HRO.org in English
24 June 2015
Source: HRO.org (info)
"Almost a year ago at the closing ceremony of the XXXVI Moscow International Film Festival you said that you would add your name to the request by the chair of the Union of Filmmakers of Ukraine, Sergei Trimbach, and ask President Putin to release Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov,” Svetova writes.
The human rights defender pointed out that now the only thing that has changed in Sentsov’s case is that he is being transferred "in a prison train from Moscow to Rostov-on-Don where he is to be tried for terrorist acts in Crimea that he never committed and did not intend to commit and which never took place in Crimea.”
Zoya Svetova has visited Oleg Sentova in the pre-trial detention facility where he has been held on a number of occasions.
"All this time Oleg Sentsov has continued to consider himself a Ukrainian citizen and has asked for a meeting with the consul,” Zoya Svetova writes in her letter to Nikita Mikhalkov.
Zoya Svetova reminds Nikita Mikhalkov of the campaign in support of the Ukrainian film director in which prominent figures of world cinema Krzysztof Zanussi, Pedro Almodóvar, Agnieszka Holland and Jos Stelling have taken part.
"I am writing this letter to you so that when the judge of the North Caucasus Military District Court finds Oleg Sentsov guilty and sentences him to 15-20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, you will not say that you had not heard anything and do not know anything about his case,” Sentsova writes.
On 11 June 2015 the General Prosecutor’s Office forwarded the case of Oleg Sentsov to court.
Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov was detained in Crimea by FSB officers in May 2014. Since then he has been held in a pre-trial detention center in Russia. He has been charged with preparing acts of terrorism in Simferopol, Yalta and Sevastopol for the purpose of destabilizing the political situation in the peninsula. Sentsov denies the charges. On 16 April the investigation brought the final version of the charges against Sentsov, adding one additional charge to those already made, namely ‘illegal possession of a weapon’.
From 29 June until 2 July in Berlin a festival is to be held entitled ‘Days of Ukrainian Cinema in Support of Oleg Sentsov’, organized on a voluntary basis by Ukrainian film producers for the purpose of supporting Oleg Sentsov, and also in order to publicize Ukrainian culture.
Source: Crimea. Realities
23 June 2015
Source: HRO.org (info)
Citing RIA Novosti, Grani.ru reports that the financing of Liberal Mission comes from the Dynasty Foundation, owned by well-known philanthropist, Dmitriy Zimin. On June 17, Dynasty was also fined 300,000 roubles for failing to voluntarily assign itself the label of ‘foreign agent’.
On May 25, Liberal Mission Foundation was included in the register of so-called ‘foreign agents’. The Ministry of Justice has classified the Foundation’s programmes - a book entitled Law and Government and also educational seminars called, ‘I think’ - as political activities. The decision was appealed in court.
On May 25, the Ministry of Justice also included the Dynasty Foundation in its register of ‘foreign agents.’ This was despite the fact that the Foundation does not receive foreign funding, but relies on the resources of its founder, Russian citizen Dmitriy Zimin.
Representatives of Dynasty stressed that the work of the organisation is not of a political nature. The NGO operates in the areas of education, science and culture.
At the end of May, Russian teachers and researchers held a series of pickets in front of the Ministry of Justice building in support of Dynasty.
On June 1, the Presidential Council for Human Rights apologised to Zimin and Yasin for the fact that their foundations, Dynasty and Liberal Mission, had been included in the register of ‘foreign agents.’ The authors of the statement called them true patriots of Russia, and people with an impeccable reputation.
The International Memorial Society has emphasised in a special declaration;
‘The concept of the law on ‘foreign agents’ is in essence not based on the principal of the rule of law. There exists not one problem that could be resolved by this law. Its instigators’ objectives were purely political and opportunistic, and its language knowingly contributes to obvious legal uncertainty. The law on ‘foreign agents’ in practice introduces a presumption of guilt for artificially selected groups of organisations […].’
Russian NGOs have repeatedly expressed their opposition to the law and have appealed against it, including to the European Court of Human Rights. Rights defenders point out that the law is clearly discriminatory and obviously has a very negative historical context.
However, discrimination of NGOs in Russia continues.
Translated by Nathalie Corbett
23 June 2015
Source: HRO.org (info)
As TASS reported, the Agency’s press secretary Vadim Ampelonsky, said the measures were adopted in response to a demand by the Russian Prosecutor General of 22nd June 2015.
Furthermore, the Consumer Rights Society was forcibly included in the register of so-called“foreign agent” non-profits.
Radio Svoboda comments that the Consumer Rights Society recommended that Russians should enter Crimea from Ukrainian territory after getting authorisation from Ukrainian authorities to avoid problems in the future with receiving a Schengen visa.
In the guidance for tourists it was written that according to the norms of current international law, Crimea and Sebastopol appear as occupied territories, and violation of rules of entry could incur criminal liability. The Prosecutor General’s Office regarded this as “public appeals for undertaking actions that violated the territorial integrity of Russia.”
In an interview with Radio Svoboda, the head of the Consumer Rights Society, Mikhail Anshakov, said that the guidance was drawn up in response to numerous complaints by Russians about the impossibility of obtaining a visa for another country after a visit to Crimea.
Anshakov noted that neither the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor Rostourism who should give relevant advice, warn Russians about the possible negative consequences of a visit to Crimea.
Translated by Frances Robson
23 June 2015
Source: HRO.org (info)
Rosbalt report citing UNN.
Vera, who has already visited five different countries to enlist support for her sister, says that she has met with a positive reception everywhere. Even Russia proved no exception to this rule; “the people of Moscow actively support Nadia. This of course is a certain group of people who attend every court hearing in the cas”.
Savchenko, who has been elected to the Verkhovnaya Rada of Ukraine as a member of the Batkivshchyna Party, is being held in a Moscow pre-trial detention centre after being charged with involvement in the murder of two Russian journalists in Donbass, where she was allegedly directed fire for the Ukrainian army. The investigators claim that Savchenko was detained in Russia after attempting to cross the border as a refugee without documents.
Savchenko asserts that she was abducted by members of the Luhansk People’s Republic’s army before the journalists died, and illegally deported to Russia with a bag covering her head.
The prisoner is engaged in a long-term hunger strike in protest at her arrest, and her state of health is a source of serious concern for her family and defence team.
Nadezhda Savchenko has been recognised as a political prisoner by the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center.
Further details regarding the position of the Memorial Human Rights Centre on the Nadezhda Savchenko case can be found here.
Translated by Joanne Reynolds
22 June 2015
by Elena Topoleva, director of the Agency for Social Information
As I see it, the appearance of regional human rights organisation on a federal television station talking about their day-to-day activities, about the goals they set themselves and the results they achieve, can be considered a real breakthrough for everyone – for the non-profit sector, for the television industry and for mainstream viewers.
The very reason we set up ASI was to tell the world about what NGOs are and what they do, and about the people who found or work for them. This is still our mission today.
We have made many attempts over the past 20 years to find an outlet for our message on television, since we know that regardless of how many people in Russia use the Internet, they are still outnumbered by television audiences.
Yet for some reason this goal was not at all easy for us to achieve. NGOs, and human rights organisations in particular, have not benefited from the television industry’s recent increase in interest in philanthropy in general.
That’s why, as I said before, the films now appearing in the “Civic Power” section of OTR’s “Big Country” show are such a breakthrough.
I very much welcome the fact that we have found a partner as cooperative as OTR, and that the idea of broadcasting reports about regional NGOs is such a good fit for the ethos behind the “Big Country” show, which aims to cover all aspects of life in Russia’s regions in order to highlight the potential of the country as a whole, including its civil society.
We are particularly delighted that OTR has agreed to air a series about NGOs working in the field of human rights, many of which are facing severe challenges at present. This is an extremely good move which reflects well on the entire profession, since viewers of mainstream television generally know very little about what these NGOs actually do, the assistance they provide or the people who benefit from it.
We are also grateful to Civil Dignity for the grants awarded for this series.
We are confident that the video clips shown on OTR will find other audiences; for example, they may prove interesting for regional media outlets.
They can also be used as a “calling card” and shown at regional and local events by the human rights organisations which feature in them. I hope that our partnership with OTR will continue so that many other organisations can benefit from access to television as a powerful means of public communication.
The fundamental problem faced by Russia’s NGOs is a lack of trust, due first and foremost to the fact that few people know anything about them. Our films show the viewers what human rights organisations do on a day-to-day basis and allow them to draw their own conclusions, setting aside stereotypes and arbitrary generalisations.
Some viewers may decide that they want to learn more about the organisations, to ask them for help or find out exactly what they do, or maybe even to join them as volunteers.
We are well aware that television is one of many different ways of building public relations, and so our work involves not only shooting video clips for OTR, but also teaching organisations how to publicise their work and utilise different means of external communication, since this is the only way that they can foster public trust.
Elena Topoleva, head of the Agency for Social Information (ASI)
Watch the videos on ASI’s Youtube channel
Source: Agency for Social Information
Translated by Joanne Reynolds
Kirill Koroteev: On decisions of the Constitutional Court which, apparently for some judges, are 'not relevant'
22 June 2015
Source: HRO.org (info)
While Russia's Constitutional Court is considering the question of how to avoid complying with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), it does in fact find itself in the same situation as the Strasbourg court.
In February, during its hearing to consider complaints brought by some NGOs against the federal law 'On the Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation', the Constitutional Court ruled that the law needed revision since some of the provisions contained in it were unconstitutional. They also issued binding interpretations of some other provisions.
The Constitutional Court ruled that the cases brought against the applicant organisations should be reviewed. Everyone rejoiced, but for some reason I sighed bitterly. My predictions rarely come true, but in this case they did.
Judge Rubtsova of Zamoskvoretsky district court in Moscow has dismissed the idea of reviewing the case against Civic Assistance Committee saying: '[...] however, the [Constitutional] Court's statement is not relevant to the correct resolution of this case, which concerns Article 392 of the Code of Civil Procedure of the Russian Federation. This complaint is therefore rejected.'
That means – if any sense at all can be made of Judge Rubtsova's words – that the ruling by the Constitutional Court of Russia about the unconstitutional nature of the law on prosecutors "is not relevant to the correct resolution of this case". Is not relevant!
Hey there, "extremely pliant" Chairman Zorkin! [Valery Zorkin is chair of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation] Hey there! Are you listening? They say that you're not relevant!
Perhaps it's not that bad after all. To tell the truth, no one has died so far as a result of the ruling on the continued legal force of unconstitutional inspections by prosecutors (Greetings, Herr Kafka!).
But don't forget: the abolition of the death penalty in Russia depends not even on a decree of the Constitutional Court, but on one of its ‘definitions’. So, one day, another judge might just say, "This isn't relevant..."
Photo: Lawyer Kirill Koroteev with Svetlana Gannushkina, chair of Civic Assistance Committee and member of the board of the International Memorial Society. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda
Translation by Suzanne Eade Roberts
22 June 2015
By Natalya Taubina
Following the latest developments concerning foreign agents and the debates that have arisen on social networks, I think it is important once again to express in summary form the position which is both that of Public Verdict Foundation and me personally:
1. From the moment the idea of the law on foreign agents first appeared, Public Verdict took the position that it would in principle reject any labelling as a ‘foreign agent’. The reasons are simple: we are no agents, our work is in the interests of Russia and its citizens, we ourselves develop the projects based on the reality we face, the problems that we see and our ability to make a contribution to resolving these problems.
This label is consistently associated in the public mind with spies, traitors and enemies of the people. We are none of those things.
In response to the arguments of the law’s authors about the need for additional transparency, we said that, in the first place, we are all for transparency; secondly, this is in any case ensured by current regulations; and thirdly, if even more detailed reporting is required for those who receive foreign funding, then so be it, then name the register ‘NGOs that Receive Foreign Funding.’
We are ready to take on additional reporting responsibilities. And we are ready to provide these reports as necessary. At the same time we shall consider the question of the disproportionate approach separately and we shall seek to obtain the application of the same excessive demands, for example, to those who receive government funding.
I personally consider that the expenditure of government money should be maximally detailed and public, and include the tax declarations for those who receive pay and fees in such projects. But that is something of an aside here. But what is most important in our position is the principled rejection of the label.
2. The Ministry of Justice included us in the register against our wishes, and at the very moment when we were contesting the prosecutors’ notice, and had lodged our appeal against this very dubious notice.
3. In accordance with the position set out in Point 1, we do not recognize this label, we do not apply it to ourselves, we are contesting the decision in the courts, we meet the reporting requirements.
4. As a matter of principle we do not reject any legal funding, whether foreign or Russian. It is important for us that the process of decision-making for providing support to our projects should be transparent.
5. That is the reason why, for example, we only began to take part in competitions for presidential grants when the NGO Civic Dignity became one of the operators of the grantmaking process, since only this operator ensured minimum standards of transparency in the process of allocating grants.
6. I am convinced that the civic sector in Russia was created to a great degree thanks to the support of foreign charitable foundations in the 1990s. With experience of a great many projects behind me, I can say that not once since 1992 and up to the present time have I met a situation when someone from outside dictated the conditions for realizing one or another project. The conditions for work have been simply ideal: you think up the project yourself, you carry it out yourself, and you are yourself accountable.
7. Each person is free to decide to what foundations and institutions they ask for support, and also to decide whether to accept foreign funding or not.
8. A refusal to accept foreign funding as a result of the threat or reality of being added to the register of foreign agents (I can even say: at the time of being added to the register) I consider, at the very least, to be a retreat from the principle of freedom of association and believe that this has a negative influence on the realization of the universality of support for civil society initiatives, and in essence is evidence of a view that something is not quite right with these foreign foundations.
9. Public Verdict Foundation holds that our independence is ensured by deriving our funding from a variety of sources, institutional and private, Russian and foreign. As of today the budget of Public Verdict Foundation is made up from federal government funds, foreign charitable foundations, charitable foundations of intergovernmental bodies and private donations.
10. I believe that the procedures laid down for leaving the 'foreign agent' register are based on a negative approach: refuse to accept foreign funding, and you get the right to be removed from the register.
Moreover, based on the provisions of the law, organizations can be entered into the register on two grounds: political activity and foreign funding. However, exit from the register is for the time being only (if leave out closing down) possible on the basis of an absence of foreign funding, an approach which only serves to entrench the other reason for registration, namely alleged political activity.
I would be only too glad to change my point of view if I see at least one example of exclusion from the list on the basis of ‘an absence of political activity in the presence of foreign funding.’
11. At the same time, I do not exclude that the procedure of being taken off the register could be used, but it must be in terms of a campaign for the purpose of testing whether it is possible to leave the register on the basis of ‘an absence of political activity’ (in the terms of the law) in the presence of foreign funding.’ But here other issues need to be considered.
12. Public Verdict Foundation will continue to work in the form in which it was set up and on the basis of the same principles. If we are burdened with fines for refusing to accept the label of 'foreign agent' we shall be forced to close down our legal entity, but the team will remain and our work will continue.
18 June 2015
Source: HRO.org (info)
Kasparov.ru reported on 18th June 2015, citing Kommersant
But at this same meeting the founder of the organisation, Dmitry Zimin, commissioned the preparation of documents required for the closure of Dynasty.
Legal procedures were begun against the Foundation under the provisions of the Article concerning ‘activity of non-profits that fulfil the function of a “foreign agent” but have not been entered in the register of such non-profits,’ Deutsche Welle comments.
“By law, foundations can be closed only by a court, hence the authorisation has been necessary,” said a representative of the Dynasty Foundation. “Zimin said that if the conflict were resolved in the meantime, then possibly there would be no closure. A fine is not an argument in favour of the future work of the Foundation.”
The representative also said that a final decision would be announced “in the ten days following 20th June”.
In the event of the closure of Dynasty, 20 educational and scientific programmes will shut down, that include support for young mathematicians, physicists, teachers. Dynasty had intended to spend 435 million roubles on these projects.
On 17th June 2015 a magistrate’s court in Moscow fined the Dynasty Foundation 300,000 roubles for breaking the law on non-profits.
On 25th May 2015 Dmitry Zimin’s Dynasty Foundation was added by the Russian Ministry of Justice to the register of ‘foreign agent’ non-profits.
The aim of the Foundation in particular is the development of fundamental science and education in Russia, the creation of conditions for the work of scientists in the country and the popularisation of science. During the years that it has been in existence, the Foundation has supported in total about 1,000 of students, postgrads and scientific workers in Russia.
The Memorial Human Rights Centre in a statement issued on the 'foreign agent' law emphasised: “…. The concept of the law on ‘foreign agents’ in essence is not based on the principle of the rule of law. There does not exist a single problem which this law would resolve. The aims of its instigators were deeply political and opportunistic, and its wording exemplifies, in a blatantly obvious manner, legal uncertainty. The law on ‘foreign agents’ in practice introduces a presumption of guilt of an artificially earmarked set of organisations…”
Russian NGOs have repeatedly expressed disagreement with the law and have appealed against it, including at the European Court of Human Rights. Human rights activists emphasise that the law has a clearly discriminatory character and has an extremely negative significance in the historical context.
However, discrimination against independent non-profits in Russia continues.
Translated by Frances Robson
16 June 2015
Source: HRO.org (info)
Original source: Meduza
On 28 May 2015 Vladimir Putin designated information about troops killed in peacetime in the course of special operations as classified - such information is now considered a state secret. A couple of weeks later, on 15 June, the lawyer Ivan Pavlov (who specialises in espionage cases) sent a statement to the Supreme Court. He intends to prove that the President cannot classify such information, especially at his personal wish. The class action lawsuit has been joined by numerous journalists and public figures. Meduza publishes two of Ivan Pavlov's arguments contesting this Decree that were sent to the Supreme Court.
Ivan Pavlov: "On 28 May 2015 Vladimir Putin signed a Decree making information about military losses during special operations in peacetime a state secret. The connection between this Decree and the situation in south-east Ukraine is obvious. The purpose for which it was signed is also transparent: to stall any attempts at objective reporting of the conflict that might conflict with the official version.
Journalists working in the conflict zone may become victims of the legal uncertainty surrounding the Decree. The law does not define 'special operations', which are conducted without publicity and "without a declaration of war." To understand what constitutes a state secret, and what is open source information, becomes problematic, and a journalist risks becoming the target of criminal prosecution for unwittingly disclosing state secrets.
This Decree is questionable from a legal standpoint. This is why we are challenging it in Russia's Supreme Court. The class action lawsuit has been joined by the journalists and public figures Arkady Babchenko, Vladimir Voronov, Svetlana Davidova, Pavel Kanygin, Ruslan Leviev, Timur Olevsky, Grigory Pasko and Lev Shlosberg.
It is worth noting that Putin's Decree of 28 May, in and of itself, is only part of the problem. It amends clause No. 10 of a decree issued by President Boris Yeltsin's, who 20 years ago, during the first Chechen campaign, designated information on casualties in wartime as classified. We believe that this was also done unlawfully.
Until recently we have not felt any pressing need to challenge the rule that was brought in by Yeltsin, since no declaration of war has never been made (and, we hope, will not be declared this time either). But the Decree of 28 May, which extended the label of 'confidential' to include information on casualties in peacetime, was the last straw for us. So, now, the end result is that we are going to the Supreme Court with a statement contesting the 10th clause concerning the 'List of information classified as state secrets', approved by Yeltsin in 1995 and supplemented by Putin in late-May 2015 (hereinafter, the 10 clauses).
We are presenting two arguments before the Supreme Court contesting the 10th clause.
In classifying casualties in wartime and peacetime, both Yeltsin and Putin exceeded their authority.
According to the Russian Constitution, the right of citizens to freely seek, receive and impart information may be limited only at the level of Federal law. Article 5 of the law 'On State secrets' provides a list of information that may be classified as secret. This includes certain information related to the military: the contents of strategic and operative planning, documents on military administration, on plans for the development of military forces, on the location of forces and so on. The list contained in Article 5 is exhaustive. There is no mention of casualties in this list.
Meanwhile the law ‘On State secrets’ does not give the President powers to extend the list of classified information. Moreover, a Decree is not a law, but a by-law, and cannot establish additional restrictions.
Article 9 of the law ‘On State secrets’ provides that on the basis of Article 5 of the same law the President confirms the so-called ‘List of information considered to be a state secret’, a list that is determined by government bodies empowered to classify certain information in terms of the categories indicated in the law. The President’s list is determined by the appropriate authorities but cannot introduce new categories of secret information or widen the limitations laid down by the law ‘On State secrets’.
Information about extraordinary events cannot be classified as a State secret
Article 7 of the law ‘On State secrets’ does not permit information about extraordinary events that threaten the security and health of citizens, and their consequences, to be classified as a State secret. Military action and the conduct of special operations as a result of which people are killed can with certainty be described as extraordinary events. We believe that the relatives of military service personnel will agree with us.
Those who disagree with us often cite foreign experience, taking the view that ‘in the West everything is secret too’. I can cite a number of examples to show that this is not correct.
In the USA all information about losses in all wars and military operations (since 1775) is published, including with regard to current conflicts. For example, one can find out how many people died in the operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. In Great Britain information of this kind is the responsibility of the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre. The website of the Ministry of Defence of the country also publishes ongoing information about losses. In the event that an operation is conducted in secret, the name of the individual special services member is published, without details of the unit to which they belong. In Israel there is no similar practice of publishing statistics about losses, however journalists can always freely obtain such information from the Ministry of Defence.
We consider that challenging the 10th point of the Decree on classifying military losses is an extremely important task. The existence of this norm gives the authorities a prerogative over the truth, and this is an unhealthy and dangerous tendency.
Translated by Lindsay Munford
18 June 2015
Source: HRO.org (info)
Committee Against Torture is to begin work again in Grozny in the next few days. Its new office in the capital of Chechnya will be in the apartment where Natalya Estermirova, a former staff member of Memorial Human Rights Centre, lived. Natalya Estemirova was abducted and killed in 2009 by ‘unidentified criminals’.
As Mediazona reports, citing Interfax, Committee Against Torture has been invited to use the apartment by Natalya Estemirova’s daughter.
"Our office is moving to a new location in Grozny. This is the apartment where Natalya Estemirova lived. Natalya’s daughter, who is now living in Europe, made the suggestion to us,” said Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee Against Torture and member of the Presidential Human Rights Committee. He explained that the small apartment consists of just two rooms, but the lawyers will be able to work there and will begin to do so very soon.
The former Grozny office of the human rights defenders from the Committee Against Torture was ransacked on 3 June 2015, when it was attacked by a crowd armed with crowbars and hammers. The human rights defenders were forced to flee through a window. Police made no attempt to stop the attackers, and the head of Chechnya even stated that the human rights defenders had, he alleged, provoked the attack.
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