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Russia, January 31, 2014

Russia: "Foreign Agents" Law Hits Hundreds of NGOs

Original source

Human Rights Watch

In early March 2013 the Russian government launched an unprecedented, nationwide campaign of inspections of thousands of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to identify advocacy groups the government deems "foreign agents" and force them to register as such. The list below tracks the legal consequences of the law on dozens of NGOs.

Since the beginning of the "foreign agents" campaign, various prosecutors' offices and the Ministry of Justice filed nine administrative cases against NGOs and an additional five administrative cases against NGO leaders for failure to register under the "foreign agents" law. Prosecutors lost nine of these fourteen cases in courts. These were cases filed against the Perm Regional Human Rights Center, the GRANI Center for Civic Analysis and Independent Research, the Perm Civic Chamber, the Side by Side LGBT Film Festival and its director, Coming Out (an LGBT group) and its director, and the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center and its director. The prosecutors won administrative cases against the Kostroma Center for Support of Public Initiatives and the center's director.

The Ministry of Justice filed administrative cases against the Golos Association, an election monitoring group, and its director and against Regional Golos, and won all three cases in courts. Additionally, the prosecutors brought civil law suits against four NGOs: Women of Don in Novocherkassk, the Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies in Saratov, LGBT organization "Coming out" and Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center in Saint-Petersburg. Notably, the suits against the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center and LGBT organization "Coming out" were nearly identical to the administrative cases against groups that the prosecutors had lost. Two of these organizations, Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center and Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies, lost the civil law suits in district courts and are presently appeal those rulings.

The Ministry of Justice ordered the two NGOs against which it had filed administrative cases (both Golos groups) to suspend their activities for several months. Also, at least four groups (the Golos Association, the Kostroma Center for Support of Public Initiatives, the Side by Side LGBT Film Festival and Anti-Discrimination Center "Memorial") initiated proceedings on their own to wind up operations in order to avoid further repressive legal action.

The prosecutors also filed at least 13 administrative cases against NGOs for refusing to provide documents during the inspection campaign and lost four of them (against the Foundation for Development of Modern Civil Society Institutions in Lipetsk, "Petersburg Aegis" in St. Petersburg and two against the Rainbow Foundation in Moscow).

At least 11 NGOs filed lawsuits against prosecutors' notices ordering the groups to register under the "foreign agents" law, which they had received in the wake of the inspection campaign. By late December, at least four groups won their cases (Yekaterinburg's Information and Human Rights Center, Perm's GRANI Center for Civic Analysis and Independent Research, Perm Civil Chamber and the Perm Youth Memorial).

Human Rights Watch is also aware of at least four NGOs in different regions of Russia that succeeded in getting the prosecutors' warnings annulled in courts (MASHR in Ingushetia, the Movement for Fair Elections in Kurgan, Golos in Siberia and Memorial in Ryazan). At least two more warnings (against Assistance to Cystic Fibrosis Patients in Moscow region and the Phoenix Foundation in Vladivostok, respectively) were revoked by the prosecutor's offices themselves.

Thirteen leading rights groups jointly filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights challenging the "foreign agents" law. The application is currently under review. In August Russia's ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, filed an appeal with the country's Constitutional Court on behalf of four organizations challenging warnings from the prosecutor's offices to register and fines groups had incurred for failing to register. Two other groups filed separate petitions with the Constitutional Court challenging the "foreign agents" measure's compliance with the Russian constitution. The Constitutional Court hearings on these cases are scheduled for March 6, 2014.