In Samara, police enter aeroplane to detain Golos activist Liudmila Kuzmina

posted 8 Oct 2016, 03:56 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 8 Oct 2016, 04:09 ]
3 October 2016


The former head of the Samara Foundation for the Defence of Voters’ Rights, also known as Volga-Region Golos, has been searched and questioned in Samara’s Kurumoch airport on her arrival from Moscow, К reported on 3 October 2016, citing Kuzmina herself. A reason for the actions of the police and the federal court bailiffs was a statement by a Mr Gurenkov, the head of the Samara branch of the notorious Movement for National Liberation [known by its Russian abbreviation of NOD] who somehow knew that Kuzmina was on the plane back to Samara.

Police had initially delayed Liudmila Kuzmina’s departure from Moscow. Her passport was checked for as long as was necessary for her to miss the flight.

In Samara five police officers boarded the plane after it landed and announced that Kuzmina was carrying a large sum of money in foreign currency and detained her. Kuzmina was taken by the police to the airport buildings, where she was questioned for two hours. Thereupon she was ‘handed over’ to the court bailiffs who were accompanied by a journalist with a camera from the government-run TV station Guberniya.

The court bailiffs handed Liudmila Kuzmina an order to pay, within five days, a tax debt of the NGO Volga-region Golos to the value of 2,222,521 roubles, plus penalties and fines. They told Kuzmina that if she failed to pay the sum demanded, then the sum would be seized by forcible methods. In the meantime, her ability to travel outside Russia would be restricted, her bank accounts and property would be seized, and she was forbidden to take any action regarding property she might own.

Liudmila Kuzmina was ordered to attend the Federal Agency of Court Bailiffs with documents about her ownershipo of property so that it could be inventoried.

The persecution of Volga-region Golos began in earnest after the adoption of the law on ‘foreign agents’. The NGO refused to voluntarily enter the register, and thereafter inspections of the organization began. An official warning was issued to Kuzmina that ‘she was not allowed to use funds from foreign sources without being registered as a "foreign agent",' and she was banned 'from taking part in developing recommendations for decisions by government bodies or legislative initiatives, in other words participation in elections and referendums, political activity.’ And a court subsequently ruled that such a warning was lawful.

The tax inspectors considered the philanthropic donation that Moscow branch of Golos received and in part transferred to the Samara branch of Golos to be income of the Volga-Region Golos, and accused the NGO of tax avoidance to the sum of 2,2m roubles.

The tax demand was related to the receipt of funds from USAID. USAID had functioned in Russia within the framework of an intergovernmental agreement between Russia and the US, signed in April 1992.

According to the press, the tax authorities based their decision on the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation and declared that the grants received by Samara Golos did not correspond to the interests of Russia and had been carried out in the interests of the USA.

Volga-Region Golos actively engaged in election monitoring to improve the fairness and transparency of elections.

As stressed in the report "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.

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.
90 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”.