistake, for which I am ready to bear a fair and appropriate punishment, becomes grounds for the suspension of the operation of a big organization, which was very useful to the country," she continued.

In her address, Aslamazyan said she was hoping that this story would have a happy, fair, just, and non-politicised ending.

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