Human Rights Council to Call on Prosecutor’s Office to Leave NGOs in Peace

19 March 2013 

Source: (info)
On 19 March members of the Presidential Council on Human Rights discussed the many appeals from NGOs they had received concerning the unprecedented, mass and comprehensive inspections conducted by prosecutors and other government agencies, the Agency for Social Information reports.

At an extraordinary meeting, member of the Human Rights Council Pavel Chikov, who is chair of the Agora Human Rights Association, said that, in addition to planned inspections, in 13 regions unplanned prosecutorial inspections were taking place. Pavel Chikov believes that the instruction from the General Prosecutor’s Office to the regions to conduct inspections was issued in February, and the inspections will continue until April. However, there is no official document that bears witness to such an instruction having been given, Chikov pointed out.

In most cases several government agencies are taking part in the inspections. NGOs are also being inspected for the purposes of combating extremism. "I have no doubt that the inspections are to investigate compliance with the law on foreign agents, since the inspectors are interested in evidence of political activity, organizing public demonstrations and the sources of finance,” Chikov said. He recommended NGOs not to hinder the work of prosecutors since by law “they can inspect anything they want.”

At its meeting the Human Rights Council concluded that, evidently, they were witnessing a nationwide ‘campaign’ of inspections. The Council decided to call on the Prosecutor General to ‘stop harassing NGOs’ and to issue a statement to this effect. Moreover, the Council’s commission on the development of NGOs will continue to monitor the situation. At present, voting on the text of the statement to be issued is taking place among Council members. As soon as the text has been agreed, the document will be sent to the Prosecutor General’s office.

Information that the General Prosecutor’s Office has instructed the Moscow prosecutor’s office to conduct inspections of non-profit organizations ‘on compliance with current legislation’ appeared on 6 March.

In recent days inspections of NGOs have taken place in Penza, Rostov and Perm regions. Official inspectors came to the Moscow School of Political Studies (Moscow), the Women of the Don (Rostov), the Perm Human Rights Centre, the Russian representative office of the AntiCrisis Centre and the Penza charitable foundation Civic Union. On 15 March three Moscow NGOs were visited by officials from the Basmanny district prosecutor’s office. The organizations inspected were the Centre for Criminal Justice, Social Partnership and the Russian Human Rights Research Centre.

As well as officials from the prosecutor’s office, specialists from the tax inspectorate and the ministry of justice took part in the inspections. For this reason a number of NGOs appealed to the Agora Human Rights Association. Similar inspections of NGOs have taken place in St Petersburg. On 4 February Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg was inspected by the St. Petersburg ministry of justice, and this was followed by an inspection by the St Petersburg and Leningrad region police department’s Centre for Combating Extremism. The Chuvash NGO Shield and Sword, which had been the first, as an experiment, to seek to be listed in the register of foreign agents, was informed about an impending inspection. Elena Topoleva, director of the Agency for Social Information, said in an interview that such inspections have the effect of paralyzing the work of an organization, and create a general atmosphere of panic, and, moreover, in particular cases inspecting officials commit violations of the law. As a result, the Human Rights Council’s commission on NGOs intends to issue a statement setting out its views on these inspections and to work out a plan for future action.

Two other organizations that have also been inspected have been the Samara division of the Golos Association for Voters’ Rights and the Orenburg division of the Committee Against Torture.