Court finds no evidence of ‘political activity’ by Glasnost Defence Foundation

posted 4 Apr 2016, 05:13 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Apr 2016, 09:33 ]
29 March 2016

Source: (info)
Gagarin district court in Moscow has ruled that the evidence supplied by the Ministry of Justice is insufficient and that the Glasnost Defence Foundation was entered on the list of “foreign agent” NGOs without grounds, since the organisation is not engaged in political activities. The four-hour court hearing ended with a small victory for the Foundation.

The case was reported on 29 March 2016 by Article20, citing coverage by Moskovsky komsomolets.

"We believe that the Ministry of Justice has been deeply unprofessional,” explained Aleksei Simonov, Director of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, to Moskovsky komsomolets. According to the “foreign agent” law, only NGOs which receive money from abroad and which are engaged in political activities should be entered on the list of foreign agents.

The organisation does not deny the fact that it receives foreign funding. According to Aleksei Simonov, the Foundation has submitted two unsuccessful applications for presidential NGO grants, and finding other sources of funding in Russia would have entailed paying kickbacks. Simonov justified his organisation’s decision in favour of foreign funding with the assertion, “We want to stay on the right side of the law.”

The controversy stems from the use of the term “political activity”. According to the inspection report by Moscow’s Ministry of Justice, the Foundation can be deemed to have engaged in political activities because opposition activists Boris Akunin, Aleksei Navalny and Rustem Adagamov appeared at the Bloggers Academy events which it organised, and articles containing criticism of governors are regularly published in the organisation’s news digest.

According to Aleksei Simonov’s testimony to the court, "I’ve crossed paths with Navalny once, I’ve never met Akunin in my life and I’ve only ever heard about Adagamov.”.

He also explained that the Foundation signs a cooperation agreement with individuals who appear at the Bloggers Academy events, and that he had not signed an agreement with any of the named individuals in his capacity as head of the Foundation.

Another five witnesses testified to the fact that these people had never attended the Bloggers Academy events organised by the Foundation.

The judge received no clear answer after asking the Ministry of Justice representative how it had been concluded that Akunin and Adagamov were members of the opposition, or after asking for details of the date and place of the Academy events they had attended.

The judge read out the following extract from the inspection report; “A video was shown at an Academy event in Yaroslavl in which Akunin was asked about relations with the European Union; his response contained a negative reference to the activities of President Putin.” The judge then asked whether or not Akunin had actually attended this event.

”Remote participation is still participation,” mumbled the Ministry of Justice representative, Mr Eshkin, in response.

Judging from the inspection report, the “article containing criticism of a governor” was in fact a report in the Foundation’s news digest which stated that journalists had been barred from a meeting of the Omsk government. Its author, Georgy Borodyansky, explained to the court that a similar article had been published by the main newspaper in Omsk before the report appeared in the digest.

Galina Arapova, the lawyer representing the Foundation, made the following statement in this respect; “It is our belief that the original sources should have been submitted so that they could be analysed by political experts and the Honourable Court. The Ministry of Justice’s inspection report contains only the subjective impressions of Mr Eshkin, an employee of the Ministry of Justice”.

In response to a question asking why the inspection report contained no references to publicly available sources used as a basis for the conclusion that the Foundation had engaged in “political activities”, Mr Eshkin, the Ministry of Justice representative, replied that they had simply been omitted.

The court concluded by holding that the evidence supplied by the Ministry of Justice was insufficient, and requesting that all the relevant documents be submitted next time. Although only a small victory, this is a victory nevertheless. Yet the main problem remains unresolved: the law contains no clear definition of what is meant by “political activity”. As underlined in a report by Moskovsky komsomolets, the draft law put forward by the Ministry of Justice (which is still awaiting adoption) extends the definition of “political activity” to include any activity. 

Translated by Joanne Reynolds