Ministry of Justice wants to designate Voronezh Media Rights Centre as ‘foreign agent’

posted 23 Feb 2015, 13:15 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 23 Feb 2015, 13:25 ]
20 February 2014

Source: (info
The Voronezh department of the Ministry of Justice has begun proceedings to include the Media Rights Centre, based in the regional capital, in the register of ‘foreign agents’, reports, citing Kommersant-Chernozem’e. Inclusion in the list of ‘foreign agents’ not only makes the work of NGOs more difficult, but also comes with the threat of a possible fine of up to 500,000 roubles for having failed to previously apply to be included in the register of its own volition.

During 10-18 February the Ministry of Justice conducted an unscheduled inspection at the NGO. According to the official summary of the inspection, it was organized on the basis of a complaint by a member of the public whose name, and whose objections, have not been made public.

The inspectors from the Ministry convinced themselves that the Centre does indeed receive foreign funding - although this is something the organization had never tried to hide. At the same time, the officials qualified a number of statements by the NGO’s director, Galina Arapova, as ‘political’. In this way, the Ministry concluded, the NGO meets both criteria to qualify as a ‘foreign agent’: receiving funding from abroad and, allegedly, being engaged in ‘political activity’.

As Galina Arapova herself, however, points out: "The conclusion of the Ministry that the Centre is engaged in ‘political activity’ was made on the basis of my public statements as an expert in the area of media law. This conclusion is fundamentally incorrect. It turns out that I, the head of a non-political NGO, not speaking in the name of the organization, advanced a certain ‘political’ point of view. This is a clumsy and invalid argument.”

Meanwhile at head office of the Justice Ministry's regional department in Voronezh, officials explained that the initiative to inspect the NGO and to include it in the ‘foreign agent’ register had come from the federal level. “We could not resist it,” an official said.

The Media Rights Centre was set up in Voronezh in 1996 and its staff are among the most authoritative experts in media law in Russia. The Centre has defended (or by other means assisted) more than 1100 media outlets throughout the country. The Centre has published a large amount of specialized literature for media lawyers and press services. Lawyers from the Centre are members of the Presidential Human Rights Council and the federal Public Chamber, and also regularly do work for state  bodies, including the courts.