Writers and academics speak out against law on 'foreign agents'

posted 1 Feb 2016, 05:24 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 11 Feb 2016, 09:38 ]
27 January 2016

Source: HRO.org (info)
Around 90 members of the Russian PEN Centre, together with historians belonging to the Free Historical Society and Russian academics, have called on the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation to halt its abuse of power against NGOs deemed to be “foreign agents”.

Halt the abuse of power against NGOs 

Statement by individual members of the Russian PEN Centre and other signatories 

On 22 January 2016, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation published draft amendments to the notorious Law 121-FZ of 20 July 2012, commonly known as the Law on Foreign Agents.

We, members of the Russian PEN Centre, believe this to be a dangerous document aimed at further discrediting and systematically persecuting independent civil activism in Russia, including in the sphere of culture that we value so dearly.

The aforementioned law was adopted in 2012, and has since been used as a pretext for stopping or suspending the activities of a whole range of non-profit and non-governmental organisations, some of which had been actively involved in large-scale charitable or educational projects in Russia.

In the time which has passed since the Law on Foreign Agents was adopted, it has become obvious that this piece of legislation is destructive and repressive by its very nature. It has caused significant damage to public life in Russia and, as a result, nullified the opportunity to engage in meaningful civic activism guaranteed to our fellow citizens by the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

The law’s potential for harm is due in large part to the vagueness and ambiguity of its provisions describing key terms such as “political activity” and “foreign funding”.

This has made it possible for the unprincipled and politically short-sighted officials enforcing this law to slap the insulting label of “foreign agent” on organisations whose only “crimes” consist in criticising various functionaries or state authorities.

High-profile and respected organisations which have been subjected to outrageous persecution under the pretext that they are “foreign agents” include the NGOs which form part of the International Memorial Society and several organisations which protect the rights of soldiers, uncover mass electoral fraud or provide legal aid to the public: Public Verdict Foundation, Lawyers for Constitutional Rights and Freedoms, Committee Against Torture, etc., to name but a few.

One particularly outrageous example involved the inclusion of the Dynasty Foundation on the list of “foreign agents”. This charitable body was funded from the Zimin family fortune, or in other words from money which had been earned and taxed in Russia. The Ministry of Justice did not deny that the Dynasty Foundation was solely engaged in providing funding to scientists, academics, teachers, authors and publishers of educational literature, but this did not alter its decision – a decision which was not only disastrous for the Dynasty Foundation, but also unfair and insulting.

Human rights activists and distinguished lawyers have repeatedly made urgent calls for the legislation to be made more precise and for the term “political activity” to be defined more narrowly.

However, the amendments which have now been drafted by the Ministry of Justice will merely make it easier to use the Law on Foreign Agents as a tool for the abuse of power and political persecution.

From now on, any activity undertaken with the aim of defending human and civil rights and freedoms, as well as any attempt to exert public influence over decisions by the state authorities – including local authorities – will be deemed “political activity.”

This covers any manifestation of civil activism or commitment to solving the problems faced by our society.

It is not only public gatherings, rallies, demonstrations and pickets which are deemed ways of achieving these “political aims”, but any public discussion or lecture.

What is more, any public criticism or appeal to the state authorities or their representatives to amend the provisions of a particular law or overturn an unlawful decision and so on will be deemed a political activity and grounds for inclusion on the list of “foreign agents”.

The amendments contain a proviso that scientific, cultural and charitable activities will not be deemed political. This is merely a sly ruse, however, since an exception will only be made if the organisation has not conducted the activity, “with the aim of exerting influence on public opinion and decisions by the state authorities".

We believe that these new restrictions on NGOs’ activities are unlawful, immoral and harmful to our society.

We demand that the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation rescind the proposed amendments.

We demand an end to the abuse of power by the state authorities against NGOs, and for citizens to be granted the constitutional right to engage freely in civic activism.

Konstantin Azadovsky     
Mikhail Aizenberg
Vladimir Alenikov
Maksim Amelin
Aleksandr Arkhangelsky
Dmitry Bavilsky
Leonid Bakhnov
Efim Bershin
Tatyana Bonch-Osmolovskaya
Olga Varshaver
Alina Vitukhnovskaya
Marina Vishnevetskaya
Vladimir Voinovich
Tatyana Voltskaya
Sergey Gandlevsky
Alisa Ganiyeva
Aleksandr Gelman
Aleksandra Glebovskaya
Yakov Gordin
Kristina Gorelik
Varvara Gornostayeva
Aleksandr Gorodnitsky
Yuli Gugolev
Aleksandr Davydov
Vitaly Dikson
Andrey Dmitriyev
Aleksandr Dolinin
Veronika Dolina
Olga Drobot
Olga Dunayevskaya
Leonid Zhukhovitsky
Sergey Zavyalov
Natalya Ivanova
Viktor Yesilov
Gennady Kalashnikov
Vyacheslav Karpenko
Ivan Klinovoy
Aleksandr Kobrinsky
Kirill Kovaldzhi
Nikolay Konolov
Grigory Kruzhkov
Sergey Kuznetsov
Maiya Kucherskaya
Olga Kuchkina
Aleksandr Lavrov
Irina Levinskaya
Andrey Makarevich
Larisa Miller
Aleksey Motorov
Pavel Nerler
Galina Nerpina
Valery Nikolayev
Aleksey Ostudin
Aleksandr Parnis
Sergey Parkhomenko
Grigory Petukhov
Nikolay Podosokorsky
Yvgeny Polov
David Raskin
Boris Roginsky
Mark Rozovsky
Lev Rubinshtein
Mariya Rybakova
Olga Sedakova
Vladimir Sergiyenko
Igor Sid
Yevgeny Sidorov
Boris Sokolov
Nataliya Sokolovskaya
Vladimir Sotnikov
Tatyana Sotnikova (Anna Berseneva)
Sergey Stratanovsky
Vadim Fadin
Boris Frezinsky
Oleg Khlebnikov
Mikhail Kholmogorov
Yelena Kholmogorova
Andrey Chernov
Yelena Chizhova
Grigory Chkhartishvili
Vladimir Sharov
Ilya Shtemler
Tatyana Shcherbina
Mikhail Epshtein
Sergey Yakovlev
Mikhail Yasnov

The following historians belonging to the Free Historical Society and Russian academics have also put their names to the statement:
Boris Altshuler
Vladimir Vedernikov
Mark Grinberg
Natalya Demina
Boris Dolgin
Anna Dybo
Boris Kolonitsky
Sergey Krasilnikov
Ilya Kuklin
Igor Kurlyandsky
Sergey Krasilnikov
Vera Milchina
Svetlana Neretina
Aleksandr Rubtsov
Aleksandr Podosinov
Nikita Sokolov
Anatoly Turilov
Fedor Uspensky
Pavel Chebotarev
Andrey Tsaturyan
Viktor Shnirelman 

Translated by Joanne Reynolds