24 May 2016
Source: HRO.org (info)
The Investigative Committee has begun ‘a pre-investigative review’ of actions by Valentina Cherevatenko , head of the Union ‘Women of the Don’ and of the same-named Fund, for allegedly breaking the ‘foreign agent’ law. An extensive international campaign to defend Cherevatenko is underway.
Grani.ru, referring to Kommersant, writes that the NGOs which she leads have been among the first which were included in the register of ‘foreign agents’, and that investigators are now looking into whether the groups’ refusal to include themselves voluntarily in the register amounts to ‘persistent’ breaking of the law.
Valentina Cherevatenko has met with the investigating officer twice – on 6 and 10 May. According to Ramil Akhmetgaliev, lawyer from the international human rights group ‘Agora’, Cherevatenko may become the first individual, in Russia, to be prosecuted under Article 330.1 of the Criminal Code (persistent evasion of obligations, ascribed in Russian federation legislation to non-profit organizations which carry out the functions of a foreign agent). The most severe penalty under this article is imprisonment for up to two years.
Valentina Cherevatenko heads the coordinating council, created in 1993, of the Novocherkassk Union ‘The Women of the Don’ – an NGO which carries out legal education for the general public, and the defence of the rights of conscripts and members of the armed forces. At the same time, she is chair of the board of the same-named Fund. The Union was forcibly put on the ‘foreign agent’ register in 2014, and the Fund in 2015. This made the Union ‘Women of the Don’ one of the first NGOs to be treated in this way. Both organizations appealed against the decision, and the cases are still ongoing. Meanwhile, on 7 April 2016, the Union was taken off the register because it had received no foreign funding during the course of a year – something which allows the lifting of foreign agent status from an NGO.
Natalya Taubina, head of the Public Verdict Foundation, explained that in order to show ‘persistent’ infringements by Cherevatenko, the investigators have to show they happened more than once. ‘Probably, they will rest their case on her twice having refused of her own accord to submit the papers for registration, and that in both cases the Ministry of Justice did this,’ Taubina suggested. However, she observed, a criminal case cannot be brought while the appeals, by the organizations headed by Cherevatenko, are still ongoing.
In 2012 amendments were introduced into the law on NGOs, which entailed the inclusion in the ‘foreign agent’ register of organizations that received foreign funding, and whose activity was recognized as ‘political’. In 2015 the hunt for ‘foreign agents’ in Russia’s non-profit sector really took off. By the end of 2015 there were already 109 organizations in the register. Organizations which were identified by Ministry of Justice officials as ‘agents’ were subjected to disproportionately large fines, met with losses involving both their reputation and finances, and some were forced to announce their closing down.
Environmental and human rights NGOs were subjected to the most orchestrated persecution. The UN General Assembly at its 70th session in 2015 adopted a Resolution which recognizes the important role played by human rights activists and the need to defend them. The Resolution was supported by 117 countries. The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for human rights, Nils Muizhnieks, emphasized, in a special Report in 2015, that ‘new norms have led to the closing of a whole number of human rights organizations, and other NGOs now practise self-censorship, play safe, refuse to take part in activities which could be considered ‘political’’.
The International Memorial Society in its special statement emphasized that ‘…The conceptual framework of the law on “foreign agents” is not based on the principle of the rule of law. The law does not provide an answer to a single problem. The aims of its initiators were highly political and opportunistic, and its formulation remains, deliberately, legally vague and opaque…. The law on “foreign agents” in effect lays the presumption of guilt on an artificially singled out group of organizations….’
The largest international human rights organization in the world Amnesty International stresses that ‘the so-called “law on foreign agents” is one among a number of measures, aimed at putting pressure on civil society and the freedom to express opinions in the country’.
Russian NGOs have repeatedly expressed their disagreement with the law and appealed against it, including to the European Court of human rights. Human rights activists emphasize that the law is of a clearly discriminatory character and has extremely negative historical associations. Ninety members of the Russian PEN-club, together with historians, members of the Free Historical Society, and also Russian scholars, have appealed to the leadership of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation demanding that the arbitrary actions being taken against NGOs, called ‘foreign agents’, cease.
Translated by Mary McAuley
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