Statement by the Civic Solidarity Platform on the harassment and intimidation of Russian NGOs

We, the undersigned members of the Civic Solidarity Platform, urgently call on the Russian Authorities to put an immediate end to the on-going harassment and intimidation of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Russia.

NGOs in Russia, who are critical of government policies and who highlight human rights violations, continue to face judicial harassment, stigmatization and even risk of closure. The right to freedom of assembly has increasingly been under attack in Russia, with police frequently dispersing peaceful public rallies by civil society activists and the political opposition, sometimes using unnecessary or excessive force.

On 7 July 2012, we were deeplyalarmed to learn about another attempt to instigate criminal proceedings against the Committee Against Torture (CAT) Chairman, Igor Kalyapin under article 310 of the Criminal Code on the grounds of report from Nizhniy Novgorod Federal Security Service that was sent to North Caucasian Investigational Committee. Earlier in January 2012, Kalyapin was charged with disclosure of ‘state secrets’, which constitutes a crime under Article 283 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, and carries a prison sentence of 3 to 7 years. 

Mr Kalyapin maintains that he was not disclosing any criminal investigation materials, but simply highlighting for the public the overt reluctance of investigative authorities to deal with crimes committed by Kadyrov’s supporters. The Committee Against Torture regards this development as part of a systematic intimidation campaign inspired by high-ranking suspects and states that rights of CAT lawyers working in Chechnya have been repeatedly violated. Just recently, on June 1 2012, the colleagues of Igor Kqalyapin were also subjected to strong verbal abuse from the high-ranking local officials in Chechnya, including the Head of the Chechen Republic, Mr. Ramzan Kadyrov. The three members of the Joint Mobile Group, Dmitry Utukin, Sergey Babinets and Roemer Lemaitre were summoned to a meeting and had unfounded accusations discrediting their work thrown at them. This occurrence causes alarm and apprehension for the safety and well-being of the CAT lawyers working in the region.

A further cause for concern is the case of Philipp Kostenko, a member of a prominent anti-discrimination NGO that defends the rights of the Roma population in the Russian Federation, who was framed as a criminal and wanted by police, as depicted in posters appearing on public buildings and advertisement boards in St. Petersburg on 20 June 2012. These posters form part of a continued campaign of defamation and intimidation against Mr Kostenko and the NGO ADC Memorial.

We are also deeply concerned about the increasingly restrictive legislation on NGOs which curtails fundamental freedoms. The amendments to the law on public rallies and administrative code, which were passed on 6 June 2012, seriously undermine the right to freedom of assembly in Russia. Moreover, the recently approved draft legislation requiring all foreign-funded civil society groups to register as “foreign agents”, if approved, would result not only in the further stigmatization of NGOs in Russia, but would also subject them to severe auditing and reporting requirements, and potentially ruinous financial and legal sanctions following any breaches.

By implementing such restrictive legislation, the Duma is in clear breach of its international human rights commitments, and specifically the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression.

The Civic Solidarity Platform urgently calls on the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) and law makers to put an end to these continued harassment tactics against NGOs in Russia.

 

13 July 2012

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