Sociologists’ NGO obtains revocation of 'foreign agent' fine

posted 25 Apr 2016, 03:39 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 25 Apr 2016, 03:56 ]
14 April 2016

Source: HRO.org (info)
The Centre for Independent Social Research (CISR), an NGO based in St Petersburg, has succeeded in having a fine revoked by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. The Centre was represented by the lawyers’ association, the Club of Third Sector [i.e. Non-Profit - trans.] Lawyers, and its case was argued by the defence lawyer, Dmitry Bartenev, Article 20 reports, citing the Club of Third Sector Lawyers.

In June 2015 the Russian Ministry of Justice compulsorily include the Centre in the register of NGOs acting as “foreign agents”. This followed an inspection carried out by the justice department which had come to the conclusion that the Centre was engaged in “political activity” in publishing books and putting information relating to sociological and political science research materials on its website.

In the organization’s opinion, its activities belong to the world of social science and not to politics, and hence it cannot be put on the register.

However, the Ministry of Justice concluded that the “organization’s political activity consisted of:
  • The publication on the Centre’s website of a book “Training in impartial judgements as a key element in the professionalization of justices of the peace, and setting up rooms for the justices to unwind from psychological stress” 
  • The putting of a video up on the site of a presentation by Irina Olimpieva “Russian trade unions in search of instruments of political influence: the evolution of political strategies and new political ambitions”, given at the Centre’s annual Readings, held on 24 January 2014. 
  • The organizing of a presentation of a book The Politics of the Apolitical: Civic Movements in Russia in 2011-2013

Based on the results of its inspection, on 6 March 2015 the Ministry of Justice department in St Petersburg issued the CISR with a warning which obligated the Centre to include itself, voluntarily, in the register of ‘foreign agent’ NGOs. The organization refused to do this, for which it was fined 15,000 r [£150].

On 5 June 2015, still prior to the Centre’s being included in the register, the sadly well-known justice of the peace from court district 206 in St Petersburg, O. N. Kamaldinov, whose reputation is, sadly, well-known, imposed a fine of 300,000 roubles on the organization for not having applied to be listed in the register.

The justice of the peace’s decision was upheld by all the higher bodies.

On 11 April 2016 a judge of the Russian Supreme Court overturned the ruling on the fining of the organization and closed the case. Now the Centre has the right to claim the reimbursement of the fine that was previously paid.

In its appeal the Centre listed significant procedural infringements associated with the justice’s ruling, which included:
  • The adoption of a ruling on the imposition of a fine within a 3-month time period following an organization’s being held responsible for administrative infringements under Article 19.34 (Section 1) of the Russian Federation Administrative Code, but the preparation of this decision in its final form only after the time period had elapsed; 
  • The judge’s taking into account, in the decision, of the political-science expertise which the St Petersburg justice department had commissioned from the Higher School of Peoples’ Art, and which supported the description of the organization’s activities as ‘political’, but a refusal to consider the political-science based conclusion by Professor A. Yu. Sungurov, of the Higher School of Economics, Ph. D. in political science, that none of the activities could be called ‘political.’ 
  • The classifying by the department of justice and the judge of the Centre’s academic research activities as ‘political’ in nature. 
As of now the full text of the Russian Supreme Court’s decision has not been published, however the Court’s office has confirmed that the case against the CISR has been closed.

In November 2015 the Russian Supreme Court had, for the first time, revoked a decision relating to administrative infringements under the ‘foreign agent’ law of the same justice, O. N. Kamaldinov. This had involved the imposition of a fine of 400,000 roubles on the Institute for the Regional Press. In March 2016 the Institute was reimbursed, out of the budget, the previously paid fine.

At the present time a positive judicial practice by the Russian Supreme Court of cases concerning NGOs that did not apply for registration as ‘foreign agents’ and have been held responsible for administrative infringements, has come about as a result of the cases of St Petersburg NGOs brought by Petersburg lawyers and legal experts. And it has been the decisions of one and the same justice of the peace that have been revoked.

Once the CISR has received the full text of the Supreme Court’s decision it intends to seek the reimbursement of the earlier fine of 300,000 roubles.

The Club of Third Sector Lawyers continues to provide legal support to CISR on the case.

Translated by Mary McAuley
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