NGOs Prosecuted for Speaking Out
Reposted from St Petersburg Times: http://www.sptimes.ru/index.php?action_id=2&story_id=37276
Prosecutors launched an administrative investigation into three local non-governmental human rights organizations, citing alleged violations found during a raid in March.
The Anti-Discrimination Center Memorial (ADC Memorial), the St. Petersburg-based LGBT rights organization Vykhod (Coming Out) and the LGBT film festival Side by Side were charged with acting without registration as “foreign agents,” as well as with distributing printed materials that were not marked as published by “foreign agents.”
Each of the offenses is punishable by fines from 300,000 and 500,000 rubles ($9,650-$16,100).
The raid on ADC Memorial took place on March 26 as part of the large-scale state campaign of raids on dozens of NGOs in St. Petersburg and hundreds across Russia.
According to the order from prosecutors that opened the current investigation, issued on April 30 by Admiralty District Prosecutor Alexander Yurasov, ADC Memorial’s report on the arbitrary use of power by police in Russia, written for the United Nations Committee Against Torture, contained “calls for confrontation with the authorities,” while information about foreign donors indicated that the NGO failed to register as a “foreign agent.”
Yurasov wrote that a report, called “Roma, Migrants, Activists: Victims of Police Abuse,” published late last year and is available for free from the organization’s office and on its website, contained “elements of a call for confrontation with the authorities and state bodies.”
The report was submitted for review by the U.N. Committee Against Torture at its 49th session, held in Geneva in November 2012.
Yurasov found alleged calls for confrontation with the authorities in parts describing the Russian police’s frequently-reported practices of preventing citizens from exercising their right to peaceful protest, extorting bribes from migrants, exercising violence toward the Roma people and pressuring political activists.
“Through such pronouncements, the publication’s authors assessed the Russian Federation’s legislation as legislation supporting the illegal use of force and disregard of every standard,” Yurasov wrote in the order.
He also wrote that the report expressed an opinion that “all law-enforcement officers” ignored all accepted criminal law and legal procedure, pronouncing police officer’s activities aimed at maintaining public order “illegal.”
In the lawsuit, Yurasov claimed that the statements were “not grounded in anything,” adding that testimonies of police abuse toward the Roma people were based on statements by representatives of the Roma people themselves, and thus unsubstantiated.
According to Yurasov, the report’s recommendations to the Russian authorities, including the repeal of last year’s restrictive amendments to the law on public assembly and the repeal of regional laws prohibiting “gay propaganda,” suggested that ADC Memorial encouraged the public to see Russian legislation as inefficient, “hence such legislation would be revoked or drastically changed by the decision of participants of the organization.”
On Tuesday, ADC Memorial issued a statement saying it had asked the U.N. Committee Against Torture to testify in court in defense of the organization.
“Of course, it is a huge amount of money for the organization [to sacrifice], and its activities can be suspended as well,” ADC Memorial’s program director Stephania Kulayeva said to The St. Petersburg Times this week, adding that the human rights activists were “astonished” by the lawsuit.
According to ADC Memorial’s director Olga Abramenko, the trial is liable to set a “dangerous precedent,” putting the activities of all the other rights’ activists in Russia at stake.
Side by Side, the St. Petersburg-based LGBT rights film festival, was targeted in a similar lawsuit issued by Central District Prosecutor Dmitry Burdov.
To prove that the organization was involved in political activities, Burdov used a pamphlet called “Movement for the Rights of the LGBT Community: From Local Specifics to Global Politics,” published by Side by Side last year.
Burdov described the pamphlet as “political agitation” and said it was designed to build public opinion against the State Duma’s national bill prohibiting “gay propaganda,” i.e. to “influence decisions taken by state bodies.”
He also mentioned that the pamphlet cited examples of policy in foreign countries on the LGBT issue and contained an article by the Russian LGBT Network’s chair Igor Kochetkov, wherein Kochetkov “condemns the state policy and the lawmaking activities of legislative bodies of the subjects of the Russian Federation.”
Coming Out had not received notice of the lawsuit, which was issued on April 30, the NGO’s press officer said Tuesday.
The NGOs refused to register as “foreign agents,” saying it would stigmatize them as allegedly acting in the interests of foreign governments, which was not the case. As this newspaper went to press, no dates for the court hearings had been set.