Novaya Gazeta: Moscow City Court rejected a German expert’s lawsuit against the FSB

Moscow City Court rejected a lawsuit against Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), which was made by Johannes Rohr, a German expert on indigenous peoples. Rohr has challenged the decision of the FSB to ban him from entering Russia until 2069. Lawyer Ivan Pavlov, the head of the human rights association “Team 29”, who represented the legal interests of Rohr together with the Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial”, has spoken to Novaya Gazeta about this.

FSB did not justify its ban. The special service can only take such a decision regarding a citizen whose activities threaten national security — but FSB did not provide the court with such documents in the presence of Rohr’s representative. We will appeal the city court’s refusal with courts of higher instances, up to the European Court of Human Rights, where we have already appealed a similar case of Thomas Nielsen, a Norwegian journalist”, Pavlov said.

In March 2019, Rohr, with the support of “Team 29” and the Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial”, had appealed against the entry ban and the actions of employees of the temporary detention center for foreign nationals to the Moscow-based Meshchansky district court. The court decided to divide the proceedings and transfer the administrative lawsuit concerning the decision to ban Rohr’s entry into Russia to the Moscow city court, because the case involved matters of state secrecy. Because of this, the court hearings proceeded behind closed doors.

Johannes Rohr, a German citizen, was detained on December 19, 2018 in Domodedovo airport. Rohr specializes in Eastern European history and Slavic studies, he advises the United Nations and other international bodies on the legal status of indigenous minorities of Russia, and also holds the position of senior adviser on Russia in the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs. At the moment of detention he had a multiple entry Russian visa.

Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” supports Johannes Rohr, a leading international expert on the rights of indigenous peoples in Siberia and the Far East, whose work is very important for the latter. Rohr defended their rights to traditional lifestyles, to preservation of endangered languages, to additional protein nutrition for indigenous children in boarding schools – all those things, which other human rights defenders know little and rarely speak about. We are convinced that the work of Mr. Rohr could not pose any threat, whereas the prohibition on the entry of such an expert, no doubt, harms those peoples in the Russian Federation, who need the help of international organizations,” says Stefania Kulayeva, head of ADC “Memorial”, which provides support to Rohr.

Despite this, the Russian border control service refused to let Rohr into the country and told him that the Russian authorities had decided to ban him from entering Russia until 2069 – Rohr would be 100 years old by that moment. Rohr was not given the opportunity to study the formal decision of the authorities and was not given a copy of it, while he was also not provided with an interpreter.

An FSB officer and an officer of the border guard unit compiled a notice on the spot, in which they referred to the clause of the law “On the procedure for entry into the Russian Federation and exit from the Russian Federation”, which stated that a foreign citizen’s entry into Russia was not allowed if “it [was] necessary to ensure defense capacity or security of the state, or public order, or the protection of public health”. However, the FSB did not substantiate in any way which particular actions of Mr. Rohr threatened the security of the state.

After his detention, Rohr was transferred to the temporary detention center for foreign nationals, where he had to stay for the night. The next day, he flew back to Germany. While being placed in the detention center, Rohr was kept together with twelve other people in a cramped cell, which measured about 15 square meters and featured no beds.

Rohr had to sleep on a cold tiled floor, bedding was not provided, and he was not fed. In his lawsuit, Johannes Rohr demanded that the actions of the employees of the Moscow regional Directorate for Migration of the Russian Interior Ministry to place him in the detention center were indicted illegal.

Earlier, in March 2017, Thomas Nielsen, a Norwegian journalist and the editor-in-chief of the Norwegian publication The Barents Observer, was banned from entering Russia. The Russian border guards stated that the journalist had been denied entry to Russia for five years for reasons of state security.

Later, the Russian embassy in Norway reported that Nielsen’s entry ban was linked to the Russian “stop lists”, which had been created in response to Norway’s accession to anti-Russian sanctions. Nielsen and Team 29 challenged the decision of the FSB in court, but the court found it lawful. In November 2018, Nielsen filed a complaint against this decision with the ECtHR.

Vera Chelischeva, Novaya Gazeta