Lawyers Dmitry Rozhin and Tatyana Glushkova on the prosecution of Ekaterinburg Memorial under the 'foreign agent' law

posted 29 Feb 2016, 08:43 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 29 Feb 2016, 09:04 ]
26 February 2016

Source: (info)
In a trial the Kirov district court of Ekaterinburg has unlawfully levied a huge fine against one of the city’s NGOs, the Ekaternburg Memorial society, for allegedly breaking the ‘foreign agent’ law.

Memorial was represented in court by the director of the organisation Legal Basis, Dmitry Rozhin, and by Tatyana Glushkova, an advocate with the Memorial Human Rights Centre.

The court concluded that, while the Ekaterinburg Memorial society received foreign funding and took part in political activity, it had not signed up to the NGO ‘foreign agent’ register.

This is despite the fact that the Ekaterinburg Memorial society did not have any funding at all, and the organisation does not even have a current account.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Justice considered that Ekaterinburg Memorial had received funding for its work from the National Endowment for Democracy (USA). The fact is that in 2013 – 2014 Ekaterinburg Memorial’s expenses for utilities, a telephone connection and insurance were paid by another organisation – the Memorial Information and Education Centre which, in turn, received financial support from abroad.

On this basis, the Ministry of Justice, and subsequently the court, found that Ekaterinburg Memorial had carried out its work with funding from the Memorial Information and Education Centre, and therefore it had received funding from foreign sources.

“This is fundamentally untrue”, Dmitry Rozhin protested. “The carrying out of obligations by a third party does not constitute a transfer of property or provision of funding to an organisation!

What the Ministry of Justice and the court understand as an obligation carried out by a third party distorts the essence of obligation as such. Fundamentally, this is a wholly new interpretation of the law of obligations, which can overturn its fundamental basis. I have never before known civil law to be handled in such a free and easy way

In the opinion of state authorities, Ekaterinburg Memorial was engaged in political activity because its members took part in public demonstrations in support of those prosecuted in the “Bolotnaya case”, in the anti-war protest “March for Peace”, as well as in a picket organized by Ekaterinburg Memorial on Russian Flag Day, dedicated to “the memory of heroes, the fallen and injured in the fight for freedom and democracy in our country”. All the events indicated by the Ministry of Justice and the court took place in 2015.

It is impossible to consider this ruling as in lawful, even if we put aside the question of the interpretation of the notion of ‘political activity’,” Tatyana Glushkova said regarding the court decision.

First, the Kirov district court ignored the position of the Constitutional Court of Russia according to which an organisation can be recognised as a ‘foreign agent’ only where money or some other property was sent to it and accepted by it. Ekaterinburg Memorial has had no role in the financial arrangements between the Memorial Information and Education Centre and the recipients of the funds, and could not have influenced them. In other words, the organisation is in fact being held accountable for the actions of a third party.

“Secondly, even if we consider the payment of utility services by the Memorial Information and Education Centre as ‘foreign funding,’ the last time events of this nature took place was in 2014. The statute of limitations for offences under 19.34 of the Administrative Code is one year. This means that the term had already expired when the official charges were drawn up (in January 2016).

“However, the court has refused to take this into account, on the grounds that the offence was ongoing. Basically this means that any organisation which receives even one kopeck of foreign funding after 21st November 2012 (the date on which the law on ‘foreign agents’ came into force – ed.) and after this date undertakes any sort of activity, can be fined between 300,000 – 500,000 roubles at any moment, regardless of how much time passed since, or what length of time has lapsed between the receipt of ‘foreign funding’ and the ‘political activity’ in question. Our lawyers are set to appeal this decision of the court

Translated by Frances Robson