20 November 2012
Press release, Moscow
On 19th November 2012 a roundtable was held on the methods and mechanisms that could be used to crush the NGO sector in Russia and discredit Russian human rights organizations. On the basis of the experience of the GOLOS Association, the round table discussed a modus operandi the authorities are now using to disable any civil society organization they deem undesirable.
The discussion panel included:
Ludmila Alekseeva, Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Oleg Orlov, Chair of the Board of the Memorial Human Rights Centre
Georgy Satarov, Member of the Advisory Board, GOLOS Association
Liliya Shibanova, Executive Director, GOLOS Association
Sofiya Ivanovna, Coordinator, GOLOS Association (Ryazan)
Pavel Chikov, Legal Expert, AGORA human rights association
GOLOS has every reason to believe that what is happening to our organization could be repeated with any other organization that influences public opinion in Russia through their activities. We can report that serious pressure is now being put on those who work with GOLOS in the Russian regions. Our regional representatives and coordinators are being called in for questioning by government tax offices, where they are required to answer questions that are clearly not within the remit of the tax authorities.
Sofiya Ivanovna, a GOLOS Coordinator working in Ryazan, spoke about her interrogation by the tax inspectorate: “They asked me questions like 'How are you involved in GOLOS?' 'Can you tell us what GOLOS does?' 'Who founded GOLOS?' and 'Who is the head of GOLOS?' Most surprising of all was when they asked me if I had concluded any contracts related to roundtables, protests or rallies and when they asked me to provide the names and telephone numbers of any GOLOS staff members who oversee the implementation of contracts related to the organization of events.”
GOLOS has never organized political protests or rallies. All events held by us in the regions have been either training sessions for observers, mostly electoral observers, or public debates on the role of civil observers. We consider that while the questioning of our regional representatives is not yet a threat to our organization, it represents deliberate psychological pressure on them and those close to them. Georgy Satarov, a member of the GOLOS Advisory Board, expressed this very clearly: “There is an intention to stop the activities of certain organizations. Certainly, the concept that elections should be observed has taken firm hold among the public and it won't go away, even if they close down GOLOS. The only thing they can do is frighten people, so that they are scared to be an observer or engage with this topic at all.”
With this aim, laws have appeared 'On foreign agents' and 'On treason' that are causing public concern, and it is not yet clear how they will be applied. The law that requires Russian non-profit organizations that receive funds from abroad to register as 'foreign agents' is completely unethical, since it forces civil groups and NGOs to declare themselves to be foreign representatives, which is entirely untrue. GOLOS and other human rights NGOs that receive funding from abroad act in the interests of Russia. GOLOS, for instance, has monitored the legality of elections and observance of electoral rights of ordinary citizens for the full 12 years of its existence. Ludmila Alekseeva, Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, provided some background to the issue of foreign grants to NGOs: “We have no choice but to take foreign grants, because not a single Russian donor or businessman will finance a Russian human rights organization, because the Russian business sector is not free.”
Ludmila Alekseeva also said that she considered the law 'On foreign agents' to be directed against three organizations: GOLOS, Memorial and Transparency International (Russia). None of these organizations intend to register as foreign agents. It is not yet clear how the situation will develop from here – some predict that there will be fines and criminal prosecutions of the organizations' heads, other experts believe that the whole issue will be brought to an end since the Russian authorities have already gone too far and know it themselves. Any Russian NGO that registers itself as a foreign agent is basically committing suicide, since having that label and the amount of checks it would have to go through to receive it would actually paralyse the organization to the point where it only existed on paper. The damage to an organization's image would also be significant once they had been branded in this way: no-one would want to work with them. GOLOS has observed that systematic moves are being made to destroy the work of human rights organizations and NGOs that have a legal, social or educational mission. Against this background, the recent launch of the Presidential Human Rights Council, which numbers GOLOS Executive Director Liliya Shibanova among its members, is a very small step, but it is a chance to improve the situation.
A video of the roundtable will soon be available on www.golos.org
Additional information can be obtained by contacting Maria Muskevich on +7 903 684 6944 / +7 495 234 5939 or firstname.lastname@example.org