13 October 2016
The chair and the accountant of the human rights organization Citizens’ Watch have been summoned to the Central District police station of St Petersburg. According to Elena Shakhova, head of Citizens’ Watch, representatives from the Ministry of Internal Affairs were interested in, among other things, ‘the question of the relations of the NGO with foreign partners,’ Rosbalt reports.
Elena Shakhova said that she had received a letter from the department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Central District in St. Petersburg which stated that from 20 June 2016 an inspection was to be carried out. What prompted the inspection is not set out in the letter.
The police wanted to receive by 6 October 2016 documents on the relations between Citizens’ Watch and its foreign partners, in particular two Swedish human rights organizations.
They also asked the NGO to provide copies of its founding documents, instructions issued by management, and its accounts for the period from 2013 until June 2016. Elena Shakhova and the chief accountant were asked to go to the police station located on Mytninskaya Street.
Meanwhile, the postmark on the envelope indicated that the letter had been posted only on 6 October 2016. It reached Citizens’ Watch after some delay.
Since Russia began to make its laws on NGOs more restrictive and officials designated Citizens’ Watch a ‘foreign agent’, Elena Shakhova has already been summoned to the FSB.
As stressed in the report "Development of civil activism despite everything: Russian NGOs in the aftermath of the Law on Foreign Agents", in 2015 and early 2016 there was a marked upswing in the enforcement of government oversight (frequently on an arbitrary basis) regarding the activities of NGOs in Russia, as well as the emergence of new legal problems that place in question the legal existence and activities of Russian NGOs as an integral part of an independent civil society.
By the end of 2015, there were already 109 organisations on the list of “agents.” The organisations identified as “agents” by Ministry of Justice officials have been forced to pay disproportionately large fines as well as facing significant damage to their reputations and finances, and several have been forced to close down.
Environmental and human rights NGOs have been the at the forefront of this persecution. At the 70th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2015, a resolution recognising the importance of human rights advocates and the necessity of defending them was adopted and supported by 117 countries.
In 2015, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, stressed in a special report that, “new regulations have led to the closure of a series of human rights organisations, and other NGOs are engaging in self-censorship, taking extra precautions, and avoiding participation in activities which could be deemed ‘political’.”
The International Memorial Society has stated in a special announcement: "[...] The very idea behind the Law on Foreign Agents is essentially alien to the principle of the rule of law, and not a single problem exists which it could potentially solve. The goals pursued by its authors were purely political and opportunistic, and its wording deliberately and blatantly introduces legal uncertainty. In effect, the Law on Foreign Agents establishes a presumption of guilt for a group of organisations which have been selected on an entirely artificial basis [...]".
Amnesty International, the largest international human rights organisation in the world, has emphasised that, “the Law on Foreign Agents is one of a series of measures aimed at suppressing civil society and freedom of expression in the country.”
Russian NGOs have repeatedly made known their opposition to the law and lodged appeals against it, inter alia at the European Court of Human Rights.
Human rights defenders have stressed that the law is blatantly discriminatory and has extremely negative historical overtones.
90 members of the Russian PEN Centre, which brings together historians, members of the Free Historical Society and Russian academics, have called on the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation to put an end to the arbitrary treatment of NGOs identified as “foreign agents”.
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