Human rights activists warn Russian authorities over inevitable consequences of hunt for “foreign agents”
A year after a wave of prosecutorial investigations affecting hundreds of non-governmental organizations, the authorities are again exacerbating the confrontation with the civil society, say the Russian human rights activists. Non-governmental organizations that faced prosecutors “representations” and “warnings” are now appealing against the results of last year’s prosecutorial investigations in courts. Meanwhile, the courts continue to rule against human rights organizations, urging them to “voluntarily” register as an “organization acting as a foreign agent”. Prosecutor’s checks have been resumed in eight Russian regions. Finally, the State Duma and the Federation Council approved the new amendments to the legislation providing for extrajudicial forced entry in the register of “agents”.
“The term “foreign agent” is offensive to human rights, environmental and social organizations. Their goal is to help people, to protect fundamental legal and democratic principles. By doing this, they serve both the country and the people of Russia. Human rights and nature protection activity is impossible without an appeal to the government and to public opinion, without the involvement of activists in civil campaigns.
The label of a “foreign agent” in the current social atmosphere of xenophobia and hatred of the West undermines the very idea of civilian control because it stultifies any public activities of non-governmental organizations, primarily, their appeals to officials in the interests of individuals and society. With such a label, the work of human rights organizations is meaningless and eventually leads to harassment, including liquidation or dissolution. The definition of “political activity” by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation is vague, arbitrary and allows a broad interpretation, covering any civil activity, any meaningful statement.
Well known is the conformism and manageability of our judicial system, and all references to the ability to protect our rights in court sound like an evil mockery. These concerns have already been confirmed by the jurisprudence,” says the statement.
Members of the Human Rights Council believe that the current police zeal puts the regime in an absurd situation. “The label of an “agent” will affect tens and hundreds of public organizations that enjoy reputation both in the Russian regions and in the world. In these circumstances, dialogue between the authorities and society turns into a conversation with “foreign agents” or “self-talk” on the ruins of civil society,” they warn.
On May 23, the Zamoskvoretskiy District Court of Moscow dismissed the claim of one of the most respected organizations in Russia, the Human Rights Centre “Memorial”, which challenged the prosecutor’s order, according to which the organization should register as a “foreign agent”. “Memorial” said the NGO was not going to register as a “foreign agent” and it would continue its work, while the judgment would be appealed to a higher court. Currently, the human rights defenders’ complaint is pending before the European Court of Human Rights.