Constitutional Court rules on “foreign agents” law
The Russian Federation’s Constitutional Court supports the Ministry of Justice’s position on the “foreign agents” law
In arriving at its decision on the “foreign agents” law, the Constitutional Court has sided with the Justice Ministry with its more prudent and professional view on the law’s implementation, according to Pavel Chikov, head of the Association “Agora”. But the human rights community is extremely disappointed with the Court’s decision.
In his article on the Forbes website, Chikov spoke of two opposing positions on the “foreign agents” law. On the one hand, “a politicised Public Prosecutor’s Office demanding the repression and blood of activists, and on the other, the measured and professional attitude shown by the Justice Ministry”. The Court’s decision taken the previous day restricts the scope of the law’s implementation. Chikov is convinced that the Court is, in fact, upholding the stance taken by the Justice Ministry.
Already at the start of 2013, the Justice Minister, Alexander Konovalov, declared that the “foreign agents” law ran counter to the spirit of laws regarding NGOs. At the time, Konovalov predicted that the issue of “political activity” would lead to argument and debate even within the Constitutional Court. Later, the Prosecutor-General even went so far as to accuse the Justice Ministry of exceeding its authority when the latter refused to include the Chuvash human rights organisation “Shield and Sword” on its list of “foreign agents”.
In his article, Chikov states that the Court’s decision is particularly important for all human rights, ecological and social organisations, which, in the main, provide unpaid help to those who have fallen on hard times. “The Court maintained that charity is not political activity (although the law brings together 20 of the most wide-ranging types of NGO work) even if an organisation involves itself in work to change Government policy by putting forward legislative proposals”, Chikov added.
Elena Lukyanova, a member of the Russian Federation’s Public Chamber, believes that the Court’s decision on the “foreign agents” law is ambiguous and that three important issues are raised in its wake, namely the definition of political activity, an acknowledgement that penalties for breaking the law are unconstitutional, and the impending administrative overhaul of a number of organisations.
The head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alekseeva, also expressed her disappointment with the Court’s decision. She is convinced that arguments made against the “foreign agents” law were entirely convincing and in line with the Russian Constitution, according to “Interfax”. Human Rights Watch was also unhappy with the outcome.
The Court’s decision is certainly no grounds for optimism, according to Oleg Orlov, Chairman of the Council of the Human Rights Centre “Memorial” when he spoke to the “Voice of America”. Orlov reiterated that the outcome “opens the door to repression and tyranny which will have a serious impact on the work of NGOs”.
“Nothing good will come of this shocking decision, although I never expected anything different” said Svetlana Gannushkina, Chairwoman of “Citizens Assistance”, to the on-line news site “Caucasian Knot”.
Author: Georgi Ivanushkin