Human Right Watch-- “Foreign Agents” Law Hits Hundreds of NGOs: Updated June 10, 2013
From Human Rights Watch-- Starting in early March 2013 the Russian government launched a nationwide campaign of inspections of nongovernmental organizations, unprecedented in its scale and scope. The inspections were highly extensive, disruptive, invasive, and often intimidating. To date, hundreds of organizations in different regions of Russia have been subject to such inspections; most have yet to be informed of the inspection findings. However, it is clear that the main objective of these inspections is to identify organizations the government deems “foreign agents” and force advocacy groups to either assume this false, misleading, and demonizing label or suspend their work. Human Rights Watch is monitoring the situation closely and, as part of that effort, pulls together and brings to public attention information regarding civil society groups victimized in this manner.
Updated June 10, 2013
I. Administrative Court Cases - 7 NGOs
If a court of law finds them responsible for failure to register as a “foreign agent,” these groups may be fined up to 500,000 rubles (over US$16,000) and their leaders personally – up to 300,000 rubles (approximately $10,000).
Association of NGOs in Defence of Voters’ Rights“Golos” (Moscow)
According to the protocol from the Ministry of Justice dated April 9, the group drafted and promoted a unified Electoral Code and allegedly received foreign funding in the form of the Andrey Sakharov Freedom Award from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC). Notably, Golos had sent the monetary prize in question back to the NHC. The organization was fined 300,000 rubles (approximately $10,000) by the Presnenskiy court of Moscow on April 25. The head of Golos was also personally fined 100,000 rubles (approximately $3,300). Golos appealed the court ruling on May 8; the appeal is pending.
Kostroma Center for Support of Public Initiatives(Kostroma)
According to the protocol from the Kostroma regional prosecutor’s office dated April 15, the group conducted a roundtable on United States-Russia relations attended by a US embassy representative. On May 29 a Kostroma court found the group in violation of the “foreign agents” law and ruled for a fine of 300,000 rubles (approximately $10,000).
Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” (St. Petersburg)
According to the protocol from the Admiralteyskiy District prosecutor’s office of St. Petersburg dated April 30, the group receives foreign funding and published a report on police abuse of Roma, migrants, and civil activists that was presented to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. Administrative court hearings are pending.
“Coming Out”(St. Petersburg)
According to the protocol from the Central District prosecutor’s office of St. Petersburg dated April 30, this LGBT rights group receives funding from the Consulate General of the Netherlands and the Embassy of Norway and allegedly engaged in “political activities,” in particular by holding a silent rally using the slogans, “We are for traditional values: love, family, respect of human dignity” (organized by independent activists), by organizing a campaign against the adoption of the ban on “homosexual propaganda” in St. Petersburg (notably, the campaign was conducted before the “foreign agents” law came into effect), and by publishing the brochure, “Discrimination of LGBT Individuals: What, How and Why?” Administrative court hearings started on May 27 and were postponed until June 11.
“Side by Side” LGBT film festival (St. Petersburg)
According to the protocol from the Central District prosecutor’s office of St. Petersburg dated May 6, the group published a brochure entitled, “The International LGBT Movement: from Local Practices to Global Politics” and participated in a public awareness-raising campaign, “Let’s Stop the Homophobic Bill Together.” Notably, the campaign was conducted in 2011, before the “foreign agents” law entered into force. On June 6 a St. Petersburg court ruled the group had violated the law and fined it 500,000 rubles (approximately $16,500).
Regional Public Association in Defence of Democratic Rights and Freedoms “Golos”(Moscow)
According to the protocol from the Ministry of Justice dated May 13, in December 2012 the group – a member of the “Golos” Association – allegedly received foreign funding of more than 4 million rubles (approximately $133,000) in total and conducted work on the project, “Raising transparency of the Russian electoral process by discussing and promoting a unified Electoral Code.” On June 4 the Basmanny Court in Moscow ruled the group had violated the law and fined it 300,000 rubles.
Center for Civic Analysis and Independent Research / GRANI(Perm)
According to the protocol from the Perm regional prosecutor’s office dated June 6, the inspection of the group’s activities in April 2013 revealed violations of the law on “foreign agents.” The group in 2013 received foreign funding of 751,000 rubles (approximately $25,000) and allegedly engaged in “political activities” by shaping public opinion on state policies. In 2013 the group published the results of the study, “Russian non-political activism” conducted in 2012 under a project funded by the C.S. Mott Foundation. In December 2012 the group submitted to the regional legislative assembly proposals for amendments to the draft law on support of socially oriented NGOs in the Perm region, and in January 2013 its leader took part in a roundtable organized by the Perm Legislative Assembly, which discussed this draft and recommended introducing a set of amendments in line with recommendations by participants. On April 22 the prosecutor’s office issued a notice of violations to the group (as noted in section II) instructing it to register as a “foreign agent” NGO. On May 6 the group replied to the notice challenging it and emphasizing that the group’s staffers are members of several advisory bodies for the state authorities, including the working group of the federal government’s commission on coordinating the “Open Government,” the regional governor’s council on entrepreneurship, and the collegium of the regional territorial development ministry. On May 16 the group’s governing bodies ruled not to implement the prosecutor’s orders, as GRANI’s activities are aimed not at changing state policy, but at facilitating its implementation as regards the rights and freedoms enshrined in Russia’s constitution. Once informed of the group’s decision, the prosecutor’s office concluded that the group was in persistent violation of the law on “foreign agents” and referred the case to court. Administrative court hearings are pending.
II. Official Notices of Violations - 16 NGOs
The groups below received official orders to “eliminate violations,” i.e. to register as “foreign agents” within one month of their respective dates of notice.
Center for Civic Analysis and Independent Research / GRANI (Perm)
Case referred to court for alleged persistent refusal by the organization to comply with the “foreign agents” law (for details, please see section I).
Baikal Environmental Wave (Irkutsk)
According to the notice dated April 23, the group carries out “active advocacy on environmental issues.”
Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies (Saratov)
According to the notice dated April 24, both the group’s statute provisions and its current work relate to “political activities.” In April 2013 the group, which receives foreign funding, organized the event, “Review of the social policy in the post-Soviet area: ideologies, actors and cultures” and published the book, Critical Analysis of the Social Policy in the Countries of Former Soviet Union, thereby aiming to influence public opinion.
Information and Human Rights Center (Yekaterinburg)
According to the notice dated April 26, the group receives foreign funding and participates in “political activities” through carrying out projects aimed at “overcoming totalitarian stereotypes by influencing public opinion with awareness-raising activities, facilitating the establishment of the rule of law by informing citizens about constitutional norms, ensuring the priority of individual rights in state practices and public life by remembrance of terror victims in the past and defending the rights of citizens in the present, as well as countering violent, unlawful, totalitarian ways of ruling the state by organizing public events (rallies, exhibitions, etc.) .” Also, in September 2012, the group conducted a roundtable on the rights of conscripts and military servicemen, addressing a set of recommendations to the Ministry of Defense and the government and therefore trying to influence governmental policies in this area.
Human Rights Center “Memorial” (Moscow)
According to the notice dated April 29, some of group’s objectives in its statute relate to “political activity,” and the group also carries out programs and projects that monitor politically motivated administrative detentions and criminal prosecutions. The organization challenged the legality of their inspection by the Moscow prosecutor’s office in March 2012 and lodged a judicial appeal. On May 24 the Zamoskvoretsky District Court of Moscow rejected the complaint by “Memorial” as ungrounded. The group challenged the prosecutor’s notice of violations and lodged a judicial appeal on May 28.
“Women of Don” (Novocherkassk)
According to the notice dated April 29, after the law on “foreign agents” entered into force, the group received foreign funding and “carried out activities aimed at shaping public opinion and influencing decision-making by the authorities through conducting events with public participation, publishing propaganda information materials online, as well as [doing so] in the course of private meetings with imprisoned individuals.” Thus, the group published on its website policy proposals on police reform and conclusions on the ineffectiveness of current state policy in this field. In April 2013 the group organized an inter-regional seminar attended by the media, the participants of which declared a detention of an NGO leader in Krasnodar unlawful, opened for signing a petition in his support, and addressed an appeal to the Russian President, as well as “expressed negative attitudes regarding the activities of state authorities and highlighted the necessity to solve problems [independently] without appealing to competent governmental agencies.” Also, in April 2013 the prosecutor’s office received a letter from an imprisoned individual who stated that while meeting with him in her capacity as a Public Oversight Commission member, the group’s leader “called him for active actions in support of the group’s activities on changing the legislation regulating the penitentiary system.”
Center for Support of Democratic Youth Initiatives / Youth “Memorial” (Perm)
According to the notice dated April 29, the group’s statute objectives include defending the political rights of youth. The organization aspires to influence public opinion with regard to governmental policies and receives funding from the US-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) for a project aimed at “developing democratic activism among Russian youth.” The group also implements a project on human rights education funded by the Germany-based “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” Foundation (EVZ) and published a collection of articles expressing political views of the project’s participants. According to the prosecutor’s office, both donor institutions “define their objective as influencing political processes worldwide.” Moreover, in 2012 the group conducted activities aimed at monitoring rights violations in the military and providing direct assistance to conscripts and military servicemen who suffered abuse. The authorities also flag that the very fact that the organization is well known for promoting the alternative civil service proves that its work relates to “political activities.”
Interregional Human Rights Association “AGORA”(Kazan)
According to the notice dated April 30, the group implements a project on Internet freedom funded by the Internews, supporting “activities of lawyers capable of influencing policy and law enforcement practice” and aiming at “adoption of regulations on administrative procedures for implementing the law on Internet by the government and the State Agency for Supervision of Communications [Roskomnadzor].” The notice also flags that the group is accredited by the Ministry of Justice as an independent expert entity authorized to conduct anticorruption evaluation of legal acts and their drafts.
“Panorama” Center (Moscow)
According to the notice dated May 6, the group implements a foreign-funded research project on political processes, which involves holding roundtables and discussions and publishing information regarding the drawbacks of current legislation and the evolvement of public protests in Russia.
“Lawyers for Constitutional Rights and Freedoms” / JURIX (Moscow)
According to the notice dated May 7, the group's statute provides for carrying out various activities “in the field of law and public policy.” The group receives foreign funding and its staff members participated in the advocacy campaign against the adoption of a ban on “homosexual propaganda” in St. Petersburg, including by providing legal expertise on the draft law and taking part in the public hearings at the Legislative Assembly of St.Petersburg as well as televised debates on the issue.
“Public Verdict” Foundation (Moscow)
According to the notice dated May 8, the group carries out political activities, which are mostly financed from foreign sources. In the view of the prosecutor’s office, the group’s activity “is aimed at interfering with governmental policy in the field of law enforcement by proposing legislative amendments, shaping public opinion on the necessity of changing law enforcement policy currently exercised by the authorities, and gaining public support for its actions aimed at exhorting greater influence on the authorities.” The prosecutors consider the following actions as examples of the group’s “political activities”: “involving society in discussing the reform of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, monitoring citizens’ rights observance while conducting public events, providing legal assistance to the individuals accused under the ‘Bolotnaya case,’ preparing and coordinating the work on drafting Alternative NGO Report to the UN Committee against Torture [on Russia’s compliance with the UN Convention against Torture],” offering “recommendations to participants of public protests regarding [appropriate] behavior at the rallies,” and “organizing and supporting campaigns of petitions to state authorities.”
Independent Council of Legal Expertise / NEPS(Moscow)
According to the notice dated early May, the group’s the group's work is related to “political activities” and it should register as a “foreign agent” NGO.
Moscow School of Political Studies(Moscow)
According to a notice dated May 29, the group’s the group's work is related to “political activities” and must register as a “foreign agent” NGO.
Yaroslavl regional hunters’ and fishermen society(Yaroslavl)
According to the notice dated April 16, some of the provisions in the group’s statute relate to “political activity” and it should register as a “foreign agent” NGO.
Two more prominent civil society groups in Perm –Perm Civic Chamber and Perm Regional Human Rights Center – received orders to register as “foreign agents” in the course of April, as their respective work was deemed relevant to influencing public opinion and state policies. On May 20, jointly with the Perm Youth Memorial (for GRANI Center, please see section I), they published a statement asserting their refusal to brand themselves “foreign agents” and announcing their intention to appeal the orders to a court of law.
III. Warnings Not to Violate the Law - 39 NGOs
The groups below were warned of a need to register as “foreign agents” if they plan to carry out “political activities” or to receive foreign funding in the future.
Kostroma Soldiers’ Mothers Committee (Kostroma)
According to the warning dated April 16, the group’s representatives were involved in election observing in December 2011 and March 2012.
Democratic Center (Voronezh)
According to the warning dated April 22, the group was involved in election observing in December 2011.
Volgograd Center for NGO Support(Volgograd)
According to the warning dated April 22, the group implements a public diplomacy project entitled, “Information Center on International Security” funded by the NATO information bureau, which is aimed, inter alia, at providing “information support to activities of regional branches of political parties, representatives of the authorities, civil society institutions on topical issues of international relations and international security.”
Interregional Committee against Torture(Nizhniy Novgorod)
According to the warning dated April 22, the group took part in “public events, which may be regarded as political activity” before November 2012.
“Man and Law”(Yoshkar-Ola)
According to the warning dated April 24, the group’s statute stipulates that its staff “may take part in public events, meetings and rallies,” and the group’s website features information that “Man and Law” “facilitates observance of human rights by state officials.”
Institute of Press Development – Siberia(Novosibirsk)
According to the warning dated April 24, one of the objectives in the group’s statute is “assistance to civil society development in Russia and strengthening democratic principles in the life of Russian society,” and several types of public activities that the group may carry out to achieve this objective relate to “political activity.” The group challenged the warning and lodged a judicial appeal,but on June 10 a local court upheld the warning.
“Assistance to Cystic Fibrosis Patients”(Istra, Moscow Region)
According to the warning dated April 24, one of the objectives in the group’s statute is “defending the rights and legal interests of cystic fibrosis patients in the state authorities,” and the group “may come up with initiatives on various issues of public importance, submit proposals to state authorities, and defend rights and legal interests of its members as well as other citizens in the face of federal and municipal authorities.” The prosecutor’s office revoked the warning on April 30.
Amur Social-Ecologic Union(Blagoveshchensk)
According to the warning dated April 24, one of the objectives in the group’s statute is “assistance to the state authorities, citizens and their associations in the activities aimed at preserving and restoring natural and cultural heritage, and sanitation of the environment,” and several types of public activities that the group may carry out to achieve this objective relate to “political activity.”
Amur Environmental Club “Ulukitkan”(Blagoveshchensk)
According to the warning dated April 24, the group’s statute includes a provision on “the right to participate in decision making by state authorities,” and in 2011 the organization carried out a foreign-funded contest for journalists to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident. The group challenged the warning and lodged a judicial appeal on June 4, but the local court upheld the warning.
Ryazan “Memorial” Society(Ryazan)
According to the warning dated April 24, some of the objectives in the group’s statute and types of activities relate to “political activity.”
“Golos – Siberia” Foundation(Novosibirsk)
According to the warning dated April 24, some of the group’s statute provisions relate to “political activity,” and in 2012 it received funding from the Foundation for Support of Democracy “Golos,” which is a recognized recipient of foreign funding.
“Golos – Urals” Foundation(Chelyabinsk)
According to the warning dated April 25, some of the objectives in the group’s statute relate to “political activity.”
“Citizens’ Watch” (St. Petersburg)
According to the warning dated April 25, some of the provisions in the group’s statute relate to “political activity.” Besides, the group “conducts public events, including seminars, and publishes materials in the mass media.”
Urals Democratic Foundation (Chelyabinsk)
According to the warning dated April 25, the group receives foreign funding and may carry out “political activities.”
Urals Human Rights Group (Chelyabinsk)
According to the warning dated April 25, the group receives foreign funding and may carry out “political activities.”
Center “Transparency International – R”(Moscow)
According to the warning dated April 26, both the group’s statute objectives and its actual activities prove that it participates in shaping public opinion on state policies related to law enforcement and in other fields and influences the decision making of Russian state authorities, including the legislative process.
Center for Independent Sociological Research(St. Petersburg)
According to a warning dated April 26, the group, in connection with the group’s statutory goals, “conducts sociological research, organizes events in the field of social science, and publishes academic literature.” As the organization also receives foreign funding and its work may involve “political activities,” the Tsentralny district prosecutor’s office of St. Petersburg warned the group’s leadership of possible liability for noncompliance with the “foreign agent” law.
Center for Independent Social Research and Education(Irkutsk)
According to a warning dated April 26, the group receives foreign funding, and some of its statutory provisions relate to “political activity.”
Komi Human Rights Commission “Memorial”(Syktyvkar)
According to the warning dated April 27, some of the group’s statute provisions relate to “political activity.” Besides, “the group’s members in 2011-2012 participated in public and political actions, including protest actions, aimed at influencing the decision making by state authorities.”
Kirov Regional Hunters’ and Fishermen Society(Kirov)
According to the warning dated April 29, some of the group’s statute provisions relate to “political activity.”
Muraviovka Park of Sustainable Land Use(Amur Region)
According to the warning dated April 30, some of the provisions in the group’s statute that defends and studies birds relate to “political activity,” and it received funding from the International Crane Foundation.
“Nature and Youth” (Murmansk)
According to the warning dated April 30, the group’s statute provides for “participation in creating legislative framework at the regional level,” which relates to “political activity.”
Center for Democracy Development and Human Rights (Moscow)
According to the warning dated May 8, some of the provisions in the group’s statute and its projects relate to “political activity” as regards both interaction with the authorities and shaping public opinion.
Journalism Advancement and Support Center(Moscow)
According to the warning dated May 8, the group received foreign funding in 2012 and has a regularly updated its Facebook page with links to publications in varied media outlets, including analytic and other materials on state policies and activities of state agencies. The prosecutor’s office flags that these publications are aimed at shaping public opinion about governmental policies and therefore, the group’s work may relate to “political activities.”
According to the warning dated May 15, the group receives foreign funding in the form of grant and service contracts and issues two periodic publications, which are disseminated free of charge in print version and brought to public attention online. These publications contain articles on “the country’s most important political processes” and in addition to quoting the results of opinion polls, also contain individual views of the authors on political issues. Moreover, the group regularly issues press statements on major political issues, organizes jointly with the International Memorial Society a series of public seminars on social and political issues related to democratization and overcoming totalitarian past, and conducts research on elections (including elections to the State Duma in December 2011).
Foundation for Assistance to Public Opinion Research (Moscow)
According to the warning dated mid-May, the group, which is a daughter organization to Russia’s most prominent polling agency, the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Research (VTsIOM), received foreign funding and published research findings relevant to political processes in the country.
“International Standard” Foundation (Ufa)
According to the warning dated mid-May, from 2010 to 2012 the group received funding from the European Commission and the US embassy for the projects titled, “Improving security culture of human rights NGOs” and, “Democracy lessons for local communities: Awareness-raising and practical skills for local housing committees.” The organization conducted a series of workshops, published relevant print materials, and made a film on security for civic activists. In the view of the prosecutor’s office, the group therefore participates in shaping public opinion on state policies. At the same time, one of the group’s founders promoted one of the candidates in the 2012 local elections.
Saami’s public association of the Murmansk region / OOSMO
According to the warning dated early June, the group receives foreign funding and some of the provisions in its statute relate to “political activity”.
One more Saami group in Murmansk region was warned by the prosecutors’ office on the same grounds.
Similar warnings were also issued to 10 environmental groups listed below:
For the Nature(Chelyabinsk) Green Home(Khabarovsk) Siberian Environmental Center(Novosibirsk) SPOK(Petrozavodsk) Kola Environmental Center(Murmansk) Kola Center for Wild Nature Defense(Murmansk) “Phoenix” Foundation (Vladivostok) School of Soul Ecology “Tengri”(Gorno-Altaisk) Protected Natural Areas Association of the Altay Republic(Gorno-Altaisk) Center for Environmental Awareness-raising of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) “Eyge”(Yakutsk)