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Civic Assistance Committee told to register as 'foreign agent'

posted 22 Mar 2015, 13:00 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 Mar 2015, 13:01 ]
20 March 2015

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group 

Photo: of Svetlana Gannushkina: Moscow Helsinki Group

Prosecutors have ordered the human rights organization, Civic Assistance Committee, which is led by Svetlana Gannushkina, to register as a “foreign agent”, reports Novaya Gazeta newspaper, citing Interfax.

“We’re not going to register as a foreign agent. We're going to go to court to appeal against this demand”, said Gannushkina, according to Interfax.

Gannushkina said that prosecutors are also dissatisfied with Civic Assistance's statutes.

She explained that the order from prosecutors claims that Civic Assistance's activities are political in nature, on the grounds that the organisation campaigns for a more humane prison system and for fighting against corruption. The document also states that Civic Assistance receives UN funding. Gannushkina pointed out that the UN is an international organisation, to which Russia belongs.

Gannushkina admitted that Civic Assistance is currently in breach of the law which states that the work of organisations should be restricted to the region in which they are located: Civic Assistance works cross regional borders and not only within one region. “This criticism is true enough, but the legislation is wrong on this point and needs urgent amendment”, she said.

The law on NGOs says that an organisation registered in Moscow may only work in the capital city. In order to register as an inter-regional organisation, Civic Assistance would need to have representative offices in other regions.

“Why can’t we help people who aren’t in our region? For example, we went to a refugee camp, were able to help and then we left, yet prosecutors state that we have broken the law because we went outside our own region”, Gannushkina added.

Earlier today, Memorial Human Rights Centre commented on the letter from prosecutors to Civic Assistance. Gannushkina was one of the founders of Memorial.

On 30 January prosecutors began a “foreign agent” inspection at Civic Assistance Committee. On the same day it transpired that the same type of inspection was being carried out at the Russian branch of Transparency International, and on 2 February an inspection began at the Moscow Helsinki Group.

Gannushkina connected the prosecutors' actions with the fact that Civic Assistance and Memorial are challenging at the Constitutional Court the law which defines prosecutors' powers. The appeal focuses on the fact that prosecutors initiated inspections of NGOs, including these two NGOs, even though the law does not contain any practical guidelines or specify the grounds for NGO inspections, their duration or subject matter.

Civic Assistance Committee is an NGO which helps refugees and forced migrants.

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts