UPDATE: On June 2, 2017, Valentina Cherevatenko was formally charged with “malicious evasion” of legal requirements set out in Russia’s law on “foreign agents.” In a statement published on the same day, the European Union External Action Service acknowledged Cherevatenko’s “outstanding work on human rights education, peace building, and humanitarian issues” and flagged that “[Russia’s] practice of declaring NGOs as "foreign agents" restricts civil society and impedes the exercise of fundamental freedoms.” The trial date is pending.

(Moscow) – A Russian human rights activist is facing criminal charges for allegedly failing to comply with the “foreign agents” law, Human Rights Watch said today. On June 27, 2016, Russian authorities notified Valentina Cherevatenko, a prominent rights activist in the South of Russia, that they were bringing criminal proceedings against her for “malicious evasion” of legal requirements set out in the “foreign agents” law. Investigators alleged that as chair of the Women of the Don Foundation for Civil Society Development, Cherevatenko had violated article 330.1 – “malicious evasion of the duty to file the documents required for inclusion in the register of nonprofit organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent.”

Valentina Cherevatenko at the fortieth anniversary of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Moscow, Russia, May 2016

© 2016 Vadim Karastelev, Moscow Helsinki Group

“The case against Valentina Cherevatenko is the first time a criminal proceeding for noncompliance with the ‘foreign agents’ law has been brought against a human rights defender,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Russian authorities should immediately dismiss the case against Cherevatenko and repeal the law that threatens the work of human rights groups in Russia.”

The investigation committee for the Rostov region determined that Cherevatenko, as chair of the coordination board of “Women of the Don Union,” knew about the requirement to register a nongovernmental organization that receives foreign funding for political activity in the Russian Federation as a “foreign agent.” The investigation committee asserted that Cherevatenko created but did not register “out of malice” an organization with a similar name, “Women of the Don Foundation for Civil Society Development,” which received foreign funding to support public initiatives and leaders in the Northern Caucasus.

If found guilty, Cherevatenko faces up to two years in prison.

On June 24, Novocherkassk officials searched the office of Women of the Don Union in connection with the criminal case, confiscating documents allegedly related to the Northern Caucasus project.