17 March 2015
Source: HRO.org (info)
On 16 March 2015, Zamoskvoretsky district court in Moscow held that the inclusion of the NGO For Human Rights in the list of “foreign agent” NGOs was lawful.
As reported by RAPSI, the Ministry of Justice added the not-for-profit organisation to its list of foreign agents in mid-December 2015, and For Human Rights filed an appeal with the court on 29 December.
According to statements given by Ministry representatives at the hearing, checks had revealed that the organisation received foreign donations on a number of occasions in 2013 and 2014, "and its members ran public campaigns calling for legislative changes, or in other words were engaged in political activities".
For these reasons, the representatives of the Justice Ministry said, For Human Rights should be added to the register of ‘foreign agents’. At the same time, they argued that this did not put in doubt the existence of the organization: “The ministry does not intend to close the NGO down and has no grounds to do this.”
The representatives of For Human Rights stressed that the activities of the organization could not be classified as political, not least because the law does not lay down any clear criteria in this respect.
According to the lawyer Genri Reznik, "The very fact that the Ministry has called on an expert in political science to clarify the underlying meaning of the law makes a mockery of the actions taken against ‘For Human Rights’. Laws should be comprehensible to everyone, not just to a select number of experts in a particular field. The Ministry is exploiting the law’s inadequacies to eliminate all activity that may be critical of government.”
He also drew the court's attention to the fact that the ruling in this case would be handed down against a backdrop of legal uncertainty, since Russia’s Supreme Court had not yet elucidated the nature of political activities.
A law was adopted in November 2012 requiring NGOs that engage in ‘political activity’ and are in receipt of foreign funding to register as ‘foreign agents’. In June 2013, the Ministry of Justice was authorised to designate NGOs as foreign agents’ at its own discretion. Russian NGOs have repeatedly made known their opposition to the law and lodged appeals against it, inter alia at the European Court of Human Rights. Human rights defenders have stressed that the law is blatantly discriminatory and has extremely negative historical overtones.
Nevertheless, the harassment of independent NGOs in Russia continues apace.
Translated by Joanne Reynolds
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