Prosecutors warn human rights NGO Individual and the Law over so-called 'foreign agent' law

29 April, 2013

In April 2013 the Prosecutor's Office of the city of Yoshkar-Ola, the capital of the Republic of Mari-El, conducted an inspection of the human rights NGO Individual & the Law, based in Yoshkar-Ola, with regard to compliance with federal law on non-profit organizations. On the basis of the results of the inspection, on 24 April 2013 the Prosecutor's Office issued a formal caution to Individual & the Law, demanding that a point of its charter which concerns the holding of public officials responsible for violations of human rights be changed on the grounds that this constitutes political activity. 

On 26 April 2013, the human rights organization Front Line Defenders issued a statement in support of Individual & the Law [below cited as 'Man and the Law']. The statement can be read here: Front Line Defenders, or below: 

26 April 2013

On 24 April 2013, Ms Irina Protasova, head of the regional human rights organisation Man and the Law, which is based in the Mari-El Republic in Russia, received a warning from the local Prosecutor's Office. The warning concerns the 'political activity' of Man and the Law, evidence for which has allegedly been found in their Charter and on their website. The controversial new 'Foreign Agents' Law states that any Russian NGO involved in political activity and receiving foreign funding must register as a foreign agent.

Man and the Law is a local non-governmental organisation which monitors local officials' and civil servants' compliance with human rights standards. The NGO also works on prisoners' rights and monitors detention facilities. The seminars and workshops organised by Man and the Law for local officials, especially from the Federal Penitentiary Service (UFSIN), have significantly increased their professionalism and compliance with international human rights standards.

The warning received from the Prosecutor's Office cites as evidence of their political activity the articles in Man and the Law's Charter which outline the right to “participate in elaboration of policy by state institutions”, “to organise public gatherings, meetings and demonstrations” and “to come up with propositions for state institutions and to take part in election campaigns”. The warning also states that the latest inspection of the organisation revealed foreign sources of funding, in which case Man and the Law should have registered as a foreign agent under the new law.

Front Line Defenders considers that the warning received by Man and the Law is directly linked to its legitimate and peaceful human rights work and that it violates both domestic legislation and the international commitments of the Russian Federation to ensure freedom of association. Front Line Defenders also believes that the 'Foreign Agent' Law infringes freedom of association in the Russian Federation and puts additional pressure on Russian human rights NGOs. It reiterates that one of legitimate roles of human rights organisations is to influence decision makers and change public policies, and thus cannot be considered 'political activity'.