5 June 2015
On 26 May 2015 Citizens’ Watch proved its case in court against the accusation of having allegedly submitted an inaccurate report on the sources and size of its annual income to the Ministry of Justice.
The charges under Article 19.7.5-2 of the Code of Administrative Offences were brought against the NGO by the St Petersburg Department of the Ministry of Justice. It was the first time this clause has been applied. The clause is discriminatory (as is the entire law) because only NGOs branded as foreign agents are held administratively liable for failure to duly provide this information to the Ministry of Justice. The offence is punishable by a fine of from 100,000 to 300,000 roubles – equivalent to £1,200 to £3,700.
In late April 2015 Elena Shakhova, Chair of Citizens’ Watch, was called to the MoJ Department to be informed that the report uploaded by the NGO on the website of the Ministry of Justice contained false information. The document shown to Ms. Shakhova said that Citizens’ Watch did not receive any foreign funding and that the annual income of the NGO was less than 3 million roubles. The judge heard that, in fact, a month earlier Citizens’ Watch had submitted accurate information to the Ministry, sending it on paper by post and electronically via the Ministry’s website. However, due to a technical error the electronic report did not get uploaded and was mysteriously replaced by a ‘false report’ on the website. The court closed the case on the grounds of insufficient evidence for the administrative offence in question.
This was a second trial on administrative offences initiated by the St Petersburg Department of the Ministry of Justice against Citizens’ Watch. Earlier, on 22 April 2015 another case concerning the allegation that Citizens’ Watch had failed to voluntarily register as a foreign agent was dismissed by the court on the grounds of statute of limitations. The Ministry of Justice appealed against the ruling but it lost its appeal.
Apparently, the Ministry of Justice is keen to bring Citizens’ Watch to account for breaching administrative law – so far, without success.