St Petersburg Court rescinds penalty re ‘undesirable’ NGO
The Centre for Independent Sociological Research has successfully challenged a penalty imposed for including a link on its website to an organisation black-listed by the Ministry of Justice.
On 8 December 2017 the Centre – an autonomous non-profit making organisation – was fined by the public prosecutor for including a hyperlink to the Open Society Institute, which is included in the Russian register of ‘undesirable’ organisations. The head of the legal service of the NGO Lawyers’ Club, Max Olenichev, who represents the Centre for Sociological Research, said that on 26 December magistrate Oleg Kamaldinov reviewed the proceedings for an administrative offence and imposed an administrative penalty of 50,000 roubles on the Centre. The court had ignored evidence presented by the defence showing that the hyperlink had been introduced onto the site before the law on undesirable organisations came into force on 3 June 2015.
With the support of the NGO Lawyers’ Club, the Centre for Independent Sociological Research appealed against the decision of the Kuibyshev regional court of St Petersburg, and on 14 March the magistrate’s decision was rescinded and the case passed on for further review. When examining the case, the court took account of any evidence of procedural irregularities. The text of the court’s ruling was due to be available on 16 March.
‘We are insisting that the case be dropped, since the public prosecutor is seeking to hold the Centre administratively responsible for something that was done before the law on undesirable organisations came into force,’ Max Olenichev says. ‘NGOs should not be prosecuted for imagined cooperation with undesirable organisations. This should stop.’
The next court hearing will take place in April. It is worth noting that, in June 2015, magistrate Oleg Kamaldinov imposed a fine of 300,000 roubles on the Centre for Independent Sociological Research, for allegedly infringing the law on ‘foreign agents’. In 2016, the penalty was withdrawn by the Russian High Court and the fine the Centre had paid was returned to it in full, from the federal budget.
‘The law on undesirable organisations marks the next phase in the increasing pressure being imposed on civil society in Russia,’ the director of the NGO Lawyers’ Club, Maria Kanevskaya, says. ‘Currently, the law is being tested. That is why help and support from lawyers, and solidarity in civil society, are so crucial at this time.’
The OSI Assistance Foundation and the Open Society Foundation were included in the register of undesirable organisations on 26 November 2015. Two years later, in December 2017, the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office forbade access to the websites of these organisations. The Centre for Independent Sociological Research is an autonomous non-profit making organisation which runs programmes and projects in the field of sociological research in and outside Russia. The Centre was founded in 1991, in St Petersburg, and provides a major platform for independent sociologists to share their expertise.