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December 23, 2016

Russian Federation: Appeal against classification of IHHRS Memorial as ‘a foreign agent’ dismissed

On 16 December 2016, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court of Moscow dismissed an appeal of the International Historical and Human Rights Society (IHHRS) ‘Memorial’ against the Ministry of Justice’s decision to register the human rights organisation as ‘a foreign agent’. The Court of the first instance found the decision of the Ministry of Justice to have been lawful.

On 16 December 2016, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court of Moscow dismissed an appeal of the International Historical and Human Rights Society (IHHRS) ‘Memorial’ against the Ministry of Justice’s decision to register the human rights organisation as ‘a foreign agent’. The Court of the first instance found the decision of the Ministry of Justice to have been lawful.

The International Historical and Human Rights Society ‘Memorial’ is an association of human rights initiatives that was founded in 1989 with the aim to preserve the societal memory of the severe political persecution in the past and modern time in the former Soviet Republics. Memorial conducts research and engages in educational activities, monitoring and documentation of human rights violations, social and legal counselling for refugees, displaced persons, political prisoners and their families, and other discriminated groups. In recognition of its human rights work, Memorial was awarded with the Victor Gollancz Prize, the Hermann Kesten Prize, the Pax Christi International award and Max van der Stoel Award, among others.

On 16 December 2016, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court of Moscow held an appeal hearing to review the decision of the Ministry of Justice of 4 October 2016 to add IHHRS Memorial to a registry of non-commercial organisations functioning as ‘a foreign agents’. Memorial considers that decision to have been unlawful and choose to submit an appeal. However, the Court of the first instance found the decision of the Ministry of Justice lawful.

In September 2016, the General Prosecutor’s Office initiated an investigation of IHHRS Memorial.

They determined that the organisation receives foreign funding, and stated that they found evidence of ‘political activity’ in the work of the IHHRS Memorial, subsequently deciding to add the organisation to the register of ‘foreign agents’.

The so-called ’Foreign Agents’ Law, which went into effect on 21 November 2012, requires non-governmental organisations that conduct ‘political activities’ and receive funding from abroad to register with the Ministry of Justice as ‘foreign agents’. However, the definition of ‘political activities’, in accordance with an amendment accepted by the Russian Parliament in May 2016, includes almost any research or advocacy activities that criticizes or challenges the Russian government or its policies.

The law is used as a means for Russian authorities to discredit, penalise or impede the work of non-governmental organisations, especially those working to promote or protect human rights, to observe elections and fight for transparency of the state authorities.

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