Pavel Chikov on the ruling of the Constitutional Court on ‘foreign agents’

posted 10 Apr 2014, 06:11 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 10 Apr 2014, 07:07 ]
8 April 2014

Source: (info)
Pavel Chikov, director of Agora Human Rights Association, comments on the ruling of the Constitutional Court on the ‘foreign agent’ law.

“The Constitutional Court, as expected, has narrowed the area of application of the law. One could say that the Court took the side of the interpretation of the Ministry of Justice. This interpretation is very careful and cautious, as distinct from the practice of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation. In the broad picture, the Constitutional Court has acted as a kind of mediator, a conciliator in the conflict that, as a result of the law on foreign agents, broke out between the institutions of civil society and the federal government bodies. In today’s situation we have succeeded in getting the most we possibly could.

"Now all those court decisions issued in relation to the NGOs and their leaders that have been forced to go to the Constitutional Court will need to be reviewed. In particular, and which is very important, the judges made special comments on the case of Golos, that had been found guilty together with its director Liliya Shibanova of not doing what a ‘foreign agent’ is obliged by law to do. But Golos had been found to be a foreign agent precisely because funds from a foreign source had been sent to the organization, and despite the fact that Golos had not accepted the funds, a Moscow court at the request of the Ministry of Justice ruled that it was guilty. Today the Constitutional Court said that this situation does not satisfy the necessary requirement of receiving funds from a foreign source, and this means that the court judgment against Golos and its director will have to be reviewed."

According to Pavel Chikov, the direct statement by the Constitutional Court that the political activity of the staff and members of non-profit organizations cannot be equated to the political activity of the organization itself is also important. This elucidation directly concerns the Kostroma Centre for the Support of Civic Initiatives and its director Aleksandr Zamaryanov, and the previous court judgments handed down against them will also need to be reviewed.

The ruling of the Constitutional Court points out that the term ‘political activity’ is impossible to define definitively, and at the same time explains that by the term ‘political activity’ should be understood participation in electoral proceedings, election campaigning, the organization and participation in public events, and also putting forward legislative initiatives where a non-profit has a political orientation in its work.

At the same time it is necessary to prove the presence of intention and political orientation in the work of organizations and their leaders. And the Court placed the burden of proof on law enforcement, in other words on the prosecutors and the ministry of justice, specifically underlining that all doubts should be interpreted in favour of the non-profit organization on the basis of the principle of the presumption of good faith.

"The Constitutional Court said that to a very great extent the framework of action of this law will be determined, and must be determined, by judicial practice, in other words by the courts in considering concrete cases,” Pavel Chikov said. “Judicial practice has already begun to take shape, and it is not repressive in relation to non-profit organizations.

"Over the past year at least 20 non-profits and their leaders have achieved success in appealing through the courts unlawful actions by prosecutors. Therefore the prognosis for the application of the law to a great extent depends on whether organizations will use qualified legal assistance. In other words, whether they actively defend themselves, winning cases in the courts, and putting into question all kinds of instructions that they get from government bodies.”

Source: Radio Svoboda