Statement by St Petersburg Human Rights Council on harassment of civil society activists and NGOs

posted 26 Nov 2014, 14:33 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Nov 2014, 14:40 ]
24 November 2014

Source: (info
St Petersburg Human Rights Council has published a public statement regarding the harassment of human rights activists and civil society organizations.

"It is the constitutional obligation of the State to recognise, maintain and protect civil and human rights and freedoms. In the execution of this duty, the State must use the law and law enforcement mechanisms. However, today we are seeing the opposite— the Russian State uses the law and law enforcement mechanisms to suppress dissent and the independence of civil society.

"In recent months, we have witnessed a new round of State repression against civil activists and non-governmental organizations in Russia. This includes the extension of the register of so-called 'foreign agents', another wave of 'extraordinary' inspections of NGOs, and the defamation of civil activists for their activity, some apparently 'unpatriotic' or 'immoral.' 

"Non-governmental organizations have defended their right to operate independently from the State and to protect the public interest, in accordance with international law and the Russian Constitution. Receiving funds from various, including foreign, sources is one of the safeguards of this independence.

"The authorities have launched a campaign to persecute so-called 'foreign agents' which, in fact, aims at the destruction of independent human rights organizations. The authorities have repeatedly made clear that they believed that the State should be the only source of funding for Russian non-governmental organizations.

"In this we see the danger of an excessive encroachment of the State on society and, thereby, a return to totalitarian rule.

"Civil society activists are entitled to their opinion, even if it is contrary to the opinion of the authorities or of the notorious 'majority.' The duty of the State is to protect the right to dissent.

"Instead, the Russian Government persecutes dissidents under the guise of the 'protection of the national interest', 'patriotism' or 'traditional values.' Thus the State violates the Constitution, which proclaims: "man, his rights and freedoms are the highest value".

"This means that the opportunities for citizens to express their opinions on any issues, including issues of governmental domestic and foreign policy, is more important than any considerations of 'national security', 'patriotism' or 'traditional values.' 

"When the letter and spirit of adopted laws and the content of government policies are focused upon the destruction of dissent and independent civil society, only the solidarity and the self-organization of those who value freedom and equality can make a difference.

"We call upon all organizations and civil society groups to support each other to continue to work in the public interest. We have already succeeded before by developing joint positions, the exchange of ideas and the successful coordination of activities to oppose the arbitrariness of the authorities. Let us use and increase this experience so that today we do not let them 'divide and rule.' 

"We call upon all citizens, whose conscience prevents them from accepting this situation, and whose reason tells them that the move back towards totalitarianism is a movement towards disaster both for individuals and for the country, to join together to help those who are being persecuted for their beliefs and activities. We should all be ready to assist individuals and organizations with moral, financial and any other feasible support." 

Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg 

23 November 2014 

Translated by Graham Jones