Russian Federation: Appeal hearing in ADC “Memorial” “foreign agent” case: the Observatory calls for the recognition that human rights NGOs are not “foreign agents”

Paris-Geneva, April 7, 2014. On International Roma Day, the Saint Petersburg City Court will consider tomorrow the appeal lodged by the Anti-Discrimination Centre (ADC) “Memorial”, a Russian NGO at the forefront of the defence of Roma’s rights, against a ruling ordering it to register as a “foreign agent” for its human rights work. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT joint programme) will attend the hearing within the framework of an international solidarity mission.

In a first instance ruling on December 12, 2013, the Leninsky District Court of Saint Petersburg officially ruled that ADC “Memorial” was performing the functions of a “foreign agent”, following unfair proceedings on the basis of a repressive NGO law. The law on “foreign agents”, which entered into force on November 21, 2012 in Russia, imposes all NGOs receiving funds from foreign sources for any kind of “political activities” (defined as anything likely to “influence public opinion in order to change the policy”) to register as “foreign agents” or face administrative and civil sanctions. The Observatory has repeatedly called for the abrogation of that law, which blatantly violates international human rights standards.

At the April 8 hearing, the Saint Petersburg City Court will examine the appeal of ADC “Memorial” and the objections presented by the Prosecutor’s office against the appeal. In its objections, the Prosecutor stresses that a report produced by ADC “Memorial”, entitled “Roma, migrants, activists: victims of police abuse”, was found “by the [Leninsky] court [in December] to be aimed at influencing decisions of State authorities, changing their policies and influencing the public opinion”, and that it was therefore a “political activity” under Russian legislation. The Prosecutor also stresses that the submission of this report to the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture (CAT) in November 2012, as well as its distribution to “lawyers, journalists, other experts, and members of the official delegation of the Russian Federation to the UN” had “influenced the work of the UN Committee Against Torture [which subsequently] addressed 38 recommendations to the Russian Federation”, urging the authorities, amongst others, to introduce legislative changes to provide criminal responsibility for torture, to repeal the obligation of NGOs to register as “foreign agents” in case they receive foreign funding, and to overrule earlier legislative changes on the notion of “state treason”. The Prosecutor therefore maintains that the activities of ADC “Memorial” are falling under the scope of the law on “foreign agents”.

It follows that, according to the prosecutor, cooperation by Russian human rights NGOs with the UN CAT can bring about “sanctions” and as such is neither promoted nor protected in violation of binding human rights standards.

The Prosecutor also contested in its objections the ability of ADC “Memorial” to lodge an appeal to the City Court, on the grounds that the organisation would be in a process of liquidation, and that it should therefore be represented in courts by a representative of the “liquidation commission”. The Observatory notes that the decision of the NGO ADC “Memorial” to start a liquidation process was a response to the obligation imposed on this NGO to register as a “foreign agent”. Under these circumstances, the attempt to deny the NGO the right to a remedy before a court is a grave violation of the right to a fair trial.

 Following the December 12 verdict, FIDH Vice-President Tolekan Ismailova, who had attended the hearing, had stressed that “this decision [was] evidence of the judicial harassment of ADC “Memorial”, and [that it was] clear that the judge and the prosecutor [were] implementing political orders from above”. FIDH President Karim Lahidji had recalled that “ADC “Memorial” is a legitimate human rights NGO, which, like any other NGO, should be protected rather than criminalised”.

“We call upon the Saint Petersburg City Court to entertain the appeal case objectively. The authorities should put an end to the escalating harassment against ADC “Memorial” because of its human rights activities”, urged OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.

“Russia is a State Party to the Convention against Torture and as such should ensure that no group faces prosecution for communicating with or providing information to the Committee”, said Mr. George Tugushi, CAT’s Rapporteur on reprisals on December 23, 2013 in a statement published by CAT. Under the Convention, “steps shall be taken to ensure that the complainant and witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given”, Mr. Tugushi added.

The Observatory recalls that the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders provides that everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, “at the national and international levels […] to form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups” (Article 5) and “to solicit, receive and utilize resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means” (Article 13).

For more information on the cases against ADC “Memorial”, please check out the Observatory Press Release issued on December 12, 2013.

For more information, please contact:

· FIDH: Arthur Manet / Audrey Couprie: +33(0)14355 25 18

· OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: +41(0)228094939