The European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) and Memorial Human Rights Centre, a member of ECRE, have lodged this week an application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to contest the recently adopted Russian law that establishes that any NGO engaging in ‘political activity’ and receiving foreign funding can be asked to register on a database of “foreign agents”. Moreover, any materials distributed by such NGOs, including in the media and on the internet, have to be accompanied by a reference to their foreign agent status.

The organisations argue that this law violates rights to freedom of association and expression as well as prohibition of discrimination and limitation of restriction on rights, Articles 11,10, 14 and 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Many human rights groups have defied the new law and the application was lodged by EHRAC and Memorial on the behalf of 11 Russian NGOS, Ecodefence, Golos, Citizens Watch, Civic Assistance Committee, the Committee against Torture, Mashr, International Memorial, Moscow Helsinki Group, Public Verdict, Memorial Human Rights Group and the Movement for Human Rights.

The organisations maintain that the law unnecessarily and unjustifiably puts them at risk of serious sanctions, including criminal prosecutions of individuals and the possible suspension of their organisations. Furthermore, the applicants say that the term ‘Foreign Agent’ has very negative connotations in Russia due to its association with the word ‘spy’ in the Russian language, which will therefore affect their reputations and their ability to function effectively. The lack of clear definition of ‘political activity’ in the Russian legislation is also contested as it is believed that it could lead to the arbitrary application of the law by the authorities.

Philip Leach, Director of EHRAC has said, “This is a very repressive law which directly threatens the integrity and the activities of Russian NGOs which play an absolutely vital role in scrutinising and monitoring the State. We urge the Strasbourg Court to move quickly to strike it down.”

ECRE is running We Are All Foreign Agents!, an awareness-raising web campaign to show solidarity with Russian NGOs. If you would like to express your support for these Russian organisations, share the news on Twitter and Facebook with #ForeignAgent or contact ECRE for more information.



This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 08 February 2013
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