"‘Foreign Agents’: Mythical Enemies and Real Losses of Russian Society" - new report by Human Rights Resource Centre

posted 6 Apr 2015, 06:49 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 6 Apr 2015, 06:52 ]
30 March 2015

Source: HRO.org (info)
According to Maria Kanevskaya, a St Petersburg lawyer and director of the NGO Human Rights Resource Centre, the authorities’ campaign to seek out Russian non-profits acting as ‘foreign agents’ is picking up tempo.

Over the two and a half years since the adoption of the law on ‘foreign agents’, 49 organizations have been added to the register – organizations that engage activities including human rights protection, environmental issues, education, research, provision of social services, combating discrimination, investigating corruption and conducting oversight of government bodies in accordance with Russian law.

However, in the near future the register will be significantly expanded since a great number of the NGOs that have asked for assistance via the organization’s Federal Hotline for Legal Support (8-800-3333-068) have said they have been issued with the results of inspections, on the basis of which they will be added to the register.

As the authors of the report Dmitry Bartenev and Maksim Olenichev, both legal experts with Human Rights Resource Centre, point out, the work of non-profit organizations does not, for a number of reasons, please those who have organized the campaign to stigmatize the Third Sector. Non-profit organizations that have worked for many years for the public good have suddenly been designated by the state as ‘foreign agents’.

The term ‘foreign agent’ as applied in the Russian context was thought up, or more accurately, resurrected from recent Soviet history by certain politicians on a wave of spy mania, a search for external enemies of Russia, and the continuation of government policy to close down the opportunities for citizens to conduct civil society initiatives and influence government policy which, one would think, should be for the benefit of citizens, and not primarily for the sake of ensuring the government’s continued existence.

An analysis of the results of the inspections, notices (demanding that alleged violations of the law be ended), court rulings under administrative law, and other court decisions could conclude that practically any activity by a non-profit organization is considered by government bodies to be ‘political.’

The grounds upon which non-profits have been designated as ‘foreign agents’ include: participation in debates, speeches at round tables, viewing and discussing videos, publishing information about the work of the organization in the media, analysis of current legislation, making recommendations on amendments to legislation, taking part in preparing draft bills, submitting views on a case to the Constitutional Court, protecting the rights of other people, intending to take part in public events, joint work with government bodies on reform, taking part in bicycle races, collecting and disseminating information about the environment, and many other activities by civil society groups that form the basis of their work as representatives of society and distinguish them from business and government.

The fact that the law on ‘foreign agents’ states that non-profits working in the area of science, protection of plants or animals, and other areas, cannot be classified as engaging in ‘political activity’ has not saved organizations from being designated as ‘foreign agents’.

The humiliating label ‘foreign agent’ is intended to reduce the level of civic initiatives in Russian society. This is an erroneous path towards closing down the democratic development of society. It does not allow the application in everyday life of standards developed in international practice, such as freedom of speech, nor does it permit an NGO designated as a ‘foreign agent’ to act on opportunities that are presented to it by Russian law without fearing a new wave of repression by the state.

The way out of this situation, according to the experts, is to remove the notion of ‘foreign agent’ from Russian law, build real dialogue between society and the state, and return democratic institutions to the life of Russian society and the state.

The full text of the report is published on the website of the Human Rights Resource Centre.