Legal Case of the Week: Valentina Cherevatenko

posted 5 Jun 2017, 04:00 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 5 Jun 2017, 08:26 ]
On 2 June 2017 Valentina Cherevatenko, head of Women of the Don, a human rights NGO based in Novocherkassk, Rostov region, was formally charged with intentionally avoiding registration of her NGO as a “foreign agent.” Valentina Cherevatenko has become the first person to be prosecuted under criminal law in relation to the 'foreign agent' law, adopted by Russia in 2012. As RFE/RL reports, if convicted, Valentina Cherevatenko could face up to two years in prison. The media outlet cited Amnesty International as saying her case is "emblematic of the deeply repressive approach the Russian authorities are taking towards independent civil society organizations." Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said her prosecution "sends a strong signal to all Russian NGOs that their staffs could face arbitrary charges and prison for simply accepting foreign funding for their important human rights work.” RFE/RL also reports that EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini’s office criticized the 'foreign agent' law for restricting civil society and impeding exercise of fundamental freedoms, while, "Cherevatenko’s outstanding work on human rights education, peace building, and humanitarian issues is well-known and widely appreciated." 

Women of the Don was added to the Justice Ministry's list of foreign agents in 2014. Valentina Cherevatenko was informed that she was a suspect under Article 330.1 of the Russian Criminal Code following a search law enforcement officers conducted of her offices on 24 June 2016. As Amnesty International has reported: "Article 330.1 makes 'systematic evasion of duties imposed by the law on non-profit organisations performing the functions of a foreign agent' a crime which carries a penalty of up to two years in prison. Article 330.1 was added to the Russian Criminal Code as part of the so-called 'foreign agents law' which requires all NGOs who receive foreign funding and engage in vaguely defined 'political activities' to register as 'organisations performing the functions of foreign agents,' brand all their public materials accordingly and comply with a stringent reporting regime." The searches of the offices of Women of the Don were condemned by, among others, Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council, and Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. 

As Rights in Russia has reported earlier, Valentina Cherevatenko believes that the prosecution may be related to the activities of her group in seeking to establish monitoring by civil society actors of the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

Amnesty International provide the following background on Women of the Don: "Women of the Don Union has worked tirelessly for over 20 years on a range of issues, from human rights to humanitarian relief and peacebuilding, in Rostov Oblast and the neighbouring regions, including in the North Caucasus. It is one of the most highly regarded and authoritative NGOs in Russia. Women of the Don Union, and its sister organization Women of the Don Foundation for Civil Society Development (where Valentina Cherevatenko is a member of the board), were declared “foreign agents” by the Ministry of Justice on 5 June 2014 and 27 October 2015 respectively. Both Women of the Don Union and Women of the Don Foundation for Civil Society Development have challenged their inclusion in the “foreign agents” register by the Ministry of Justice. On 29 February 2016 the Ministry of Justice officially removed one of them, Women of the Don Union, from the register stating that the organisation "had stopped performing the functions of a foreign agent". Under Russian law a person investigated for a crime has the status of suspect until an indictment is issued against them at which stage they are formally accused. The “foreign agents law” has had a chilling effect on many organisations and civil society activists in Russia. Its aggressive implementation by the authorities has resulted in a number of prominent NGOs choosing to close down, several more facing bankruptcy for refusing to brand themselves “foreign agents” and being issued with heavy fines, and has disrupted the normal work on hundreds of NGOs across Russia."

'NGO Head First Russian Charged Under "Foreign Agent" Law,' RFE/RL, 2 June 2017
'Rights Group of the Week: Women of the Don,' Rights in Russia, 4 July 2016
'Russia launches its first criminal case against a nonprofit for evading the "law on foreign agents",’ Meduza, 28 June 2016
'Заведено первое уголовное дело за неисполнение закона об иностранных агентах,' Vedomosti, 28 June 2016
Grigory Tumanov, 'В офисе организации «Женщины Дона» начались обыски,' Kommersant, 24 June 2016
'Глава СПЧ считает обыск в союзе "Женщины Дона" необоснованным,' RIA Novosti, 24 June 2016
Nils Muižnieks, Facebook
'Statement: "Drop unfounded criminal charges against Russian human rights activist Valentina Cherevatenko",' Rights in Russia [via Public Verdict Foundation], 17 May 2016
'Russia: Rights Activist Interrogated - First Criminal Inquiry in a "Foreign Agents" case,' Human Rights Watch, 18 May 2016