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Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Again Calls Upon Russian Officials to Prevent Murder in St. Petersburg

WASHINGTON – This is an update to Commission release of February 19: On February 19, Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) called upon the authorities of the Russian city of St. Petersburg to act immediately to prevent the murder of Inga Ivanova, director of the Prins Maurits school of Open Christianity. Since then the situation at the school has deteriorated. Police sent to the school have entered the building and gathered the parents, children and teachers in the chapel.

The parties are at a stand-off but the environment is very tense. The school is asking for international intervention to prevent any violence, and for the international community to seek city Governor Vladimir Jakovlev’s intervention to resolve this dispute peacefully.

Reprise of the February 19 release:

“Local officials must intervene immediately to prevent another murder similar to that of human rights activist and Duma member Galina Starovoitova,” said Smith. “Great issues are at stake here for the Russian people. Are they to be at the mercy of thugs and brigands, or live in a nation of law and justice? It is up to the current officials to insure that it is the latter.”

Smith was referring to recent alarming reports that on the night of February 17 Inga Ivanova was seized by three men, pulled into a car and threatened with death if she continued to fight for the legal right to keep the building where the school is located. Fearing for her life, Ivanova fled to the Netherlands. Earlier, on the evening of February 17, St. Petersburg television had aired a program depicting the school with its 150 children and the 40 students of the pedagogical academy as being run by “sects” and representing a threat to Russian society.

“Who runs St. Petersburg, the law or the criminals?” asked Smith. “The armed threats on the life of Inga Ivanova over a piece of property are another indication that the civil authorities have abdicated their responsibilities to protect life and have turned the streets over to criminal elements. One would think that with the still unsolved murder of Galina Starovoitova last year, and with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly scheduled to meet this July in St. Petersburg, city authorities would struggle to prevent letting thugs run rampant in the city. I urge Governor Yakovlev to stop these threats against Inga Ivanova, find the purveyors of this assault and bring the parties guilty of this latest outrage to justice.”

The Open Christianity school was established in the early 1990s as an ecumenical private school. According to records provided by Ivanova, the building that houses the school was given “in perpetuity” to the Open Christianity organization by city officials under the condition that the building be restored. Volunteers from the Netherlands, United States and Russia have assisted in the restoration. Nevertheless, city officials are now trying to seize the building for alleged breach of contract, sending police to forcibly seize the premises.

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