ADC “Memorial” in St Petersburg, having been judged in court to be an NGO which “fulfils the functions of a foreign agent” and been forced to close down, has now taken its case to the ECtHR. The ADC’s human rights report entitled “Roma, migrants, activists: victims of political arbitrariness” which it submitted to the UN Committee against Torture in November 2012, was classified as political activity.
The application lodged with the ECtHR cites violation of three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Firstly, regarding Article 10, the right to freedom of expression: ADC “Memorial” asserts its right to criticise the activities of the police and other state bodies, and to publish recommendations for changes to legislation. The report entitled “Roma, migrants, activists: victims of political arbitrariness”, which was submitted to the UN Committee against Torture, contributes to public discussion of socially significant issues such as the government’s attitude towards vulnerable groups of the population, defence of LGBTI rights, and whether the police always behaves lawfully. Civil society is entitled to participate in the activities of international bodies which protect human rights.
Secondly, ADC “Memorial” claims that there has been a violation of Article 11, the right to freedom of assembly and association. Given the history of the struggle against “foreign” ideas under the Soviet Union and the negative connotations of the very term “agent”, “foreign agent” status inevitably means that the activities of any NGO with this label will be falsely considered to be using foreign money to promote interests alien to Russia. In practice this means that “foreign agent” NGOs will be forbidden to collaborate with state bodies and other organisations.
Lastly, ADC “Memorial” claims that there has been a violation of Article 14, the prohibition on discrimination. ADC “Memorial” believes it is being persecuted because of its anti-discriminatory convictions, particularly its support for the rights of groups which are discriminated against (Roma, migrants and LGBTI people).
ADC “Memorial” maintains that these groups should be given equal rights, that homophobic laws should be repealed and that public gatherings in defence of LGBTI rights should not be prevented from taking place; that information about human rights abuses which is reported by Roma is credible; that the practice of ethnic profiling of minorities who look different (Roma, migrants from Central Asia and countries in the Caucasus) should be discontinued, particularly police raids codenamed “Migrant” or “Roma”.
Incidentally, ADC’s attitude towards disadvantaged groups became the basis of allegations of “political activity”: the prosecutor’s case against the NGO stated that a human rights report based on “so-called narratives and stories by representatives of the Roma minorities” could not possibly be credible.
The prosecutor, and subsequently the courts of both instances, stressed that demanding a repeal of homophobic laws is itself a “political” act. The municipal court of St Petersburg, which made the final judgment on 8 April 2014, found no discrimination against ADC “Memorial”, so an appeal against a violation of Article 14 has been lodged with the European Court of Human Rights.
As a precedent, a violation of Article 14 was recognised in the case of “Alexeev v. Russia” (recognition of a discriminatory ban on holding street events due to the sexual orientation of the person applying for permission) and in a very recent ECtHR judgment in the case of “Georgia v. Russian Federation” (on 3 July 2014, eight years after the events in autumn 2006), which condemned the illegal discriminatory practice whereby citizens of Georgian nationality are ethnically profiled by the police and other state bodies in the Russian Federation.