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Authorities tell rights defenders from Agora to register as ‘foreign agents’

30 April 2013 

Source: (info)
The Prosecutor’s Office in Tatarstan has told the Agora Human Rights Association to register as a ‘foreign agent,’ on the grounds that the organization is engaged in political activity. The prosecutors believe that the provision of legal assistance to ‘political activists’ who have fallen foul of the law (in which Agora is actively engaged) is equivalent to participation in political events. This is the absurd ‘legal logic’ that rules in government institutions in Russia today.

According to the law on registration of NGOs, Agora could face a fine of up to 500,000 roubles ($16,000) and closure, the BBC reports.

Agora’s director, Pavel Chikov, says that the prosecutors’ claims have no basis, and the organization has never sought to hide its sources of funding.

"We were told that we are engaged in political activity, which is not true. With the kind of willful interpretation of the law which is typical of this body, the prosecutors have said that giving free legal advice to civic activists – something for which Agora is well known – constitutes political activity,’ Pavel Chikov told the Russian Service of the BBC.

Chikov noted in particular that the notification from the prosecutor’s office came after the second inspection of the organization.

"We do not intend to put ourselves on any register, just the opposite, we intend to appeal against the prosecutors’ decision in court. We shall find out if the courts are going to get to the essence of these legal issues, or whether they will just close their eyes to them,’ Chikov added.

On 2 April Agora had already been summoned to the Vakhitovsky district prosecutor’s office in Kazan to answer questions about the work of the NGO.

Earlier, law enforcement and tax officials announced that they plan to inspect thousands more NGOs in various parts of Russia. The plan of inspections, according to the General Prosecutor’s Office, was confirmed back in December 2012.

As of today not a single non-profit organization has been registered with the Russian Ministry of Justice as a ‘foreign agent,’ despite the demand to register formally made of the Golos Association.

Earlier in April the Prosecutor’s Office decided that the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee in Kostroma is engaged in political activity on foreign funding.

In the case of Golos, the Ministry of Justice adjudged that there had been two cases of foreign funding: the receipt of the Andrei Sakharov human rights award of 7,700 euro ($10,100), made by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and the writing of a draft ‘Election Code’, which had been funded by the European Commission.

The law on ‘foreign agents’ entered into force in November 2012. Organizations that are engaged in political activity and receive foreign funding are obliged to register with the Ministry of Justice as foreign agents. Not one of the active NGOs has agreed to do this voluntarily.

For failing to comply with this demand, Article 19.34, which was recently added to the Administrative Code, provides that a legal person would be fined a sum from 300,000 to 500,000 roubles, and the head of an organization from 100,000 to 300,000 roubles.

Minister of Justice Aleksandr Konovalov, responding to deputies’ questions in the State Duma on 16 January, explained that the law on NGOs that had been adopted in the summer and entered into force in November was impossible to implement in practice.

Photo: Pavel Chikov (RFE/RL)