27 September 2016
Government officials had accused Public Verdict Foundation of “disseminating information without any indication of its status as a ‘foreign agent’” (Article 19.34, part 2, of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation). The case against the human rights activists has now been dismissed and the decision is res judicata.
Judge Ilya Kozlov, presiding at Moscow City Court, overturned the decision handed down by Judge Alesya Orekhova, sitting in Tver district court, who in March of this year imposed a 400,000‑rouble fine on Public Verdict Foundation.
In 2015, Roskomnadzor decided that the activities of the human rights organisation contravened the Law on Foreign Agents, and an administrative offence was recorded. The concrete charges against the Foundation were specified as relating to four news items on the website www.publicverdict.ru.
The government officials believed that publishing information on the work carried out by Public Verdict represented a violation of the Law on Foreign Agents.
The first news item concerned the upholding by the Supreme Court of Kabardino-Balkaria of a sentence handed down against a police officer for beating up underage suspects, while the second related to the selection of Natalya Taubina, director of Public Verdict Foundation, for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. The third news item referred to the organisation’s attempt to dispute its “foreign agent” status in court, while the fourth concerned a resident of Perm demanding 3.5 million roubles in compensation from the state following the death of her spouse as a result of police torture.
Since summer 2015, NGOs have been liable to pay fines if they omit the epithet “foreign agent” from their publications. Many independent organisations have been forced to close down because they lack the funds to pay the disproportionate penalties.
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 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”.
Translated by Joanne Reynolds
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