Court obliges Justice Ministry to prove Soldiers’ Mothers of St Petersburg is “foreign agent”

posted 1 Jan 2015, 16:55 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 Jan 2015, 16:58 ]
24 December 2014

Source: (info)
A court has obliged the Justice Ministry to prove that it classified Soldiers’ Mothers of St Petersburg as a “foreign agent on lawful grounds.” Radio Svoboda correspondent Tatiana Voltskaya reports.

At a court hearing October district court in St Petersburg demanded that the Justice Ministry prove that entering the human rights organisation “Soldiers’ Mothers of St Petersburg” into the register of “foreign agents” is founded on a lawful basis.

For the past three months human rights activists have been trying to prove to the court that they are not “foreign agents”. However, to do so they have to see the document on which the Justice Ministry based its decision to add the organisation to the list of foreign agents.

Despite the fact that the court had demanded this document the last time, the agency’s representatives again appeared at the court hearing with empty hands. Activists of the Soldiers’ Mothers of St Petersburg are outraged that the Justice Ministry is ignoring court orders. In this they see contempt of court and contempt for civil society, and believe that if this is repeated once more, then the court will have the right to impose a fine on the agency.

The organisation’s press secretary Aleksandr Peredruk says:

“The Justice Ministry of the Russian Federation has repeatedly not carried out the decision of the court, the first time with regard to Kuibyshev district court, and now October district court. The court wants to familiarise itself with the text of the order on the basis of which Soldiers’ Mothers of St Petersburg came to be listed in the register of so-called “foreign agents”.

In order to understand how serious a document this is, we could possibly use this analogy: say, a person has been imprisoned and they say, “You are staying here by a decision of the court.” But when he asks to see the court decision they tell him, “No, we won’t show you the court decision”. We are in a similar situation: we find ourselves “foreign agents” in the register, but we don’t understand on what document this decision is based.

We don’t know whether such a document really exists, and even the court can’t get the ministry to send it. This time even the document empowering the representatives of the ministry was drawn up incorrectly. And they still demanded that the hearing be transferred to Moscow. But the court did not support this request because the demand also has to go to the St Petersburg prosecutor.

At the moment the court has not only repeated its demand that the documents be provided, but has also warned the Justice Ministry that it is obliged to prove the lawfulness and grounds for its actions within the parameters of these civil proceedings.

This session demonstrated the absolute absence of any interest in the legal process on the part of the Justice Ministry, although it is the ministry that has added us to the register without bothering to verify what is the real situation, which, if they had done, they would have found out that for a long time now we have received no foreign funding, not to speak of the fact that we are not engaged in political activity.

And now the Justice Ministry is showing contempt for the court and civil society.

Today the court has taken a procedural decision requiring the ministry to present evidence for the basis of its own actions, and in principle, if the Justice Ministry ignores this requirement one more time, then the court will have the right to impose a fine on it.

The next hearing of the case at the October district court is scheduled for 15th January 2015.

Discriminatory amendments to the law on NGOs, introducing the concept of so-called “foreign agents” into the country, were adopted in Russia in 2012. According to the law, non-profit organizations must identify themselves as “agents” if they are engaged in political activity and receive funding from abroad for their projects.

Russian civil society activists have declared a boycott of the repressive law. Dozens of cases have come to the courts throughout Russia, including a review by the Constitutional Court.

Subsequently, the Justice Ministry was empowered to enter NGOs into the register of “agents” against their will.

Currently the Justice Ministry has already designated a total of 20 Russian NGOs as “foreign agents”. The majority of them are challenging their designation as “agents” in the courts.

Translated by Frances Robson