22 Oct 2019 11:12

Rights activists call for abolishing foreign-agent NGO law

MOSCOW. Oct 22 (Interfax) - The law on foreign-agent NGOs creates significant hindrances to the activity of civil organizations in Russia, requirements set by this law keep changing, so it must be repealed, Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Civic Assistance Committee and the Memorial Human Rights Center's Migration Rights Network, said at a press conference at Interfax on Monday.

"This law cannot be fixed. The law on foreign-agent NGOs must be abolished or else civil society will be destroyed in Russia," Gannushkina said.

At present, any statement made by a civil organization "is viewed as political activity; we are not allowed to speak our mind, and whole civil society has found itself on the register of foreign agents," Gannushkina said.

Organizations listed as foreign agents face "never-ending attempts at fault-finding, we file reports four times a year, and what the system saw as fit a year ago is no longer deemed so," she said.

"We are trying to fix our flaws, but this does not seem to be enough. For instance, the Movement for Human Rights made the adjustments required by the law, but the system did not notice those changes," Gannushkina said.

"When the law on foreign-agent NGOs was adopted, we were told there was nothing horrible about it, that it replicated the American law, and that it was not planned to defame organizations included in that register. It appeared they were lying through their teeth," she said.

The 2017 resolution on socially useful civil organizations excluded foreign-agent NGOs from that category. They are no longer able to receive presidential grants, and the Interior Ministry has stopped cooperating with them, although in the past police took part in seminars and directed migrants they could not help to the Migration Rights Network, Gannushkina said.

What is more, the Memorial Human Rights Center, which is an international organization, was listed as a foreign-agent NGO, although the law prohibits international organizations from being designated as such.

A complaint about the law on foreign-agent NGOs was filed with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2012, but human rights activists have yet to receive a response from Strasbourg, Gannushkina said.

Meanwhile, leader of the Movement for Human Rights Lev Ponomaryov said at a press conference at Interfax the reason why the organization is being persecuted is that "law enforcers and security services were the opponents in a majority of cases supported by us."

Interfax asked Ponomaryov what he would do in case the movement is dissolved. "We can change our name, establish a new legal entity, or stop being a legal entity at all. We are discussing these options, and I think that we will use this occasion to broaden our movement. There are lots of new areas, for instance, we are protecting ecologists. I think we will be reborn from our misfortune," he said.

A press release posted at the press conference said that the loss of the legal entity status by the Movement for Human Rights "would be a severe organizational test, but not something fatal." "Considering the energetic support from civil activists, first and foremost, young people, we believe that we will not just find a new organizational form for our activity but will also increase our ranks," the press release said.