Аgora appeals to Supreme Court of Tatarstan in 'foreign agent' case

posted 9 Nov 2014, 09:50 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 9 Nov 2014, 09:52 ]
6 November 2014

Source: HRO.org (info)
Agora Human Rights Association, which has its headquarters in Kazan, has appealed to the Supreme Court of Tatarstan over the ruling by Kazan’s Vakhitovsky district court.

On 30 September judge Evgeniya Zybunova dismissed Agora’s appeal questioning the notice issued by prosecutor Ildusa Nafikova that declared the organisation must be included on the "register of foreign agents".

There is, of course, discrimination in Russia today which is encroaching on the right to freedom of association. According to Russian Federation law, NGOs which receive foreign funding and engage in political activity must be entered on a special register.

Agora presented the court with a whole series of testimonies in its defence, including those of Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya gazeta, several members of the Russian Federation's Presidential Council for Human Rights, and Khazbulat Shamsutdinov, editor-in-chief of the Vechernaya Kazan newspaper.

On the basis of their experience of working with Agora, all these witnesses stated that Agora does not engage in politics.

At the court hearing, Dr Elizaveta Koltunova, lecturer in philology at Nizhegorodsky University, who had carried out linguistic research into Agora's annual "Freedom of the Internet" reports, concluded that prosecutors "had made an error in good conscience" when they judged that the human rights association was engaging in political activities.

In her assessment of Agora, neither she nor her colleagues detected either politics or evaluative statements concerning the government's general line regarding the Internet.

Human rights activists believe that Koltunova and her colleagues have begun to be harassed since this court appearance. They have found out that inspections which have begun at Nizhegorodsky University have been ordered by Tatarstan's prosecutors.

Agora's lawyer, Ramil Akhmetgaliev, told "Biznes Online": "We don't know which official at Tatarstan's prosecutors' office signed the letter asking for an inspection to be carried out at the university. We consider this an abuse of the law". (Akhmetgaliev has previously represented the interests of well-known opposition figures such as the blogger Aleksei Navalny and the journalist Oleg Kashin, who went to court after being attacked.)

"Zagidullin (hro.org author's note: Farit Zagidullin is the deputy prosecutor of Tatarstan, who signed the decree that Agora should be put on the register of "foreign agents") is a party in the judicial process in this dispute, and we are his equals in our procedural rights and obligations. He was presented with the experts' conclusions, and it is for the court to verify whether these match the requirements of the Civil Procedure Code. The court has attached this research to Agora’s file.

"But now it turns out that prosecutors are carrying out inspections and casting doubt on the court's decisions."

In Akhmetgaliev's words, if prosecutors do not agree with the court's decision to include research by specialists as evidence, then the prosecutors' office has the right to address its objections in writing to the court of appeal and ask the Supreme Court of Tatarstan Republic to revoke the court's ruling in this respect.

He observed that inspections are also being carried out at Perm State National Research University, where Konstantin Sulimov, head of the university's laboratory into research on identity, has also done research for the human rights activists.

"In this situation, prosecutors are not acting in their role of conducting oversight of the judicial process, but are themselves participants in a trial, and all their rights and obligations are specified in the Civil Procedure Code", the lawyer continued. "We know that these universities are currently wondering whether to lay off the specialists who have done research for us.”

"Interference by Tatarstan's prosecutors has ultimately resulted in a situation where all experts at Nizhegorod University have had to suspend their work providing expert opinions requested by Russia's Investigative committee and by the courts".

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts