Club of NGO Lawyers Continues Assistance to Organizations Subjected to Discrimination

posted 17 Oct 2016, 05:22 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 17 Oct 2016, 05:23 ]
13 October 2016


On 12 October 2015, Moscow City Court denied a request from the Moscow Administration of the Russian Justice Ministry to institute administrative action against the Andrei Rylkov Foundation, which officials have declared to be a “foreign agent.”

This has been reported by the Club of NGO Lawyers, which is providing the foundation with comprehensive legal support.

During its scheduled documentary inspection in May 2016, the Moscow Administration of the Russian Justice Ministry stated that the Foundation was subject to inclusion in the registry of NGOs performing the functions of a “foreign agent.” A case was opened against the Foundation for an administrative violation, and the organization was threatened with an enormous fine of between 300,000 and 500,000 rubles.

The Club of NGO Lawyers worked out a defense strategy that was ultimately successful. On 30 August 2016, for the first time in Moscow law enforcement practice involving cases of NGOs acting as “foreign agents,” the court discontinued the administrative violation case due to a failure to establish the fact of an administrative violation when it was considered for the first time. Never before had any of these kinds of cases, when considered for the first time in a lower court in Moscow, been discontinued on these grounds.

The state’s attack on nonprofit organizations working on AIDS prevention began in February 2016.

In a little more than six months, the Russian Ministry of Justice included five such organizations on the register of NGOs acting as “foreign agents”: Sibalt, in Omsk; Sotsium, in Saratov Oblast; the Andrei Rylkov Foundation and ESVERO, in Moscow; as well as Panatseia, in Penza Oblast. The Russian Justice Ministry has just included a sixth organization in the register of “foreign agents”: Era Zdorovia [Era of Health], a public foundation in Sverdlovsk Oblast.

Only one of them—the Andrei Rylkov Foundation, which implements programs to reduce harm in the area of AIDS prevention and drug addiction—has had charges of administrative violation opened against it and been brought to court.

In a session of Moscow City Court, a representative of the Moscow Administration of the Russian Justice Ministry stated that the Administration had committed an error in its inspection, in connection with which the lower court had reached an incorrect decision, which should be rescinded.

However, the Moscow City Court judge agreed with the arguments of the Foundation’s defence and let stand the Khoroshevsky district court’s 30 August 2016 resolution without alteration and dismissed the justice agency’s complaint.

“As of now, not a single HIV service organization has been successfully tried for administrative responsibility for failing to apply to be included in the register of “foreign agents,” and not a single one of them has paid or will pay a fine,” said Maks Olenichev, legal services director for the Club of NGO Lawyers.

“We will continue to render legal assistance to HIV service organizations in cases such as these, inasmuch as the state’s position about prevention of the spread of HIV being political action for an NGO is absurd.”

The Club of NGO Lawyers is continuing its defense of the Andrei Rylkov Foundation, as well as other nonprofit organizations included on the register of “foreign agents,” considering this law unlawful. 

Translated by Marian Schwartz


As stressed in the report "Development of civic 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 oversight (frequently on an arbitrary basis) of 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.

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. Ninety 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”.