Russian Federation: Ministry of Justice attempts to shut down the "For Human Rights" NGO

18/10/2019
Urgent Appeal

New information
RUS 004 / 1218 / OBS 141.1
Closure attempt /
Obstacle to freedom of association
Russia
October 18, 2019

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your intervention in the following situation in Russia.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the attempt to close down the Moscow-based “For Human Rights” movement, an NGO which served during many years as an umbrella organisation for many human rights NGOs in different parts of Russia. Its Executive Director, Mr. Lev Ponomarev, recently supported peaceful rallies organised to protest the arrest and prosecution of youth groups under anti-terrorist laws (see background information) - in response to which he was detained himself detained and prosecuted - and denounced the arbitrary arrests of peaceful activists during the demonstrations that took place during the summer to protest Moscow City Council election fraud and brutal repressions of the Moscow protests by the authorities [1].

According to the information received, on October 8, 2019, the Ministry of Justice submitted a lawsuit requesting the Supreme Court of Russia to shut down the “For Human Rights” NGO, under the pretext that the NGO “violated Russian laws and Constitution”, including the 2012 Foreign Agent Law for Non-Commercial Organisations (hereafter the “Foreign Agent Law”), which targets non-profit organisations receiving foreign financial assistance or carrying out activities deemed to be “political”.

The Observatory recalls that the “For Human Rights” NGO was listed as a foreign agent for the second time in its history [2] in February 2019, following an inspection made by the Ministry of Justice in January 2019, a few weeks after Mr. Lev Ponomarev was sentenced and arbitrarily detained (see background information). In addition, the organisation was fined multiple times in the recent months for alleged violations of the Foreign Agent Law.

In a statement published on October 16, 2019, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights recalled that “European human rights standards specify that the dissolution of an NGO can only be used as a last resort, confined to exceptional circumstances justified by serious misconduct”, and added that “the Russian authorities have employed the Law on Foreign Agents against the All-Russia Movement for Human Rights and its leader Lev Ponomarev at least seven times since the beginning of this year, imposing sanctions entailing a heavy financial burden for legitimate human rights activities”[3]. This statement underlines that the application of the Foreign Agent Law is a clear obstacle to the right of freedom of association in the country.

The Observatory strongly condemns the tentative of dissolution of the “For Human Rights” movement and urges the Russian authorities to immediately put an end to the liquidation proceedings against the NGO, respect in all circumstances the right to freedom of association as enshrined in Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

Background information:

On December 7, 2018, the Moscow City Court confirmed in appeal the conviction of Mr. Ponomarev, Executive Director of the Moscow-based “For Human Rights” movement, pronounced two days before by the Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court for organising a rally. However, due to Mr. Ponomarev’s health condition, the sentence was reduced to 16 days of detention, including the time already served.

The court found Mr. Ponomarev guilty under part 8 of Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code of Russian Federation of “repeated violation of the established procedure for conducting a rally” for reposting on his Facebook page a public call encouraging citizens to attend a peaceful rally outside of the Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters in Moscow. According to the Federal Law N 54-FZ “On Assemblies, Meetings, Demonstrations, Rallies and Pickets”, any call to participate in a rally amounts to its organisation.

The charges relate to the reposting on October 25, 2018 by Mr. Ponomarev of an earlier announcement made on the website of the radio station Echo of Moscow calling for participation in the October 28, 2018, action called “For your children and ours!” [4], organised in solidarity with a group of more than 20 young activists detained on trumped-up ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ charges [5]. Mr. Lev Ponomarev was also instrumental in seeking the approval for the peaceful marches with the authorities, which was denied.

More than 1,000 people participated in the rally on October 28, 2018, in four Russian cities. 58 persons were arrested in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Mr. Ponomarev had previously faced harassment for his actions of protest against the harassment of the same youth groups. On July 31, 2018, Mr. Lev Ponomarev was fined with 10,000 rubles (around 130 Euros) for holding a one-man picket in support for two female activists accused in the “Novoye Velichiye” case, which made the presently impugned offence “repeated”. Moreover, on December 10, Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court rejected Mr. Ponomarev’s request to attend the funeral of the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, human rights defender Lyudmila Alekseeva, who died on December 8, 2018, at 92 years old.

The Observatory notes that the current established procedure for conducting a rally contradicts existing, standards on freedom of assembly at European and international level, as stated by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights [6], as well as the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) [7].

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Russia asking them to:

i. Immediately put an end to the liquidation proceedings against the “For Human Rights” movement;

ii. Repeal the 2012 Foreign Agent Law;

iii. Amend the legislation regulating freedom of assembly so as to uphold the highest international human rights law standards in line with the recommendations issued by the Venice Commission and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders and organisations are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

v. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its Articles 1, and 12.2;

vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Russia.

Addresses:

• Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, Fax: + 7 495 606 3602; + 7 495 625 3581
• Mr. Dimitri Medvedev, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Twitter: @MedvedevRussia
• Mr. Sergueï Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Fax: + 7 495 644 2203
• Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 734 40 44, E-mail: mission.russian@vtxnet.ch
• Embassy of the Russian Federation in Brussels, Belgium. Fax: +32 2 374 26 13. E-mail: mission.russian@vtxnet.ch
• Permanent Representation of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe, France. Fax: (+33) (0) 3 88 24 19 74. Email: russia.coe@orange.fr

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Russia in your respective countries.

***

Paris-Geneva, October 18, 2019

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
 
 
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel and fax FIDH +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
• Tel and fax OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29

[1] See FIDH Press Release and Report: https://www.fidh.org/en/region/europe-central-asia/russia/russia-pro-democracy-protesters-undeterred-by-repression
[2] The “For Human Rights” NGO was classified as a foreign agent for the first time in December 2014, but Russia’s Ministry of Justice removed the designation a year later.
[3] See: https://www.coe.int/fr/web/commissioner/-/the-commissioner-urges-the-authorities-of-the-russian-federation-to-discontinue-the-liquidation-proceedings-against-the-all-russia-movement-for-human-
[4] http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_34661/c77bf52af28dfd8f9de192b9faf0999c023256d2/
[5] Between October and November 2017, the FSB detained 11 young men on suspicion of participating in a terrorist community called the “Network” under article 205.4 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. The case is based primarily on confessions extracted by the FSB agents, and several suspects say they were tortured into incriminating themselves. In March 2018, the Russian authorities brought criminal charges against another group of young men and women for having allegedly organized an extremist community called the “Novoye Velichiye” (“New Greatness”).
[6] https://rm.coe.int/follow-up-memorandum-on-freedom-of-assembly-in-the-russian-federation-/16807517aa
[7] https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD(2013)003-e

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