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Human Rights Group to Close Over Foreign Agent Label

Rights groups, including New York-based Human Rights Watch, condemned theruling.

Published: April 16, 2014 (Issue # 1806)



  • Former Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, who fought for the abolition of the "foreign agents" law.
    Photo: Sergei Porter / For Vedomosti

TheConstitutional Court, based in St. Petersburg, has upheld thecontroversial law requiring some nongovernmental organizations with foreign funding toregister as foreign agents, while anaffiliate ofthe prominent Memorial human rights group faces closure after being labeled aforeign agent byanother St. Petersburg court.

TheKremlin has argued that theforeign agent law would prevent foreign governments frominterfering inRussian politics, while its critics have described it as part ofa massive government crackdown oncivil society.

Almost all Russian NGOs targeted bythe law, which was passed in2012, have refused tocomply with it, calling the legislation illegitimate andunconstitutional.

So far, theonly organization that has registered as aforeign agent is alittle-known group called thePromotion ofCompetition inCIS Countries. Some ofthe groups that have rejected thelabel have been ordered bycourts topay fines.

TheConstitutional Court ruled on Apr. 8 that thelaw did not contradict theConstitution but struck down theprovision setting 300,000-ruble ($8,403) fines fornoncompliance as excessive.

Former Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, who had sought torepeal thelaw, has argued that thelaw violated theconstitutional provisions onfreedom ofspeech andfreedom ofassociation andthat thedefinitions ofpolitical activities andforeign agents inits text were too vague.

Rights groups, including New York-based Human Rights Watch, condemned theruling.

The foreign agents law violates fundamental rights andis designed tosilence independent groups through intimidation andhumiliation, said Hugh Williamson, Europe andCentral Asia director atHuman Rights Watch, ina statement released bythe group Apr. 9. It is distressing that thecourt made no distinction between advocacy that is [in] thepublic interest andpartisan political activity.

Also onApr. 8, theSt. Petersburg City Court upheld alower court ruling that recognized theMemorial Anti-Discrimination Center as aforeign agent, rejecting thegroups appeal.

TheSt. Petersburg-based center, which focuses onprotecting therights ofethnic andsexual minorities andthose ofwomen, said last December that it would shut down because ofthe court case.

Thegroup is affiliated with Moscow-based Memorial, one ofRussias most prominent human rights organizations. Memorial, set up in1987, focuses onresearching thehistory ofpolitical repressions inthe Soviet Union andother human rights activities.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Jan. 30 through Wednesday, Feb. 4



A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of Repulsion at 7 p.m. and Rosemarys Baby at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy The Tenant, the cult comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers and Cul-de-sac among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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