Presidential Human Rights Council asks Prosecutor General to explain searches of NGOs

25 March 2013 

Source: (info)
The following text is taken from an open letter sent by the members of the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Civil Society to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, Yury Chaika.

Dear Yury Yakovlevich: 

In recent days, the Council has received an endless stream of appeals from non-governmental organizations from across the regions of Krasnodar, Perm, Primorye, Orenburg and Rostov, the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and various other parts of Russia, with complaints that their offices have been subject to unfounded mass searches by prosecution authorities. In some of these cases, authorities explained their actions by citing a directive from the Prosecutor General’s office to verify that NGOs have complied with the federal law on combatting extremist activity.

This explanation, however, seems strange and inexplicable given the fact that these searches have often involved representatives of the fire, tax and labour inspection services, among others. In some instances, authorities did not provide any copies of a search warrant and gave no other justification for their visit.

According to the Federal Law on the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation, searches can only be based on the presence of factual information about a prior violation of the law that requires immediate action by the authorities. We ask you the following: is it true the prosecutor’s office simultaneously received information that tens, if not hundreds of organizations that were later subjected to searches had been involved in extremist activity? Or did the large-scale searches of NGOs have some other motive and explanation?

It seems the aim of these searches was to find even the smallest infraction on the part of NGOs: an expired fire extinguisher, a work-trip report filed in the wrong folder, etc. In the end they would collect enough information to file a search report, and violators of the law would be identified and punished.

We, the members of the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Civil Society of the Russian Federation, believe that truly combatting extremism and “spooking” law-abiding NGOs are far from the same thing. We believe search methods are unacceptable when authorities measure their actions not by results, but by the number of searches conducted and minor oversights found.

In this regard, we consider it necessary to hold a special meeting of the Council in the nearest future, and invite the leadership of the prosecutor general’s office to discuss the methods and results of the mass NGO searches that are currently taking place.

This will be a direct response to the Presidential Address of 2012, which spoke of the “necessity to introduce a system of public accountability in the regulatory and oversight authorities regarding the results of searches, as well as the human and financial resources spent on carrying them out; this will make it instantly clear how much each search cost, and whether it was necessary in the first place.”

The letter is signed by the following Council members:

Svetlana Ayvazova, Lev Ambinder, Andrey Babushkin, Evgeny Bobrov, Aleksandr Verkhovsky, Sergey Vorobyev, Elizaveta Glinka, Aleksey Golovan, Daniil Dondurey, Natalia Evdokimova, Ivan Zasursky, Kirill Kabanov, Igor Kalyapin, Irina Kirkora, Boris Kravchenko, Sergey Krivenko, Yury Kostanov, Stanislav Kucher, Yana Lantratova, Sergey Litovchenko, Aleksandr Mukomolov, Leonid Nikitinsky, Leonid Parfenov, Igor Pastukhov, Mara Polyakova, Ella Polyakova, Vladimir Ryakhovsky, Nikolay Svanidze, Anita Soboleva, Elena Topoleva-Soldunova, Irina Khakamada, Sergey Tsyplenkov, Pavel Chikov, Irina Chugueva, Ilya Shablinsky, Igor Yurgens, Andrey Yurov