RUSSIAN FEDERATION: ADC “Memorial” officially declared a “foreign agent” by the court

Urgent Appeal
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Paris-Geneva, December 12, 2013. On December 12, 2013, the Anti-Discrimination Centre (ADC) “Memorial” was officially declared a “foreign agent” by the Leninsky District Court of St Petersburg, and was ordered to register as such with the Ministry of Justice, according to the information received by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders(1).

Today, the court unexpectedly established that all the activities of ADC “Memorial” fall under the definition of “performing the functions of a foreign agent”. Accordingly, for the first time, a court has directly labelled a human rights NGO a “foreign agent”, and did not just order it to register as such. This decision could pave the way to increased harassment of human rights organisations in the Russian Federation.

“This decision is evidence of the judicial harassment of ADC “Memorial”, and it is clear that the judge and the prosecutor are implementing political orders from above” said FIDH Vice-President Tolekan Ismailova, who observed today’s hearing in the framework of an international judicial observation mission for the Observatory. “It was just an appalling court hearing, marked by injustice and discrimination. The court satisfied all the demands of the prosecutor and rejected all the petitions of the lawyers of ADC “Memorial””, she added.

ADC “Memorial” was taken to courts over a report entitled “Roma, migrants, activists: victims of police abuse” submitted back in November 2012 to the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT). According to the prosecutor, this report proves ADC’s involvement in political activities and its function as a “foreign agent” as it allegedly received foreign funding. This case was rejected by the administrative court, which found that the complaint of the prosecutor was unfounded. In July 2013 the prosecutor started another, civil, process “on behalf of an ’undefined group of citizens’” that, according to the prosecutor, would be protected by ADC’s registration as a ”foreign agent”.

Surprisingly, at today’s hearing, the prosecutor stated that ADC “Memorial” was guilty because of all its activities, and not just the report. He argued that the report was in fact inseparable from all other past and future activities of ADC, which are allegedly of “political” nature and would supposedly tarnish the image of the police and the army. The prosecutor had used the same reasoning in his protest regarding a decision favourable to ADC “Memorial” in the administrative process (see below).

“ADC “Memorial” is a legitimate human rights NGO, which, like any other NGO, should be protected rather than criminalised. This decision amounts to an intolerable presumption of guilt for ADC “Memorial” and its activities”, FIDH President Karim Lahidji deplored.

“We call upon the Russian authorities to repeal that verdict and to put an end to this escalating harassment of NGOs. Ultimately, human rights are in the national interest of any democratic State”, said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.

The hearing was observed by representatives from the European Union, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland and Lithuania.

The verdict shall be notified to ADC “Memorial” within five days, and ADC will have one month to appeal the decision.

Background information

Following the introduction of the law on ’foreign agent’ in spring 2013, hundreds of NGOs have been inspected by prosecutors. These inspections resulted in further unprecedented harassment: as of December 2013 two NGOs have been suspended, at least 11 have been taken to court, and dozens have received official notices of violations or warnings not to violate the law.

ADC “Memorial” has been facing two cases: administrative and civil. In both cases the prosecutor argues that ADC Memorial is a foreign agent as in November 2012 it submitted a report to the CAT entitled “Roma, migrants, activists: victims of police abuse”.

The civil case is based on Article 45, part 1 of the Code on Civil Procedure, which allows the prosecutor to turn to the court on behalf of an “unspecified group of citizens”. The prosecutor argues that by failing to register as a “foreign agent”, ADC “Memorial” broke the law and continues to mislead this “unspecified group” about its activities.

The administrative case against ADC “Memorial” was lodged by the prosecutor in April 2013 and was rejected in May 2013 by the Mirovoy Court no. 8 of St Petersburg. The court found that the evidence brought by the prosecutor’s office was inconclusive and insufficient to prove that the ADC Memorial was a “foreign agent”. All the appeals and “protests”1 of the prosecutor were likewise rejected. The court stipulated that there were no legal grounds for the very inspection of ADC Memorial’s premises in the spring of 2013.

In Russia, administrative processes can only concern offences committed within the past three months, so the case of ADC “Memorial” is already long expired. Despite this, on November 5, 2013, the prosecutor lodged a new “protest” to the City Court of Saint Petersburg, where he demands that the court cancel the decision of the District Court. In this protest he went beyond the report submitted to the CAT and claimed that “due to the constant nature of the activities of ADC “Memorial”, it can be concluded that the offence it committed has a lasting character” and is “inseparable from all other types of its activities”.

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