European Parliament denounces crackdown on civil society in Russia. Time for the EU to take a much stronger stand.

Press release

The European Parliament on 13 June 2013 adopted a resolution on the "Rule of law in Russia which echoes FIDH’s constant denunciation of the deteriorating human rights situation since the latest presidential elections and its repeated calls on the EU institutions to take a stronger stand.

European parliamentarians condemn the new corpus of laws [1] which offer the authorities a range of tools to harass civil society. They emphasise that “laws […] on the registration of political parties, NGO financing, the right of assembly, extremism, defamation […] have been used to suppress civil society, stifle opposing political views and harass NGOs, the democratic opposition and the media”. The Parliament notably condemns the July 2012 bill forcing non-commercial organisations engaged in so-called ’political activities’ and receiving foreign funding to register as ’foreign agents’.

The European Parliament denounces the “widespread, targeted and intrusive inspections, confiscation of property and administrative fines imposed on Russian NGOs” and “considers it deeply regrettable that a few NGOs are already facing trial, like [ADC] Memorial, in St Petersburg, or have already been sentenced, like GOLOS”. ADC Memorial no longer faces a trial, as on 12 June the court ruled that charges against it were unsubstantiated. However, in the meantime two other NGOs from St Petersburg, LGBT film festival ’Bok o bok’ and an LGBT organisation ’Vyhod’ were declared a ’foreign agent’ and fined 500,000 Roubles each (11,641 EUR) for having failed to register as such.

Members of the European Parliament importantly recall that “states have an obligation to support, directly or indirectly, the funding of civil society activities, in particular by creating a favourable environment without interfering in their independence” and asked the European Commission to provide for a “significant increase” in the Union’s financial support to NGOs and civil society.

The European Parliament also firmly condemns the regional and national legislations banning ’homosexual propaganda’. A bill prohibiting ’propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’ was adopted on 11 June at the Russia Duma, two days before the EP resolution, and will now be presented to the Upper Chamber.

“The European Parliament, representing the voice of 500 million EU citizens, is taking the lead over other EU institutions by firmly denouncing the worrying deterioration of the human rights situation in Russia” said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. “While EU representatives are showing general concern for challenges around the right to access funding, the EU has shied away from sending a firm message at summits with Russian high officials  [2]. The EU should denounce the situation more openly and publicly with Russian counterparts" added Karim Lahidji “In parallel, it is high time for the EU to devise an alternative support strategy to prevent dozens of NGOs supported by international donors to be wiped out from the Russian landscape” he concluded.


Harassment of NGOs
Last April, FIDH Member organisation ADC Memorial Director Olga Abramenko described in her intervention before a European Commission human rights forum in Brussels [3] the pattern of systematic administrative and judicial harassment independent NGOs were increasingly facing in Russia. A few days after this discussion, ADC Memorial was charged under Article 19.34 of the Code on administrative violations. ADC Memorial was accused of having published and distributed a report to the United Nations informing about the police abuse against vulnerable minorities [4] while not registering the NGO as a “foreign agent”, as required under the new legislation. The organisation risked huge fines (up to several dozens of thousands Euros) and compulsory registration as a “foreign agent”,which would have endangered the very existence of the association. On 12 June 2013 judge Olga Glushanok ruled that charges against ADC Memorial contained considerable deficiencies that could not be corrected in the course of the consideration of the case. However, other NGOs are still facing trial.

The massive number of checks of ’non-commercial organizations’ like ADC Memorial have consumed a lot of time and energy of the human rights defenders and civil society organisations staff. They must prepare for the court hearings – providing a huge amount of documents on the basis of a non-exhaustive and vague list of requirements –, and prove their innocence.

’Homosexual propaganda’ laws

Following several laws in various regions of the Federation of Russia that ban ’homosexual propaganda’, on 11 June 2013 the Russian Duma in two final readings adopted a federal law that bans ’propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’, defined as "spreading information aimed at forming non-traditional sexual desires in children, describing such relations as attractive, promoting a distorted understanding of the social equality of traditional and non-traditional relations and through unwanted exposure to information that could provoke interest to such relations". If approved by the Upper chamber of the Parliament and signed by the President, the law, under the pretext of protecting the rights of minors, would ban de facto not only any demonstrations and gatherings by LGBT activists, but would also allow to silence them on-line, wiping out any expressions of tolerance towards homosexual, bisexual and transgender people, and by consequence all the possible work on protection of the social, political, economic or civil rights of these groups.

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