Alexey Lakhov, Development Director of the “Humanitarian Action” Charitable Foundation
At the end of 2020, the register of NGOs performing the functions of “foreign agents”, which is maintained by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, was significantly expanded, in particular by member organisations of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. On 21 December 2020, the “Humanitarian Action” Charitable Foundation from St. Petersburg, which has been helping people who use drugs, people with HIV, viral hepatitis and tuberculosis for more than 20 years, was also included in this register. The reason for this decision, as for all similar ones, was the receiving of foreign funding by the organisation and its participation in “political activities”.
In the case of “Humanitarian action”, what the Ministry of Justice calls political activity is support for over-the-counter access to naloxone — a medicament that saves lives of drug users with opioid overdoses; comments on the changes to the Federal Law “On Preventing the Spread of HIV infection in Russia”, sent to the Ministry of Justice in the framework of open public discussions; participation of the foundation’s employee in TV shows, interviews and public discussions about upcoming changes to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and other laws on drug addiction, HIV infection and viral hepatitis, including comments on substitution therapy; and, finally, posting on the Foundation’s Facebook page a link to the employee’s personal story about his life with chronic hepatitis.
“Humanitarian Action” does indeed receive foreign funding. It comes from the recognised leaders in the field of HIV/AIDS, such as the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. At the same time, “Humanitarian Action” regularly receives funds from Russian sources, such as the Presidential Grants Fund, the Government of St. Petersburg, public health institutions, and private and corporate donors. And the share of Russian funding in the organisation’s budget is regularly growing, which confirms that society — and even the authorities — recognise the importance of the work that “Humanitarian Action” does.
Of course, we disagree with the position of the Ministry of Justice on the existence of political activity. According to the law, “political activity does not include activities in the field of <…> health care, prevention and protection of citizens’ health, social support and protection of citizens, < … > social support for the disabled, < … > charitable activities, as well as activities in the field of promoting charity and volunteering work.”
The fight against HIV infection is not politics. We are deeply convinced that our work for assisting in the treatment and rehabilitation of people with drug addictions, rapid diagnosis of HIV infection, viral hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, medical and social support for these diseases, has been and remains exclusively in the field of health. We work in partnership with municipal and state authorities to ensure that HIV prevention in Russia, including among people with drug addictions, is as effective as possible. Our employees have personal experience of overcoming drug addiction, overdoses, living with viral hepatitis and HIV infection, and many of them openly talk about their experience, including in the media, in order to positively and significantly influence the lives and the future of socially vulnerable groups for whom “Humanitarian Action” works.
We will challenge the “foreign agent” status in court. To support the Foundation, you can sign this petition.