Общественное расследование

NGO alert: Russia's Committee Against Torture bankrupted by state fines, 8 October 2015, The Guardian

After 15 years in operation, a human rights organisation has been forced to file for bankruptcy after refusing to comply with Russia’s foreign agent law

Ballet troupe protest

A ballet troupe perform opposite the Russian Consulate in west London to highlight their protest against Russia’s controversial human rights record Photograph: Lee Thomas/Demotix/Corbis

Who is affected:
The Committee Against Torture, a human rights organisation, which has worked on 120 cases of mistreatment in the past 15 years. They claim that their investigations have led to the annullment of 655 unlawful decisions and the convictions of 107 law enforcement officials.

What happened: The NGO has filed for bankruptcy because it claims that it cannot afford to pay several fines levied on it by the government. The Committee Against Torture has been fined 900,000 roubles (£9,349) in total, for failing to comply with a Russian law that requires all NGOs in Russia that receive foreign funding and engage in vaguely defined political activity to register as foreign agents. The NGO, which was founded in Russia by Russian human rights activists, had declared in July they would close down rather than register as a foreign agent, a term which was widely used to signify espionage in the Soviet Era, according to The Moscow Times.

“To call ourselves foreign agents would mean that everything we do, everything we ask the authorities to do is not motivated by our conviction, but is being done on the orders of a foreign ‘principal’,” says Igor Kaliapin, chair of Committee Against Torture. “For us, it is simply not true that we act under the orders of a foreign ‘boss’.”

What are the implications: The foreign agent label increases registration barriers for any organisation wanting to register as an NGO is Russia, and once registered, they have to submit to audits of their work. The Committee Against Torture is not the first NGO to close rather than register as a foreign agent, with organisations required to register as foreign agents since 2012 if they receive any foreign funding.

However, under new legislation signed by president Vladimir Putin in May, Russian authorities can now shut down “undesirable” NGOs without a court order if the prosecutor general determines they pose a threat to national security. The country also has a history of being hostile towards human rights groups with any foreign links - in 2013, the Russian offices of Amnesty International, Transparency International and Human Rights Watch were raided.

The Committee Against Torture meanwhile has made other arrangements to ensure it can continue its work, changing their name and address, according to Amnesty International, who say one of the Russian NGO’s partner organisations Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Orenburg is now registered as the main office, while they continue to work inNizhni Novgorod.

According to Andrei Jvirblis, deputy director of Transparency International Russia: “Fines have been levied on a number of NGOs in Russia. We’ve so far been fined 600,000 roubles (£6,233) for refusing to accept the label foreign agent. When the law was first issued there were concerns it could paralyse the industry. It has definitely made work harder for civil society groups as if you are labeled a foreign agent you have to submit a report every quarter to the state and then cannot work with many other state institutions. For example if you are an environmental organisation that wants to do an education project with a school but are labeled a foreign agent, your proposal to work with school is likely to be rejected. It is isolating.”

According to the press office of the Russian Embassy in London: “Our comment on any Russian law in force would be exactly the same as that of any British official regarding any British law. We believed it was pretty clear.”

This piece was updated on Friday 9 October to reflect that the Committee Against Torture is still operating but under a different name.

Source: The Guardian

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