Stop the Intimidation of Russian NGOs!
A number of Russian NGOs have issued a statement demanding an end to the process of intimidation via unscheduled checks by the prosecutor’s office.
They state that from 13-16 September 2010 in Moscow and a number of other cities prosecutor’s bodies carried out mass unscheduled checks of unprecedented scale and haste. They appeared simultaneously at the offices of several dozen leading Russian nongovernmental organizations defending human rights and the interests of the public, as well as those involved in socio-economic issues. These included the Moscow Helsinki Group, Moscow Memorial, the Voters’ Rights Association “Golos”, the Public Verdict Foundation; the Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights; Transparency International Russia; the Committee against Torture and others. There were around 40 NGOs in all.
The checks were carried out in haste, with infringements of legislation. In some cases the prosecutor’s office representatives were accompanied by police officers, pretending to be couriers. They did not allow those members of staff opening the door to go ahead and inform the management of the visit.
They could give no proper explanation as to the purpose of the visit and a letter explaining the checks was sent by fax only after those being checked insisted.
The faxed message only indicated that the check was being carried out at the instruction of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Moscow Prosecutor or the Prosecutor of the Central Administrative District of Moscow for check that the “organization’s activities comply with legislation on non-profit making organizations”.
Those carrying out the checks demanded a huge amount of copied and notarized documents in unrealistically short amounts of time. These included not only documents pertaining to their charter, but also bookkeeping, tax and reporting documents, etc. In some cases they were told to provide the information by morning, in others they were demanded there and then.
The form of the check was more like that when removing documents where somebody is suspected of committing a crime and in no way corresponded to the supposed aim of “checking compliance with legislation”. Moreover, those checking referred to an instruction from management and the punishment expected if the documents were not provided to management on time. They said that they themselves did not understand what had happened. Some of them said that they “had to find some kind of infringement”.
We can only guess at the real aims of this unprecedented campaign of checks, since the official justification does not bear scrutiny. Normal checks of compliance by NGOs with legislation are not carried out in this emergency manner, nor simultaneously over dozens of organizations.
The NGOs believe that the actions of the prosecutor’s office create the impression of an intimidation campaign even if this was not their aim.
They point out that according to legislation the authorized controlling body is the Ministry of Justice. There are rules of procedure for such checks by the Ministry. These include giving prior warning; a specific list of documents demanded within a particular period, a restricted term of the check, etc.
There are no such norms regulating checks carried out by prosecutors’ bodies. These clearly doubled up on those carried out by the Ministry of Justice and Federal Tax Service, while not adhering to any of the requirements for Ministry checks.
The Law on the Prosecutor’s Office, specifically Article 22 which was cited, only entitles the Prosecutor’s office to carry out checks where there is specific information about an infringement of the law. The statement points out that this is quite inconceivable with regard to 40 organizations.
“There have not been such campaigns in the 20 years that nongovernmental organizations have existed in democratic Russia. Such practice in the relations between the State and civic society is absolutely unacceptable. We are outraged by this unprecedented campaign of pressure on nongovernmental organizations and demand an explanation regarding the reasons and justification for these checks from the management of the Prosecutor General’s Office and Moscow Prosecutor’s Office. We insist on compliance with the rights of nongovernmental organizations in accordance with Russian legislation and the norms of international law regarding freedom of association”.
Abridged from the original statement at: http://www.hro.org/node/9052