Agora asks Constitutional Court to protect it against pressure from Tatarstan prosecutors

posted 15 Jun 2014, 08:20 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Jun 2014, 08:26 ]
10 June 2014

Source: (info)
On 10 June 2014 the chair of the Agora Human Rights Association appealed to the Constitutional Court of Russia because of pressure against the organization from Tatarstan prosecutors.

Human rights defenders believe that the actions of the prosecutors are revenge for having represented the interests of NGOs in the challenge to the Constitutional Court over the constitutionality of the law on ‘foreign agents’.

"Taking into account that the pressure put on Agora Human Rights Association and the violation of our rights happened because of the application to the Constitutional Court of Russia, we ask you to act on the basis of the powers with which the Constitutional Court is endowed,” the letter sent to the Constitutional Court states.

Agora brings together legal experts and lawyers specializing in the protection of the constitutional and civic rights and freedoms. In accordance with its charter, the organization provides free legal assistance, engages in legal education by means of a range of informative events and dissemination of news about legislation, law enforcement and judicial practice.

Agora’s lawyers provide comment to the media about the legal cases they are working on, and offer assessments of the actions of government bodies and officials.

Agora believes that federal law on ‘foreign agents’ contradicts the Constitution of Russia. In relation with this the organization’s lawyers provided free legal assistance to citizens and their associations, work that resulted in the preparation of an appeal to the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation and the representation at the hearing before the Court of the applicants. This work was widely publicized in the media, and Agora’s lawyers commented on the outcome.

Pavel Chikov, chair of Agora, believes that the Constitutional Court in its decision of 8 April 2014 found that a number of the provisions of the NGO ‘foreign agent’ law contradict the Constitution.

The Court directly said that responsibility for the application of the law lies with the judges considering specific legal issues (and in most cases before the Constitutional Court they had taken the sides of NGOs), the burden of proving that an organization is a foreign agent lies with the prosecutors and the ministry of justice, and any doubts must be interpreted in favour of the NGOs, since the law has established the presumption of good faith in their activities. Of particular importance for all human rights, environmental and social organizations engaged mostly in the provision of free legal assistance to individuals who are in difficult situations. The Court said that no philanthropic activity is political (and the law establishes that more than 20 of the most common forms of NGO work are philanthropic), even if within the framework of this work, an organization sets itself the task of changing government policy and supports legislative initiatives.

(Pavel Chikov. A Concession for 'agents': How human rights defenders can use the decision of the Constitutional Court 10 April 2014)

In June the Prosecutor’s Office of Tatarstan issued a notice to Agora demanding that the organization register as a foreign agent. According to the prosecutors, the provision of free legal assistance to Russian citizens and legal education constituted political activity.

The Tatarstan prosecutors based their arguments that Agora is engaged in political activity on the fact that the director of Agora commented on the course of the hearing at the Constitutional Court in the media. The prosecutors also argued that critical statements made regarding the prosecutors’ application of the law on foreign agents also constituted political activity.

An extract from the press release distributed by a spokesperson for the Tatarstan Prosecutor’s Office, Ruslan Galiev, reads:

"Statements by Pavel Chikov, head of Agora, demonstrate the political goals of the organization. Pavel Chikov has frequently stated that Agora is actively working to influence public opinion in Russia against the law on foreign agents.”