Chair of the board of International Memorial Society Roginsky writes to Minister of Justice Konovalov

posted 20 Nov 2015, 06:58 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Nov 2015, 08:07 ]
19 November 2015

Source: (info)
Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation
Aleksandr Vladimirovich Konovalov

Dear Minister!

The deep perplexity I feel as a result of the actions of your subordinates obliges me to write to you.

In October this year the Directorate of the Ministry of Justice for Moscow conducted a regular inspection of the Memorial Human Rights Centre. This organization is a member of the International Memorial Society, whose board I have the honour of heading.

The official document containing the conclusions of the inspection (№77/03-47960, dated 30 October 2015) is largely concerned with indicating the need for changes to the organization's articles of association related to the amendments to the Civil Code of recent years. There is nothing unexpected in this, and it had been planned to make the necessary changes at the next regular meeting of the organization's general assembly. Our colleagues from Memorial Human Rights Centre will appeal, in line with established legal procedures, against a number of other points raised in the document.

Against the background of these routine points, the conclusion contained on pages 10-11 of the document is quite astonishing: "By their actions the members of Memorial Human Rights Centre have undermined the foundations of the Constitutional order of Russia, calling for the overthrow of the current government and a change of political regime in the country."

The officials from the Ministry of Justice base this extraordinary accusation on a number of assessments and conclusions publicly expressed by Memorial:
  • The assertion (29.08.2014) that Russian military service personnel were taking a direct part in the armed conflict in the east of Ukraine, and that the actions of Russia against Ukraine come under the definition of aggression as laid down in the resolution of the UN General Assembly dated 14 December 1974; 
  • disagreement (24.02.2014) with what, in the view of Memorial, are unlawful convictions in the Bolotnaya Square trials. 
So we see that, in the view of officials from the Ministry of Justice, the expression of a critical opinion regarding the actions of the authorities is ‘undermining the foundations of the Constitutional order’ and ‘calls for overthrow’ of the government. 

'Legal' logic of this kind is not only reminiscent of Soviet times, when dissidence was equated with undermining the socialist order, but directly returns us to that period.

The Constitution of the Russian Federation guarantees freedom of thought and expression, the search for, access to, and dissemination of information (Article 29) and the right of association (Article 30). My colleagues from the Memorial Human Rights Centre, in setting out facts discovered in the course of their human rights work, and publicly expressing the views and assessments to which they had come, are putting into practice rights guaranteed by the Constitution. But the language used by the Ministry of Justice in the document containing the conclusions of the inspection of Memorial Human Rights Centre is nothing other than than an attempt to restrict constitutional rights and freedoms, something which is directly forbidden by the Constitution. Whether it is by oversight or by ill intent that your subordinates are doing this, I do not know. 

Moreover, as a result either of the haste of the authors of this document, or of their lack of impartiality, the document contains a number of evident inaccuracies. For example, statements assigned to Memorial Human Rights Centre that were in fact made by the International Memorial Society, a quite separate organization. But indeed, this is, of course, a minor issue in comparison with the political charges referred to above.

Dear Minister! I appeal to you to withdraw the conclusions of the inspection of Memorial Human Rights Centre of 30 October 2015 (at least in so far as concerns the absurd political charges) and conduct an internal investigation into how a document with such language could enter the public domain. Conclusions of inspections of this kind are not only damaging to the civil society organizations concerned. They undermine public trust in the Ministry which you lead. And most important of all, they undermine trust in the Constitution. And that is dangerous.

Your sincerely,
A.B. Roginsky,
Chair of the board International Memorial Society

Translated by Simon Cosgrove