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Ryazan Memorial: We are agents of the citizens of Russia

posted 4 Feb 2016, 12:04 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Feb 2016, 12:09 ]

3 February 2016

Source: (info)
Ryazan Memorial announces its categorical disagreement with the decision of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation to include the organization in the register of ‘foreign agent’ NGOs 

Statement by the board of Ryazan Memorial:

Foreign agents are characters from spy stories, and we are a civil society organization, openly defending the rights of Russia’s citizens. The fact that the Ministry of Justice has confused these different notions, unfortunately, is not a sad mistake, but part of a intentional campaign against all independent civic activity. The campaign began in 2012 with the adoption by the State Duma of the absurd and discriminatory law on ‘foreign agent’ NGOs. We consider inclusion in this register as an outrage and intend to contest this decision, and the results of the inspection by the Ministry of Justice, in the courts.

Ryazan Memorial was set up in 1989 by an initiative group of citizens. Our mission has been the preservation of the historical memory of the victims of political repression and the protection of human rights and freedoms. Over 27 years more than 12,000 citizens have received advice and legal support from the specialists of Ryazan Memorial.

We provide advice, draw up complaints against official bodies, represent the interests of citizens in the courts, publish educational materials and disseminate information in the media about violations of human rights and about mechanisms of human rights protection.

Thanks to our work hundreds of people with disabilities have received the means of rehabilitation essential to them, free medicines and treatment, and ramps for access. More than 400 apartments for former inmates of children’s homes and people with disabilities have been won through the work of our lawyers in the courts. Thousands of relatives of the victims of polticial repression have uncovered information about their relatives and secured their rehabilitation. All this assistance we delivered free of charge.

Results of this kind would have been impossible without the financial support of Russian and international charitable foundations. This financial support was provided exclusively in compliance with Russian law and completely under the oversight of the relevant Russian official bodies.

In December 2015 during an inspection by the Ryazan department of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry officials identified evidence indicative that we were a ‘foreign agent’. The materials of this inspection provided the grounds on the basis of which Ryazan Memorial was designated a ‘foreign agent’.

Our organization was accused of ‘political activity’ on the grounds of the materials we distribute via the website. This website, supported by projects carried out by Ryazan Memorial, has published on a daily basis, since 1996, information about violations of human rights and freedoms in our country. At the same time, specialists from the region's department of the Ministry of Justice had no doubts about the accuracy of the materials published on the website. The problem was that the dissemination of accurate information about violations of human rights is treated as an ‘attempt to influence government policy.’

An extremely wide interpretation of the notion of ‘political activity’ makes it possible for practically all an NGO's activities to be defined as 'political', whether we are talking about an appeal to government bodies or, as in our case, publishing materials about violations of human rights guaranteed by the Russian Constitution. The freedom of expression and the right to freely receive and distribute information, embodied in our Constitution, were moreover completely ignored.

In addition, in conducting their inspection for reasons unknown the Ministry of Justice ignored the fact that we receive domestic funding. Since 2013 our organization has received grants distributed by order of the Russian President to projects in defence of the rights of people with disabilities and those individuals who have left children’s homes.

So whose agents are we? The answer is simple. We are the agents of Russian citizens, residents of the city of Ryazan. We have an impeccable reputation in the region. Each year more than 500 citizens come to us for assistance. Our activities are transparent, public and effective. We act in the interests of people, and exclusively within the framework of the law. We insist on the observance of the Constitution and the implementation of the state’s social obligations. We take local authorities to court, forcing officials to comply with Russian laws. It is for that reason that they have already tried to stop our work more than once, and now we are seeing one more attempt of this kind. 

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

Lawyer Ivan Pavlov’s petition to access the KGB archives has been rejected

posted 2 Feb 2016, 09:20 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 2 Feb 2016, 09:26 ]

21 January 2016

Source: (info)
The lawyer Ivan Pavlov has reported that his petition to obtain access to the archives of the Cheka-NKVD-KGB, which had been signed by 60 thousand people, has been rejected. The response from the Commission for the Protection of State Secrets was that they did not consider it necessary to annul their decision extending the period of classification of most of the documents in the archives until 2044.

As Radio Svoboda reports, citing Ivan Pavlov, the Commission has two arguments.

First, information about the activities of the state security apparatus between 1917 and 1991 remains significant today, and its circulation could endanger on national security.

Second, the decision to extend the period of classification does not apply to materials related to the mass repressions, as they must be accessible in accordance with Yeltsin’s decree on the declassification of legislation and other acts which served as a basis for mass repressions and violations of human rights.

Pavlov is head of "Team 29", a lawyer’s association, and has worked on cases related to state secrecy and freedom of information for over 20 years.

In the late 1990s, Pavlov defended Grigory Pasko, the journalist accused of “espionage”, and also participated in the case of Captain Aleksandr Nikitin, who was accused of “treason”. In the spring of 2015, Pavlov secured the termination of the criminal case against Svetlana Davydova, mother of a large family from Vyazma, who was unlawfully accused of “treason”.

Translated by Kate Goodby

“The Right Not to Remain Silent” - a Campaign Against Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code

posted 2 Feb 2016, 08:12 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 2 Feb 2016, 08:17 ]

21 January 2016

Source: (info)
Friends and supporters of Ildar Dadin, who was sentenced to three years in a penal colony for peaceful and lawful protesting, have created the site, dedicated to a campaign against the persecution of representatives of civil society under Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. With the launch of the site we announce the start of a campaign called “The Right to Not Remain Silent,” aimed at the abolition of this repressive article, which threatens punishment under criminal law for the expression of opinions.

The article in question, which was added to the Russian Criminal Code in the summer of 2014, introduces punishment for repeated transgressions during mass demonstrations. The article is part of the criminal code, although it regulates punishment for administrative transgressions. Lawyers note that such an article could have made its way into Russian legislation only due to an oversight, given the fact that it is an outright contradiction of the Constitution and violates human rights.

The first unreasonably cruel sentence under this article was handed down on December 7, 2015. Civic activist Ildar Dadin, who opposed war, discrimination, and abuse of power, was sentenced to three years of imprisonment. In his case, it was not only a violation of the Constitution but also outright fraud: He was tried for one-man pickets he had held without violating the Constitution, but the police falsified the reports of his arrests.

Criminal cases under Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code have been brought not only against Dadin, who worked as a security guard until not long ago, but also against all kinds of different people: marketing specialist Mark Galperin, mother and businesswoman Irina Kalmykova, and Vladimir Ionov, who is retired. We will speak at length about all who are subject to prosecution under this Article, and also about those who convict them and propose terms in prison simply because these people dared to speak out.

A range of Russian community and political organizations have already joined forces with the “Right Not to Remain Silent.” We will be holding educational events and demonstrations on the streets, aiming to shed light on this problem as best we can. We will regularly update with upcoming events and the reports of the campaign’s successes. The main event of the coming month is the international demonstration, “Free World for Free Dadin,” which will take place within the framework of the “Right Not to Remain Silent” campaign on February 7. Moscow, Kiev, London, Berlin, Toronto, and Prague have already announced their participation.

We demand the immediate repeal of Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code, the release of Ildar, and the exoneration of all who have been charged under this Aarticle. Join us!

ECtHR communicates application by Oleg Orlov concerning Estemirova case

posted 1 Feb 2016, 06:22 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 Feb 2016, 06:25 ]

27 January 2015

Source: (info)
The European Court of Human Rights  (ECtHR) has set in motion the procedure to communicate a complaint made by Memorial Human Rights Centre board member Oleg Orlov, prosecuted for expressing his views on who was to blame for the death of Natalia Estemirova.

Caucasian Knot notes that on 15 July 2009 a female employee of Memorial Human Rights Centre in Chechnya, Natalia Estemirova, was kidnapped by unknown assailants in Grozny, taken off to Ingushetia and killed.

Neither her killers nor those who ordered the killing have yet been found.

The Russian Prosecutor General's Office considers Estemirova's murder case solved. According to the findings of the investigation, it was Alkhazur Bashaev, the subject of an international arrest warrant, who was implicated in the murder, and the motive for the crime was allegedly revenge for the human rights defender having published details of the recruitment of militants by Bashaev and of an attack on the family of a Moscow businessman, and also for discrediting the Chechen authorities.

The application to the ECtHR is connected with comments made by Memorial Human Rights Centre board member Oleg Orlov following the murder of Natalia Estemirova and subsequent criminal proceedings. The human rights defender believes that he was the subject of an Article 10 (freedom of expression) violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

"In my mind, it is all very straightforward. After the murder, I expressed my opinion and gave my point of view. I believe that I had the right to make an assessment, but I was prosecuted for making public statements about the death of Estemirova. Natalia was a human rights defender and community leader, and I pointed the finger of blame for her death at the official whose actions led to the murder, " said Oleg Orlov.

At the same time, the human rights activist noted that his comments were of "great public significance".

"They prosecuted me twice over for those comments. The first time was in a civil case, which I lost and was forced to pay a large sum of money.

Almost at the same time I was arraigned on a criminal charge. It was a lengthy process that cost me a lot of time and effort, but in the end the Court decided that I was not to blame. I was acquitted because the magistrate's court, the court of first instance, considered that I was entitled to express my views... Then, after the decision was appealed, and because of the decriminalisation of the article on 'defamation', the criminal case was dismissed, " said Oleg Orlov.

According to the human rights defender, he filed an application with the ECtHR because "the prosecution constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of opinion".

"The Court does not deny our case; it considers it sufficiently weighty to merit serious examination of the complaint and for questions to be put to representatives of the Russian State. How they will respond, I don't know," concluded human rights defender Oleg Orlov.

Colleagues of Natalia Estemirova link her murder to her professional activities. On 10 September 2011 human rights defenders complained to the ECtHR that there had been a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights during the investigation into the murder case. In the opinion of Oleg Orlov, the complaint highlighted that the victims had not had access to the case files, which ultimately "cannot make for an effective investigation".

On 10 December 2015 the senior lawyer of Memorial Human Rights Centre, Kirill Koroteev, told Caucasian Knot that the procedure to communicate an application about the lack of an effective investigation into the murder of Natalia Estemirova had been set in motion on 16 November.

Translated by Lindsay Munford

Writers and academics speak out against law on 'foreign agents'

posted 1 Feb 2016, 05:24 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 Feb 2016, 05:32 ]

27 January 2016

Source: (info)
Around 90 members of the Russian PEN Centre, together with historians belonging to the Free Historical Society and Russian academics, have called on the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation to halt its abuse of power against NGOs deemed to be “foreign agents”.

Halt the abuse of power against NGOs 

Statement by individual members of the Russian PEN Centre and other signatories 

On 22 January 2016, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation published draft amendments to the notorious Law 121-FZ of 20 July 2012, commonly known as the Law on Foreign Agents.

We, the members of the Russian PEN Centre, believe this to be a dangerous document aimed at further discrediting and systematically persecuting independent civil activism in Russia, including in the sphere of culture that we value so dearly.

The aforementioned law was adopted in 2012, and has since been used as a pretext for stopping or suspending the activities of a whole range of non-profit and non-governmental organisations, some of which had been actively involved in large-scale charitable or educational projects in Russia.

In the time which has passed since the Law on Foreign Agents was adopted, it has become obvious that this piece of legislation is destructive and repressive by its very nature. It has caused significant damage to public life in Russia and, as a result, nullified the opportunity to engage in meaningful civic activism guaranteed to our fellow citizens by the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

The law’s potential for harm is due in large part to the vagueness and ambiguity of its provisions describing key terms such as “political activity” and “foreign funding”.

This has made it possible for the unprincipled and politically short-sighted officials enforcing this law to slap the insulting label of “foreign agent” on organisations whose only “crimes” consist in criticising various functionaries or state authorities.

High-profile and respected organisations which have been subjected to outrageous persecution under the pretext that they are “foreign agents” include the NGOs which form part of the International Memorial Society and several organisations which protect the rights of soldiers, uncover mass electoral fraud or provide legal aid to the public: Public Verdict Foundation, Lawyers for Constitutional Rights and Freedoms, Committee Against Torture, etc., to name but a few.

One particularly outrageous example involved the inclusion of the Dynasty Foundation on the list of “foreign agents”. This charitable body was funded from the Zimin family fortune, or in other words from money which had been earned and taxed in Russia. The Ministry of Justice did not deny that the Dynasty Foundation was solely engaged in providing funding to scientists, academics, teachers, authors and publishers of educational literature, but this did not alter its decision – a decision which was not only disastrous for the Dynasty Foundation, but also unfair and insulting.

Human rights activists and distinguished lawyers have repeatedly made urgent calls for the legislation to be made more precise and for the term “political activity” to be defined more narrowly.

However, the amendments which have now been drafted by the Ministry of Justice will merely make it easier to use the Law on Foreign Agents as a tool for the abuse of power and political persecution.

From now on, any activity undertaken with the aim of defending human and civil rights and freedoms, as well as any attempt to exert public influence over decisions by the state authorities – including local authorities – will be deemed “political activity.”

This covers any manifestation of civil activism or commitment to solving the problems faced by our society.

It is not only public gatherings, rallies, demonstrations and pickets which are deemed ways of achieving these “political aims”, but any public discussion or lecture.

What is more, any public criticism or appeal to the state authorities or their representatives to amend the provisions of a particular law or overturn an unlawful decision and so on will be deemed a political activity and grounds for inclusion on the list of “foreign agents”.

The amendments contain a proviso that scientific, cultural and charitable activities will not be deemed political. This is merely a sly ruse, however, since an exception will only be made if the organisation has not conducted the activity, “with the aim of exerting influence on public opinion and decisions by the state authorities".

We believe that these new restrictions on NGOs’ activities are unlawful, immoral and harmful to our society.

We demand that the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation rescind the proposed amendments.

We demand an end to the abuse of power by the state authorities against NGOs, and for citizens to be granted the constitutional right to engage freely in civic activism.

Konstantin Azadovsky     
Mikhail Aizenberg
Vladimir Alenikov
Maksim Amelin
Aleksandr Arkhangelsky
Dmitry Bavilsky
Leonid Bakhnov
Efim Bershin
Tatyana Bonch-Osmolovskaya
Olga Varshaver
Alina Vitukhnovskaya
Marina Vishnevetskaya
Vladimir Voinovich
Tatyana Voltskaya
Sergey Gandlevsky
Alisa Ganiyeva
Aleksandr Gelman
Aleksandra Glebovskaya
Yakov Gordin
Kristina Gorelik
Varvara Gornostayeva
Aleksandr Gorodnitsky
Yuli Gugolev
Aleksandr Davydov
Vitaly Dikson
Andrey Dmitriyev
Aleksandr Dolinin
Veronika Dolina
Olga Drobot
Olga Dunayevskaya
Leonid Zhukhovitsky
Sergey Zavyalov
Natalya Ivanova
Viktor Yesilov
Gennady Kalashnikov
Vyacheslav Karpenko
Ivan Klinovoy
Aleksandr Kobrinsky
Kirill Kovaldzhi
Nikolay Konolov
Grigory Kruzhkov
Sergey Kuznetsov
Maiya Kucherskaya
Olga Kuchkina
Aleksandr Lavrov
Irina Levinskaya
Andrey Makarevich
Larisa Miller
Aleksey Motorov
Pavel Nerler
Galina Nerpina
Valery Nikolayev
Aleksey Ostudin
Aleksandr Parnis
Sergey Parkhomenko
Grigory Petukhov
Nikolay Podosokorsky
Yvgeny Polov
David Raskin
Boris Roginsky
Mark Rozovsky
Lev Rubinshtein
Mariya Rybakova
Olga Sedakova
Vladimir Sergiyenko
Igor Sid
Yevgeny Sidorov
Boris Sokolov
Nataliya Sokolovskaya
Vladimir Sotnikov
Tatyana Sotnikova (Anna Berseneva)
Sergey Stratanovsky
Vadim Fadin
Boris Frezinsky
Oleg Khlebnikov
Mikhail Kholmogorov
Yelena Kholmogorova
Andrey Chernov
Yelena Chizhova
Grigory Chkhartishvili
Vladimir Sharov
Ilya Shtemler
Tatyana Shcherbina
Mikhail Epshtein
Sergey Yakovlev
Mikhail Yasnov

The following historians belonging to the Free Historical Society and Russian academics have also put their names to the statement:
Boris Altshuler
Vladimir Vedernikov
Mark Grinberg
Natalya Demina
Boris Dolgin
Anna Dybo
Boris Kolonitsky
Sergey Krasilnikov
Ilya Kuklin
Igor Kurlyandsky
Sergey Krasilnikov
Vera Milchina
Svetlana Neretina
Aleksandr Rubtsov
Aleksandr Podosinov
Nikita Sokolov
Anatoly Turilov
Fedor Uspensky
Pavel Chebotarev
Andrey Tsaturyan
Viktor Shnirelman 

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Evgeny Vitishko: “This is real pressure”

posted 1 Feb 2016, 02:50 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 Feb 2016, 03:01 ]

25 January 2016

Source: (info)
Evgeny Vitishko, released from prison on parole on December 22, 2015, has been registered at the Tuapse branch of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service in Krasnodar Region, Bloknot reports.

Upon his release, the environmental activist had an electronic monitoring bracelet attached to his leg that is used for those under house arrest. It indicates only if the wearer is near a monitoring station or not.

According Evgeny Vitishko, the bracelet he is being forced to wear is a ‘real kind of psychological pressure’.

As Bloknot Krasnodar previously reported, on December 20, 2013, the court at Tuapse sentenced Evgeny Vitishko to a three-year suspended sentence for ‘damaging the fence of governor Aleksandr Tkachev’s dacha.’ The environmental activist accused the head of the region of having seized land unlawfully. Later, the Tuapse town court changed the suspended sentence to a period of imprisonment in a penal colony.

On November 10, the court decided to release Krasnodar environmentalist Evgeny Vitishko from the Tambov penal colony. That said, Vitishko did not leave the prison until December 22.

The Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized Evgeny Vitishko as a political prisoner.

The world’s largest human rights organization, Amnesty International, considers Evgeniy Vitishko a prisoner of conscience and led an international campaign for his release.

For more information from the Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow) about the case of Evgeniy Vitishko, see here

Boris Vishnevsky on the 'foreign agent' law: Getting charged with 'politics'

posted 1 Feb 2016, 02:28 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 Feb 2016, 02:37 ]

25 January 2016

By Boris Vishnevsky

Source: (info)

Original source: Novaya gazeta
Changes to the law on non-profit organisations, thought up in the justice ministry, have made it possible to call just about anyone a foreign agent.

The justice ministry’s working group has come up with amendments to the law “On non-profit organisations”, clarifying the concept of political activity that is used to label a non-profit a “foreign agent”. It would have been better to keep it vague: now almost anything can be termed “political activity”. Any non-profit that evaluates the actions of the authorities or pays attention to them can be labelled a foreign agent. To complete the picture this principle only needs to be applied to citizens as well.

More than 100 organisations (including those concerned with the environment and human rights) have been included on a register of “foreign agents”, and often enough for absurd reasons. For example, the Glasnost Defence Foundation has been included for publishing a critical piece by the writer Boris Akunin.

Last autumn at a meeting of the Presidential Council on Human Rights the practice of labelling organisations as foreign agents was heavily criticised. Vladimir Putin was forced to announce that the definition of political activity according to the law “should not be vague or elastic”, and that it “should not be customised to suit the whims of the relevant authorities”. The result of the meeting of the Human Rights Council was the setting up of the justice ministry’s working group, which, as we have already noted, has only made things worse.

The current version of the law on non-profits defines activity as political if it is carried out “in order to influence the development and implementation of government policy and the formation of public opinion to this end,” regardless of the founding aims laid out in an organisation’s own charter. This includes providing financial support to such activity. The clarification proposed by the justice ministry now defines participants in political activity as “anyone who tries to influence the decisions or actions of state bodies and local authorities”.

Since almost any issue that a non-profit works on can be linked in one way or another to the decisions and actions of state bodies and local authorities, then surely “political activity” encompasses virtually anything. Indeed, the only way of solving such issues is for non-profits to work with governmental bodies since they have the right to take legally binding action.

What is more, it has been proposed that the concept of political activity be further defined by drawing up a list of all the various forms it can take. This list captures practically everything that a non-profit does. It includes: participating in organising and carrying out rallies, gatherings, demonstrations, marches and pickets, as well as public discussions and speeches; public appeals to state bodies, local authorities, and their representatives, and other actions affecting their activities, including those aimed at the adoption, amendment, or repeal of laws or other legal acts; distributing assessments of the work of government authorities and their policies; and the implementation of activities aimed at shaping social and political views and opinions, including through the publication and carrying out of public opinion polls or other sociological studies.

If these proposals are accepted, then even attempts to improve one’s own back garden will be judged to be political activity. Not to mention the work of organisations seeking to protect the historical centre of St Petersburg, or those who fight for patients’ or students’ rights. And to this end, non-profits are constantly turning to the authorities, holding rallies and pickets, demanding changes in government decisions and involving citizens in their work.

“You have misread the law”, its authors assure us. They remind us that politics does not include activities in the fields of academic research, culture, healthcare, social support, the protection of the environment and animals, etc. And yet the law states that all of these activities can be political if their aim is to influence the decisions and actions of the authorities…

However, in all this there is one redeeming feature. Since politics has been defined as any involvement with the authorities or influence on them, perhaps many social activists will stop declaring that they are far removed from politics (something that we often see). They will understand that even if they themselves don’t engage in politics, politics will engage them.

Translated by Beatrice Blythe 

Examples of discrimination against a 'foreign agent' NGO

posted 24 Jan 2016, 13:28 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 27 Jan 2016, 13:30 ]

22 January 2015

Source: (info)
After thirteen years of collaboration, the ‘United Way’ (‘Doroga vmeste’) charitable foundation has withdrawn its support for the well-known Russian NGO, Civic Assistance Committee, due to it being labelled a ‘foreign agent’.

Elena Burtina of Civic Assistance Committee comments as follows:

"At the start of November 2015, the Civic Assistance Committee received a letter from the new head of programmes of the United Way Foundation, Olga Elesina. It said that our organisation had been "selected as a beneficiary of funds" and suggested that we send an application for a project for the sum of 1,511,649.50 roubles.

“We were pleased, but not surprised: Civic Assistance Committee has been collaborating with the Foundation for many years – since 2002, to be precise. During this period the Foundation made fifteen charitable donations to our organisation: mainly to support the Centre for Adaptation and Education of Refugee Children, which is attached to the Committee, but also to give humanitarian and medical assistance to refugees.

“We prepared an application for a project entitled ‘Access to education for the children of refugees and migrants’, envisaging support for the Centre for Adaptation and Education.

“At the Centre, volunteer teachers teach Russian and other subjects to refugee and migrant children who do not attend school or who encounter difficulties with their school education. Most volunteers are students at universities in Moscow.

“Experienced subject-specialist teachers help the volunteers. Since the children who attend the centre all have different levels of prior education, they are usually taught individually, but there are also some group lessons. A psychologist works with some of the children. In addition, the centre organises excursions, walks, trips and parties for the children.

“Since the children who come to the Centre are from underprivileged families, we feed them during their lessons and also buy them metro or bus tickets so they can travel to the Centre. 73 children attended the Centre in 2015, and 65 volunteers worked with them.

“For the hundreds of children who have attended the Centre over the 19 years of its existence, it has been a place where they got to know and came to love Russia. For the hundreds of young volunteers who have worked at the Centre, it has been a real school of altruism.

“The application prepared by the Committee did not meet with any objections on the part of the Foundation. In mid-December, representatives of the Foundation came to the Centre for Adaptation to witness its work (a standard element in the Foundation's procedure for evaluating projects). The Foundation's representatives did not pass comment on the results of this visit or express any doubts.

“The only thing which worried the Foundation’s staff was the fact that Civic Assistance has been designated an organisation which fulfils the function of a 'foreign agent'. However, Foundation staff stated that they fully understood that the inclusion of our organisation on the 'foreign agent' register was unjustified.

“Nevertheless, after the New Year holidays, Olga Elesina informed us that the Foundation's Council of Directors had decided to withdraw support for our project precisely because our organisation is on the register of 'foreign agents'.

“It is a shame, of course, that our children's centre will not receive the support it needs. It is also impossible not to regret the loss of one of our long-term partners.

“But another issue is much more important: the decision by the United Way Foundation shows that the policy of smothering independent NGOs is bearing fruit.

“While foreign sponsors are driven out for allegedly being 'undesirable organisations', Russian sponsors simply refuse to help 'foreign agents'.

“We are grateful to the United Way Foundation for our many years of collaboration. We are continuing to help refugees, migrants and their children. It is not our fault that our ways have now parted.”

Elena Burtina, Civic Assistance Committee

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts 

Why has Evgeny Vitishko been forced to wear an electronic ankle tag?

posted 24 Jan 2016, 10:42 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 24 Jan 2016, 10:47 ]

22 January 2016

Source: (info)
The political prisoner and well-known environmentalist Evgeny Vitishko from the Kuban region has been forced to wear an electronic ankle tag following his release from a prison colony after the remainder of his sentence was commuted to a supervised release thanks to an international campaign.

According to Andrei Rudomakh, a correspondent for the Environmental Watch for the North Caucasus, Evgeny Vitishko, one of the group’s activists, was obliged to register with the Tuapse Federal Department of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service for the Krasnodar Region on 20 January 2015 following his release from prison on 22 December 2015.

Vitishko attempted to complete the registration formalities on 25 December 2015, after arriving in Tuapse from the Tambov Region where he had been in prison, but the Tuapse Federal Department refused to register him on that particular day.

What was most surprising about this visit, however, was that Vitishko was informed by the member of staff dealing with his case that he would be fitted with an electronic ankle tag as part of his registration procedure.

Given the complete absence of any grounds for this course of action, Andrei Babushkin, a member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, has called on the Federal Penitentiary Service to refrain from subjecting Vitishko to monitoring of this kind.

Vitishko was registered in accordance with the standard procedure, without any violation of his rights, and no one at the Tuapse Federal Penitentiary Department made any reference to the electronic ankle tag, but as evening approached he was telephoned by a member of staff (Mr Karatayev) and asked to report promptly in order to be fitted with an electronic ankle tag.

The procedure took around two hours. Vitishko has been fitted with the same kind of tag which is used for people who are under house arrest and which can only tell whether or not the relevant person is within range of the base device.

Andrei Babushkin, member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, telephoned Mr Karatayev to enquire about the “particular hazard” which Evgeny Vitishko is deemed to pose and which requires him to be fitted with an electronic ankle tag, and the identity of the person who issued the urgent orders to carry out this procedure.

Mr Karatayev gave nothing away except the fact that he had acted on the instructions of “a superior”. The motivation behind these instructions and the person who issued them are currently a mystery.

The Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and the Environmental Watch for the North Caucasus intend to investigate the grounds on which Vitishko has been subjected to this form of monitoring, which significantly curtails his rights and gives grounds for concern that he may be unjustly accused of infringing the terms of his supervised release.

Problems could arise in connection with the fact that the Russian authorities are not accustomed to working with the technology used in the ankle tags, which frequently malfunction and give false readings.

Andrei Rudomakh, correspondent for the Environmental Watch for the North Caucasus, noted that it was the Tuapse Federal Department of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service for the Krasnodar Region which petitioned a court in 2013 to change Vitishko’s sentence to a term in a prison colony rather than a suspended sentence.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Ministry of Justice comes up with seven types of ‘political activity' with regard to NGOs

posted 24 Jan 2016, 09:37 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 24 Jan 2016, 09:40 ]

22 January 2016

Source: (info)

The Russian Ministry of Justice has prepared amendments to the law on non-profit organizations which, according to its officials, ‘clarify the concept of political activity’. In brief, they want practically all and anything undertaken by activists in the public sphere to be classified as ‘political’. But this is the way the law is presently being interpreted, with no need of these amendments. The document is available on the government’s website for draft legislation. reports that the draft amendments refer to seven ways that NGOs, functioning as ‘foreign agents’, could be considered to be engaging in ‘political activity’.

The amendments, drawn up by the officials, include the following as spheres in which political activity takes place: building state and federal structures, guaranteeing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, guaranteeing law and order, the defence of the country, foreign policy, the preservation and stability of the political system, and the socio-economic and national development of Russia. The actions of government and local self-governing institutions, and the regulation of the human and civil rights and freedoms also constitute political activity.

NGO activity in the spheres of science, culture, the arts, and health does not, in the officials’ view, come within the category ‘political’.

The draft legislative proposals also include, as political activity, participation in the organizing and carrying out of public events, rallies, demonstrations, actions or pickets, and the organizing and holding of public discussions and speeches. Participation in the organization of elections and referenda, acting as electoral observers, and participation in political parties can also be a forms of political activity.

The Ministry of Justice also proposes that public appeals to state institutions or officials should be classified as political actions.

It is further proposed that distributing evaluations of current decision-making by state institutions and of their policies should be classified as political activity; as should engaging in activity aimed at influencing opinions or convictions about social and political affairs, and this should include the carrying out and publication of public opinion surveys or other sociological data.

In October 2015, following a session of the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, Vladimir Putin instructed the presidential administration to prepare, within three months, amendments to the NGO law which would clarify the concept of political activity in Russia.

Russian NGOs have repeatedly voiced their disagreements with the law and have appealed against it, including to the European Court on Human Rights. Human rights activists have emphasized that the law is ‘of a clearly discriminatory character and reflects a very negative historical context.’

The International Memorial Society emphasized, in a special statement that ‘…The conceptual framework of the law on “foreign agents” is not based on the principle of the rule of law. The law does not provide an answer to a single problem. The aims of its initiators were highly political and opportunistic, and its formulation remains, deliberately, legally vague and opaque…. The law on “foreign agents” in effect lays the presumption of guilty on an artificially singled out group of organizations….’

Translated by Mary McAuley

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