One year of persecution against ADC “Memorial”: results and prospects

Exactly a year ago, on April 8, 2014, Constitutional court of the Russian Federation de facto supported orderly destruction of civil society by the Russian authorities by declining to sustain appeal of Russian ombudsman Vladimir Lukin regarding violation of constitutional rights of non-governmental organizations.
Representatives of various NGOs had put some hope into an earlier legal resolution of the Constitutional court concerning amendments to the law on NGOs, but the latter failed to have any real impact on the rulings of courts of general jurisdiction or the overall situation. Even some of the features of this legal statement, which were positive for NGOs (i.e. that NGOs could not be charged with violations of the law “on foreign agents”, which had been made prior to adoption of the law) were disregarded by local courts. Thus, on April 8, 2014 following long and tiresome legal procedures Saint Petersburg city court made a definitive ruling to consider ADC “Memorial” a “foreign agent” for a report, which had been prepared and published before this law came into force, while ignoring nothing more than a constitutional ban on retroaction, which was specifically dealt with in the legal statement regarding NGOs issued by the Constitutional court. ADC “Memorial” became one of the first NGOs, which felt all the “pleasures” of illegal and ungrounded audits by the procurator’s office (as was once again confirmed by a later Constitutional court ruling), bias of judges and their partial rulings. But in spite of all this we have managed to find a way out of this troublesome situation by liquidating ADC “Memorial” as a legal entity right after the ruling issued by the city court which had obliged us to get listed as a “foreign agent” in the special register run by the Ministry of justice.

ADC “Memorial” continued its work without legal registration, which turned out to be problematic, but still enabled us to avoid getting listed in the disgraceful register of “foreign agents”. Unfortunately, even now, a year since the ruling of the Constitutional court and two years after the beginning of the state blitzkrieg against civil society in Russia, there are very few human rights NGOs in Russia, which are not yet listed in the register of “foreign agents”. Everybody who used to be cause of worries for authorities due to their uncompromising activities – environmentalists, human rights defenders, NGOs helping to protect indigenous ethnic groups, etc. – came under enormous state pressure. Persecution becomes ever harder and more cynical, and now, a year after the first wave of crackdown, attacks against the thinning NGO sector continue and become even more active.

Yet another example of this was the recent audit carried out by the procurator’s office against “Civil Assistance” (Grazhdanskoye Sodeystviye) NGO, which took place on the eve of consideration of the appeal to Constitutional court made by its head, Svetlana Gannushkina. Procurator’s office has carried its audit exactly in the same manner, as was described in the appeal against this practice – suddenly, without warning or any indication of the reasons for the audit, with demands, which could not be met within the specified deadline, i.e. for the head of NGO to present herself to the regional procurator’s office for giving written testimonies concerning the NGOs activities, with copies of all constituent documents of organization, its financial and other reports. (As we know from our own experience, these copies alone constitute several kilograms of paper and one has to have some time to make copies.) Three weeks later the Constitutional court ruled that the regulations concerning procurator’s audits were violating constitutional norms, but this didn’t help anybody…

One can have an impression that the Russian statehood itself is in strong contradiction with its own constitution, and that this behavior is a disingenuous copy of Soviet-era practice. That, however, only betrays adherence of present-day Russian authorities to the old traditions.

Photo —  http://lenta.ru/news/2012/11/19/boycott/ Lenta.ru