Until now ADC “Memorial” remains the only non-governmental organization in Russia which is being persecuted for its alternative report to the United Nations Organization in two different ways simultaneously. Procurators continue their attempts to get an administrative court ruling against ADC “Memorial” for supposedly breaking the law on NGOs and “de facto serving as a foreign agent” without being registered as such in the list of the Ministry of justice, while at the same time they also initiated a court case against ADC “Memorial” demanding that “in the interests of undefined group of persons” the court should oblige ADC “Memorial” to be listed as a foreign agent. Now the court hearings in a civil case against ADC “Memorial” go parallel to the procedures on an administrative case – in both cases the charges presented by the procurator’s office are based on its analysis of the 2012 report “Roma people, migrants, activists – victims of police arbitrariness”.
On September 23 another round of court hearings in the case initiated by the procurator’s office in the interests of “undefined group of persons” was held in Leninsky district court of Saint Petersburg, while the same court is about to hold hearings on the administrative case concerning violation of article 19 section 34 of the Code on administrative violations on October 7. Procurator’s office of the Admiralty district of Saint Petersburg will present the same charges and will argue that it is unacceptable to criticize the arbitrary actions of the police, while at the same time it will demand registration of ADC “Memorial” as a foreign agent and payment of an enormous penalty for the same observations, conclusions and recommendations, that were presented by ADC “Memorial” in its human rights report.
On October 14 we will have another hearing on the civil case against ADC “Memorial”, when the first court ruling is expected on whether the arguments of the procurator’s office are legally grounded and whether ADC “Memorial” is obliged to register as a foreign agent. This court ruling will no doubt be a very important legal precedent, which also concerns other NGOs in Russia. In earlier court rulings involving other NGOs, the courts have already ruled on several occasions that NGOs were guilty of violating this law in terms of serving as a foreign agent (article 19, section 34), but this alone hadn’t obliged NGOs to register as such in the list of the Ministry of justice, although penalties were paid for this violation (ranging from Rb300,000 to Rb500,000 for juridical persons and Rb100,000 to Rb300,000 on top of that for the heads of these NGOs as physical persons). ADC “Memorial” also faces a similar penalty in the administrative case against our organization, but a civil court case against our NGO, which doesn’t agree to consider itself a foreign agent, is even more potentially dangerous because it is the only legal way for the procurator’s office to force an NGO to register in the list of foreign agents.
Human rights defenders do not accept the legal right of the procurator’s office to act in the interests of “an undefined group of persons” in this case, because such a court case is only understandable and grounded in case there were some particular persons (although probably unknown) who suffered from a particular situation – as in case of a factory which pollutes air or water, for example. But one cannot think of some persons who suffer from ADC “Memorial” not being listed as a foreign agent. Representatives of ADC “Memorial” had made an appeal asking to close the case based on the absence of a group of persons concerned with this case, but the judge Mrs. Moroz on September 23 ruled down this appeal, de facto recognizing the legality of such court actions against NGOs. In this case, which is of major importance to numerous NGOs in Russia, the judge only in passing mentioned that there were no respective procedures defined in the Civil Procedural Code of the Russian Federation, but at the same time she went to great lengths in order to explain how she saw the essence of the procurator’s appeal. She has charged human rights defenders with supposedly claiming that “all of police activities are illegal” and that the authors of the human rights report charge the police with criminal and other legal offences.
Such a lack of understanding of the nature of human rights work and the right to criticize the actions of the authorities, including the police, is in sharp contrast with Russian and international legal procedures, the guarantees for the freedom of speech, Russian Federation’s obligations concerning fighting against torture and arbitrariness, the legal rights of the civil society for information concerning violation of the rights of detained or persecuted persons.
Human rights report “Roma people, migrants, activists – victims of police arbitrariness” doesn’t contain assessments of “all of police activities”. On the contrary, human rights defenders state the necessity for police to defend the rights of all people in the Russian Federation, which is stated in the Law on police. Criticisms of some particular actions of the police in case of arbitrariness doesn’t mean the refusal of the rights and obligations of police in general, while the aim of this criticism is the defense of law itself.
In an appeal presented by ADC “Memorial”, which requested that the court makes an inquiry to the Constitutional court of the Russian Federation, we have stressed the right to freely express one’s opinion, which is guaranteed by the Constitution, the right to criticize authorities, without which democracy is impossible and which was stated in various decisions of the European Court on Human Rights, UN Convention against torture (ratified by the Russian Federation), which provides for the practice of alternative reports (this was also confirmed by the UN Committee against torture in a letter demanding to stop persecution of ADC “Memorial”). We also made references to the position of the Commissar on human rights of the Council of Europe, who disapproved persecution of human rights defenders in Russia for their work together with the UN Council for human rights (we have also attached a copy of the UN report, which had mentioned the case of ADC “Memorial” specifically). But this appeal was declined by the court.
Representative of the Chief department of the Ministry of justice for Saint Petersburg in fact has always took the side of the claimant, that is the prosecutor. On several occasions the court has declined to accept the appeals of the defendant (ADC “Memorial”) asking not to take the Ministry of justice as a third party in this case. Although it is obvious that the Ministry of justice is not in a position to act in the interests of “undefined group of persons” and thus cannot take part in the court hearings on whether anybody’s rights were violated by the activities of ADC “Memorial” and whether the interests of these persons required registration of human rights organization ADC “Memorial” as an organization serving as a foreign agent.
ADC “Memorial” invites journalists and other interested people to come to court hearings on October 14, 2013 at 2 p.m. to the Leninsky district court (13th Krasnoarmeyskaya Street, 17B, hall no.3, judge A.V.Moroz), as well as to the court hearings on October 7, 2013 (same address, hall no. 5, judge O.I.Buchneva) when the case against ADC “Memorial” (at 3 p.m.) and against its director Olga Abramenko (at 3-30 p.m.) will be considered.