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SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis Fined

Status: 
Facing charges
About the situation

On 7 September 2017, the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis and its director Alexander Verkhovsky were informed that they are facing charges for violating the law on ‘undesirable organizations’.

On 21 February 2017, the Basmanniy District Court sentenced the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis (SOVA Centre) to a fine of 300,000 Russian rubles (approximately €4,900) on a charge of neglecting to register as a 'foreign agent' with the Ministry of Justice. The judgement was issued without the presence of representatives from SOVA Centre or the Ministry of Justice.

About SOVA Centre

sova.jpegThe SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis is a Moscow-based think tank that was founded in October 2002 with the mission of promoting human rights and liberal democracy through monitoring, advocacy and conducting research. The SOVA Centre works on issues such as nationalism, xenophobia and racism as well as anti-extremism legislation, religion in a secular society, and political radicalism.

12 September 2017
SOVA Centre is facing charges of violating 'Law on Undesirable Organizations’

On 7 September 2017, the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis and its director Alexander Verkhovsky were informed that they are facing charges for violating the law on ‘undesirable organizations’.

Download the Urgent Appeal (PDF)

On 7 September 2017, SOVA Centre director Alexander Verkhovsky appeared at the Moscow City Prosecutor's Office, following a summons received the previous week in connection with the initiation of charges under Article 20.33 of Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences. Officials informed Alexander Verkhovsky that he and SOVA Centre were facing charges for violating the ‘Law on Undesirable Organizations’, which prohibits participation in the activities of foreign organizations defined as ’undesirable’. The charges are related to hyper-links in the ‘About Us’  section of the SOVA Centre webpage which acknowledged that the National Endowment for Democracy and Open Society Foundations previously supported the SOVA Centre, and provided links to their respective websites. Both organizations were classified as ‘undesirable organizations’ and  included on the federal register in 2015.

The ‘Law on Undesirable Organizations’, adopted by Parliament in May 2015, authorizes the Prosecutor General’s Office to ban from the country any foreign or international organization that allegedly undermines Russia’s security, defence, or constitutional order. Once designated ‘undesirable’, an organization can no longer organize or participate in any projects or other activities in the Russian Federation. The law also provides for administrative and criminal sanctions against Russian organizations and nationals that engage in ‘continued involvement’ with organizations that are classified as ‘undesirable’. This offence is punishable by a fine of up to 15,000 rubles (approximately 220 euro) for individuals, up to 50,000 rubles (€730) for officials and up to 100,000 rubles (€1,457) for organizations. If found to have violated this law twice in one year, Russian nationals risk criminal prosecution, with fines of up to 500,000 rubles (€7280), restrictions on their activities, travel bans, or a jail sentence of up to six years. The European Commission for Democracy Through Law (the Venice Commission) found that the ‘Law on Undesirable Organizations’ interferes with freedom of expression, and should be significantly amended.

This is not the first time that the SOVA Centre has faced judicial harassment in connection with their work. Previously, On 21 February 2017, the Basmanny District Court sentenced the SOVA Centre to a fine of 300,000 Russian rubles (approximately €4,900) on a charge of neglecting to register as a 'foreign agent' with the Ministry of Justice. The judgement was issued without the presence of representatives from SOVA Centre or the Ministry of Justice present in the courtroom. On 30 December 2016, following an inspection, the SOVA Centre was added to the list of non-profit organisations performing the functions of a ‘foreign agent.'

Front Line Defenders condemns the charges against the SOVA Centre and Alexander Verkhovsky as it believes that they are being targeted in connection with the organization’s legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights in the Russian Federation.

Front Line Defenders calls on the authorities in the Russian Federation to:

1. Immediately drop the charges against, and cease all further harassment of SOVA Centre and its members, as Front Line Defenders believes that they have been targeted solely as a result of their legitimate human rights work;

2. Repeal Article 20.33 of Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences;

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

 

22 February 2017
SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis Fined

On 21 February 2017, the Basmanniy District Court sentenced the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis (SOVA Centre) to a fine of 300,000 Russian rubles (approximately €4,900) on a charge of neglecting to register as a 'foreign agent' with the Ministry of Justice. The judgement was issued without the presence of representatives from SOVA Centre or the Ministry of Justice.

Download the Urgent Appeal (PDF)

On 17 February 2017, the SOVA Centre was notified that on 21 February 2017 the Basmanniy District Court would be considering an administrative case initiated by the Ministry of Justice. The SOVA Centre was accused of neglecting to register as a ‘foreign agent'. Before the hearing, representatives from the SOVA Centre and the Ministry of Justice arrived at the Court but were prevented from attending the hearing after being misinformed of the time the hearing was due to begin. Therefore the judgement sentencing the SOVA Centre to a fine of 300,000 Russian rubles was passed without the representatives from either party present in the courtroom. The SOVA Centre will appeal the decision of the Court.

On 12 January 2017, the Ministry of Justice reported that the SOVA Centre neglected to register as a ‘foreign agent' with the Ministry of Justice, therefore violating Article 19.34 Part 1 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation.

On 30 December 2016, following an inspection, the SOVA Centre was added to the list of non-profit organisations performing the functions of a ‘foreign agent.'

On 20 February 2017, the SOVA Centre filed a lawsuit in the Zamoskoskvoretsky District Court of Moscow against the Ministry of Justice, claiming that the results of the inspection and the inclusion of the centre on the list of 'foreign agents' is unlawful.

The so-called ’Foreign Agents’ Law, which was introduced 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.’ 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 criticize or challenge the Russian government or its policies. The law is used as a means by Russian authorities to discredit, penalise, or impede the work of non-governmental organisations, especially those working to promote or protect human rights, observe elections and fight for transparency of the state authorities.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern at the classification of the SOVA Centre as a ‘foreign agent’, which it believes to be an attempt to prevent the organisation from continuing its legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights in the Russian Federation.

Front Line Defenders calls on the authorities in the Russian Federation to:

1. Immediately quash the sentence as Front Line Defenders believes that SOVA Centre has been targeted solely as a result of its legitimate human rights work;

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. Immediately cease all further harassment and targeting of the SOVA Centre;

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