Presidential administration defining term “political activity” with regard to NGOs

posted 11 Dec 2015, 01:49 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 11 Dec 2015, 01:50 ]
4 December 2015

Source: (info)
Scandals surrounding the compulsory “designation” of leading Russian non-profits as “foreign agents” has forced officials to attempt to revise the definition of “political activity” that they have interpreted so broadly. A working group of the presidential administration on NGOs is developing as new set of “fundamental principles for defining NGOs engaged in political activity”.

According to Irina Nagorny writing in Kommersant, members of the working group on NGOs of the presidential administration have discussed a definition of “political activity” put forward by the Ministry of Justice.

The working group was created by order of President Vladimir Putin, who instructed the first deputy head of the presidential administration, Vyacheslav Volodin, and the Minister of Justice, Aleksandr Konovalov, to develop by 20th December “a new definition of political activity for NGOs”. The Ministry of Justice would subsequently have the role of implementing the new definition. Currently it is the Ministry of Justice which thinks up grounds enabling the “inclusion” of non-profits in the register of “foreign agents” (organizations which, according to the officials, engage in political activity and are in receipt of foreign funding).

From Irina Nagorny’s article in Kommersant it is generally clear that the officials are not planning any sort of liberalisation regarding civic activists.

Moreover, a number of NGO experts are afraid that the “clarification of the definition” will lead to an even more severe clampdown by officials.

For example, chair of the board of the International Society Memorial, the historian Arseny Roginsky is seriously concerned that the working group will come up with an excessively broad definition of political activity, similar to the definition that has been in official use hitherto and against which many NGOs have protested.

“Imagine we are ecologists and we call for the cancellation of plans to extend a pipeline across land which is very important for environmental protection – does this come under political activity? We are getting mixed up in government policy and appealing to government bodies,” he told Kommersant. “Or take the monitoring of elections which is undertaken in the interests of the whole of society, not in the interests of any one political group. I do not agree that this is political activity.”

The director of Public Verdict Foundation, Natalya Taubina, writes in her Facebook blog: “So does anyone really hope for a positive outcome? Has anyone taken this latest promise as a move for the better?”

But in response, they now want to cast in stone the corrupt, completely arbitrary, all-inclusive practice of previous years as the legal norm. It is exactly the kind of development that we should expect.”

Director of the Sakharov Centre in Moscow, Sergei Lukashevsky, reacted to the announcements from the presidential administration as follows: “It’s a new Russian dictionary.” “To concretize means to change one lot of demagogic rubbish for another, more detailed one”. Educational activity in the sphere of human rights and freedoms, according to the draft definition of the working group is politics, while science, culture and art are not politics. OK. Then how should a teaching course in liberal philosophy be defined? Or, what’s more, a course on Russian history? And as for the topic of contemporary art, I shan’t even mention it. In the terms of political interest, the law on “foreign agents” is easily described, but it cannot be described at all in terms of legal logic, or even logic in general.”

The International Memorial Society has emphasised in a special statement on the issue:

“….. The general concept underlying the law on ‘foreign agents’ does not in essence comply with the the principle of the supremacy of the law. There is not one problem that this law would resolve. The aims of its instigators were deeply political and opportunistic, and its definitions introduce a self-evident legal uncertainty. The law on ‘foreign agents’ in practice introduces a presumption of guilt with regard to an artificially distinguished group of organisations…”

Russian NGOs have repeatedly expressed their disagreement with the law and have appealed against it, including an application to the European Court of Human Rights. Human rights activists emphasise that the law is of a clearly discriminatory nature, and has an extremely negative historical context.

However, discrimination against independent non-profits in Russia continues.

Translated by Frances Robson