Saratov NGO Sotsium Fined 100,000 Roubles

posted 5 Dec 2016, 05:39 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 5 Dec 2016, 05:40 ]
1 December 2016


The Saratov social non-governmental organization “Sotsium,” formerly designated a “foreign agent” by bureaucrats, has been fined 100,000 roubles for “failure to submit necessary information on its current status to the Department of Justice,” Vzglyad-Info reports.

Marina Kashina, the magistrate sitting in Engels district court, issued the decision, reports Ilya Shteinberg, a representative of the organisation.

“We are now closing the organisation. Sotsium has been out of operation since October 2014; there are no accountants. We asked the court to limit its verdict to a warning, pointing out that we would be closing before the New Year. But the court did not limit itself in this way, and the verdict was passed to punish the organisation,” Ilya Shteinberg said.

He emphasized that the organisation’s members do not presently have the means to pay the fine.

“The organisation consisted of social workers, medical workers, psychologists,” Ilya Shteinberg notes.

On April 18, the Engelss district court arrived at their decision, according to which the NGO Sotsium must register as a ‘foreign agent.’

The organization conducted research related to the HIV epidemic. Television broadcaster Vladimir Pozner spoke out in support of Sotsium. Sotsium’s representatives themselves flatly reject the officials’ accusations and explained that the organisation’s activity enables a decrease in the rate of growth of the number of people infected with HIV.

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.’ 

 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.’