Declaration by Perm Civil Society Groups: "No one could use us to harm Russia, nor would dare to do so"

20 May 2013 

Source: (info)
Declaration by the heads of civil society organizations in Perm: Perm Civic Chamber, Perm Regional Human Rights Centre, the Center for Civic Analysis and Independent Research (GRANI Centre), and the Centre for the Support of Democratic Youth Initiatives (Youth Memorial) 
The Perm region Public Prosecutor’s Office has issued a notice to our NGOs demanding that they register as "foreign agents." 

To everyone who knows us, we declare that our organisations will not register as "foreign agents", since neither we nor our organisations are anyone's agents, let alone foreign ones. No one could use us to harm Russia, nor would dare to do so. We are free people who are loyal to our country and we have the honour of working in responsible public organizations that have never been party to the struggle for power. For our organisations, being called "foreign agents" is an offensive lie.

When taking part in competitions for charitable donations from international charitable foundations, we are guided only by our own understanding of the missions of our organisations and of the public good. We respect and observe the Russian Constitution and are confident that everything we do is for the good of our country and its people.

If, however, someone, to the contrary, believes that we are doing harm to our country in the course of our public, civic or analytic activities, then this will need to be proven, in a serious and responsible manner. Law enforcement agencies have every opportunity to carry out an appropriate investigation and, if we are discovered to be engaged in "hostile activities", they can prosecute us to the full extent of the law and all the rules that govern a transparent and adversarial court proceedings.

There is only one universally recognised prohibition regarding 'foreign money': it should not be used for political purposes, i.e. for the purpose of seeking political power. It is well known that our organisations have never been involved in any kind of struggle for power; they have not put forward their own, nor ever supported anyone else’s, candidates in elections; neither have they participated in election campaigns, nor associated with any political parties.

As we see it, obliging us to register as "foreign agents" would in essence force us to own up to being "traitors of the Motherland." Furthermore, it is our firm belief that any organisation that admits to being a "foreign agent" does not have the moral right to defend the public interest, provide legal and social support to those in need, carry out civic monitoring activities, and many other matters of importance to us and others.

An organisation that calls itself a "foreign agent" does not have the right to help the elderly, whose relatives were, in their time, illegally repressed with the use of exactly the same wording – "foreign agents". We cannot accept a label that some people seem to consider admissible. Or else we would have to cease to do the work that is the each of our organisations performs.

We understand that the law is the law and we will use all legal means to prove in court that we are not "agents" of any kind. For the time being our public advice offices will operate until the last possible moment, and our experts will continue to advise individuals, NGOs and government agencies on the questions they bring to us. We will do all that we can to meet all our obligations to the people of Perm and our respected partners in the public and state sectors.

If we lose every case in court, and our organisations are shut down by the authorities, we will find other legal ways to do what we consider necessary. We will not desist in our active attempts to defend human rights and to act in the pressing public interest, whether that means fighting corruption, assisting the disadvantaged, defending the rights of the exploited and aggrieved or improving the quality and availability of government services.

The people who live in our country hold diverse religious faiths, world views and ideologies. Yes, we differ from those who determine government policy nowadays. Yes, we think and serve our country differently to them. But these differences do not give anyone the right to put us on any "foreign agent" registers. We will not allow ourselves to be struck from the list of respectable Russian citizens and law-abiding NGOs. Russia belongs to all of us. We have to learn to live together.

Igor Averkiev
Sergei Isayev
Aleksandr Kalikh
Robert Latypov
Svetlana Makovetskaya

20 May 2013