RUSSIAN FEDERATION: The appeal court orders ADC “Memorial” to register as a “foreign agent”, amid marred judicial proceedings

Urgent Appeal

Paris-Geneva, April 9, 2014. In a hearing observed yesterday by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT joint programme), the Saint Petersburg City Court upheld that the Anti-Discrimination Centre (ADC) “Memorial”, a Russian NGO at the forefront of the defence of Roma’s rights, was performing the functions of a “foreign agent” and had to register as such for its human rights work.

Yesterday’s decision confirms the first instance ruling issued by the Leninsky District Court on December 12, 2013, which considered ADC “Memorial” as a “foreign agent” following unfair proceedings on the basis of a repressive NGO law. The Russian law on “foreign agents” imposes all NGOs receiving funds from foreign sources for any kind of “political activities” (defined as anything likely to “influence public opinion in order to change the policy”) to register as “foreign agents” or face administrative and civil sanctions. The Observatory has repeatedly called for the abrogation of that law, which blatantly violates international human rights standards.

At the end of yesterday’s hearing, which lasted less than an hour, the Observatory mission delegate reported that the judge interrupted ADC “Memorial”’s lawyers on several occasions throughout the session, thereby hindering their capacity to develop their arguments and breaching their right to a fair trial and due process, while no one objection or remark was voiced when the accusation representative was speaking.

“ADC “Memorial” pursues legitimate human rights activities for a free and democratic society in accordance with international standards. It is a legitimate human rights NGO, which has to be protected and in no way criminalised nor suffer reprisals for having cooperated with the UN human rights system. This decision of the City Court is further evidence of the constant judicial harassment faced by ADC, amid highly politicised proceedings where the judges and the prosecutor have been implementing orders from above” FIDH President Karim Lahidji said today.

Once again, the City Court pointed a report submitted by ADC “Memorial” to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in 2012 as the only evidence of its so-called “political activities”. Ironically, the decision of the City Court against ADC “Memorial” came on the same day as the adoption of a ruling on the “foreign agents” law by the Russian Constitutional Court, stating that this law is in line with the Constitution as the obligation to register as a foreign agent would not prevent NGOs from carrying out their activities.

“Should we not see working on human rights as inherently part of the ’national interest’ of a State? Is it not Russia that voluntarily signed and ratified international human rights treaties that also guarantee freedom of association?” asked Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of OMCT. “This ruling is very concerning far beyond the case of one organisation. We are alarmed that the present climate in Russia will result in a new wave of attacks against human rights organisations who are part of a global human rights community ”, he added in commenting on the ruling by the court today.

The Observatory reminds the Russian authorities that the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders provides that everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, “at the national and international levels […] to form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups” (Article 5) and “to solicit, receive and utilize resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means” (Article 13).

For more information on the cases against ADC “Memorial”, please check out the Observatory Press Releases issued on December 12, 2013 and April 7, 2014.

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