Shibanova: "We hope that ECHR can stop the destruction of the most powerful and independent NGOs in Russia"
Interview with Liliya Shibanova, former Executive Director of Golos 2001 -2012
epde: On 1 September 2014, the Moscow City Court found that there was no reason to treat GOLOS as a so-called “foreign agent”. What are the consequences of this decision?
Lilia Shibanova: This is a very important decision, which was made by the supervisory authority on the basis of an earlier decision of the Constitutional Court. It gives us the right to request exclusion of GOLOS from the list of “foreign agents”. But just one day after that, another court at the request of the Prosecutor’s Office again recognized the association as a “foreign agent”. Our lawyer described it as a legal anarchy.
What further legal action is planned in connection with this decision?
After the ruling of the Constitutional Court, the lower courts cannot make decisions contrary to the its decision. Now we have to submit another cassation appeal and challenge the new judgment again... And it’s just delaying the situation aiming at further keeping GOLOS on the list of “foreign agents”. However, the courts have no chance to decide differently than to exclude GOLOS from the “foreign agents” list.
What are the reasons than it was exactly during the local electionsthat the court made the decision?
There was one desire – to prevent the independent observers to monitor the elections in 21 regions. We witnessed how much pressure was put on the court two days before voting.
Can the decision of the Moscow City Court be seen a signal of a “thaw” in government policies in relation to the NGOs?
No, it’s not a thaw. The Constitutional Court could simply not longer ignore the fact that the Association GOLOS was still labeled as a “foreign agent” despite the fact that it had not received any foreign funding within the last five years and even refused to receive a monetary award from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. This ridiculous situation resulted in acknowledgment by the CC the legal inconsistencies even in this shameful law.
This applies, however, only to the Association GOLOS. In all other cases, the CC has made matters even worse – it even tightened the very wording of what is meant by the political activities of an organization. Now any foreign funding and virtually any civil activities that are disloyal to the government can be interpreted as political ones.
Why was the law on “foreign agents”adopted and how this law impacts the NGOs in Russia?
Initially, the Law was adopted solely against GOLOS, it was openly discussed in the State Duma when passing the bill. It was caused by a desire to discredit the statements made by GOLOS following election observation campaigns.
But after the law was passed, there was a wave of prosecutorial investigations, which were rather caused by a desire to “polish the apple”, especially against the background of a strong media campaign against the “foreign agents”.
As a result, harassment affected over 600 organizations.
Since none of them had voluntarily entered into the list of “foreign agents”, the government adopted a new amendment to the law – the Ministry of Justice received the right to forcibly include NGOs in the list.
Now the list includes: Memorial, Public Verdict (engaged in investigating police-related torture reports), GOLOS, “Women of the Don” (because of their peace projects in the North Caucasus), Agora and JURIX (legal protection of NGOs)... The Soldiers’ Mothers and several other organizations are still facing ongoing lawsuits. We have to understand that the hunt continues against the best, most active and independent civil society organizations.
And in this situation, we note that everyone is waiting for the ECHR’s decision on this issue. It has been more than two years since as a number of Russian NGOs appealed to the ECHR to consider the facts of pressure that has been systematically used by the Russian authorities against civil society, including the use of the infamous crime law, which is completely contrary to the international agreements signed by Russia. And we hope that this is the last instance, which can still stop the destruction of the most powerful and independent NGOs in Russia.