Statement by Memorial: The Law on ‘Foreign Agents’ is too bad to be amended

15 November 2013

Source: (info)
One year has passed since the much criticized law on ‘foreign agents’ entered into force. The law was passed with extraordinary speed by the State Duma and immediately approved by the Federation Council, followed by the President.

Over this year, not a single independent non-profit organization has registered as a ‘foreign agent’.

The wave of prosecutorial inspections has given rise to numerous court proceedings concerning the application of the law in practice.

A review of the law’s provisions is awaited by the Constitutional Couxrt and the European Court of Human Rights.

Probably as a result of this, many officials – from the President to the Prosecutor General – are now talking about the need to introduce amendments to the law that would clarify the definitions used by the law.

We consider that no partial amendments would be able to make good this essentially unlawful and anti-constitutional law.

The conception of the law ‘on foreign agents’ is not based on the principle of the rule of law. There is no problem that this law would resolve.

The purposes of those who initiated this law were strictly based on considerations of political expediency, and the law’s language inherently lacks legal clarity.

Neither a non-profit’s sources of funding (if these sources are not banned by law) nor the character of its activities (if they give no evidence of legal violations) nor the fact that a non-profit as an association of citizens has a particular legal form, can be bases for the selective and discriminatory distinction of some non-profits from others.

All non-profit organizations – those that receive funding from the Russian government, and those that receive funding from private sponsors and foundations, domestic and foreign – in one way or another influence public opinion for the purpose of achieving what they believe to be positive changes in the country.

And, if their actions violate the law, they must all bear responsibility.

But the law on ‘foreign agents’ takes a quite different approach, and in practice introduces a presumption of guilt for an artificially defined group of civil society organizations, before and instead of an assessment of their work in terms of its content and consequences.

The intentional lack of clarity of the law’s language and the legal illiteracy of its definitions opens the door wide to arbitrary interpretations.

This will lead to the destruction of the legal foundations of a democratic modern state.

The enforcement practice of this law by many Russian courts gives additional evidence of the incompatibility of this piece of legislation with the rule of law and with common sense.

Matters at times have reached a point of absurdity when such activities as the participation in the writing of a report on human rights, litigation in the courts, or even the publication of a report about an organization’s own activities, as demanded by the law, have been classified as ‘political’.

This law cannot be put right.

Any amendments, even those made with the best of intentions, would, since they presuppose the preservation of the essence of the law, would only promote the further strengthening of anti-constitutional and unlawful approaches in Russian society and state.

The only way out of this situation is to repeal the law on ‘foreign agents’ as soon as possible.

Board of the International Memorial Society

15 November 2013