19 October 2016
Lev Gudkov, director of the internationally renowned Levada Centre, has announced that the organisation has filed a legal challenge under administrative law at Moscow’s Zamoskvoretsky district court disputing the legality of the document check that led the Russian Ministry of Justice to forcibly added the Centre to its registry of so-called ‘foreign agents.’
According to Gudkov, the organisation not only disputes the legality of the document check, but also demands Levada Centre’s removal from the list of ‘foreign agents,’ reports news site Zaks.ru.
It was reported earlier that the organisation was preparing a legal challenge to the protocol on administrative violations as well as an additional one relating to Levada Centre’s inclusion in the registry of ‘foreign agents.’
At the start of September 2016, Russia’s Ministry of Justice forcibly added the Yuri Levada Analytical Centre to its list of ‘foreign agents.’
***2015 and 2016 were characterised by the (often arbitrary) consolidation 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.’
Translated by Lincoln Pigman
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