Court deems think tank ‘foreign agent’
Saratov 28 November 2013
Court allows public prosecutor’s suit against Centre for Social Policy and Gender Research (CSPGR)
By finding for the prosecutor, the Kirov district court in Saratov has required the CSPGR to register as a ‘foreign agent’.This is the first time that a court has found for the Russian Federation and according to Resursny, an NGO providing information and legal services, there will be an appeal. It is Resursny’s lawyers that are representing the CSPGR.
The court held that CSPGR was using foreign money to engage in political activity. The ground for its decision was CSPGR’s publication of a paper entitled ‘A Critical Analysis of Social Policy in the Former Soviet Territories’ plus the organisation of an event ‘A Review of Social Policy in the Former Soviet Territories: Ideologies, Personalities and Cultures’. In addition, the court regarded information on the CSPRG’s website describing its aims as ‘incorporating the principle of reflective criticism into research into state social policy and civil society’ and petitions collected through the online project, Demokrator, in support of various organisations, as evidence of political activity.
According to the CSPGR the judge granted the prosecutor’s suit despite ‘the absence of proof of receipt of foreign money provided for the purpose of carrying out political activity’ and regardless of ‘the fact that scientific activity cannot be termed political within the meaning of the law’. On his Facebook page Alexander Verkhovsky, director of Sova, stressed that the Kirov court’s decision was ‘really bad news: for the first time a court has directly obligated an NGO to register as an “agent”. The prosecutor has hit upon a device for achieving his objective. ‘Of course this is only a first instance decision as yet’ he continued, ‘but nevertheless…’
The president of the Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Yury Dzhibladze, in his turn drew attention to the fact that CSPRG was a scientific organisation. By way of comment Mr Dzhibladze wrote on his personal Facebook page as follows: ‘This is an alarming turn of events. The courts in various regions are considering several similar cases at the moment where the prosecutor is representing the interests of ‘an undefined circle of people’ in a civil process which is an altogether novel legal approach adopted following defeat in a number of administrative cases’,
Earlier Human Rights Watch had said that the prosecutor’s tactic of bringing civil suits against NGOs represented a new twist in the campaign against ‘foreign agents’. Similar proceedings had been initiated against the anti-discrimination centre Memorial’ and the regional communal organisation, Women of the Don. At the hearing of the civil caseagainst Memorial, the prosecutor is asking the court to find that the NGO is a foreign agent. This too is a ‘first’.