Russian human rights activists lodge appeals against law on “foreign agent” NGOs

File Photo of Kremlin Tower, St. Basil's, Red Square at Night

(Interfax – July 22, 2015)

A number of Russian human rights advocacy organizations have lodged court appeals against their classification as “foreign agents”, privately-owned Russian news agency Interfax reported on 22 July.

Earlier the Russian Justice Ministry released a statement saying it had sent messages to a number of NGOs working in the human rights sector and included on the ministry’s list of “foreign agents”, warning them of the potential punishment for failing to abide by the regulations envisaged by their inclusion on the list. Amongst the organizations in question were the Civil Assistance committee, the Memorial centre, the movement For Human Rights and the Committee Against Torture.

However, several of the NGOs have decided to prove that the status of “foreign agent” should not apply to them, lodging separate appeals with Russian courts and a collective appeal with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

“We do not agree with our inclusion in this register. We will go to court,” Civil Assistance committee head Svetlana Gannushkina said, adding: “We are already litigating, and as we consider our inclusion in the foreign agent register to be wrong, there is nothing to warn us about.”

Gannushkina noted that her organization had placed information on its website about its inclusion in the foreign agent register, as required by the law. “Further we publish photographs of the people due to whom we are considered foreign agents – that is, the children we help,” she said.

Lev Ponomarev, head of the movement For Human Rights, also announced that his organization was set to go to court over the Justice Ministry’s warning, which he called “nonsense”.

“We are appealing against this situation and against the law on foreign agents itself. In addition, we are going through the procedure of being removed from the foreign agent register, but in practice it turns out that this is quite difficult to do. We have submitted the documents necessary for removal, but were refused, because one of our regional organizations has not gone a full year since receiving foreign funding. We need to wait until next May,” Ponomarev said.

The Memorial centre is also planning to go to court over the warning, its head Aleksandr Cherkasov said. “We will react to the Justice Ministry’s various demands in various ways. We do not agree with Memorial’s inclusion in the foreign agent register. It does not correspond to reality, and is insulting. We are like bees. First of all, bees work, and secondly, they have stingers, and we are going to appeal. Not all of our previous appeals have been considered by the courts,” Cherkasov said.