CSO of the Week: Southern Human Rights Centre

Week-ending 25 September 2020

On 25 September 2020 Memorial Human Rights Centre said that the prosecution of Semyon Simonov, head of the Southern Human Rights Centre, is unlawful and politically motivated.

On 26 September 2020 Caucasian Knot reported as follows:

Semyon Simonov, an expert from the Moscow Helsinki Group, who was suspected of failing to admit the fine, imposed on the “Southern Human Rights Centre” headed by him in the Krasnodar Territory, is being prosecuted for political reasons. This was stated by the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Memorial”. According to rights defenders, the prosecution of Simonov may be revenge for his challenging the law “On Foreign Agents” at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that Simonov was suspected of malicious failure to fulfil the court judgement about a fine of 300,000 roubles, imposed on his centre in 2017. Dunja Mijatović, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, had earlier called on to stop persecuting Simonov. “He is being persecuted solely because of his human rights activities and the non-violent exercise of his rights and freedoms,” says the website of the HRC “Memorial”. According to rights defenders, the FSB is actively involved in Simonov’s case; and some law enforcers exert psychological pressure on him.

In August 2020 Rights in Russia did a podcast with Semyon Simonov that can accessed here. We noted then that for many years Semyon Simonov has been head of the regional human rights NGO, Southern Human Rights Centre, which provided free legal assistance on human rights violations, organized educational events and facilitated other civic initiatives in collaboration with other NGOs until it effectively ceased to function in 2017 because of fines imposed under the ‘foreign agent’ law. On 20 July 2020 the authorities charged human rights activist Semyon Simonov under Art. 315, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code – i.e. a charge of non-execution of a court decision, in accordance with which the organization Southern Human Rights Centre had been fined under the ‘foreign agent’ law. Our podcast is about this case – although we also succeeded in asking Semyon many other questions, as you will heare.

Regarding the charges brought against Semyon Simonov, on 20 July 2020 Dunja Mijatovic, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, said in a statement: “Today’s indictment of Semyon Simonov, a Russian human rights defender in Sochi, for not complying with the legislation on non-commercial organisations is alarming and will have a massive chilling effect on the entire human rights community in Russia.

Human Rights Watch in a statement said: “This attack against a human rights defender demonstrates how the Russian authorities continue to use the repressive foreign agents law to criminalize the important work of independent groups. Not only should the case against Semyon Simonov be dropped immediately, but the foreign agents law needs to go.”

Frontline Defenders has also issued a statement on the case: “Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned by the indictment of Semyon Simonov and believes that the pressure on and harassment against him is a concerted attempt to effectively make it impossible for him to carry out his human rights activities in Russia. Front Line Defenders reiterates its concern regarding the extension of the “foreign agents” law to include individuals, as it places human rights defenders under increased risk and further hampers their peaceful and legitimate human rights work.”

In its press release on the case, Human Rights Watch noted: “Human Rights Defenders are afforded specific recognition and protection in international law to enable them to carry out their human rights work without undue interference. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders underscores that everyone performing activities in defense of human rights has the right to seek the protection and realization of human rights at the national and international levels, to conduct human rights work individually and in association with others, to form associations and nongovernmental organizations, and to be protected in the event of violations. The declaration sets out a series of principles and rights drawn from international human rights instruments that are legally binding. It was adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly.”

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