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Russia: Harsh Toll of ‘Foreign Agents’ Law

Government Critics Stifled Under Guise of Countering Foreign Influence

(Moscow) – Russian authorities are using a new law that requires some nongovernmental organizations to register as “foreign agents” to curtail a broad range of work by independent organizations. Human Rights Watch reviewed dozens of warnings and violation notices issued under the law from the prosecutor’s office to nongovernmental organizations. These documents reveal an apparent effort to limit advocacy, advisory, and public education activities on a wide spectrum of issues that involve comment on, or interaction with, government authorities.

In March 2013 the Russian government began an unprecedented nationwide inspection campaign of hundreds of nongovernmental organizations to expose “foreign agents,” i.e. groups that receive foreign funding and engage in “political activity” and require them to register as such. Four months into the campaign, at least 62 groups have received warnings or orders to register as “foreign agents” or have been taken to court by the authorities.

“Prosecutors’ documents provide disturbing insight into Russian government efforts to suppress independent organizations,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities have defined political activity so broadly as to ensure government control over just about any organized activity relating to public life.”

Of seven groups already taken to court, five have lost administrative cases and have been ordered to pay fines and register. Another 15 organizations that received direct notices of violation from the prosecutor’s office may face administrative charges if they fail to register as “foreign agents.” Authorities have warned at least 38 groups to register as “foreign agents” if they receive foreign funding and plan to carry out “political activities.” Persistent failure to register can lead to an organization’s suspension and criminal charges against its leader.

In only one instance, involving the Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” (ADC Memorial), did a court return a case to the prosecutor’s office citing errors in the case file, and that was after a letter to the Russian government from the United Nations Committee against Torture. In the case against ADC Memorial the prosecutor had highlighted a report on Russian police abuses the group had delivered to the committee. In its letter, the committee reminded Russia that states should ensure that individuals and groupsdo not face persecution for providinginformation on abuses to the committee and other UN human rights bodies.

In a further two cases – a local group helping people who have cystic fibrosis and a wildlife preservation group – prosecutors revoked warnings after the media ridiculed the absurdity of those warnings.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine the total number of organizations that have received official warnings or notices because not all groups wish to make that information public.

Following Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May 2012, the Russian government unleashed a crackdown on civil society unprecedented in the country’s post-Soviet history, Human Rights Watch said. The crackdown has featured a series of laws restricting the rights to freedom of association, expression, and assembly. The centerpiece is a law, which took effect in November 2012, requiring organizations that accept foreign funding and engage in “political activity” to register as “foreign agents,” a term that is widely understood in Russia to mean spy or traitor. No Russian group is known to have registered.

“Russian groups were heavily scrutinized even before the ‘foreign agents’ law,” said Williamson. “It’s clear the law’s real intent is to discredit and demonize groups critical of the government.”

The Human Rights Watch review of warnings and violation notices from the prosecutor’s office following inspections shows the broad range of activities considered political. These include:

  • Providing information to the UN Committee Against Torture on Russia’s compliance with the Convention against Torture;
  • Campaigning against homophobic draft legislation;
  • Advocating improvements in addressing environmental issues, including vis-à-vis state authorities;
  • Raising public awareness on human rights issues, corruption, and relevant state policies;
  • Holding roundtables, seminars, and other events to discuss government policies and foreign policy;
  • Engaging state officials with recommendations on public interest policy;
  • Providing information and analysis to intergovernmental organizations and the media on the human rights situation in Russia;
  • Publicizing public opinion polling data and analyses;
  • Monitoring and raising public awareness about political persecution;
  • Providing legal advice to people detained at peaceful protest rallies;
  • Advocating liberalizing legislation and ensuring better compliance with the government’s international human rights obligations;
  • Advocating improvements in law enforcement practices and promoting reforms to ensure better compliance by these agencies with human rights; and
  • Representing victims of abuse or vulnerable groups vis-à-vis the authorities.

The targeted groups conduct a wide range of human rights, public outreach, or environmental work, and many are critical of government practices, Human Rights Watch said.

In the wake of the government’s “foreign agents” campaign, numerous organizations have suffered varied degrees of harassment from both officials and private actors. For example, the words, “Foreign Agents!” were daubed on the building of Baikal Environmental Wave in Irkutsk; the office lease of Human Rights House in Voronezh was terminated; and ultranationalists assaulted staff members of the Komi Human Rights Commission “Memorial” in Syktyvkar. In a particularly disturbing case, on the night of June 21-22 in central Moscow, under pretext of an allegedly terminated lease agreement, law enforcement officials forcibly occupied the office of the Movement for Human Rights, a leading human rights group, and physically removed activists from the premises, injuring several of them.

In May Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council criticized “the stark legal vagueness of the term “political activities” and recommended that the law be amended to eliminate the very concept of a “foreign agent” organization. In June Russia’s ombudsman came out with a similar proposal.

Addressing the Civil Summit of the Group of Twenty (G20) of major economies on June 14 in Moscow, Putin acknowledged complaints about the “foreign agents” law and said he would look into the matter. In November 2012 Putin told his Presidential Human Rights Council that he would “look into” concerns about the new treason law, but signed it the same day.

Russia’s key partners – the Council of Europe, whose Parliamentary Assembly is in session from June 24 to 28, the European Union, and their respective member states – should unify their efforts regarding the Russian laws on nongovernmental organizations, Human Rights Watch said. They should press Russia to amend these laws to meet Russia’s obligations under international law regarding the rights to freedom of association and expression and to foster a normal working climate for civil society in the country.

“The Council of Europe and its member states should hold Putin to his vague promise about reviewing the ‘foreign agents’ law, and not just to review it, but to fix it,” Williamson said. “The law is a full-blown disaster. Changes are needed immediately.”

Cases Under Russia’s “Foreign Agents” Law

Russia’s law on “foreign agent” organizations equates receiving any amount of foreign funding with being an agent of foreign interests. Its definition of political activities includes acts that are a routine part of many groups’ advocacy work, such as promoting policy changes or trying to influence public opinion. The law forces such organizations to clearly mark in their published materials that they are “foreign agents.” Failure to comply with the law triggers stiff fines and even prison terms.

Russian officials assert that the “foreign agents” law is aimed solely at ensuring transparency of foreign funding, choosing to ignore the requirement that foreign-funded organizations already post the relevant information online. In April Putin claimed in an interview that 654 foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations in Russia received close to US$1 billion from foreign sources in the first quarter of 2013 and that society had the right “to know who receives this funding and for which purposes.”

Officials refused to provide information to leaders of independent groups about the $1 billion figure, claiming that the data, from the State Financial Monitoring Agency, was “strictly for internal use” and could not be disclosed.

Russian law already provided extensive state oversight of organizations that receive foreign funding through special reporting requirements and additional inspections. The “foreign agents” law added to these requirements considerably. In April 2013 the Justice Ministry issued reporting guidelines for “foreign agent” organizations, subjecting them to cumbersome financial reporting requirements, including the identity of all foreign and domestic donors, and detailed information about their activities, including those funded by domestic sponsors. These regulations are likely to discourage Russian donors, already scarce, from supporting organizations stigmatized as “foreign agents.”

The following are illustrative cases of nongovernmental organizations targeted under the “foreign agents” law, grouped by the type of activities the authorities characterized as “political.”

These categories include, but are not limited to: 1) election transparency; 2) cooperation with United Nations bodies; 3) monitoring politically motivated human rights violations and providing assistance to victims; 4) countering lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) discrimination; 5) providing expert analysis to state entities; 6) research and public opinion studies; 7) environmental advocacy; and 8) funding from “political” foundations. Human Rights Watch chose these examples from the several dozen cases described in the documents reviewed to provide a broad and diversified picture of how the law is being enforced.

The prosecutor’s office’s approach has been inconsistent, imposing different sanctions for similar activities. The lack of coordination between prosecutors and Justice Ministry officials is also noteworthy. For example, in May the Committee against Torture, a prominent human rights group based in Nizhny Novgorod, received both a warning from the prosecutor’s office flagging its participation in unspecified “public events” that “may be regarded as political activity” and a finding following a Justice Ministry inspection that it was in full compliance with the law.

In at least three cases documented by Human Rights Watch, the prosecutor’s office made no distinction between activities or affiliations of employees of civil society groups in their private capacity and those they engaged in on behalf of their organization.

1. Election Transparency

Golos Groups (Moscow, Novosibirsk, Chelyabinsk)

Golos (“voice” or “vote” in Russian) is a widely used name for a large network of election monitoring groups in Russia’s regions. The organization leading the network, the Association of NGOs in Defense of Voters’ Rights “Golos” (Golos Association), based in Moscow, may be the first Russian organization to close as a result of being targeted under the law as a “foreign agent.”An April 9, 2013 protocol of administrative offense issued by the Justice Ministry says that the Golos Association drafted and promoted a proposal for a unified electoral code. The ministry alleged that the Golos Association had received foreign funding for the project in the form of the Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. Notably, the ministry opened administrative proceedings against the association while the prosecutor’s office inspection of the group was still under way and before the prosecutor’s office could issue its findings. On April 25 the Presnensky District Court in Moscow found the Golos Association in violation of the law and fined it 300,000 rubles (approximately US$10,000). The head of the association, Lilia Shibanova, was also personally fined 100,000 rubles (US$3,300).At the hearing, the defense noted that the Golos Association did not seek out the prize, that it told the Norwegian Helsinki Committee it did not wish to receive any monetary award, and that it ordered the bank to return the funds before they could be transferred to the group’s current account. The presiding judge overruled a defense question to the Justice Ministry representative as to how the ministry considered that the returned funds constituted foreign funding.

The appeals court on June 14 upheld the judgment, disregarding a letter from the bank stating that the group had not received any wire transfers from abroad since November 2012. After the ruling, Golos Association Vice Executive Director Grigory Melkonyants said that they would voluntarily dissolve the association to avoid registering it as a “foreign agent” and would try to register a new organization to carry on the work.

On May 13 the Justice Ministry started a similar administrative case against another member of the Golos network – the Regional Public Association in Defense of Democratic Rights and Freedoms “Golos.” The group was cited for carrying out the same activities as the leading organization of the network, namely drafting and promoting a proposal for a unified electoral code while receiving foreign funding. The Justice Ministry opened administrative proceedings before the end of a one-month period the prosecutor’s office gave the organization to eliminate these and other alleged violations following an April inspection.

On June 4 the Basmanny District Court in Moscow found the group in violation of the law and fined it 300,000 rubles (US$10,000). The organization is appealing the ruling.

Two inter-regional organizations that are also part of the Golos network, GolosSiberia (Novosibirsk) and GolosUrals (Chelyabinsk), received official warnings from the prosecutor’s office on April 24 and April 25, respectively, not to violate the law on “foreign agents.” In both cases the warnings referred only to the groups’ statutory provisions that allegedly relate to “political activity,” including those dealing with election transparency.

Two more groups, the Kostroma Soldiers’ Mothers Committee (Kostroma) and the Democratic Center (Voronezh), were warned by the prosecutor’s office for involvement in observing federal elections in December 2011 and March 2012 – before the “foreign agents” law was even in effect.

2. Cooperation with UN Treaty Bodies

Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” (St. Petersburg)

The Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” (ADC Memorial), which assists victims of discrimination, was the third group taken to court for refusing to register as a “foreign agent.” (The second, after the Golos Association, was the Kostroma Center for Support of Public Initiatives, which was cited for hosting a roundtable on Russia-United States relations with the participation of a US diplomat.)

The prosecutor’s office opened administrative cases against ADC Memorial and its director, Olga Abramenko, on April 30. The alleged “political activity” ascribed to the group was the publication of an alternative report on Russia’s compliance with the Convention against Torture, which it had delivered to the UN Committee Against Torture in mid-November 2012, before the “foreign agents” law was in effect. The report largely focused on Russian police abuses against Roma, migrants, and civil society activists. According to the prosecutors, the report contained “indications [that the organization was] inciting conflict with the current authorities and state agencies.”

To support this allegation, the prosecutor cited a number of passages from the report, including an analysis of police operations against Roma, cases of police extortion and use of arbitrary force against migrants, and instances of unlawful prosecution of activists by law enforcement authorities. The prosecutor, without basis, accused the group of depicting Russia’s laws as “support[ing] unlawful use of force and neglect[ing] all [human rights] norms.”

The prosecutor’s office also turned ADC Memorial’s findings into accusations against the organization itself. For example, it cited the report’s finding that Russian police officials “often violate the law and perpetrate crimes” as evidence that the organization created a negative image of law-enforcement and thereby shaped public opinion to promote a political agenda.

Similarly, the prosecutor asserted that some of the group’s recommendations aimed to persuade the public to believe that Russian laws and law enforcement practices were flawed and needed improvement. These included such recommendations as “ensuring the safety of foreign citizens,” guaranteeing “freedom of expression without risk of physical or psychological intimidation,” and repealing regional laws banning “propaganda of homosexuality.”

On May 17 the Committee Against Torture sent a letter to the Russian authorities reminding them that they should “ensure that no individual or group will be subjected to prosecution for communicating with, or providing information to the Committee …, or to other United Nations human rights organs.”

On May 27 a court returned the case against ADC Memorial to the prosecutor’s office for procedural violations, including a failure to provide reasons for carrying out an inspection of the group, lack of evidence confirming the authority of the prosecutor to conduct the inspection, and lack of evidence that the group received funding from a foreign source and participated in political activity aimed at changing state policy.

The prosecutor’s office will be able to proceed with the administrative case after it addresses these problems in the case file.

Public Verdict Foundation (Moscow)

The Public Verdict Foundation (Public Verdict) is a leading Russian nongovernmental organization dedicated to eliminating impunity for police abuses and promoting law enforcement reform. In the notice of violations dated May 8, the prosecutor’s office alleged that the group carried out “political activities” that were mostly financed from foreign funders. This finding was based on an examination of the group’s statute and other documents that the prosecutor’s office said prove that 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 …, and gaining public support for its actions aimed at exhorting greater influence on the authorities.”

Public Verdict’s case was the first in which the prosecutor’s office branded as “political” nearly the entire spectrum of work typically carried out by human rights groups. These include: “involving society in discussing reform of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, monitoring how citizens’ rights are respected in public events, providing legal assistance to individuals accused under the ‘Bolotnaya [protest rally] case,’ preparing and coordinating work on drafting an Alternative NGO Report to the UN Committee Against Torture [on Russia’s compliance with the 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.”

The prosecutor’s office misrepresented some of the group’s activities to make them appear to be supporting protesters and helping organize public protests. For example, prosecutors alleged that Public Verdict was “offering guidelines on conduct at rallies and dissemination of flyers about planned protest actions” and “helping the organizers … keep their conduct on a legal footing.” But in fact Public Verdict’s activities were only to provide general legal advice for participants at demonstrations and distributing materials and to coordinate a hotline for demonstrators apprehended by the police.

The UN Committee Against Torture on May 28 sent a letter to the Russian authorities similar to the one regarding ADC Memorial.

On June 13 Public Verdict filed a complaint with the courts against the prosecutor’s notice of violations.

3. Monitoring Politically Motivated Human Rights Violations and Providing Assistance to Victims

Memorial Human Rights Center (Moscow)

On April 29 the Moscow city prosecutor’s office issued a notice of violations to the Memorial Human Rights Center, one of Russia’s most prominent rights organizations, giving the group one month to eliminate “violations of federal legislation” and register as a “foreign agent.”

The authorities alleged that the group used foreign funding for programs aimed at shaping Russian public opinion about politically motivated human rights violations and “propagating shortcomings of Russian state policies, analysis and assessment of political processes in Russia.”

The prosecutor’s office concentrated on the group’s work exposing politically motivated administrative detention and criminal prosecution and asserted that “Russian legislation does not provide for any crimes committed on political motives.”

The notice specifically focused on the OVD-Info (Precinct-Awareness) project, which documents the Russian authorities’ arbitrary detention of activists, protesters, and others.

The prosecutor’s office further noted as evidence of “political activity” that the coordinator for the group’s separate program on monitoring politically motivated prosecution, Sergey Davidis, is also on the steering committee of a political opposition movement that organized protest rallies in 2012. The notice asserted that this demonstrates that the program “will involve holding public events and other political activity.”

On May 28 the Memorial Human Rights Center challenged the prosecutor’s notice of violations in the Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow. Administrative court hearings are scheduled for June 25.

Agora Human Rights Association (Kazan)

Agora Human Rights Association (Agora) isa prominent rights group that provides legal assistance to nongovernmental organizations and civic activists. In a notice of violations issued to the group, the prosecutor’s office alleged that the provision of legal assistance to political activists was a “political activity.”

4. Countering LGBT Discrimination

Side by Side and Coming Out (St. Petersburg)

Soon after its inspection of two prominent groups advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, the prosecutor’s office filed administrative charges against both groups for failing to register as “foreign agent” organizations.

Side by Side was founded specifically to organize LGBT film festivals in several Russian cities. On May 6 it received notice from the Central District prosecutor’s office in St. Petersburg citing two counts of alleged “political activity”: publication of a brochure on the international LGBT movement and participation in an awareness-raising campaign, called “Let’s Stop the Homophobic Bill Together.” The organization was taken to court.

During administrative court hearings, which began on May 24, the group’s representatives testified that both of these activities were conducted before the “foreign agents” law entered into force in November 2012. On June 6 the court nonetheless ruled that Side by Side had violated the “foreign agents” law by failing to register and fined it 500,000 rubles (US$16,500) – the maximum amount provided under the law. Side by Side has said it will appeal.

Coming Out is a regional group that conducts awareness-raising campaigns about LGBT rights and culture and provides legal advice to victims of violence and discrimination. In the notice of violations, the prosecutors said that the group receives funding from the Consulate General of the Netherlands and the Embassy of Norway and is allegedly engaged in “political activities.” Among the group’s activities deemed “political” were a silent rally held under the slogan, “We are for traditional values: love, family, respect of human dignity,” a campaign against the ban on “homosexual propaganda” in St. Petersburg, and a brochure, “Discrimination against LGBT Individuals: What, How and Why?”

The notice of violations was signed by the Central District prosecutor’s office of St. Petersburg on April 30 but because the organization did not receive a copy, the group’s representatives saw it only in court.

Administrative court hearings against Coming Out opened on May 27. The group’s counsel contended that the rally in question was organized by independent activists and that the advocacy campaign against the regional “homosexual propaganda” law was conducted before the “foreign agents” law came into effect. The counsel also said that confronting homophobia and discrimination against LGBT people did not amount to attempts to change governmental policies since there is no official policy on homophobia.

On June 19 the court ruled that the group had violated the law on “foreign agents” and fined it 500,000 rubles (US$16,500). Hearings on the charges against the group’s director were postponed until June 25. On June 25 a court also fined the group's director, Anna Anisimova, 300,000 rubles (approximatelyUS$10,000).

Lawyers for Constitutional Rights and Freedoms / JURIX (Moscow)

The Lawyers for Constitutional Rights and Freedoms / JURIX trains lawyers, provides expert legal analysis, and engages in strategic litigation on constitutional law issues. In a May 7 violations notice, the prosecutor’s office ordered the group to register as a “foreign agent,” citing as “political activity” some of the staff’s participation in an advocacy campaign urging the St. Petersburg legislative assembly to reject a bill banning “homosexual propaganda.” This included providing legal expertise about the bill and participating in public hearings at the legislative assembly and in televised debates.

5. Providing Expert Assessments to State Entities

GRANI Center for Civic Analysis and Independent Research (Perm)

On April 22 the regional prosecutor’s office in Perm issued a notice of violations to the GRANI Center for Civic Analysis and Independent Research (GRANI), which provides expert analysis on issues of government transparency and civic participation in decision-making. The notice instructed the center to register as a “foreign agent” organization because it received foreign funding in 2013 and engaged in activities aimed at “shaping public opinion about state policies.”

The prosecutor’s office cited three activities. First was the group’s publication of the results of its 2012 study on Russian nonpolitical activism. Second, in December 2012 the group submitted to the Perm legislative assembly proposals for amendments to the draft law on supporting “socially oriented” organizations in the Perm Region. Third, in January 2013 the center’s leader took part in a roundtable discussion about the draft law organized by the Perm legislative assembly, which resulted in a set of recommendations for amendments to the bill.

On May 20 GRANI and three other regional organizations that received prosecutors’ notices issued a public statement announcing their refusal to brand themselves “foreign agents” and their intention to appeal the order to register to a court of law.

On June 6 the prosecutor’s office responded to the group’s statement by concluding that GRANI is in persistent violation of the “foreign agents” law and referred the case to court. Notably, the prosecutor’s office cited an earlier argument by the group that it participated in advisory bodies set up by state authorities as yet another indication of its involvement in “political activities.” Administrative court hearings on the case are pending.

Transparency International-Russia (Moscow) and Agora Association (Kazan)are accredited by the Justice Ministry as independent expert entities to evaluate legislation and other legal documents to ensure that they do not promote corruption. The prosecutor’s office cited the fact that both groups have accreditation as evidence of their engagement in “political activity.” Transparency International-Russia received a warning on April 26, and Agora received a violations notice on April 30.

6. Research and Public Opinion Studies

Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies(Saratov)

The Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies is a well-known sociological research center in operation for 10 years. The prosecutor’s notice of violations, dated April 24, says the group’s “political activity” consisted of an April event entitled, “Review of Social Policy in the Post-Soviet Region: Ideologies, Actors and Cultures” and a book it published, Critical Analysis of Social Policy in the Countries of the Former Soviet Union.

In a public statement, the group pointed out a number of factual errors in the prosecutor’s notice and said that the prosecutor “failed or did not want to differentiate political activity from social policy, and research on social policy from policy as such.” The center stated its readiness to challenge the notice of violations in court.

Warnings issued by the prosecutor’s office to at least four organizations stated that research publications and analysis of public opinion polls was considered “political activity.” These included the Levada Center (Moscow), the Foundation for Assistance to Public Opinion Research (Moscow), the Center for Independent Sociological Research (St. Petersburg), and the Center for Independent Social Research and Education (Irkutsk). The prosecutor’s office issued the Panorama Information and Research Center (Moscow) a notice of violation ordering the group to register as a “foreign agent” because it carries out this kind of work.

7. Environmental Advocacy

Although the “foreign agents” law exempts “defense of flora and fauna” from the definition of “political activity,” the prosecutor’s office warned at least 14 environmental groups that they might be required to register as “foreign agents” and ordered one group to do so.

Baikal Environmental Wave (Irkutsk)

Baikal Environmental Wave, a high-profile group that strives to protect Lake Baikal from industrial pollution, is the only environmental group that the prosecutor’s office is known to have ordered to register as a “foreign agent.”

In a notice of violations dated April 23, the prosecutor’s office appeared to interpret the term “political activity” far beyond the definition in the “foreign agents” law. The notice defined it as “individual or collective actions aimed at influencing governmental institutions and bodies to realize individual, group or institutional interests, which go beyond their official duties.” The notice further characterized as political “active advocacy on environmental issues with the state and municipal authorities,” one of the areas of work set out in the group’s statute.

Baikal Wave has filed a written objection to the notice with the prosecutor’s office.

Amur Environmental Club “Ulukitkan” (Blagoveshchensk)

The Amur Environmental Club “Ulukitkan,”founded in 2002, defends the rights of indigenous peoples to preserve their traditional lifestyles and sustainable use of natural resources.

An April 24 warning by the prosecutors’ office cited as evidence of “political activity” a provision in the group’s charter that the notice characterized as “the right to participate in decision making by state authorities” and the organization’s foreign-funded contest for journalists in 2011 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.

The group filed a complaint with a local court, which on June 4 upheld the warning, ruling that it did not violate the group’s rights as it was issued merely for “prophylactic purposes.”

On June 7 the group won a separate trial resulting from its inspection – an administrative case on an alleged tax violation. This was the first court decision in favor of a nongovernmental organization arising from the inspection campaign.

8. Funding from “Political” Foundations

Center for Support of Democratic Youth Initiatives / Youth “Memorial” (Perm)

In at least one case, the prosecutor’s office characterized a group’s activity as politically based not only on the activity itself but also on the foreign donor’s identity.

The Center for Support of Democratic Youth Initiatives focuses largely on historical memory projects. In an April 29 notice of violations, the prosecutor’s office cited several of the group’s projects as political. These included a project funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) that aimed to “develop democratic activism among Russian youth” through raising awareness of the history of repression and a project funded by the Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation (EVZ) that focused on human rights education.

The latter included a series of articles that the prosecutor’s office alleged expressed the authors’ political views. The prosecutor’s office alleged that “mass media outlets characterize NED as a pro-governmental [US] organization whose activities are political and aim at interfering with internal politics of other states.” It also said that EVZ was founded “by German enterprises and the federal government” to advance a “critical perception of history” and human rights. The prosecutors contended that since “NED and EVZ define their objectives as influencing political processes worldwide,” the group’s projects carried out with their support aspire to influence public opinion about governmental policies and are therefore political.

Moreover, the prosecutor’s office noted that in 2012 the group conducted activities aimed at monitoring rights violations in the Russian military and providing direct assistance to conscripts and military servicemen who suffered abuse. The prosecutors asserted that the very fact that the organization is well known for promoting alternative civil service proves that its work is political.

The organization appealed the notice of violations to a court of law. A hearing date has not yet been set.

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