Russia marks Constitution Day by court ruling a human rights NGO should register as “a foreign agent”

On December 12, 2013 Leninsky district court of Saint Petersburg held its session to consider the request of the prosecutor’s office that ADC “Memorial” should be obliged to register its logo and should get itself registered in the list of “NGOs performing the functions of foreign agents”. During these most recent court hearings – the sixth since the case had been initiated against ADC “Memorial” – the procurator’s office introduced a new request already during the hearings. It reads that the NGO should not only register itself in the list of NGOs serving the functions of foreign agents, but that the court should rule that all activities of ADC “Memorial” should be considered those of a foreign agent.

The court has fully satisfied all the demands of the plaintiff, i.e. the prosecutor’s office, recognizing all the activities of ADC “Memorial” as activities  of a foreign agent. The court obliged the organization to apply for inclusion of ADC “Memorial” into the respective list of the Ministry of justice and also register its logo.

Until today’s court hearings, the court had only considered the claims of the prosecutors that it was the publication and dissemination of the report “Roma, migrants, activists – victims of police abuse” that made ADC “Memorial”  a foreign agent, as well as the counterclaims by the defence that argued that the report had been absolutely legitimate, aimed solely at protecting the rights of vulnerable groups and, besides that, had been prepared and disseminated before the new provisions of the law on NGOs came into force.

But on December 12, 2013 the prosecutors suddenly renounced all their previous attempts to prove the “guilt” of ADC “Memorial” for the report (which in fact had failed during court hearings held before). The main argument of the procurators during the final court session was that all of the activities of ADC “Memorial” fall under the definition of “performing the functions of a foreign agent”. The most amazing part was that this was a completely new word of the prosecutors in legal terms and that they failed to specify which particular activities of ADC “Memorial” were the subject for consideration as illegal activities. The court decided to agree with the prosecutors on all points. “Guilty of activity”, the verdict de facto reads. This very argument had been earlier expressed by the procurator Chubykin, who had made a written appeal against the earlier ruling by judge Buchneva, which had stated that ADC “Memorial” was not guilty of an administrative violation. The prosecutor had originally claimed that solely the report was a violation, but in November 2013 he had suddenly started to speak of “all activities”, that is a continuing process, which goes on and as such is a continued violation on behalf of the human rights defenders.

Olga Tseytlina, representing ADC “Memorial” as attorney for the defence, asked to rule down the appeal made by the prosecutor’s office, as well as to postpone the court ruling until the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation and the European Court for Human Rights make their rulings concerning the law on NGOs performing the functions of foreign agents. But as if marking the 20th anniversary of the Russian Constitution, the court refused this appeal of the defence.

Stefania Kulayeva, representative of ADC “Memorial”, has urged the court to consider the role of human rights defenders in protecting the interests of society against arbitrariness, including arbitrary actions of the police, which are well known. She pointed to the notorious examples of the latter, such as the case of Tsapok, a gang charged with mass murders, or the case of policemen killing a 15-year-old in Saint Petersburg. Kulayeva has also objected to the strange distrust expressed in the prosecutor’s claim: the testimonies of the informants of ADC “Memorial” were called “stories” of the “representatives of gipsies”. Such an approach to people suffering from discrimination for belonging to a vulnerable social group in the Russian Federation seems highly discriminatory.

Without denying the receipt of financial resources for the implementation of human rights projects from international foundations, the representative ADC “Memorial” stressed the full independence of the organization in shaping its agenda and setting its priorities. “We always decide by ourselves what is to be done, and the foundations simply accept or don’t accept our suggestions”, Kulayeva said. “It would be a shame for our country if the work for protection of human rights was considered only needed by the foreigners; this is the reason why we call on the court not to recognize the work of the human rights defenders as ”the activities of foreign agents”, she stated.

But in the end the court’s decision turned out to be not only swift, but indeed very shameful .

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