RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Court orders Memorial Human Rights Center to register as “foreign agent”

Urgent Appeal

Geneva-Paris, May 27, 2014. On May 23, 2014, a Moscow court ordered prominent NGO Memorial Human Rights Center to register as a “foreign agent” for its human rights work. The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, reiterate their concern about this decision and the continuous wave of attacks against independent human rights organisations in Russia.

On May 23, 2014, the Zamoskvoretzky District Court of Moscow heard on the merits the appeal lodged by the Human Rights Center (HRC) Memorial against a Public Prosecutor’s warning of April 2013 requiring the NGO to register as a “foreign agent” under Russia’s “Foreign Agents” Law. However, Judge Elena Perepechina rejected the appeal, ruling that HRC Memorial had engaged in pretty vague “political activity”. HRC Memorial will appeal the decision before a higher court.

It is also extremely worrying that the decision came on the same day as the adoption by the Russian Duma (lower house of Parliament) of provisions that will allow the Ministry of Justice to register NGOs as “foreign agents” at its own initiative, without a court decision. The provisions will enter into force when passed by the Federation Council (the upper house) and signed by the President.

Forcing one of the most important Russian human rights organisation that fought for the rights of Russian citizens already under Soviet days to declare themselves as ‘foreign agent’ is shameful. Is claiming rights contained under the Russian Constitution really a foreign interest? Any society can be proud of organisations such as the HRC Memorial with its steady and principled support to human rights over decades”, OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock said today.

The Observatory recalls that the Russian Law on Non-Profit Organisations in its current version imposed 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. On April 8, 2014, the Russian Constitutional Court ruled that the law was respectful of the Constitution arguing the absence of any legal or constitutional grounds for contending that the term “foreign agent” had negative connotations and therefore that the obligation to register as a foreign agent would not prevent NGOs from carrying out their activities. The Observatory has repeatedly called for the abrogation of that law, which blatantly violates international human rights standards.

On April 8, 2014, the Saint Petersburg City Court upheld that the Anti-Discrimination Centre (ADC) “Memorial”, an NGO at the forefront of the fight against all forms of discrimination, was performing the functions of a “foreign agent” by submitting a report on police abuses to the UN Committee Against Torture, following unfair proceedings. Subsequently the NGO refused to register under this unfair label and decided to liquidate its structure and continue its work without registration in the Russian Federation.

The decision on the HRC Memorial appeal and the amendment to the foreign agent law reflect the current climate in Russia, where the legislation every day closes another window of free expression. Over the last months we saw new laws introduced and speedily adopted to allow the closure of independent blogs and media without any judicial review or criminalise the repeated violation of the already restrictive rules on public assemblies”, FIDH President Karim Lahidji said. “Human rights monitoring and the defence of freedoms are more needed than ever”.

The Observatory reminds the Russian authorities that the United Nations 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).

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