MOSCOW — A court officials’ order barring two founders of an opposition party from leaving Russia for six months was overturned late Thursday by the Federal Security Service, or FSB.
It said the travel ban had been issued “prematurely.”
Vladimir Milov and Boris Nemtsov had announced earlier in the day that they had received the order restricting travel because a correction they had been required to publish did not have a big enough headline and was missing a key word. That correction stemmed from a pamphlet they had written titled “Putin. Results. 10 Years,” which argued that old friends of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had improperly grown prominent and rich through their association with him.
Nemtsov, who was in Strasbourg, France, said the overturning of the ban was the result of a resolution by the European Parliament condemning Russian authorities for refusing to register the party that he and Milov helped found: the People’s Freedom Party.
He said Russian officials were afraid they might face a travel ban to Europe if they didn’t drop the restrictions on the two opposition politicians, the Interfax news agency reported.
That the FSB, successor to the KGB, could overturn a court decision is itself a measure of the independence of the judiciary here.
Gennady Timchenko, a businessman and Putin associate, had taken the pair to court over the pamphlet. The court found in Timchenko’s favor and ordered the opposition politicians to publish a correction, at their own expense.
They did so under protest, buying space in the newspaper Kommersant, in which they quoted their pamphlet as saying that friends of Putin, such as Timchenko, who were “nobodies” before he came to power were now billionaires — and that Putin was the actual beneficiary of the riches these “Timchenkos” had received. Then they noted that the Moscow district court had found this to be false. The bailiffs’ service ruled this week that the headline on the correction — “Regarding Gennady Timchenko — Co-founder of the Gunvor Company” — was inadequate and did not contain the word “refutation,” as required.
Court-ordered travel restrictions are typically issued for people who have unpaid debts or have a material claim lodged against them. Milov said before the overturning of the ban that he thought this was the first time restrictions had been imposed in a private dispute that did not involve money. He called the ruling “obviously ridiculous” and “a political decision.”
Milov had said it would be pointless to republish the correction with the missing word and the bigger font.
“They were looking for some reason to punish us,” he said. “Because of the ridiculous nature of the current claim, you have no idea what they’re going to try to do next. I’m not going to throw more money into the mouth of the dragon.”
Milov and Nemtsov’s party was denied registration last month by Russia’s Justice Ministry, which said that signatures on its organizing petitions were fraudulent. On Wednesday, the European Parliament adopted a resolution saying it “deplores” that decision.
The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the resolution. “It is no news for me that the European Parliament has once again tried to interfere in internal legislation in such a rude manner,” said spokesman Alexander Lukashevich. “And I do not rule out that there will be a more elaborate reaction on our part.”