Repressions spread: Agora human rights organization shut down by court order

posted 15 Feb 2016, 10:36 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Feb 2016, 10:38 ]
10 February 2016

Source: (info)
The Tatarstan Supreme Court has closed down the inter-regional Agora Human Rights Association in response to a suit brought by the Ministry of justice. The human rights activists will lodge an appeal against the decision with the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.

Representatives of the Ministry of Justice argued for the closing of the organization on the grounds that ‘it continues to influence public opinion’ and is attempting to get itself taken off the list of ‘foreign agents’. Grigory Tumanov, writing in Kommersant, quotes the comment by Ella Pamfilova, the RF human rights ombudsman, that the closing of ‘Agora’ is part of ‘a worrying trend’.

The court granted the Ministry of Justice’s suit, which had demanded the closing down of the Agora Association, already recognized as ‘a foreign agent, and repeatedly infringing the law On NGOs’.

Grigory Tumanov notes that the Ministry of Justice’s arguments, word for word, were the following: ‘Agora’ continues to exert an influence on public opinion, and also is trying to get taken off the list of foreign agents in which it had earlier refused to include itself voluntarily.

As an example of ‘influencing public opinion’, the representatives of the Ministry of Justice cited a series of interviews with Pavel Chikov, the head of Agora, which appeared in various publications in Tatarstan, and also articles about the human rights organization’s activities in other parts of the media. In addition, the Ministry of Justice viewed the holding by Agora of a legal school for lawyers and activists in 2014 as an attempt to create a news agenda. These arguments by the Ministry of Justice persuaded the court to close down the well-known human rights organization.

Tatyana Lokshina, programme director at Human Rights Watch for Russia, stated in Interfax that the human rights community is concerned by the Tatarstan Supreme Court’s decision: ‘The liquidation of Agora following the suit by the Ministry of Justice can only be seen as a blow to civil society’. Ella Pamfilova, the RF human rights ombudsman, declared that Agora has become the victim of an over-generous interpretation by the Ministry of Justice of the concept of political activity. ‘On the basis of an arbitrary interpretation a “troublesome” human rights organization has been liquidated. Today’s decision is a clear example of a defect in the system which, unfortunately, we have not yet managed to eradicate’ she commented.

The Agora Association was created in 2005. Since then it has become one of the most prominent human rights organizations, bringing together 35 lawyers and defence lawyers from more than 40 of Russia’s regions.

However the human rights defenders from Agora have stated that the association’s lawyers will continue to work on all those cases in which they are already engaged, and to offer assistance in the field of human rights. An appeal against the Tatarstan Supreme Court’s decision will be taken to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.

Translated by Mary McAuley