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Prosecutors fail to brand NGO ‘foreign agent’

15.07.2013 |

The protester above has a placard reading that the amendments (unfortunately passed after this) to the law on NGOs is the path to fascism

Two St. Petersburg courts have refused to classify the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center (ADC Memorial) as a “foreign agent” under recent legislation, the NGO’s director Olga Abramenko said at a news conference on Wednesday, July 3.

On May 27, Judge Olga Glushanok dismissed charges against the NGO for not registering as a “foreign agent” and for not labeling a brochure containing ADC Memorial’s report for the UN Committee Against Torture as published by a “foreign agent.” The judge ruled that the charges were unsupported by the evidence at hand and returned the case to the prosecution for further investigation.

Later, prosecutors appealed to the Leninsky District Court, but their complaint was rejected on June 27.

On April 30, ADC Memorial became the city’s first NGO to be prosecuted under the new “foreign agents” law, in force since November 21, 2012.

According to the law, NGOs that receive any funding from foreign sources and “conduct political activities” are required to register as “foreign agents.” Virtually all of Russia’s NGOs have refused to register, arguing that it would stigmatize them as acting on behalf of foreign governments. Human rights organizations across the world have criticized the law as an attempt by the Kremlin to stifle criticism under the guise of countering foreign influence.

In March and April, massive inspections of hundreds of NGOs across Russia were held. About 40 NGOs were inspected in St. Petersburg. According to Abramenko, a five-member team — a prosecutor, two police officers as well as representatives of the Federal Service for Consumer Rights Protection (Rospotrebnadzor) and the Emergency Services Ministry — arrived at ADC Memorial’s offices for inspection.

Although originally claiming the inspection was conducted under counter-extremism legislation, the team examined documentation, software licenses, fire safety measures and even whether or not the NGO’s employees had recently had chest x-rays as part of healthcare requirements, Abramenko said. They then ordered that more than 3, 000 pages of documents be copied and submitted to prosecutors.

Eventually, prosecutors used the ADC Memorial report on human rights submitted for review by the U.N. Committee Against Torture as evidence, branding it “political activities.” According to prosecutors, the report, called “Roma, Migrants, Activists: Victims of Police Abuse, ” contained “calls for confrontation with the authorities.” The organization responded that the publication only recommended the respect of human rights and the rule of Russian and international law.

On May 27, Judge Glushanok exposed a large number of violations in the prosecution’s evidence and dismissed their accusations as being unsupported by the evidence. She ruled that the organization could not be legally charged with two offenses under the same law and found that proper grounds for the inspections were lacking.

According to the ruling, the allegation that the NGO was being financed from abroad was not proven by the prosecution. There was also no evidence that ADC Memorial held or financed political rallies aimed at “changing state policy.”

Glushanok also pointed out that the time and place of the alleged violation was missing from the evidence, while the prosecutor who conducted the inspection had no jurisdiction, being from a different district.

According to Abramenko, the prosecutors later appealed to a higher court without attempting to improve their documentation, but Leninsky District Court Judge Natalya Malinina dismissed the complaint. She ruled that a case returned to the prosecution for further investigation could not by law be heard in a court of appeals.

“The courts […] demonstrated that independence, respect of the spirit and letter of the law, and, most importantly, of the meaning of justice can overcome lawlessness and abusive practices by prosecutors during inspections, ” ADC Memorial said in a statement.

“We would wish such a highly professional approach and adherence to principle for all the judges who happen to preside over such cases.”

Previously, however, two St. Petersburg NGOs were found guilty by courts based upon the “foreign agents” legislation. The LGBT rights film festival Side by Side received the maximum fine of 500, 000 rubles ($15, 500) on June 6. The LGBT rights organization Vykhod (Coming Out) was fined 500, 000 rubles on June 19, and its acting director Anna Anisimova was fined 300, 000 rubles on June 25.

Sergei Chernov

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