Natalya Taubina: ‘They are seeking to equate human rights work with undermining the constitutional order’

posted 6 Dec 2015, 14:07 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 6 Dec 2015, 14:30 ]
2 December 22015 

Source: (info)
Natalya Taubina, director of the Public Verdict Foundation, a Russian human rights organization, recently received the Robert Kennedy Human Rights Award for 2015 in Washington. The award is given to those who 'stand up to oppression at grave personal risk in the nonviolent pursuit of human rights.'

Meanwhile, back in Russia another ‘award’ was awaiting Natalya Taubina: Public Verdict had received a letter from Roskomnadzor (the government media watchdog). Roskomnadzor has charged Public Verdict, which has been designated by the government as a ‘foreign agent’ NGO, of issuing a number of publications without the label ‘foreign agent’. Interestingly, among the offending materials was the announcement by Public Verdict that Natalya Taubina had been awarded the Kennedy Human Rights Prize. As a result, Public Verdict is currently facing a possible fine of up to to 500,000 roubles, the organization’s website states.

Natalya Taubina talks about her trip to the USA, and how she sees the situation in Russia, in an exclusive interview with the Russian service of Voice of America.

Viktor Vasiliev: What impressions do you have of your trip to America as a whole? Are you pleased with the results of the visit?

Natalya Taubina: Yes, without doubt, very pleased. I had a huge number of meetings with representatives of US and international human rights organizations. I think that while I was in Washington and New York I managed to get across just what kind of situation civil society in Russia is facing today, especially in the light of the new methods adopted by the Russian government, to be seen in the work of the Ministry of Justice. In essence, they are seeking to equate human rights work with undermining the constitutional order, which of course is a complete nonsense. Nonetheless, this is clearly a very dangerous tendency. If this continues, then, there will come the time when human rights defenders in the Russian Federation will be shifted from the category ‘foreign agents’ to that of ‘terrorists’. Then criminal prosecutions will begin and, basically that will be the end of human rights work, at least it will be reduced to a minimum.

Viktor Vasiliev: What were the main points you made during your meetings in the USA?

Natalya Taubina: During the trip I tried to give a sense of how vital it is that the international community continues to pay attention to the internal situation in Russia. It is vital that the Russia is not only discussed in terms of Ukraine or Syria. The key questions of how civil society is developing in Russia, and what the more worrying tendencies in terms of human rights violations, must remain on the agenda. I have often heard recently, both in the US and in Europe, that Russia is perceived by Western public opinion as being nothing more than Putin. And a very sad picture is created. Putin, they say, is making use of his colossal popularity in the country; everyone is content with what is happening, and there is nothing more to add. My message was the following: Russia is not only Putin and his administration, it is much more varied and complex than that. Yes, in terms of opinion polls there really is support for the president. But again to talk about opinion polls in a totalitarian state is something that needs to be done with great care, to say the least.

Viktor Vasiliev: Let’s return to the issues immediately affecting your organization, if we may. What do Roskomnadzor want from you?

Natalya Taubina: We still don’t fully understand. Because we haven’t yet received the official notification. The letter from the watchdog was initially dated 12 November and invited us to a meeting on 13 November. We received it by post on 17 November. Then on 25 November at 10.40 we received a telegram from Roskomnadzor inviting us to go along and sign the official protocol on that very day at 11:00. .. Well at that moment I was in a plane and I was physically not able to go. The only thing we know from the first notification is that four publications are at issue. To me the selection of these publications by Roskomnadzor looks strange to say the least. I understand that there are legal norms. But personally I believe that this particular norm is absolutely unlawful. Moreover, since we are talking about the need to keep society informed, it needs to be said that it is the Ministry of Justice which draws up the list of ‘foreign agents’, so let this Ministry carry out this function. Since the Ministry has the role of deciding which organizations should be on the ‘black list’, without consulting these organizations in any way or finding out whether they agree or not with this disgraceful label, then let the Ministry take the rap for what it is doing. Why, after they forcibly added our organization to the ‘foreign agent’ register, taking no account whatsoever of our right of association or of our desire to do this work, to help people, and they hung this label on us, we must write a denunciation against ourselves? I think this is simply a disgrace for the country, to persecute an organization in this way and to burden us with fines that we have no way of paying.

Viktor Vasiliev: What do you intend to do in the future?

Natalya Taubina: Our position hasn’t changed. It is one of principle. We do not consider ourselves to be ‘foreign agents’ and we shall continue to contest this decision. Unfortunately, we lost our case in a court of first instance, and then in a court of appeal. Moreover, our complaint against the decision of the Ministry of Justice to include us in the register was heard at first instance in our absence. We were not informed that the hearing was to take place. In a word, not only our right of association has been violated by including us in the register and by disproportionate interference in our activities. Our right to fair trial has also been violated. The appeal court simply confirmed the decision of the court at first instance. Now we are preparing an application to the European Court of Human Rights, and in parallel intend to further contest the decision of the Ministry of Justice by means of judicial review. Also, when we finally receive the notification and summons from Roskomdadzor, we shall challenge this in the courts. We insist that the administrative liability imposed on us does not comply with the standards of a state governed by the rule of law.

Source: Viktor Vasiliev, Voice of America

Translated by Simon Cosgrove