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Stop the targeting of Russian Civil Society

Johannesburg. 3 May 2013: CIVICUS and Russia based Citizens’ Watch strongly condemn the continuing raids on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) by the Russian government. Inspections on the premises of NGOs with the stated aim of checking compliance with new laws on foreign funding are designed to create a climate of fear among independent civil society groups.

Despite President Putin’s assertion on 5 April in Hannover, Germany that he simply wants to ascertain how the 654 NGOs receiving money from abroad spend the money they receive, the CSO searches have been performed in an aggressive fashion, raising concerns that Russia is turning into a police state.

The concerns stem from the following:

  • On 19 March 2013, the Spokesperson for the Office of the Prosecutor stated that during the coming month 5,000 inspections of CSOs would be conducted to check compliance with new laws on terrorism, foreign funding and other offences. Since this time, inspections have been carried out against a large number of national and international CSOs including the offices of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Helsinki Group and the Russian human rights CSO, Memorial.

  • Frequently arriving unannounced, officials from the prosecutor-general's office, the justice ministry and the tax authorities have requested CSOs to immediately hand over copies of all legal and financial documents related to projects funded by foreign sources since 2010. Inspectors have also sought to check whether the software being used by the organisations was licensed.
  • CSOs that criticise the government or fail to cooperate with the inspections are facing penalties. The election monitoring CSO, Golos, became on 25 April 2013, the first organisation to be fined under the foreign funding law for failing to register as a foreign agent. Golos - which revealed widespread vote fraud during Russia’s December 2011 Duma poll -was ordered by a Moscow court to pay 300,000 Rubles (10,000 USD), while its director, Lilia Shibanova, was fined 100,000 Rubles (3,200 USD) despite claims that it had not received any foreign funds since the legislation came into effect in November 2012.The director of the CSO ‘For Human Rights’ refused to turn over documents when visited, stating his organisation had already complied with a recent check. He is now faced with an administrative case against him. Furthermore, Mikhail Savva, grant programs director of the Southern Regional Resource Center in Krasnodar, was detained on questionable charges including fraud on 12 April 2013 in an apparent attempt to prevent him from testifying before the Presidential Council for Human Rights scheduled for April 13 in Moscow.

  • In addition to the increase in penalties for violating rules on participation and organisation of public protests enacted in 2012 following pro-democracy protests, the controversial NGO law labelling receivers of foreign funding as  ‘foreign agents’ is having a negative impact on the enabling environment for civil society in Russia. The use of the term ‘foreign agent’ is considered highly offensive by many independent civil society groups who see it as a reminder of cold war era purges on ‘agents’ considered to be enemies of the state.

  • CIVICUS and Citizens’ Watch have raised a number of issues relating to the shrinking operational space for Russian civil society in their joint UPR submission on Russia in October 2012 and in a civil society side event at the UN Human Rights Council on 6 March 2013 titled “Criminalisation of Human Rights Defenders in the Russian Federation.”

We urge the government of Russia to immediately stop the unwarranted harassment of CSOs. At a minimum, fundamental freedoms in compliance with international human rights law and the Russian Constitution should be protected by: (i) retracting the new administrative requirements on foreign funded NGOs; (ii) issuing orders to the Office of the Prosecutor to stop its unwarranted mass inspections at the premises of CSOs; and (iii) publically promoting a culture of free speech and political tolerance in Russia.  

Boris Pustyntsev, Chairman of Citizens’ Watch said:

“The adoption of recent repressive laws has meant the introduction of Soviet-style governmental control over civil society. The Russian authorities have grossly violated the 1993 Constitution as well as many international human rights agreements that they themselves have signed and ratified.”

Charlotte Allan, Policy and Advocacy Officer at CIVIUS said:

“The government’s NGO inspections over the last 6 weeks are making the Russian state appear more paranoid by the day harking back to a time in the country’s history when the state ruled largely through fear.”


Kiva LaTouché, Communications Officer, CIVICUS
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Tel: +27 11 833 5959

Mr. Pustyntcev Boris Pavlovich, Chair, Citizens’ Watch
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Tel: +812 380-60-30

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