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The Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is extremely concerned about significant deterioration of the situation of independent non-governmental organisations in Russia in 2014. The Law No. 121-FZ (so-called “foreign agents” law) plays a dramatic role in the persecution of prominent non-governmental organisations and their members.  The Russian state authorities keep performing unannounced inspections of NGOs leading to expansion of “foreign agents” list. A number of court appeals on past decisions have resulted in negative verdicts for NGOs; some are on- going. Several NGOs are to pay huge fines for failing to register voluntarily and may be financially unable to do that. These actions by the Russian authorities have already caused discontinuation of activities or even shutdown of several leading NGOs and have had dramatic negative impact on activities of dozens of other organisations and the overall ability of independent civil society to operate freely and without fear of persecution.
In December 2014, the official list of NGOs registered as “foreign agents” (https://unro.minjust.ru/NKOForeignAgent.aspx; see the background story see below) was expanded by inclusion of further 11 organisations.  Among them are several members of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum – “Citizens’ Watch” (St. Petersburg), “Human Rights Resource Centre” (St. Petersburg), “Man and Law” (Republic of Mari El), and the All-Russian Movement for Human Rights (Moscow). On 16 January 2015, yet another member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum – “Committee Against Torture” (Nizhny Novgorod) – was announced a “foreign agent” (see https://minjust.ru/ru/press/news/v-reestr-nekommercheskih-organizaciy-vypolnyayushchih-funkcii-inostrannogo-agenta-6). Besides, such prominent organisations as the Moscow School of Civic Education (Moscow) and the Sakharov Centre (Moscow) were also labeled as “foreign agents” last month.
The appearance of the name of Academician Andrei Sakharov – even obliquely – on the list of “foreign agents” is a shame for the state. Andrei Sakharov, an outstanding Soviet dissident and a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate has played an invaluable role in the establishment of a free and democratic country. It is deplorable that twenty-five years after his death the organisation, founded to commemorate and continue his legacy of civil rights and the preservation of memory of resistance to Soviet oppression, has been blacklisted as a “foreign agent”.
On 14 January 2015, Alexander Konovalov, Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, announced  amendments to the Law No. 121-FZ (see www.kommersant.ru/doc/2645964), which are supposed to document the ways of exclusion of NGOs from the list. The Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum considers it as an absolutely insufficient measure.
Instead, we reiterate[1] our call on the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation and other relevant authorities to stop crackdown on independent NGOs, repeal the “foreign agents” law, create favorable conditions for implementation of freedom of association, and restart a dialogue with independent Russian civil society organisations.
Intergovernmental organisations, the international community, and in particular the European Union authorities, should pay close attention to violations of fundamental freedoms and the rule of law in the Russian Federation and continued governmental pressure on independent NGOs. We believe that Russian civil society is an irreplaceable partner for the international community in this time of severe crisis in the EU-Russia relations.

20 January 2015

Contact:
Yuri Dzhibladze, Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Moscow, tel. + 7 916 673 53 51, e-mail: dzhib@ya.ru Simon Papuashvili, Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, International Partnership for Human Rights, Brussels, Belgium, tel. + 32 2 227 61 45, e-mail: simon.papuashvili@iphronline.org


[1] See statements by the Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum from 10 June 2014, 23 July 2014, and 12 September 2014