Statement by Russian NGOs: We Demand an End to this Campaign of Intimidation

Source: (Author), 20/09/10
Prosecutors’ inspections of non-governmental organisations: We demand an end to this campaign of intimidation
Russian NGOs may sign the statement here.
Between 13 and 16 September 2010 prosecutor's offices in Moscow and in a number of other cities carried out a series of coordinated inspections of NGOs unprecedented in its scale and intensity. Prosecutors’ representatives simultaneously entered the offices of several dozen leading Russian organisations working in the areas of human rights, public interest and social and economic issues, including Moscow Helsinki Group, Moscow Memorial Society, the voters' rights organisation ‘Voice’, Public Verdict Foundation, Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Transparency International Russia (Centre for Anti-Corruption Investigations and initiatives), Committee Against Torture, Centre for Social and Labour Rights, Social Information Agency and Institute of Urban Economics. The list of organisations inspected included about 40 NGOs.
The inspections were carried out in extreme haste, with violations of the law. In some cases representatives of the procurator's office arrived accompanied by police; sometimes posing as couriers. In some cases they did not allow the NGO staff who answered the door to return to the office and inform management of the visit. They failed to provide a reasonable explanation as to the purpose of the inspection, and letters giving the grounds for the visit were faxed only following repeated demands by the organisations under inspection. However, the faxes stated only that the inspections were being carried out on the orders of the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Prosecutor’s Office of the city of Moscow or the Prosecutor’s Office of Moscow’s Central Administrative District in order to ascertain “whether the organisations' activities were in compliance with the legislation regulating non-commercial organisations”. The inspecting officials demanded a vast quantity of photocopied and legally verified documentation, in an unrealistically short space of time, including not only the statute of the organisation and its registration documents, but also minutes of meetings, accounts, tax and reporting documents and so on. In some cases the NGOs were given until the following morning to supply the required documents, in other cases the authorities demanded that the documents be provided on the spot.
The manner in which the inspections were carried out was reminiscent of the seizure of documents in cases of alleged legal violations or criminal offences and was completely inappropriate in terms of the purported purpose of “checking compliance with legislation”. The officials carrying out the inspections stated that their superiors had instructed them that the action was of an urgent nature, referring to it as a “special inspection”. They further mentioned being under strict orders from their superiors and expected punishment if they did not promptly supply their superiors with the required documents. They also said they did not understand themselves what was happening. Some of the officials said they “were obliged to uncover some kind of violation”.
The true purpose of this unprecedented campaign of inspections can only be guessed at. The official justification does not stand up to any scrutiny. The usual inspections of an NGO's compliance with legislation are not conducted in such extreme haste and simultaneously in dozens of organisations. Overall, the actions carried out by the prosecutor's office give the impression of an operation designed to intimidate, even if this was not in fact their purpose.
Under the legislation governing NGOs, the agency endowed with supervisory functions is the Ministry of Justice. The provisions of the law “On Non-Commercial Organisations” establish procedures and rules for inspections conducted by the Ministry of Justice. In particular, the Ministry is obliged to give several days' notice of an inspection and to present a list of specific documents required within a certain period of time; an inspection must be conducted with regard to a specific time period; and so on. There is no legislation regulating the procedures for inspections carried out by prosecutor's offices. The formal requests presented by the prosecutor's office officials in the course of the inspections did not contain a specific list of required documents, or a clarification of the right to appeal against this kind of action. Nor did they specify to what period of the NGO's activities the inspection related. The inspections carried out by the prosecutor's offices clearly duplicated the supervisory functions of the Ministry of Justice and the Federal Tax Office.
Article 22 of the Federal Law on the procuracy, cited by the representatives of the prosecutor's office in support of their formal requests, gives them the authority to carry out inspections only on the basis of specific information about legal violations. Yet in this case the formal requests presented by the prosecutor’s offices contained no references to any legal violations. It is hard to imagine that on a single day some 40 leading organisations could suddenly have fallen under the suspicion of breaking the law. It is clear that the prosecutor's offices have violated the constitutional right to freedom of association, the law regulating non-commercial organisations and the protection of the rights of legal entities subjected to state supervision.
This kind of campaign has not occurred in the twenty years of the existence of non-governmental organisations in democratic Russia. This kind of practice is totally unacceptable in relations between state and civil society. We are appalled by this unprecedented campaign of pressure against non-governmental organisations and call on the heads of the Prosecutor General's office and the Prosecutor's Office of the City of Moscow to provide explanations regarding the reasons and justification for these inspections. We demand that the rights of non-governmental organisations be respected in accordance with Russian law and that the standards of international law on freedom of association be upheld.
Russian NGOs may sign the statement here.
  • Moscow Helsinki Group
  • Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights
  • Voters' Rights Association ‘Voice’
  • Public Verdict Foundation
  • Moscow Memorial Society
  • Transparency International - Russia (Centre for Anti-Corruption Investigations and Initiatives)
  • Agency for Social Information
  • Centre for Social and Labour Rights
  • Regional Social Organisation for the Disabled ‘Perspective’
  • Institute of Urban Economics
  • Sustainable Development Foundation
  • Independent Institute for Social Policy
  • Committee Against Torture
  • AGORA Association
  • International Youth Human Rights Movement
  • Citizens’ Watch, St. Petersburg
  • Glasnost Defence Foundation
  • Open Alternative, Togliatti
  • Civil Assistance Committee for refugees and internally displaced persons


Rights in Russia,
21 Sept 2010, 07:29