Lev Ponomarev: 'Drawing fire on herself: the case of human rights defender Tatyana Kotlyar'

posted 12 Apr 2015, 13:30 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Apr 2015, 13:39 ]
25 March 2015

By Lev Ponomarev, executive director of For Human Rights, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Original source: Ekho Moskvy 

On 17 March in the town of Obninsk, Kaluga region, a magistrate’s court began hearing a case against a deputy of the city assembly, participant in the network Migration and Law of the Memorial Human Rights Centre, and head of the regional section of the NGO For Human Rights, Tatyana Mikhailovna Kotlyar.

There are 10 volumes of materials in the case! The charges have been brought under Articles 322.2 and 322.3 of the Criminal Code: fictitious residence registration and fictitious entry on the register of foreign migrants. These are the same article about ‘bendable apartments’. It is a classical example of how populist decisions can have more force than objective reality.

The essence of the case is as follows. The authorities widely publicize the official programme of resettling 'compatriots' [ethnic Russians – ed] in Russia, and with even more pomp advertise the efforts put into taking in refugees from eastern Ukraine. But Russian law is organized in such a way that government help can only be given to those who have registered at a specific address. Without that, no benefits, no healthcare, no employment, no education...Nothing.

However, those who are ready to let a migrant live in their home are far from ready to register them: they don’t want the hassle of running to different offices, and they’re not ready to pay the tax to the inspectorate.

For that reason people who come to Russia at the invitation of the authorities turn out to be completely cut off from any social help. If somehow they can resolve the problem of finding a place to live, they cannot get registered officially.

Migrants turned to Tatyana Mikhailovna as someone who is a deputy and a human rights defender for help, and there was nowhere she could send them to get it. For that reason she registered them at her own apartment without charge. Tatyana Mikhailovna sees what she has been doing as a public demonstration of her commitment to protecting the public interests of a very wide group of people.

I point out in particular one extremely important circumstance. What is at issue is not the concealment of illegal migration (what everyone so fears). What is at issue is only and exclusively the provision for free of a legal address to people who are legally in the country and are receiving government assistance.

Nineteen years ago the Constitutional Court ruled that registration is only the acquisition by a citizen of an address for communication with the state. Human rights defenders have often called on the authorities to put this situation right, however this has not happened. There even arose the idea to register participants in government relocation programmes at the address of the local authorities, but this was not taken any further.

Tatyana Kotlyar has already faced charges under administrative law. She was accused of having registered 235 people at her apartment, while only six of them lived there. In August 2012 Kotlyar was fined, however she continued to register migrants at her address.

The Constitutional Court considers complaints about the constitutionality of a law only after it has been applied by a court of first instance. This means that in order to have the opportunity to demand the repeal of an absurd and anti-legal regulation via the Constitutional Court, Tatyana Kotlyar is fated to be sentenced under the criminal law. She faces a possible fine of up to 200,000 roubles, community work or a prison term of up to three years.

PS Further information about the latest court hearings in the case can be found on the website of Memorial Human Rights Centre at http://www.memo.ru/d/229132.html