Russia: call for repeal of foreign agents law after 'grim' year of NGO persecution
‘The “foreign agents law” was designed to stigmatise and discredit NGOs engaged in human rights’ - John Dalhuisen
A “foreign agents law” adopted a year ago is choking independent non-governmental organisations in Russia, Amnesty International said today, a year on from the law’s introduction.
In less than a year the notorious law has led to the unannounced mass “inspection” of some 1,000 organisations, with raids being widely publicised by media aligned with the Russian authorities. The “inspections” have been followed by the persecution of several NGOs and their leaders through administrative proceedings and the courts, with more cases expected to follow.
This week alone, five Moscow-based NGOs - Memorial, Public Verdict, “For Human Rights” movement, Jurix and Golos - have been in court trying to fend off the pressure exerted on them by the authorities. Court hearings on their cases have been postponed; numerous other NGOs across Russia have been in court since April for the same reason.
The law is part of a raft of repressive legislation introduced since Vladimir Putin’s return to the Russian presidency. Enacted on 21 November 2012, it requires any NGO receiving foreign funding and engaging in what it defines very loosely as “political activity” to register as an “organisation performing the functions of a foreign agent”. The law has a wide reach, affecting NGOs working on civil and political, social and economic rights, as well as environmental issues and discrimination.
“One year after it came into force, the record of the foreign agents law is a grim one.
“The “foreign agents law” was designed to stigmatise and discredit NGOs engaged in human rights, election monitoring and other critical work. It is providing a perfect pretext for fining and closing critical organisations and will cut often vital funding streams.
“The ‘foreign agents law’ violates Russia’s national and international obligations to safeguard the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression. It should be repealed immediately.”
John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director
Since the “foreign agents law” came into force
- At least ten NGOs have been taken to court by the Russian authorities for failing to register as an “organisation performing the functions of a foreign agent”.
- At least five other NGOs have been taken to court following the “inspections” for purported administrative violations such as the failure to present requested documents.
- At least ten Russian NGO leaders have been ordered to comply with the “foreign agents law”.
At least 37 NGOs have been officially warned that they will be in violation of the law if they continue to receive foreign funding and engage in arbitrarily defined “political activities”. This includes publishing online materials on human rights in Russia and not registering as “foreign agents”.
- The election watchdog Golos (Voice) has disbanded after the law was used to impose hefty fines on it and to suspend its work for several months. The organisation tried in vain to challenge the punitive measure in court before finally giving up.
- The Kostroma Centre for Support of Public Initiatives has suffered the same fate, closing because it could not pay a large fine imposed on it.
- The LGBTI film festival Bok o Bok (Side by side) paid a fine and closed down. It had officially ceased to exist by the time it won its appeal, so could no longer claim the money back.
Reactions from Russian NGOs
Russian NGO leaders have told Amnesty about their frustrations with the law. The rights group Alliance of Women of the Don - which advises local people on family, labour, housing and pension issues - is facing a court case next week for refusing to register as a foreign agent. “We have nothing to be ashamed of and we have nothing to feel guilty for. We are proud of our work. The closure of our organisation will affect so many people,” said Valentina Cherevatenko, leader of the Alliance.
Lev Ponomaryov, leader of the Russia-wide movement For Human Rights, told Amnesty: “If we have to close down, thousands of people across Russia will suffer. If other NGOs are forced to close down - tens of thousands will suffer. Civil society will be doomed.”