17 September 2021
A Nizhny Novgorod court has fined the head of the Committee Against Torture (CAT) Igor Kalyapin 10,000 roubles for ‘participating in the activities of an “undesirable” organisation’ (Article 20.33 of the Administrative Code), the organisation’s Telegram channel reported.
Kalyapin was found guilty of collaborating with the Czech NGO People in Need (Člověk v tísni), which was declared ‘undesirable’ in Russia in 2019. At the same time, the case contains screenshots of publications from the Committee against Torture website from 2015, 2016 and 2017, which mentioned Člověk v tísni, when this organisation was not yet considered ‘undesirable’.
The NGO People in Need was set up in 1992 by war correspondents to help those living in war zones. In the early 2000s, humanitarian groups from the Czech Republic worked in Chechnya and Ingushetia, delivering food and clothing to Grozny, helping to repair schools and hospitals, as well as assisting with the return of refugees. In November 2019, the Prosecutor General’s Office listed the organisation as ‘undesirable’.
The concept of an ‘undesirable organisation’ first appeared in Russian legislation in 2015. A foreign or international company, whose activities allegedly pose a threat to the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation, the country’s defence capability or the security of the state, as set out in the legislation, is considered to be undesirable.
An ‘undesirable’ organisation cannot create new branches or continue the work of old ones. They are also prohibited from registering branches. You cannot distribute information materials of these organisations, or implement their projects. Russian citizens are prohibited from participating in an ‘undesirable’ organisation.
According to Article 20.33 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, those who participate in such organisations face fines ranging from 5,000 to 100,000 roubles. Under the article on conducting the activities of an ‘undesirable’ organisation (Art. 284.1 of the Criminal Code), Russians can face up to six years in prison.
“I understand perfectly […] why I became the object of this pile-on. I […] harshly criticised both the work of the Investigative Committee and the prosecutor’s office,” Kalyapin said in court.
The Committee Against Torture, headed by Igor Kalyapin, was recognised in 2015 by the Ministry as an ‘NGO performing the functions of a foreign agent’, after which, the organisation dissolved. In 2016, the Committee Against Torture was again recognised as a foreign agent, after which human rights defenders started operating under the same name, but without forming a legal entity.
The Committee Against Torture helps to challenge the actions of police and other public officials who have treated detainees inhumanely or degradingly. “By the beginning of 2021, the Committee Against Torture had examined more than 2,750 allegations of human rights allegations, conducted hundreds of investigations, and obtained more than 133 million roubles in compensation from the State and its representatives for citizens who had suffered the illegal actions of law enforcement officers. Furthermore, as a result of the efforts of the organisation’s lawyers, 154 law enforcement agency representatives were convicted in cases of torture that reached trial and sentencing by January 2021,” representatives of the Committee said of their work.
Since 2000, the Committee Against Torture has worked on 219 cases of ill-treatment against 291 people, including detainees and prisoners. 122 cases reached the courts, but only 70 people were sentenced to terms in prison. The human rights defenders noted, in the report they prepared for the 21st anniversary of their work, that “the presence of a human rights organisation […] in a torture case increases the chances of a complaint of torture being looked into more effectively in the official investigation.”
The Russian government continues to add to its lists of foreign agents, adding non-profit organisations, the media, journalists, politicians, activists and human rights defenders to their numbers. We must also point out that the NGO People in Need (Člověk v tísni) is recognised in Russia as an ‘undesirable organisation’.
Translated by James Lofthouse and Verity Hemp