Sergei Lukashevsky: 'It is not fitting for an organization that bears the name of Sakharov to blacken its own reputation'

posted 5 Oct 2015, 04:52 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 5 Oct 2015, 04:56 ]
24 September 2015

Source: (info)
Statement by Sergei Lukashevsky, director of the Sakharov Centre  

Yesterday [22 September 2015 - ed.] our Sakharov Centre, as expected, lost its appeal to the Moscow City Court on a complaint against the actions of the Ministry of Justice, which in December 2014, added us to the ‘foreign agent’ register.

In court we repeated our arguments. We pointed out again that we were never shown the allegation that served as grounds for the unscheduled inspection, which led to our inclusion in the register. I also asked my oft- repeated question: how was it that the Ministry of Justice found no violations in our activities in 2013 but then suddenly discovered violations in 2014, although our activities have not changed one iota: the same debates, the same discussions. We maintained our basic position: our work is not political.

Representatives of the Ministry of Justice at federal and Moscow city levels, for their part, went on and on that our activity is political, but they are not obliged to show us the allegation they had received. Any assessments of public issues, any value judgments expressed in whatsoever discussions accessible to a wide range of individuals, constitute influence on public opinion and political activity. The incriminating allegation was unavailable to us on the basis of the law on personal data and at the request of the applicant not to disclose them (although we were ready to go into closed session, and indeed we had no need to know the personal data of that individual - only the content of the document).

They kept banging on with the same trick questions of interest to all courts: why do we receive money? No, these funds are not payment for any specific work. We don’t agree our activities with anyone at all.

The trio of arbitrators retired literally for just three minutes. Our appeal remained without satisfaction, and we will obtain the full text of the court’s decision later. We have no illusions, and from the beginning we set our sights on the European Court of Human Rights. But if need be we shall also take our appeal to the Supreme Court.

This court judgment is only one of our three legal cases - and apparently the most hopeless. And the two other cases may not be quite not so irredeemable.

One is the case regarding the fine for refusing to sign ourselves on to the register of foreign agents. The court could have paid attention to our argument that the inspection in August had found no violations. We did not know that, according to them, we are foreign agents. We ad based ourselves on the position taken by the state supervisory authority. But even if the court had supported us, we are already on the register in any case, and they will not let us off it. Anyway, we have appealed against the fine.

Yet another case involved the issue of labelling all our publications as the work of ‘foreign agents.’ We have to some degree refused to use this label out of our general aversion to lying, because we are not agents, and because in general one cannot be an agent of unspecified persons. On top of that, all of the decisions in our case had been appealed against and had not yet entered into legal force.

The Ministry of Justice on these grounds issued us a warning. We, for our part, reported on our website about the decision of the Ministry of Justice, although we did not agree with it. However, the Roskomnadzor in addition to the warning from the Ministry of Justice charged us with violating the law. There has already been one court hearing in this case. But until now, no decision has been reached. Moreover, we feel that the warning itself is an unjustified double punishment since it allows the Ministry of Justice to raise the question of the shutting down of our organization.

That is why we are absolutely opposed to them calling us foreign agents.

We believe that it is not fitting for an organization that bears the name of Sakharov to blacken its own reputation. They propose that we say we are carrying out someone else’s wishes, and are acting in the interests of third parties, while we operate only in the public interest. No donors have ever told us, "Do this, do that." If our application coincided with their objectives, then we get a grant, if not – we do not get it.

This is the moral dimension, but there are still practical aspects. The introduction of this label is at the same time the introduction of a special legal status. With this designated group of organizations it is possible to do anything, introducing additional limitations and encumbrances. And they are on the increase.

Today we are left without Russian funding. As for foreign financing, two very important sources of funding for us - the Mott Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation – have stopped their work in Russia, fearing, as it would seem, to be put on the list of undesirable organizations. Taken all round, our work is becoming harder and harder. But for the time being it is still possible to continue almost everything we do.

P.S. With thanks to Public Verdict Foundation and personally to the lawyer Maxim Krupsky from the Moscow law firm Liptser, Stavitskaya and Partners for legal support

Translated by Graham Jones