The Russian authorities and NGOs
According to the Head of the Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights Yury Dzhibladze, over the last year and a half since amendments were made to the law on NGOs, virtually all organizations who have faced checks, and the number of such in the country runs into the thousands already, have lived with the sword of Damocles hanging over them.
They almost all receive warnings for some infringements. What was previously considered a minor technical hiccup, and ignored or helped to rectify, is now grounds for issuing such warnings. This means that if in the future the organization is guilty of another infringement, then the Registration Service can apply to the courts to have it closed. This is probably the most powerful weapon at the present time in the “struggle”: not so much the mass scale closure of organizations, but specifically the effect of self-censorship when the organization understands that just one more infringement could lead to its closure. “Memorial”, just as hundreds of other organizations, would find itself in an extremely vulnerable situation. It would have to choose each time whether to make a statement, carry out some protest action, publish a particular book which could attract further adverse attention from the government and provoke an unscheduled check and the closure of the organization.
This effect is achieved first and foremost through the unclear wording in legislation. Normative acts can also be interpreted so that the Russian Registration Service receives considerable powers with regard to inspections, often assuming the functions of other departments, for example, the tax inspectorate. Infringements of the labour and tax codes are uncovered which experts do not consider to be infringements at all. According to the law, the purpose of an inspection is to establish whether the activities and expenditure of an organization coincide with the aims stated in their statute. “The minimum period for a check is 30 days, during which time the NGO is effectively paralyzed. It needs to collect numerous documents, have them notarized and itself place stamps on each page”, Yury Dzhibladze explains. He believes that the reason for such severity from the controlling authorities is the abnormal tradition regarding non-commercial organizations. “The government should create a favourable environment for the development of non-commercial organizations, and all the checks should optimize their work. In Russia, however, legislation works against these organizations and the Russian Registration Service is clearly directly at fighting them.
“The court ruling in “Memorials” favour as well as the favourable outcome in the law suit against Svetlana Gannushkina (Head of the Civic Assistance Committee which provides help to refugees and people forced to settle somewhere else) are valuable precedents. Perhaps they can help overcome the general trend among those in power towards non-commercial organizations”.