Academia under threat: Court rules Saratov research organization must register as foreign agent

posted 3 Dec 2013, 06:59 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 3 Dec 2013, 07:02 ]
28 November 2013

Source: (info)
Lawyers of the Human Rights Resource Centre (St. Petersburg) believe this to be the first ruling by a court of its kind. It will, of course, be appealed.
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On 27 November 2013 in Saratov’s Kirov district court proceedings were concluded in the civil case brought by the Deputy Public Prosecutor for the Oktyabrsky district in Saratov, Sergei Parshin, against the Centre for Social Policy and Gender Studies. The court found that the Centre had acted illegally in failing to apply to the Federal Justice Department for Saratov region to be included in the register of NGOs acting as foreign agents, and bound the Centre to make the said application. This ruling will be appealed.

The Centre is being represented by a legal team from the Human Rights Resource Centre (St. Petersburg).

Lawyers of the Human Rights Resource Centre (St. Petersburg) believe this to be the first ruling by a court of its kind.

It is astonshing that the court found evidence of ‘political activity’ carried out using foreign funding in publication of the monograph A critical analysis of social policy in the post-Soviet space, the holding of a public event entitled An overview of social policy in the post-Soviet space: ideologies, actors and culture, information published on the organisation's website about its objectives, which includes applying the method of reflexive criticism when studying government social policy and civil society, as well as petitions collected on the site Demokrator in support of the Centre.

Judge Aleksei Viktorovich Sudoplatov of the Kirov district court in Saratov granted the claim by the Public Prosecutor's Office in full, despite there being no evidence in the case of foreign funding for political activities. He also did not consider the fact that research activities cannot by law be deemed political.

Furthermore, the Russian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech for everyone (Article 29), as well as freedom of academic inquiry (Article 44). This right may be limited by federal law only to the extent necessary for the protection of key constitutional values.

Even then, such a limitation must not be arbitrary, especially where relevant legislation is not specific.

The position and arguments of the defence, as well as details of the trial, will be presented at a press conference in Moscow on 2 December 2013 at 13:00, at the Independent Media Centre, 1st Floor, 17/9 Prechistenka St., Moscow. For accreditation of journalists call: +7 (495) 232-28-91.

Translated by Lindsay Munford