Russia: President of Kola Saami Parliament harassed while travelling to UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples
In Russia, several prominent indigenous rights activists have been harassed while travelling to the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, to be held 22-23 September in New York. Incidents include harrassments by traffic police, passports snatched by thugs or confiscated by the authorities. One of them is Valentina Sovkina, president of the Kola Saami Parliment, who was trying to travel to New York via Kirkenes, Norway. At the time of writing, Valentina has finally managed to reach Kirkenes, although she has missed her flight. Below is a translated interview with Valentia, as it was published on the Russian news website 7x7.
- Tell us where you were going? And what happened?
- We were planning to go to the World Conference on indigenous Peoples, held by the UN General Assembly in New York. I was supposed to participate in it as a representative of the Saami of Russia. We had purchased tickets and we (with colleagues) were supposed to leave this morning from the village of Lovozero for the Norwegian town of Kirkenes, where we were to take a flight. In the morning, when we went outside to get into the car, it turned out that all the tyres of the vehicle had been cut. We changed the car and with a delay of half an hour still managed to leave. On the road Lovozero - Olenegorsk we were stopped by a traffic policy squad. One officer was in uniform, the other just in civilian clothes. Maybe because we were in a hurry and driving faster than the speed limit I though; but the police began to check passengers, as if it was necessary to establish their identities.. I asked on what grounds, I was told that the car is registered as stolen, and then they said, "in connection with Ukraine; maybe you are transporting arms?". I demanded that a protocol be drawn up.- They told me "if you continue to resist, you'll lose time, and you're in a hurry." When I said, "we will leave the car and call a taxi" - they let us go. And a little later, we were again stopped by a traffic police squad, who asked to open the hood. I began to be indignant, saying, "you don't have the right", photographed them, they told me – "Everything is alright, we will now transmit over radio that you will not be stopped again". Then at the entrance to the city Zapolyarny we were again stopped by traffic police, and then we stood for two hours together with them.
- Did anyone explain why you were being stopped?
- No, first they talked about "car theft", to which our driver responded that we had been previously stopped and that they had said that they won’t do it again". They said, "this is a different district, we are close to the border, we need to re-check. They again asked for passports, my companions gave their passports, but I said that I would not give mine. They replied, "then you will have to come to the police department". Then I showed my Russian inland passport [Russian equivalent to ID cards], they looked and said: show us your passport for travelling abroad. I didn't give it, I said, "what are your reasons? You have to draw up a protocol for seizing documents. And while I was talking on the phone, to consult with people about what happened, suddenly a young man in civilian clothes runs up to me and tries to snatch my handbag. He knocked me to the ground, began to haul on the asphalt with the handbag, when a girl came to my help, she started screaming, then the driver came for help and grabbed him. And the policemen saw it all. When he escaped, and Volodya (Sovkina’s driver) caught him and had him in his grab, the policemen came running, grabbed Volodya, twisted his hands. They let the thief go and held Volodya.
- That is, the man who ran towards you didn't introduce himself? You don't know who he is?
- He didn’t say a word. He just ran up to me and tried to snatch the bag. . And then I called the police, said that I had been attacked. The most ridiculous thing happened when one policeman ran after the offender, his companion left and we were left alone. Without passports, without documents, we sat and waited. Naturally, we were already late for the plane. Then the traffic police came back, returned us our passports, suggested that we file a report about the attack, and we then went to Zapolyarny, because we were already late and there was no reason to rush anywhere. Only around 8 PM we were done.