The Persecution of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists Must End!

Human rights defenders in the Russian Federation are facing persecution from all sides—they are being listed in the “foreign agents register” and distracted from their work by checks, trials, and fines. At the same time, independent media outlets are being shuttered—the best editors and correspondents are losing their jobs, sites are being blocked, and censorship has been imposed. None of this, alas, is new. What is new in this summer of 2016 is that two criminal cases have been opened, one against the human rights defender Valentina Cherevatenko for “malicious evasion of duties of non-governmental organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent,” and the other in connection with Nikolay Solodnikov’s work on the Dialogues project, which was implemented by Saint Petersburg’s Mayakovsky Library as part of the Open Library educational course.

Cherevatenko’s organization Women of the Don Union (Novocherkassk) was searched, while searches of the Mayakovsky Library led to the destruction of Solodnikov’s project by FSB officers. In both cases, computers, electronic media, and documents were seized.

This human rights defender and this journalist were both honestly performing their professional functions—Cherevatenko was protecting the rights of residents in her region and calling for peaceful negotiations among all sides in the conflict in Ukraine, while Solodnikov was holding discussions and inviting cultural figures and well-known journalists and politicians to debate pressing problems.

Cherevatenko’s and Solodnikov’s work shared the common goal of building a dialogue, of achieving mutual understanding in spite of differing opinions and positions. Neither of their projects was terribly radical, but they were both popular and recognized by society.

Now, however, Cherevatenko and Solodnikov have something more tragic in common—they have both been subjected to genuine repressions. Solodnikov was forced to flee Russia, while Cherevatenko has appealed the ruling opening the criminal case and is awaiting trial.

Cherevatenko is the first person to be prosecuted under the new Article 330.1 of the RF Criminal Code: even though the Register of Foreign Agents on the website of the Ministry of Justice lists approximately 150 NGOs, until this case, repressions against those who continued their human rights activities with the support of independent foundations was limited to administrative cases and, frequently, high fines. In order to file an indictment against the head of an NGO, investigators have to find signs of “maliciousness” in this person’s unwillingness to declare the NGO a foreign agent. The law, however, does not specify what these signs consist of. Even so, the Investigator for Especially Important Cases of the 7th Investigative Department of Rostov-on-Don was able to discover maliciousness in the work of Women of the Don (Caucasian Knot reports that “this department reports directly to the RF Investigative Committee and works on cases with wide resonance”). According to the Investigative Committee’s reasoning, Cherevatenko’s “criminal intent” lay not just in her unwillingness to submit a statement declaring Women of the Don a foreign agent, but also in the fact that she opened a new foundation with the same name.

So, apparently, a case regarding the registration of a foundation called Women of the Don Union by a person who led an NGO of the same name for 20 years is what is meant by a criminal case with “wide resonance.”

This absurd accusation is in gross violation of both Russian and international law, which guarantee all people the right to create and develop their own associations, express their opinions freely, implement projects of social importance, and conduct human rights work.

ADC Memorial demands that the RF government put an immediate end to Cherevatenko’s prosecution, close the criminal case for “malicious evasion” of the insulting stamp of “foreign agent,” and allow Women of the Don to continue its work without the danger of new prosecutions.

Non-governmental organizations and independent journalists in Russia should not be prosecuted for their professional activities. Shutting down projects like Solodnikov’s Dialogues causes enormous damage to the public by depriving people of their last chance to have open debates, listen to differing opinions, and choose their own positions. Human rights organizations and platforms for social discussions must be preserved in the interests of these people!