25 October 2016
Elena Zhemkova, executive director of the International Memorial Society, has said that officials from the Ministry of Justice have brought a case regarding an alleged administrative violation against the NGO for refusing to voluntarily register as a ‘foreign agent’, Kasparov.ru, Interfax and other media report.
"They made out the official document stating that since we did not add ourselves to the ‘foreign agent’ list voluntarily, then we have committed an offence. This protocol has been forwarded to the court, and the court is to decide this question,” Elena Zhemkova said.
She continued: “However, we do not agree with the position of the Ministry of Justice. There is still a stage to go through before the court. They think that we must be included in the register. We, basing ourselves on the decision of the Constitutional Court, since we are an international organization, believe that we cannot be included on the register. It is the court that must resolve this dispute between us and the Ministry of Justice officials, and until that decision there can be no administrative violation.
Elena Zhemkova pointed out that the Ministry of Justice has yet to respond to the objections set out in writing by International Memorial Society, and nor has the Ministry provided the NGO with its written decision concerning inclusion on the list of ‘foreign agents’.
"When we receive these documents, we shall go to court ourselves to appeal against this decision to include us in this register,” Elena Zhemkova said.
The decision of the Ministry of Justice to compulsorily include such a prominent organization as International Memorial Society in the register of ‘foreign agent’ NGOs has prompted a strongly negative reaction both in Russia and abroad.
It is highly significant that the inspection of the International Memorial Society by the Ministry of Justice was conducted at the demand of the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation.
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.’
HRO.org in English >