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16 May 2013
)Olga Prosvirova writes
: According to some experts, NGOs would have a chance to beat off the attacks by the Public Prosecutors Office if they were to go to the Constitutional Court.
For months now, non-profit organisations accused by the Ministry of Justice of engaging in political activities whilst receiving money from abroad have been looking for ways to get around the impasse.
Some organisations, such as the GOLOS Association, which has already been defeated in the Court of First Instance and is now pinning its only hope on an appeal, do not rule out that NGOs will have to shut down, albeit with the sole purpose of creating a new organisation afterwards with the very same goals. Others are gearing themselves up for protracted legal proceedings; to deny everything for as long as is feasible (such a stance has been taken by the human rights organisation Memorial). Others still are simply refusing to let the Public Prosecutor's Office through the door, as was the case with the Movement for Human Rights.
All things considered, GOLOS' frame of mind may not be at its most optimistic, but it is, at least, realistic: at the St. Petersburg International Legal Forum on Tuesday, Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov said that the Justice Ministry would be seeking the break-up of GOLOS if the Association did not register as a foreign agent: "This would obviously mean going to court, if [the Association] should choose not to comply with the law."
NGOs have long taken the attitude that this law is simply not worth complying with: the ‘Agents’ register is still empty, almost six months after coming into force. However there are legal grounds for such an approach. Olena Lukyanova, Doctor of Law and member of Russia's Public Chamber, is quite sure of that. In her expert report
she states that the NGO law is technically unconstitutional.
“Everyone has had their say about NGOs, but no one has touched on the main point: there are two concepts: ‘public associations’ and ‘public organisations’, and they partially overlap. These bodies are subject to two different laws. Yet none of the authors of the law on non-profit organisations has thought about the fact (slackers!) that although not all NGOs are public associations, each and every public association is an NGO," says Lukyanov.
Take Article 5 of the Federal law 'On public associations' (No. 82-FZ of 19 May 1995): "A public association shall be understood as a voluntary, self-governing, non-profit organisation formed on the initiative of individual citizens who are united by common interests to achieve common goals, as set forth in the Charter of that public association."
In Lukyanova's expert report it states: "All of the amendments made to the Law 'On non-profit organisations' apply, without exception, to the work of public associations." That means to political parties, public institutions, foundations and movements.
The Russian Constitution makes no mention of NGOs, but it has a lot to say about public associations. In particular, part 4 of Article 13 makes specific provision for the equality of all public associations before the law, which is done away with in a stroke by the NGO law.
The UN independent human rights experts support this assessment; they stated during their appearance in Geneva on Tuesday that the law, "does not comply with international law and standards". They also recalled a resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council that was directed against laws used to unduly impede and criminalise the work of non-profit organisations on the basis of their source of funding.
Elena Lukyanova told Novaya how this may work in the favour of public organisations, many of which are only preparing to prove their 'innocence' (if such a word is even appropriate, given the situation) in court. "There are lots of meetings underway at the moment on the matter of what to do about this nonsense. But one thing is clear: the need to take action with the Constitutional Court." Non-profit organisations, as well as State Duma deputies, have the right to go to court.
It may be that, for many NGOs (in particular GOLOS, whose future no one is sure of any longer), this will end up being the only way out of the situation.
Source: Novaya Gazeta
17 May 2013
Maria Alekhina, a member of the punk band Pussy Riot, is fighting to ensure her personal presence at the court parole hearing and intends to go on hunger strike should she be refused this right. This information has appeared on the webpage of another member of the band, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.
"Due to the fact that the Berezniki town court is trying to infringe Maria’s right to be personally present at the court parole hearing on 22nd of May, Maria and her lawyers filed an official petition with the court authorities of Perm region and with the penitentiary authorities in both Perm and Moscow, announcing that if the Berezniki court refuses to bring her from prison to court for the hearing, she will go on hunger strike from 22nd of May as a way of protesting against the infringement of her right to fully participate in the court hearing" the statement reads, as quoted by Kasparov.ru
"Alekhina’s right to be personally present in court is guaranteed by law, but as of late the Berezniki court has been referring to the possibility of vidoeconferencing with her from the prison where she is detained," Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s husband Petr Verzilov said in a statement to the news agency Interfax
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina were both convicted on the charge of hooliganism and each sentenced to two years of imprisonment. A third member of the band who was convicted, Ekaterina Samytsevich, was given a suspended sentence on appeal. The reason for their arrest and prosecution was the punk performance "Mother of God, chase Putin away" by the punk band Pussy Riot at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
17 May 2013
) On the basis of more than 30 warnings issued by prosecutors to NGOs under the law on ‘foreign agents’, the human rights organization Agora has counted more than 50 kinds of activity that have been classified as ‘political.’
Pavel Chikov, director of Agora, told Vedomosti
that ‘all socially useful activities’ have been classified as political activity, including legal consultations for those who took part in protests in December 2011 and the publication of a leaflet such as ‘The International LGBT Movement: From Local Specifics to Global Policy.’
In general, Pavel Chikov concludes, coming forward with any initiative can be considered political activity, from making recommendations to the authorities to the holding of demonstrations.
Chikov says that the label ‘foreign agent’ can be applied to any active NGO. For this reason, Chikov supports the proposal by the Presidential Council on Human Rights that the criterion ‘political activity’ be excluded from the definition of a ‘foreign agent’, and that the sole criterion be the presence or absence of foreign funding. Rosbalt
news agency reports that recently the Presidential Human Rights Council held a special session on the NGO inspections being conducted in Russia. The results of the session have been published by the Council. This points out that starting in March 2013 in many regions of Russia the prosecutors have been conducting mass inspections of non-profit organizations. The Human Rights Council states that the inspections have already affected several thousand NGOs, including groups that have won wide recognition for their work in the areas of human rights, the environment, research, education, sport, religion and other areas.
In particular, the report states that these inspections have been carried out in violation of the established law regulating oversight by federal bodies of the work of NGOs.
17 May 2013
It is not the business of writers, poets, actors, directors or musicians to teach legislators how to pass laws, courts how to interpret them, or prosecutors how to monitor their implementation. But the situation that has developed around the relations between government and NGOs is dangerous and fraught with too serious consequences for us to ignore it.
Mass inspections by prosecutors of NGOs are taking place in the country. The inspections are being done in violation of the law and at an unheard of speed. All this seems to look like a wide-ranging campaign with the goal of portraying, by any means, the public activities of NGOs that receive funding from abroad as political.
Anyone who is interested can find out what Russian NGOs are doing: they are fighting to protect the environment, to stop the destruction of our cultural heritage, to prevent our children dying from incurable diseases, to make sure the victims of the Stalin-era repressions are not forgotten, to make it possible for people with disabilities to live a normal life in Russia and feel they are full members of society, to ensure that Russian laws are abided by in full, and even simply to stop husbands beating their wives, and to stop parents rejecting their children.
The people engaged in this work, in their overwhelming majority, are selfless, committed individuals, and the application of the term ‘foreign agent’, which implies that their activity is controlled by foreign sponsors and is in the interests of foreign sponsors, to them is unjust and dishonest.
Everyone who is engaged in civil society activity in Russia knows why are many Russian NGOs are forced to search for funds to support their work from among international philanthropic foundations. Government bodies in reality don’t support civil society initiatives, and business, which is dependent on the authorities, is not prepared to risk financing NGOs because they fear provoking the dissatisfaction of those in power.
To have to carry the stamp of ‘foreign agent’ is not only insulting for NGO workers, but also disinforms the public who could be made to think that the help they are receiving comes not from their fellow citizens but from foreigners. Moreover, the term ‘foreign agent’ in the public mind is associated with the Stalin-era trials, during which hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens confessed under torture to allegations that were absurd, and it was precisely as ‘foreign agents’ that they were destroyed by the state machine.
A majority of NGOs will not accept the shameful term and will prefer to close down. This will set civil society back many years and will halt its development. So that this did not happen, we have to secure the abolition of this law, or at the very least its amendment, so that the term ‘foreign agent’ will be substituted by something more neutral, such as an ‘organization receiving funding from foreign sources.’ Moreover, it is necessary to more clearly define the meaning of ‘political activity’ by returning it to its commonsense meaning. Boris Akunin, writer
Mikhail Aldashin, animated film director and artist
Liya Akhedzhakova, actress of stage and screen
Andrei Bilzho, artist, cartoonist
Andrei Bitov, writer
Vera Vasilieva, actress of stage and screen
Vladimir Vyatkin, photographer
Sergei Gandlevsky, poet, writer
Boris Grebenshchikov, musician, poet
Oleg Dorman, film director
Zoya Eroshok, journalist
Elean Kamburova, singer and actress
Pavel Kaplevich, artists and theater and cinema producer
Yulii Kim, poet, composer and dramatist
Polina Osetinskaya, pianist
Lev Rubinshtein, poet, literary critic
Dmitry Sokolov-Mitrich, journalist
Svetlana Sorokina, journalist
Dmitry Spirin, rock musician
Marietta Chudakova, literary scholar, critic and writer Source: Agency for Social Information
16 May 2013 Svetlana Gannushkina
Victory Day is one of the few remaining holidays that the whole nation embraces. We defeated Nazism, our struggle was justified, and that is why the victory belongs to the whole nation.
I awoke on 9 May with an expectation of joy in my heart, but something was bothering me. It wasn't the memory of the losses suffered by every family. Or even my grief at the recent passing of my cousin, the artist Zhena Gannushkin, a war veteran who had escaped to the front as a 17-year-old boy after invitations from the NKVD to collaborate intensified.
What was bothering me was a sense of guilt, my personal guilt for failing, for not managing to help those whom not helping is shameful.
It all began in 2010 when one of our colleagues from Memorial in Riga, Ruta Ozolinya, showed me a letter from a Russian soldier, a veteran of the Great Patriotic War Nikolai Ponomarenko, infantryman Kolya as he was called in the Latvian newspaper Vesti. The letter was about the fact that disabled people of the Great Patriotic War living in Latvia who had finished their tours of duty did not receive disability pensions from either Russia or Latvia. An exception was made for Russian citizens, which by the way infantryman Kolya was, but it turns out he has long been fighting not for himself but "for his friends."
At first this didn't seem like a difficult problem to me. I thought there had simply been a mistake, certain soldiers were not covered by a directive and the mistake only needed to be rectified.
In October I wrote a letter to Dmitry Medvedev and at the very first meeting with him of the Council for Human Rights handed a copy of the letter to the then president. Medvedev's response was immediate, he wrote: "Ms. Golikova. Please work out a resolution to this issue!" The sentimental president underlined the words "there are so few soldiers left!"
It looked like a done deal. We awaited the result. It came soon enough in the form of a letter from Ms Golikova to the president. The letter went into great detail about the Russian pension provision rules, which had absolutely nothing to do with our case. The letter ended with the following: "With regard to the proposal to introduce amendments to the existing legislation aimed at extending pension provisions... to disabled persons of the Great Patriotic War who are permanently resident in Latvia and who do not hold Russian citizenship, it should be noted that unfortunately this cannot be fulfilled. This is due to the fact that disabled people of the Great Patriotic War who are residents of the Republic of Latvia and are citizens of Latvia or have a special status of non-citizen fall under the jurisdiction of Latvia, as a result of which the legislation of the Russian Federation cannot be extended to them to the same extent as to citizens of the Russian Federation and persons permanently resident on its territory.
... It must also be taken into account that such a proposed decision would set a precedent and would make it necessary to also make such payments to people with a similar status, living not only in Latvia but in other countries (such as the United States, Israel, Germany, etc.)."
Unlike Medvedev, the fate of disabled soldiers did not make much of an impression on Ms Golikova, and she openly expressed her unwillingness to carry out his instruction.
After I received a copy of this reply, I went onto the website of the Russian Embassy in Latvia and discovered that the precedent which was causing Ms Golikova such concern had already been set. Based on an agreement of 30 April 1994, Russia assumed responsibility for pension provisions in Latvia out of its budget allocations for reserve or retired officers, warrant officers, senior warrant officers and extended service military personnel of the armed forces, interior, railway and other units of the former Soviet Union (Russia Federation) and members of their family, regardless of their nationality
. This agreement was concluded because the Latvian legislation made no provision for ensuring the pension provision of certain categories of former citizens of the Soviet Union. As can be seen from the text of the agreement, soldiers had simply fallen through the net
The worry Minister Golikova had about also having to pay veterans "living in the United States, Israel, Germany, etc.," was of course unfounded, given the respect those who fought against Nazism are held in Israel for example. As far as Germany is concerned, this country provides assistance to the victims of Nazism in Russia and Ukraine, so it hardly seems likely that there will be a need to support former Soviet disabled soldiers there as well.
All this was set out in my second letter which I handed to Dmitry Medvedev at the next meeting. My letter was again swiftly followed by a decision: Please reconsider the resolution of the soldiers' issue
. This time the reply from the ministry came directly to me; it was signed by State Secretary to the Minister Mr Voronin. Completely ignoring my appeal, Voronin's letter was an exact copy of Golikova's reply to Medvedev! Nobody had even read my letter.
Further correspondence and meetings on this issue ensued. Chairman of the Human Rights Council Mikhail Fedotov wrote to the administration about the fact that this presidential instruction could not be considered closed as it had not been fulfilled, and the replies by Golikova and Voronin did not convince us. A meeting was held between representatives of the Foreign Ministry, Finance Ministry, Health and Social Protection Ministry, etc., where everyone talked of the sacred duty towards war veterans. It was only a woman from social security who pointed the finger, accusing me of showing suspicious favouritism towards Soviet soldiers in Latvia.
Fedotov wrote to the Foreign Ministry again. The Foreign Ministry did a count of Great Patriotic War veterans in the Baltic countries and discovered there were not several hundred of them, as infantryman Kolya claimed, but more than 8,000 veterans and 2,000 Great Patriotic War disabled, of whom about half received a military pension. The Foreign Ministry also published data about widows of veterans, underage prisoners of camps and home front workers. Firmly accusing the authorities of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia of infringing the rights of anti-Nazi veterans in many areas of life, the Foreign Ministry said the following: "Veterans of the Great Patriotic War receive minimal pensions, have been deprived of the right to appropriate allowances and subsidised healthcare and public transport. Their pensions are generally not enough to cover their utilities payments, especially during the winter. This applies to all categories of veterans of the Great Patriotic War with the exception of military pensioners, who receive a pension from the Russian Federation on the basis of special bilateral agreements after retiring from military service." So things look pretty bleak for everyone except our pensioners, however, it goes on:
"Up to now, veterans living in the Baltic states have been paid only lump sums to mark special anniversaries of Victory Day, which have been enacted through special regulatory acts..
In view of the above, we believe that payments of small regular allowances to veterans of the war against the Nazis in the Baltic states would be for them not only a material factor but also a moral factor of Russia's recognition of their service.
We suggest that the most acceptable way of resolving this problem might be to adopt a separate regulatory act, which would make provision for regular payments to veterans of the Great Patriotic War (regardless of their nationality) who in their country of residence do not have the right to receive additional social support or other benefits on the strength of their status as World War II veterans. In addition, in order not to come into conflict with any bilateral agreements on pension (social) provisions between Russia and these countries, in our view, it would be best to avoid using the term 'pension' in favour of other definitions for the payment ("humanitarian benefit," for example).
In addition, singling out a specific category of Great Patriotic War disabled, as is being suggested by Ms Svetlana Gannushkina, could, in our opinion, cause resentment and offence to other Great Patriotic War veterans. Therefore maybe we could provide monthly or quarterly payments, differentiated according to the category of the recipient (Great Patriotic War veteran, participant of the Great Patriotic War, Great Patriotic War disabled)."
It would not be a bad idea to take a broader view of this issue. It is clear that when I talk about a specific category of disabled soldier, that does not in any way mean that I am suggesting it is only for them that conditions should be improved. Again it seemed that the problem was about to be resolved.
But a new president took office, the irrepressible Nikolai Ponomarenko again wrote him a letter about his comrades who had defeated Nazism and been left without the support of the country they had defended. Dmitry Medvedev became prime minister, which gave him extensive scope to carry out the instruction of President Medvedev, but clearly something got in the way of him doing so.
The Presidential Council for Human Rights has been overwhelmed by a wave of problems caused by the work of the "crazy printer"...
And the soldiers are decreasing in numbers, and soon there will be no one left to cause resentment and offence to.
16 May 2013
Foreign philanthropic and academic foundations working with Russian researchers and academic institutions will be obliged to obtain the approval of the Ministry of Education & Science. Grani.ru
, citing the newspaper Vedomosti
, reports that a government decree
lays down this demand.
Grantmakers henceforth must present the Ministry with their founding documents and information about the research project for which money is being provided. Moreover, they must give the officials their own bank details and the numbers of the bank accounts of the grant recipients. All these documents must be translated into Russian.
The officials can refuse the philanthropists if they consider that the goals of the research conflict with the Russian legislation or do not correspond with the established priorities for the development of science and technology. The right to work without the permission of the Ministry of Science & Education is retained for 13 organizations, including six agencies and organizations of the United Nations, particular European and intergovernmental associations (the Council of Ministers of the Northern Countries, the Council of States of the Baltic Sea) and the Intergovernmental Foundation of Humanitarian Cooperation of the CIS.
Earlier, academic institutions had been removed from the list of organizations affected by the law on ‘foreign agents.’ This government decree now puts academics receiving financing from abroad on an equal footing with organizations registered as ‘foreign agents.’ Experts asked by HRO.org said that they expect that prosecutors will visit academic institutions that are recipients of grants, and that there will be more prosecutions of academics.
15 May 2013
The Moscow Public Prosecutor's Office has carried out an inspection of the activities of the Public Verdict Foundation
. The report by the Public Prosecutor's Office, which was signed on 8 May 2013 and delivered to the management of the Public Verdict Foundation on 14 May, obliges the NGO to take immediate measures to rectify the legal violations identified, and to report on the outcome within 30 days. The Prosecutor’s Office bases its decision on a study of the Foundation’s founding statute and other documents, which, it says, show evidence of political activity. Furthermore, this is the first occasion on which practically all of the human rights activity carried out by an NGO has been declared political. [Read more
13 May 2013 Vera Vasileva Source: HRO.org
Hidden amongst the plains of the Orenburg Region, Sol-Iletsk is a paradoxical town, where an industrial site sits alongside a holiday resort, which in turn is right next to the 'Zone' - Federal Governmental Institution Penal Colony № 6, or the Black Dolphin, the largest prison in Russia for those serving life sentences. [Read more
13 May 2013Vera Vasilieva
The concert held in support of political prisoners in Moscow’s Mir concert hall on 12 May 2013 gathered a record audience. The hall, which has 1,000 seats, was packed to overflowing. Some wishing to go to the concert were not even able to get tickets. The event organisers were the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners, For Human Rights, Solidarity, the Party of 5 December, as well as the Memorial Human Rights Centre. [Read more