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
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.’
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 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.’