Team 29 launches online publication

posted 30 Mar 2017, 23:59 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 31 Mar 2017, 00:03 ]
22 March 2017


Team 29, an association of lawyers and journalists dedicated to the defence of human rights, has launched its own media outlet entitled Team 29. According to, quoting Team 29's press service, the site will report on problems relating to access to information in Russia. The new portal will also discuss cases related to state treason and state secrets, as well as the protection of human rights in the area of freedom of information, and problems arising from the opaque nature of Russian state institutions.

"Our journalists have long been writing about working with Russian law-enforcement agencies, about people put on trial for state treason, espionage or extremism, and about the problems of accessing socially significant information in Russia. Now there will be more such reports and they will be published on a regular basis," according to the press service of lawyer Ivan Pavlov, who leads Team 29.

As noted on Team 29’s Facebook page, all information about the association, which previously was spread across a number of resources, will now be located at the new site. In addition, a fundraising project has been launched on the new portal; this will contribute toward financing the publication, and Team 29’s legal work.

Team 29 is an informal association of lawyers and journalists. It was set up [in 2015] by former members of the Freedom of Information Foundation, which ceased its activity in 2014 after it was forcibly included in the list of so-called "foreign agents." The lawyers belonging to Team 29 have attracted considerable public attention through their work on legal proceedings regarding a "troll factory" and the case of Svetlana Davydova [Svetlana Davydova was arrested at her home near Moscow in January 2015 on charges of treason. She was accused of telephoning the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow in 2014 to alert them that Russian soldiers might be heading to eastern Ukraine. She was later released - trans.] Team 29 represented the St Petersburg media in their case against Aleksandr Zapesotsky, Rector of the St Petersburg Trade Union University. They defended the NGO "Planet of Hopes" in its dispute with [the state-owned] All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK). Team 29 leader Ivan Pavlov represented Oksana Sevastidi in her high-profile trial on allegations of treason by means of SMS messages [Olga Sevastidi was convicted of high treason in in March 2016 and sentenced to seven years in prison for texting in 2008 about a Russian train carrying military equipment toward Georgia’s breakaway region Abkhazia during the short war between Russia and Georgia. She was released in March 2017 - trans.]. And lawyers belonging to Team 29 are representing the "Beautiful Petersburg" movement in a case involving the city’s district administrations.
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The years 2015 and 2016 saw the intensification of often arbitrary state oversight of the work of Russian NGOs, and the creation of new legal challenges to their existence. Doubt was cast upon the legality of the very existence and activities of NGOs in Russia, and their role as an indispensable part of independent civil society came under threat. This conclusion is highlighted in the research report, “The Development of Civic Activism Notwithstanding: Russian NGOs in the Wake of the ‘Foreign Agents’ Law.” [‘Развитие гражданского активизма вопреки: российские НКО после законодательства об “‘иностранных агентах” ’]. Organisations declared by the Justice Ministry to be “foreign agents” have been forced to pay disproportionately large fines and suffered reputational and financial costs, as a result of which some have been forced into liquidation.

Environmental and human rights NGOs have proved most likely to be targeted. At its 70th session in 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that recognised the importance of the role played by human rights defenders and the need for their protection. The resolution was approved by 117 member-states.

In a special report published in 2015, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks noted that “The current NGO legislation is open to the possibility of misuse as a repressive tool against human rights defenders. Stringent sanctions, including the possibility for NGO managers to face criminal charges, can have a chilling effect on the work of civil society institutions and cultivate self-censorship.”

In a special report dated 2013, the International Memorial Society stressed that “The concept of the ‘law on foreign agents’ is not based on the principle of the rule of law. There is not a single problem that this law would solve. The purposes of those who initiated this law were purely political and opportunistic, and its wording introduces obvious legal uncertainty. The law 'on foreign agents' effectively leads to the presumption of guilt artificially directed against a specific group of organisations.”

The world's leading international human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has stated that "the so-called ‘law on foreign agents’ is one of a series of measures aimed at suppressing civil society and freedom of expression” in Russia.

Russian NGOs have repeatedly objected to the law and appealed against it, including at the European Court of Human Rights. Human rights activists stress that the law is clearly discriminatory and has an extremely negative historical context.

Ninety members of Russia's PEN Center, joined by historians, members of the Free Historical Society and other Russian academics, have called on the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation to halt the arbitrary treatment of NGOs classified as "foreign agents."

Translated by Elizabeth Teague