Russia: Moscow court consolidates witch hunt of NGOs

By upholding a draconian requirement for three more independent organizations to register as “foreign agents”, a Moscow court is rubber stamping the authorities’ witch hunt against peaceful human rights defenders, said Amnesty International.

“The Russian authorities’ determination to silence any form of dissent or criticism is astonishing. This week’s decision will further cripple civil society in Russia and have a disastrous impact on thousands of Russians who will see their chances of having their human rights protected greatly diminished,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

On 24, 26 and 27 June, the Zamoskvoretskiy district court in Moscow ruled against appeals by the NGOs Golos, Yurix and Public Verdict not to have to register as “foreign agents”. The registration is required under the repressive “Foreign Agents Law” enacted by the Russian authorities on 21 November 2012.

The court agreed with the prosecutor that the combination of legitimate activities such as providing free legal aid to individuals subjected to arbitrary detentions and torture, analysis of legislation, publication of court decisions, the submission of a report to the UN Committee Against Torture and advocacy for police reform, all constituted “political activity”.

In May 2014 the same court issued similar decision concerning the prominent human rights Non-Governmental Organization “Memorial”.

Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, believe that, in practice, the law has been used to limit the legitimate work of human rights activists and curtail freedom of association in the country.

Earlier this month, a set of additional amendments to Russia’s NGO law came into force, allowing the Ministry of Justice to effectively register NGOs as “foreign agents” without their consent. This has already happened to five NGOs.