5 June 2013
Source: HRO.org (info)
The Russian non-profit sector continues to be in a feverish state. Barely had a wave of inspections by the Public Prosecutor retreated than a wave of prosecutions came upon them. The Civic Assistance Committee has become the latest victim in Moscow of a campaign by the authorities against civil society. The organisation assists refugees, displaced people and those who have simply fallen on hard times.
The inspections engulfed the Civic Assistance Committee in March-April of this year. The Public Prosecutor remains unsatisfied with the findings of the raid. Moscow's Deputy Public Prosecutor, Mr Vedernikov, has ordered that administrative proceedings be initiated against Committee Chairwoman Svetlana Gannushkina for her "failure to comply with lawful requests made by the Public Prosecutor". The case was transferred to Magisterial District No. 367 of the Tverskoi district court of Moscow. The trial began on 4 June.
Just how lawful the requests made by the Public Prosecutor were became clear at the very start of the trial. Gannushkina's lawyers, Kirill Koroteev and Irina Biryukova, requested that a representative of the Public Prosecutor’s Office be summoned to court. Firstly, the trial would gain an adversarial quality at the outset, as prescribed by the Constitution; and secondly, the Public Prosecutor's Office would be able to respond to the numerous questions posed by the defence before the court. The judge rejected the request.
The defence explained that they had appealed to the Moskvoretsky district court against the unlawful actions of the Public Prosecutor's Office and that they were now seeking to have the trial postponed until a decision could be made regarding their appeal. The judge rejected the request, since it was not known when the decision would be made.
The defence then requested that the Moskvoretsky Court be made to provide information on the status of the case and on when that decision would be made. The judge rejected the request.
The defence requested that the Prosecutor's Office be made to explain the reason for the inspection of Civic Assistance Committee, given that the lack of a legitimate reason would render the whole inspection illegal. The judge rejected the request.
Meanwhile, on 4 April, Svetlana Gannushkina, who had already handed over an enormous quantity of documents to the Prosecutor's Office, as requested, refused to cooperate further until she was presented with legal grounds for the inspection. The Public Prosecutor's Office did not have any legal ones, and it referred to a directive by the General Prosecutor's Office. Lawyer Kirill Koroteev explained to the court that the directive by the higher Public Prosecutor's Office could not by law serve as justification for inspecting an NGO.
Svetlana Gannushkina explained to the judge that she had been prepared to cooperate with the Public Prosecutor's Office, but that the requirement to provide hundreds of pages of notarised documents in the course of a few hours was simply not feasible. Moreover, the Public Prosecutor's Office demanded that printouts of all presentations and discussions from numerous seminars and conferences run by Civic Assistance Committee be handed over. "But we didn’t record the talks," said a puzzled Gannushkina, "And actually, what would be the point in recording a live discussion?"
Lawyer Koroteev noted in his statement that unplanned inspections are only to be conducted on clearly defined grounds relating to the offence. "And if it's a planned inspection," concluded Koroteev in his statement, "then where on earth is this plan to be found? Let's have the Public Prosecutor's Office show it to us!"
Something clicked and shifted in the mind of the judge at this point, and she asked whether the defence would continue to insist on summoning a representative of the Public Prosecutor's Office. "Yes!", answered the lawyer and the defendant, almost in unison. After taking a couple of moments to deliberate, the judge ruled that the case should be postponed in order to inquire of the Public Prosecutor's Office what grounds there were for an inspection of the Civic Assistance Committee and, at the same time, to remind it of the request for a representative of the Public Prosecutor's Office to appear in court. The next session is set for 18 June at 4pm.
Photo: Svetlana Gannushkina, Civic Assistance Chairwoman in court
Moscow, 04/06/2013, REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
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