Аgora goes to Constitutional Court to contest prosecutors' powers to inspect NGOs

posted 15 Sept 2014, 11:25 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Sept 2014, 11:43 ]
10 September 2014

Source: HRO.org (info)
Activists from Аgora Human Rights Association are appealing to the Constitutional Court over the prosecutors’ powers to decide the frequency and length of inspections carried out on legal entities. Аgora maintains that prosecutors have begun inspecting NGOs too often and without good reason.

Ramil Akhmetgaliev, a lawyer at the Аgora Human Rights Association, submitted the appeal to the Constitutional Court. He is asking for recognition that a number of norms specified in the Federal Law “On the Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation” are contrary to the Constitution. These norms assign to the prosecutor's office the right to carry out inspections, but do not regulate the actual procedure.

According to the website of Russian Business Consulting (RBC), the lawyer stated that "At present, there is legal uncertainty due to the absence of clear regulations about prosecutors’ inspections ".

Akhmetgaliev said that the law does not regulate either the frequency with which the inspectorate department may carry out inspections on legal entities, or their length.

Prosecutors are not obliged to inform legal entities when a routine check on them is starting. Prosecutors fix different deadlines for fulfilling demands in each individual case, sometimes only giving organisations a few days.

Ramil Akhmetgaliev said that from 2013 to 2014, prosecutors carried out five inspections of the activities of Agora, with some of the inspections duplicating each other. The prosecutors checked several times on the organisation's activities in a given period and asked for the same documents each time.

Grigory Melkonyants, co-chair of Golos, told RBC, "This problem began after prosecutors began doing vast numbers of inspections of NGOs last year".

He said that staff at the prosecutors' office asked for a large number of documents to be handed over at very short notice, often repeating the same requests as tax inspectors, and they applied sanctions against organizations which did not manage to gather the necessary documents together by a such a tight deadline.

According to Melkonyants, "Changes are required so that people can interact with prosecutors in a civilised way. It is therefore crucial to define prosecutors' powers very precisely, and make staff bear responsibility if they exceed their powers." 

Agora lawyer Akhmetgaliev notes that if the Constitutional Court recognises that the standards in question are contrary to the Constitution, there will probably need to be a change in the law “On the Prosecutor's Office”, as well as reform of the whole regulatory framework concerning inspections of legal entities by prosecutors. He believes that "This would protect legal entities from groundless interference in their activities by prosecutors".

RBC did not find anyone in the Office of the Prosecutor General prepared to comment on the appeal by human rights activists.

Elena Topoleva-Soldunova, a member of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, supports the activists. She says that, "There are many examples of cases where human rights organisations have been subjected to large numbers of inspections: no sooner does one finish than the next begins. They have no time left to do their work — they keep having to spend so much time sorting out all the necessary papers for inspections". 

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts