CSO of the Week: For Human Rights, closing down as a result of latest tightening of ‘foreign agent’ law

Week-ending 5 March 2021

On 1 March 2021 veteran human rights activist Lev Ponomarev announced the NGO, For Human Rights, would close on account of the recent legislation enabling individual activists to be classified as ‘foreign agents,’ even when the organisation they work in is not registered as a legal entity, and the new law increasing fines for violating ‘foreign agent’ legislation. For Human Rights was established in 1997. It was dissolved as a legal entity in 2019 by a ruling of the Supreme Court. Since then it has existed as an unregistered group, but that has now been closed down.


For Human Rights website

RFE/RL, 2 March 2021: Veteran Russian activist Lev Ponomaryov has shut his well-respected human rights organization due to the country’s controversial laws on “foreign agents.” Ponomaryov announced his decision to shut down his For Human Rights NGO in a televised interview on March 1, the day laws increasing fines for violating the so-called “foreign agent” law took effect. Ponomaryov’s organization was established as an unregistered group in 2019 after a Supreme Court ruling to liquidate his movement with the same name, which had conducted rights monitoring and advocacy for more than two decades. The original group was shut down because Ponomaryov refused to register it as a foreign agent, a requirement of a 2012 law on nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity. At the end of 2020, the legislation was modified to allow the Russian government to include individuals on its “foreign agents” list and to impose restrictions on them. Ponomaryov said on March 1 that the law also now targets unregistered organizations, and therefore it is impossible for his group to continue its activities. “We have a major problem here,” Ponomaryov said. “We are in a situation where thousands of experts working for my organization across the country…may be fined en masse now.”

Human Rights in Ukraine, 3 March 2021: Moscow has finally achieved its end and brought about the dissolution of one of the country’s most renowned human rights NGOs: ‘For Human Rights’, which consistently speaks out in defence of the ever-mounting number of political prisoners in Russia and occupied Crimea.  Its founder, the veteran rights defender Lev Ponomaryov announced the move a day after a new law came into force, imposing further repressive measures against those the regime wants to stigmatize as ‘foreign agents’.  79-year-old Ponomaryov stresses that he is not giving up, but says that he cannot place those experts and others who have worked with ‘For Human Rights’ in danger. It is likely, as Ponomaryov believes, that his and other major rights organizations were targeted in the new legislation.  It is not, after all, the first attempt to get rid of the NGO ‘For Human Rights’ [«За права человека»].  In November 2019, Russia’s Supreme Court allowed a Justice Ministry application and ordered the NGO’s  dissolution (details here).  Ponomaryov has been an active defender of human rights since the 1980s, and has been extremely critical of the dismantling of fundamental rights under President Vladimir Putin.  His was one of the many prominent NGOs targeted in the move to force all NGOs that received any foreign funding to register as so-called ‘foreign agents’.

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