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Human rights defender Gannushkina outraged by actions of Public Prosecutor's Office

5 April 2013 

Svetlana Gannushkina

On Wednesday 3 April, following the wave of raids on NGOs which on 27 March affected our organisation too, I was phoned up by one of the staff of the city's Public Prosecutor's Office inspecting us, with whom we had come to a perfectly amicable agreement to phone each other on Monday to set up a meeting. He suggested coming at a time convenient to us, obtain some documents and discuss any issues of interest to the organisation conducting the inspection.

On the previous day, 2 April, we had handed over copies of 30 documents to an employee of the tax authorities who had been sent by the Public Prosecutor's Office, based on a list drawn up by their accountant on 27 March. We had given a copy of the charter and registration documents to the inspectors during their visit.

On Thursday, 4 April, after 3 p.m., when I was out of the office, the same inspector rang up and showed up with a new demand, significantly more stringent than the previous one: the array of requested documents was widened, and we were given no time at all to prepare them. The inspector was quite brusque with my deputy Yelena Burtina, and she refused to sign in acceptance of his demand. Not the slightest trace of basic courtesy or civility was left. Some time later we received a fax of this demand.

We were given until 5 April to present the complete set of documents on the new list to the Public Prosecutor's Office together with certified copies of them.

As a result of the change of style and content in the work of the Public Prosecutor's Office in conducting the inspection of our organisation, we took the decision to suspend provision of the certified documents pending clarification of the grounds and legality of the conducting of the inspection of the Civic Assistance Committee.

We initially believed and still believe that the ongoing inspections are unlawful. However, because the work of our organisation is open and transparent, and in the interests of developing cooperation and mutual understanding with the state authorities, we were prepared to hand over the requested documents to the Public Prosecutor's Office.

But since the Public Prosecutor's Office is set on expanding its demands to a level that is unacceptable to us, we are also forced to change our attitude to the ongoing events.

Because of this on 5 April we sent a letter to the Deputy Public Prosecutor of Moscow, Vedernikov, in whose name we were sent the additional demands, to notify him of our intention to suspend cooperation within the framework of the inspection.

On that same day at 12:45 two(!)
authorised operatives from the anti-extremism department of the Interior Ministry for Moscow turned up at our office — Dmitry Katyshev and Igor Chuikin, who brought us the demands from V. Vedernikov and again asked Yelena Burtina to sign for their receipt.

Since the events of the last two days were already in the public domain, we decided not to detain the two employees of the Interior Ministry, who instead of fighting extremism were working as couriers, and Burtina signed for the copies of the papers sent to us.

This entire theatre of the absurd is taking place at a charitable organisation, whose walls are covered with letters and acknowledgements from both presidents, the Moscow Mayor and many other respected figures, including a certificate from the Ataman "For Faith and Service to Russia." 

And who do you serve, esteemed prosecutors and fighters against extremism? One day after all you too will be asked to whom you are of benefit, on whose money did you go round in pairs handing out these pointless documents, why you came in a group of six and hindered us from working, and why were you not carrying out their direct duties? And no directives from above can serve as a justification for you.

"One day you will be asked: so what do you, so to speak, have to show? No connections will help you make a foot small, a soul large or a heart fair." 
- Evgeny Shvarts, Cinderella.


Deputy Public Prosecutor of Moscow 
Mr. V. V. Vedernikov 

Dear Mr. Vedernikov

This letter is to notify you that our organisation, the Civic Assistance Committee, is suspending provision of the documents requested by the Moscow Public Prosecutor's Office until we obtain clarification of the grounds for the inspection being carried out and of its legality.

This decision is a result of the fact that during the afternoon of 4 April 2013 you sent us new demands with a greater number of documents than were on the list we were given on 27 March 2013, which was signed by Deputy City Public Prosecutor Mr. Zakharov.

Moreover, the fax we were sent stated that "the documents had to be submitted to the Public Prosecutor's Office by 5 April 2013."

It is clear that the deadlines for the demand which you signed cannot be met. The demand is also impossible to fulfil in terms of its content, since we are not prepared to, in accordance with your fax, "submit to the Public Prosecutor's Office for Moscow the complete list of requested documents, as well as copies certified by the organisation." That would mean that the Public Prosecutor's Office would be seizing papers from us rather than carrying out an inspection of them. The Public Prosecutor's Office has no lawful grounds for doing this.

Your fax of 4 April also contains the demand to provide the texts of participants' speeches at our educational seminars, while these seminars are held in the format of lively debates and therefore such texts simply do not exist.

With regard to several of the requested documents, we have serious doubts that they can be handed over to a third party without the permission of those individuals whose details are contained in them. We cannot resolve these doubts without consulting specialists. And obtaining permission from the owners of the personal data would require a lot of time.

I would like to point out that we did not give the Federal Tax Service representative who came to see us only a part of the documents, as you wrote, but all the documents requested by him in the format agreed with him.

Exactly one week after the events of 27 March, on 3 April, I had a perfectly amicable conversation with Senior Assistant Prosecutor Mikhail Dolzhikov, who suggested continuing cooperation at a time convenient to us and that we should speak again by telephone on 8 April. That is why his appearance at our organisation the next day with fresh demands, when I was not there, was a violation of established protocol and our accepted forms of cooperation.

In view of the above, as well as the fact that Article 22 of the Legislation of the Russian Federation "On the Public Prosecutor's Office" explicitly states that the public prosecutor has the right "to check that laws are being obeyed with regard to information about violations of the law received by the prosecution authorities," organisation will decide whether to continue cooperation on the issue of interest to the Public Prosecutor's Office only after we receive an answer to the signed-for message forwarded by me to Deputy Public City Prosecutor Prosecutor Mr Zakharov via Senior Public Prosecutor Tatyana Matveeva, in which I request answers to the following questions:

1. On the basis of what information about violations of the law by the organisation is the current inspection being carried out?

2. What relation does each of the requested documents have to the information about violations of the law, if such information exists?

Ms. Matveeva assured me that I would receive a reply to my message within the legal statutory periods.

I hope that these deadlines will be met and that we will receive a reply, after which our organisation, always willing to cooperate, will reconsider the issue of providing the Moscow City Prosecutor's Office with the documents they are interested in.

Please find attached: a list of the copies of the 30 financial documents, submitted to a member of the inspection team Mr Fedosov, Chief State Tax Inspector of Federal Tax Service Inspectorate No. 33 for Moscow.

Yours sincerely as ever,

Svetlana Gannushkina, Chair of the Civic Assistance Committee,
member of the Board of Memorial,
member of the Government Commission on Migration Policy,
expert of the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights