Justice Ministry does not consider human rights activity political

23 January 2013 

Source: HRO.org (info
The Russian Ministry of Justice has stated that the aims and forms of political activity carried out by the Chuvashia human rights organisation Shield & Sword mentioned in its statement on voluntarily entering the NGO “foreign agents' register "meet the general principles of safeguarding and defending the rights of individuals and citizens in Russia enshrined in the constitution" and "do not conflict with general state policy and are not aimed at overturning it. The office of Alexander Konovalov came to this conclusion, "based on the general principles and norms of Russian legislation". 

As such, the Russian Ministry of Justice has not established sufficient legal grounds for entering the NGO in the register of not-for-profit organisations acting as a foreign agent and has refused to include the human rights organisation in the register. A statement to that effect has been posted on the Ministry's website. 

The Interregional Human Rights Association Agora reports. 

"The Justice Ministry's response is important for several reasons," says Pavel Chikov, chair of Agora, a partner to the Shield & Sword organisation that represents its interests. "Firstly, that it is possible not to make it onto the register, even when you have applied to join. Government officials have decided to take a preliminary look at a given set of documents, not just as a formality, but substantively. Secondly, the Justice Ministry does not consider organisations operating in the sphere of religious rights (as well as environmental, social, educational, and so on) to have anything to do with politics. If you should wish to significantly influence public policy in certain areas, then even this is not a crime, so long as it complies with the Constitution. This is the long-awaited first public articulation of the Justice Ministry's position on the law on foreign agents, which, when taking previous statements by Minister Konovalov into account, demonstrates a sensible approach to a 'bad' law and sharply reduces the risk of sanctions for Russian non-government organisations." 

It should be recalled that Sword & Shield was the first NGO in Russia to voluntarily seek to register as a ‘foreign agent’. The organisation's chair, Aleksey Glukhov, sent the relevant documents to the Justice Ministry in December 2012. 

"I hope all the myths that Sword & Shield is a foreign agent have now been dispelled," said Alexey Glukhov. "I believe that our organisation has done its duty and has served to promote good legal practices amongst other human rights NGOs in Russia. I would like to think that the defence of human rights in Russia will never be regarded as a political activity, however the NGO receives its funding." 

The full text of the statement by the Russian Ministry of Justice is available on the department's official website, here

You can read the statement on the entry of the Sword & Shield human rights organisation in the register of NGOs acting as a foreign agents, here