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Case History: Valentina Cherevatenko

Status: 
Criminal Case
About the situation

On 27 June 2016, human rights defender Ms Valentina Cherevatenko received a copy of the decision on the opening of a criminal case against her under Article 330.1 of the Criminal Code for alleged “malicious evasion of duties imposed by the law on non-profit organisations performing the functions of a foreign agent”. This is the first case of the criminal prosecution of a human rights defender under this article for the alleged violation of the Foreign Agent Law, adopted in Russia in 2012. 

About Valentina Cherevatenko

Valentina CherevatenkoValentina Cherevatenko is the Chair of the Coordination Council of the Women of the Don Union and Chair of the Board of the Women of the Don Foundation for Civil Society Development. The Women of the Don Union works on the rights of women in the North Caucasus including on issues of violence against women, gender discrimination and on peace building initiatives. The Union works to “promote dialogue and tolerance between different sectors of society” and also provides regional clinics on social and legal issues.

29 June 2016
The first criminal case of violation of the Foreign Agent Law

On 27 June 2016, human rights defender Ms Valentina Cherevatenko received a copy of the decision on the opening of a criminal case against her under Article 330.1 of the Criminal Code for alleged “malicious evasion of duties imposed by the law on non-profit organisations performing the functions of a foreign agent”. This is the first case of the criminal prosecution of a human rights defender under this article for the alleged violation of the Foreign Agent Law, adopted in Russia in 2012. 

Valentina Cherevatenko is the Chair of the Coordination Council of the Women of the Don Union and Chair of the Board of the Women of the Don Foundation for Civil Society Development. The Women of the Don Union, which has goals identical to those of the Foundation, works on the peace building initiatives in the North Caucasus, promoting “dialogue and tolerance between different sectors of society” and organising clinics on social and legal issues. It is also heavily involved in the protection of the women's rights in the region, concentrating in its work on the issues of violence against women and gender discrimination.

On 27 June 2016, Valentina Cherevatenko received a copy of the decision on the opening of a criminal case against her under Article 330.1 of the Criminal Code for alleged “malicious evasion of duties imposed by the law on non-profit organisations performing the functions of a foreign agent”. In particular, the human rights defender is suspected of having criminal intent to violate the Foreign Agent Law when she established the Women of the Don Foundation in August 2013. It is stated in the decision that Valentina Cherevatenko knew about the involvement of the Foundation in  “political activity” and that it was receiving foreign funding, but did not apply for the registration of the organisation as a “foreign agent”. The human rights defender is planning to appeal the decision. If convicted, she will face up to two years' imprisonment.

On 24 June 2016, the office of the Women of the Don Union and Foundation located in Novocherkassk was searched by the Federal Security Service and police officers upon presentation of a court order. The officers confiscated all the computers of the organisations, their accounting records and archives with information about projects. Valentina Cherevatenko herself was not present during the search, as she had neither been informed about the opening of a criminal case against her, nor about the forthcoming search of the office. In view of this, the staff members of the organisations had to invite her lawyer to observe the search and represent the interests of the human rights defender. A month earlier, on 10 and 6 May 2016, Valentina Cherevatenko was also interrogated at the 7th Investigation Department in Rostov-on-Don as part of a preliminary inquiry under Article 330.1 of the Criminal Code.

The Women of the Don Foundation was established in August 2013 with goals identical to those of the Women of the Don Union, which earlier that year had been prohibited by the Prosecutor's Office from undertaking projects in regions other than Rostov where it was based. Since the Union primarily conducted its activities in the conflict areas located outside of the Rostov region, for instance in the North Caucasus, such a prohibition meant a de facto termination of its work. The creation of the Foundation allowed to continue the Union's work without any territorial limitation.    

In 2014 the Women of the Don Union was listed as a “foreign agent”. A year later the Foundation was assigned the same status by the Ministry of Justice and added to the register. Both organisations however refused to accept this label and challenged their listing in the register and related fines, in civil and administrative proceedings. On 29 February 2016, the Ministry removed the Women of Don Union from the register, as the organisation was no longer carrying out the “functions of a “foreign agent”. However, the appeal of the Women of the Don Foundation is still pending. Despite the fact that the Foundation's listing as a “foreign agent” might still be found unlawful by the court, its Chair Valentina Cherevatenko is already criminally prosecuted for not voluntarily filing an application to register it as such.  

According to the widely criticised Federal Law №121-FZ “On Introducing Changes to Certain Pieces of Legislation of the Russian Federation as Regards Regulation of Activities of Non-Commercial Organisations Performing the Functions of Foreign Agents”, otherwise known as the "Foreign Agent law", any NGO that receives funding from abroad must register as a “foreign agent” if it engages in any kind of “political activity”, including advocacy and human rights work. The Criminal Code was also amended with article 330.1 which states that "malicious evasion of the duty to file the documents required for inclusion in the register of non-profit organisations performing the functions of a foreign agent" can be punishable with up to two years' imprisonment. It has been argued by many Russian lawyers that the latter provision lost its legal meaning after the Ministry of Justice had been empowered to list organisations as “foreign agents” on the basis of its own decisions.

Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the opening of a criminal case against human rights defender Valentina Cherevatenko which it believes to be directly linked to her peaceful and legitimate work on peace building initiatives and women's rights in Russia. Front Line Defenders reiterates its concern about the enactment of the Federal Law №121-FZ, “On Introducing Changes to Certain Pieces of Legislation of the Russian Federation as Regards Regulation of Activities of Non-Commercial Organisations Performing the Functions of Foreign Agents” and the significant negative influence that this law has on the work of human rights defenders in Russia.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Russia to:

1. Immediately cease all further judicial harassment of Valentina Cherevatenko and close the criminal case that has been opened against her, as Front Line Defenders believes that the human rights defender is being targeted solely because of her legitimate work in defence of human rights;

2. Return all the documents and equipment confiscated during the search in the office of the human rights organisations Women of the Don Union and Foundation, as they are manifestly not linked to any criminal activity;

3. Repeal the Federal Law №121-FZ, “On Introducing Changes to Certain Pieces of Legislation of the Russian Federation as Regards Regulation of Activities of Non-Commercial Organisations Performing the Functions of Foreign Agents” and in the meanwhile, remove the Women of the Don Foundation from the “Foreign Agents” list;

4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Russia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

23 May 2016
Judicial harassment of human rights defender Valentina Cherevatenko

Human rights defender Ms Valentina Cherevatenko was interrogated at the 7th Investigation Department in Rostov-on-Don on 6 May 2016 and subsequently on 10 May 2016 as part of a preliminary inquiry into the alleged violation of the Foreign Agent Law under article 330.1 of the Criminal Code for “malicious evasion of duties imposed by the law on non-profit organisations performing the functions of a foreign agent”. Should an investigation be opened, it would be the first case of the criminal prosecution of a human rights defender under the Foreign Agent Law, voted into Russian Law in 2012.

Download the Urgent Appeal (PDF)

The  preliminary investigation was opened on the basis of alleged violations of the Foreign Agent Law by both organisations. According to the widely criticised Federal Law №121-FZ “On Introducing Changes to Certain Pieces of Legislation of the Russian Federation as Regards Regulation of Activities of Non-Commercial Organisations Performing the Functions of Foreign Agents”, otherwise known as the "Foreign Agent law", any NGO that receives funding from abroad must register as a “foreign agent” if it engages in any kind of vaguely defined political activity, including advocacy and human rights work. The Criminal Code was also amended with article 330.1 which states that "malicious evasion of the duty to file the documents required for inclusion in the register of non-profit organisations performing the functions of a foreign agent" can be punishable to up to 2 years' imprisonment.

The Women of the Don Union was recognised as a foreign agent in 2014 and the Women of the Don Foundation for Civil Society Development in 2015. Both were added to the Foreign Agents register compiled by the Ministry of Justice. Both organisations however have refused to accept this label and challenged their listing in the register and related fines in civil and administrative proceedings. While the appeal is pending, both organisations have operated in full compliance with the Foreign Agent Law in all aspects such as by submitting reports and audits. On 29 February 2016, the Ministry removed the Women of Don Union from the register, as the organisation is no longer “carried out functions of a “foreign agent”.

Front Line Defenders is concerned by the judicial harassment and possible criminal charges against human rights defender Valentina Cherevatenko which it believes to be directly linked to her peaceful and legitimate work on inter alia women's rights in Russia. Front Line Defenders reiterates its concern for the enactment of the Federal Law №121-FZ, “On Introducing Changes to Certain Pieces of Legislation of the Russian Federation as Regards Regulation of Activities of Non-Commercial Organisations Performing the Functions of Foreign Agents” and the significant negative influence that this law has on the work of human rights defenders in Russia.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Russia to:

1. Immediately cease all further judicial harassment of Valentina Cherevatenko, as Front Line Defenders believes that this is solely as a result of her legitimate work in defence of human rights;

2. Repeal the Federal Law №121-FZ, “On Introducing Changes to Certain Pieces of Legislation of the Russian Federation as Regards Regulation of Activities of Non-Commercial Organisations Performing the Functions of Foreign Agents”;

3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Russia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.