Svetlana Gannushkina and Kirill Koroteev on the hearing of the Constitutional Court into prosecutors' powers of inspection of NGOs

posted 1 Feb 2015, 03:43 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 Feb 2015, 03:48 ]
23 January 2014

Source: (info)
Svetlana Gannushkina, chair of Civic Assistance Committee, and Kirill Koroteev, a lawyer with Memorial, comment on the Constitutional Court hearing of 22 January 2015, held in open session, into a complaint that certain provisions of the federal law ‘On the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation' are in violation of the Constitution.

A number of NGOs, including International Memorial Society, Memorial Human Rights Centre, Civic Assistance Committee, and in a personal capacity its chair Svetlana Gannushkina, contested the powers of the prosecutor’s office to conduct inspections of legal entities in addition to other official bodies that have powers of inspection (often duplicating their work) at their own discretion determining the grounds, frequency and length of inspections. In practice prosecutors’ inspections are launched without clear reasons and are carried out without specific rules. Numerous frequent inspections make the work of NGOs difficult.

In their speeches at today’s hearing the lawyers Sergei Golubok and Ramil Akhmetgaliev, as well as Svetlana Gannushkina, spoke about these issues. The position of the Presidential Human Rights Council was set out by Council member Ilya Shablinsky. He supported the applicants.

Mikhail Krotov, representative of President Putin at the Constitutional Court, Dmitry Vyatkin, representing the State Duma, Aleksei Aleksandrov, representing the Council of the Federation, and officials from the Prosecutor’s Office, insisted that the law on the Prosecutor’s Office does not violate the Constitution.

Svetlana Gannushkina has commented on the hearing: "We said all we could. We repeated once again – this time orally in front of the judges – that the methods of work of the prosecutors must be more clearly regulated and defined. This is important so that campaigns of the kind we have seen in recent times - when officials from the prosecutor’s office come to NGOs for the sole purpose of finding some compromising materials - become impossible. It was this campaign that caused us to bring our complaint to the Constitutional Court.

"My colleagues today have spoken very professionally. By contrast, the legal incompetence of our opponents in court representing the state is striking. In particular Mikhail Krotov, whatever the applicants said, responded not to them but to some other opponent that existed only in his imagination. In my own speech I took care to point out that the work of NGOs, of course, must be regulated by the state. But Mr Krotov interpreted this to mean that, he alleged, civil society organizations don’t want to be under any kind of regulation – and he was very emotional on this point.

"I sensed from looking at the faces of many of the judges sympathy and understanding for our position. It’s hard to know whether this sympathy will result in a positive decision in our favour. This depends on the degree of independence of the judges. If the court decides that the law should be amended, our lawyers are ready to take part in drafting them.

Kirill Koroteev, a senior lawyer at Memorial Human Rights Center and author of the complaint to the Constitutional Court, comments: "Our opponents at the hearing today all said more or less the same thing: oversight by prosecutors is universal and all-inclusive, because it is universal and all-inclusive. It amounts to repeating the word ‘Sherbet’ to make things sweeter.

"The applicants indicated specific examples of areas where inspections were not adequately regulated and procedures are not laid down in law. While for some reason their opponents assumed that the applicants were evil-doers whose sole wish is to violate the law and escape punishment. But after all, the Constitution requires that the presumption of innocence also applies to NGOs!"