On 11 November 2013, a hearing in the civil case brought by Admiralteysky District Prosecutor’s Office against the Anti-Discrimination Centre ‘Memorial’ (ADC ‘Memorial’) took place in the Leninsky District Court of St Petersburg. The Prosecutor’s Office initiated a civil suit against ADC ‘Memorial’ on the basis that its failure to register as a ‘foreign agent’ would violate the interests ‘of an undefined group of persons’. This lawsuit was brought after administrative charges against ADC ‘Memorial’ for failing to register as a ‘foreign agent’ were dismissed by the same court.
ADC ‘Memorial’ is a human rights organisation that defends the rights of individuals subject to, or at risk of, discrimination by providing a proactive response to human rights violations. This includes legal assistance to victims, human rights education, research, and publications.
On 30 April 2013, the Prosecutor’s Office in the Admiralteysky District of St Petersburg initiated administrative proceedings against ADC ‘Memorial’ under part 1 and 2 of Article 19.34 (failing to register as a ‘foreign agent’) after an inspection in early 2013 concluded that ADC ‘Memorial’ was receiving foreign funding and was allegedly involved in political activities. This would qualify the organisation as a ‘foreign agent’ under Federal Law 121-F3 (“Regulation of Activities of Non-Commercial Organisations Performing the Functions of Foreign Agents”).
The conclusion that ADC ‘Memorial’ was involved in political activities was based on the fact that in 2012 the organisation made a submission to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), entitled ‘Roma people, migrants, activists – victims of police arbitrariness’. This submission was the only activity of the organisation considered to constitute ‘political activity’. The initial administrative case against ADC ‘Memorial’ was dismissed in first instance on 27 May 2013, and subsequent appeals were dismissed on 16 and 27 June 2013 by higher courts. On 7 October 2013, the Leninsky District Court again dismissed an appeal by the Prosecutor’s Office against ADC ‘Memorial’ and its Director.
Despite the repeated dismissal of the administrative charges, the Prosecutor’s Office filed a civil suit on 12 July 2013 ‘in the interests of an undefined group of persons’, asking the court to order the registration of ADC ‘Memorial’ as ‘foreign agent’, based on the same grounds. Hearings have taken place on 5 August and 23 September 2013 at the Leninsky District Court. ADC ‘Memorial’ has argued that the ‘Foreign Agent’ law stipulates that it does not concern charity organisations, and ADC ‘Memorial’ is registered as a private charity organisation providing free assistance to victims of discrimination. Furthermore, the submission of UN reports is a legitimate human rights activity for a non-governmental group and cannot be considered as a ‘political activity’.
On 24 September 2013, during Russia’s examination by UNCAT, the Russian authorities stated that “the conclusions about the political nature of the activity of ADC ‘Memorial’ […] were not related to the report submitted by Memorial to the Committee against Torture”, statement which is in direct contradiction with the actions of the St Petersburg’s Prosecutor’s Office.
At the recent court hearing of 11 November 2013, the Prosecutor’s Office called before the court an expert in Political Science, Mr Vladimir Rukinov, to prove that the submission of a report to the UN could be considered as a ‘political action aimed at influencing public opinion with the intention of changing state policy’. The expert failed to provide the court with written responses, and responded to the questions orally. He confirmed that the report does not contain ‘calls to change constitutional order, calls that fostered hatred, approval of mass riots or claims that all police officers were violating the rights of citizens’. However, he concluded that the ADC ‘Memorial’ UN report was of an openly political nature, which he “didn’t like” and which could influence people “unconsciously”.
The next court hearing is scheduled for 25 November 2013.
Front Line Defenders condemns the judicial harassment against ADC ‘Memorial’, and reminds that cooperation with the UN bodies is a legitimate activity of human rights organisations, explicitly protected by the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.In its recent Resolution 12/2, the UN Human Rights Council openly condemned intimidation and reprisals against individuals and groups who seek to cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in the Russian Federation to:
Immediately and unconditionally drop all judicial proceedings against Anti-Discrimination Centre ‘Memorial’ as it is believed they are solely motivated by its peaceful and legitimate work in defence of human rights;
Provide clear instructions to law enforcement agencies, office of prosecutors and judicial authorities that cooperation with United Nations mechanisms and other international organisations does not constitute ‘political activity’ under the ‘Foreign Agents’ law;
Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in the Russian Federation are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.