How NGOs in Chelyabinsk become “foreign agents” with help of officials from Ministry of Justice

posted 14 Nov 2016, 05:46 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 14 Nov 2016, 05:47 ]
8 November 2016


Officials in Chelyabinsk region are attempting to close down the “For Nature” Ecological Foundation and the movement of the same name on the grounds of alleged infringement of the legislation on “foreign agents”, according to a report by which quotes Andrei Talevlin, head of both NGOs.

Talevlin claims that the state, represented by the Ministry of Justice, continues to ignore the fact that the “For Nature” Movement, added to the list of “foreign agents” by public officials in March 2015, does not even have a current account in which funds could be deposited, whether foreign or otherwise.

As a lawyer, Talevlin had managed until recently to counter the attempts to fine the Foundation and Movement for alleged non-compliance with the requirements laid down in the legislation on “foreign agents”.

Yet he believes that the fate of the Foundation and the Movement is now as good as sealed.

The environmental activists intend to continue their efforts even if the Ministry of Justice overturns their official registration.

Talevlin emphasised his belief that local Ministry of Justice officials had taken a discriminatory approach in view of the lack of similar claims against other organisations which are presumably more loyal to the authorities.

He added that eliminating environmental organisations from public life was a strange choice in the run-up to Russia’s 2017 Year of Ecology.

The years 2015 and 2016 have been characterised by the (often arbitrary) strengthening of government oversight over NGOs and their activities in Russia, and the creation of new legal challenges to their existence. These developments have called into question the NGOs’ legal survival in Russia and their very activities as an essential element of independent civil society, a concern emphasised in a report entitled ‘Russian NGOs after the Law on “Foreign Agents.”

By the end of 2015, the registry of ‘foreign agents’ listed 109 organisations. Organisations deemed ‘foreign agents’ by justice ministry officials were subjected to disproportionately high fines, and incurred financial costs as well as those to their reputations. Some were forced to close down.

The organisations most targeted for persecution have been those dealing with the environment and human rights. At its seventieth session in 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution recognising the important role of human rights defenders and the need to protect them. The resolution was backed by 117 countries.

In a 2015 report, Nils Muižnieks, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, stressed that ‘new norms have led to a number of human rights NGOs being shut down. Other NGOs now engage in self-censorship [and] decline to participate in events that could be regarded as political.’

The International Memorial Society noted in a special statement on the issue that ‘the concept of the law on “foreign agents” does not proceed from the principle of the rule of law. There is not a single problem in existence that this law solves. The aims of its authors were purely political and opportunistic, and its language introduces patently obvious legal uncertainty. The law on “foreign agents” essentially means the presumption of guilt for an artificially selected group of organisations.’

The largest human rights organisation in the world Amnesty International underlined that ‘the so-called “law on foreign agents” is part of a series of measures aimed at the suppression of civil society and of the freedom of expression in Russia.’

Russian NGOs have repeatedly expressed disagreement with the law and have brought legal challenges against it, including before the European Court of Human Rights.

Human rights advocates note the law’s clearly discriminatory character and its extremely negative historical context.

Ninety members of PEN International’s Russian branch, joined by historians who are members of the Free Historical Society, and Russian scholars, have appealed to the Ministry of Justice’s leadership demanding an end to its arbitrary behaviour towards NGOs classified as ‘foreign agents.’

Translated by Joanne Reynolds