A United Nations human rights body voiced grave concern today after a court in Russia ordered a non-governmental organization (NGO) that had provided the panel with information to register as a “foreign agent.”
A court in St. Petersburg ruled earlier this month that the Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial was engaged in political activity and was therefore in breach of legislation which stipulates that politically active non-profit groups must register as “foreign agents” if they receive money from abroad.
The UN Committee against Torture said in a news release it was disturbed that prosecutors, as part of their civil lawsuit against Memorial, had referred to a report on police abuse of Roma and migrants submitted by the group for the Committee’s review of Russia in November 2012.
“Russia is a State Party to the Convention against Torture and as such should ensure that no group faces prosecution for communicating with or providing information to the Committee,” said George Tugushi, the Committee’s rapporteur on reprisals.
Under the Convention, “Steps shall be taken to ensure that the complainant and witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given,” Mr. Tugushi noted.
Prosecutors brought similar charges against the NGO in April, but lost that case.
The Committee had previously called on the Russian authorities to ensure that Memorial and other NGOs would not face reprisals as a result of their legitimate activities, including providing information to the 10-member Committee which meets in Geneva.
Committee Chairperson Claudio Grossman said the expert body is concerned with any measure that undermines the independence and activities of NGOs. “The actions by the Russian prosecutors against Memorial reflect a worrying shift in the legislative environment governing the enjoyment of the freedoms of assembly, association, speech and information.”
During its November 2012 review of Russia’s implementation of the Convention, the Committee urged the country to ensure no individual or group would be subjected to prosecution for communicating with or giving information to the Committee or other UN human rights bodies.