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Russia moves to dissolve vital human rights NGO defending political prisoners

Halya Coynash

Russia’s justice ministry has lodged an application with the Supreme Court to have the NGO ‘For Human Rights’ [«За права человека»] declared illegal and dissolved. There has been a concentrated attack on both the NGO, and its Director, the 78-year-old veteran human rights defender, Lev Ponomaryov in recent months with these attacks effectively forming the pretext for the movement’s dissolution.

One of the reasons seems a very obvious pretext, one that is not made any more credible by the fact that it dates back to 2014.  The ministry points to an alleged lack of correspondence between the NGO’s 2014 statute and amendments to the Civic Code which was adopted after the statute was agreed.  It is telling that the ministry has rejected the NGO’s proposal to wait until the new congress in the autumn which could rectify the situation.

The NGO points out that it has also been repeatedly fined by  Roskomnadzor, Russia’s effective censorship body. “This is connected with an open season for hunting out publications not only in the mass media, but on social media networks.

All the protocols drawn up by Roskomnadzor were on the basis of statements from “active citizens”.  These ‘citizens’ have proven impossible to identify, even in court.

Many of the fines have been challenged, and have therefore not yet come into force, while others have been paid.

The NGO promises to actively and publicly defend their position in the Supreme Court and, if necessary, at the European Court of Human Rights. 

In November 2018, Ponamoryov reported that the NGO might be forced to close

after being denied a presidential grant, one of the chief forms of funding since the aw on ‘foreign agents’ made it near impossible to function through grants from abroad.  A large number of the presidential grants went instead to the ‘Military Brotherhood’ for veterans of Russia’s ‘military conflicts’, 47 organizations linked with the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as to others with close ties to State Duma deputies or other public officials.  

Then on 5 December, 2018, Ponomaryov was jailed for reposting a message about a protest in support of young political prisoners whom Russia is claiming were members of ‘extremist groups’.  This was shortly after the then 77-year-old had warned of systematic attempts to destroy his organization for its defence of the young people arrested in the notorious ‘Novoye velichiye’ and ‘Set’ [or ‘Network’] cases. 

The move to dissolve ‘For Human Rights” comes at a time when Moscow is coming down hard on any protesters, with frighteningly arbitrary arrests and absurd charges against people who took part in recent anti-corruption protests.


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