Environmental Watch for North Caucasus designated a “foreign agent” by officials

posted 19 Sept 2016, 03:44 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Sept 2016, 03:44 ]
14 September 2016

Source: HRO.org

Enviromental Watch for the North Caucasus, an interregional environmental and human rights NGO which is renowned throughout the country, has been added to the list of “foreign agents” by the Ministry of Justice.

Pravo.ru reports that the decision was taken by officials on 13 September 2016. The Ministry’s announcement was couched in the standard phrases used on such occasions; “An unscheduled document audit by the Department of the Ministry of Justice of Russia for the Republic of Adygeya revealed that the organisation meets the criteria used to identify NGOs acting as foreign agents.”

According to Kommersant, Environmental Watch for the North Caucasus recently came up against fierce opposition from local authorities in connection with the firefighting measures it has organised in the Krasnodar Region together with Greenpeace Russia. The environmental activists have been obstructed in their work as a result of arrests by police officers and attempted blockades of their camp by people dressed as Cossacks.

On the night of 8-9 September 2016, the activists’ camp was attacked by a group of armed individuals who shouted xenophobic insults, beat up the volunteers, damaged equipment and vehicles at the camp and stole personal belongings.

At a press conference, Mikhail Kreindlin, head of Greenpeace’s protected areas programme, announced that the expedition had been forced to discontinue its attempts to extinguish the grass fires due to the constant threat to which they were exposed. He estimated that the area affected by grass fires in the Primorsk-Akhtar Region had grown from 75 ha to 500 ha.

"Ecological Watch for Northern Caucasus" is one of the most active organisations in southern Russia, whose activists have opposed a significant number of projects with adverse environmental implications. Sergei Tsyplenkov, head of Greenpeace Russian and member of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, has expressed his concern that, “the organisation may ultimately face major problems as a result of its opponents’ actions.”

More details on the campaign of persecution in the Krasnodar Region against the activists working on behalf of Ecological Watch for the Northern Caucasus can be found here.

The witch-hunt against ‘foreign agents’ in Russia’s non-profit sector was launched in 2015, and by the end of that year 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 Minister of Justice to put an end to the arbitrary treatment of NGOs identified as “foreign agents”.

As stressed in the report by the NGO Lawyers’ Club, 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 state control (frequently on an arbitrary basis) against the activities of NGOs in Russia, as well as the emergence of new legal problems in connection with their existence, placing in question the legal existence and activities of Russian NGOs as an integral part of an independent civil society.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds