Law of the Week: Law on ‘undesirable foreign organisations’

Week-ending 23 July 2021

The impact of the law on ‘undesirable foreign organisations’ has continued to be felt this week. The association of human rights lawyers and activists Team 29 disbanded after the authorities linked it to a Czech NGO, Společnost Svobody Informace, designated ‘undesirable’ last week. A court in Krasnodar extended the pre-trial detention of Andrei Pivovarov, charged with ‘participating in the activities of an undesirable group’, despite the fact that the Open Russia movement is not a foreign organisation and it was dissolved in May. And on 23 June a court in Nizhny Novgorod extended Mikhail Iosilevich’s detention until 28 August. Iosilevich is also accused of cooperation with an ‘undesirable’ organization, a ‘crime’ punishable by up to six years’ imprisonment. This week both Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Russian authorities to rescind the designation of Proekt media outlet as ‘undesirable’ following the organiation’s designation as such on 15 July last week.


Human Rights Watch, 19 July 2021: On July 18, Team 29, a leading association of Russian human rights lawyers, announced it was shutting down because its members, clients, and supporters faced imminent risk of prosecution. Several days earlier, the state media and communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, blocked the group’s website on orders of the Prosecutor General’s Office. Team 29’s said the prosecutor’s office had falsely equated their group with a Czech freedom of information organization, Společnost Svobody Informace, recently banned in Russia as “undesirable.”   

RFE/RL, 21 July 2021: A Russian court has extended the pretrial detention of the former executive director of the pro-democracy Open Russia movement, Andrei Pivovarov. The court in the southern city of Krasnodar on July 21 ordered Pivovarov be remanded in custody until October 29. Noted Russian rights defenders and opposition politicians Lev Ponomaryov, Yulia Galyamina, Aleksei Minyailo, Marina Litvinovich had traveled from Moscow to Krasnodar to support Pivovarov, but the court session was held behind closed doors.

Amnesty International, 22 July 2021: On 23 June the Moscow District Court in Nizhnii Novgorod extended Mikhail Iosilevich’s arbitrary detention until 28 August. His trial may start in September. He is accused of cooperation with an “undesirable” organization, a “crime” punishable by up to six years’ imprisonment. Mikhail Iosilevich is being targeted for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association. Charges against him must be dropped and he must be immediately released.

RSF, 19 July 2021: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned for the future of investigative journalism in Russia now that the authorities have begun using a new weapon against media outlets – adding them to the list of “undesirable organisations.” The leading investigative news website Proekt had to suspend operations immediately when it became the first media outlet to suffer this fate on 15 July. RSF urges the authorities to remove it from the list.

CPJ, 20 July 2021: Russian authorities should allow the independent investigative news outlet Proekt and its staff to operate freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. On July 15, the Office of the Prosecutor-General of Russia classified the outlet’s parent company as “undesirable,” thereby banning its operations in the country, and the Justice Ministry registered five of its staff members as “foreign agents,” according to multiple news reports, a statement by the prosecutor-general’s office, and the banned outlet’s former deputy editor, Mikhail Rubin, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

In other news:

RFE/RL, 23 July 2021: Russia’s Justice Ministry has added the independent Latvia-based media outlet The Insider to its list of “foreign agents,” along with five individual journalists including a freelance contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The ministry listed the new entries in an update of its registry on July 23, bringing the total number of entities and individuals with the controversial designation to 34.

The Moscow Times, 23 July 2021: Russia added investigative news website The Insider to its registry of “foreign agents” Friday, a designation that risks cratering its business model. The Insider is best known for its work alongside U.K.-based Bellingcat in investigating the 2020 poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and the 2018 poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain.

The Guardian, 23 July 2021: Russia has named a local partner of the Bellingcat investigative journalism collective as a “foreign agent” in an apparent act of revenge for helping reveal the Kremlin’s role in the Salisbury poisonings and assassination attempts by the security agencies. Russia’s justice ministry on Friday named the Insider, an investigative website, along with five journalists for other publications as “foreign agents”, a label that implied the news agencies and individual reporters were taking foreign money to influence Russian politics.

EU [EEAS], 22 July 2021: Russian authorities recently announced a number of new decisions targeting independent media outlets, journalists and civil society organisations. The Institute of Law and Public Policy (ILPP) and a number of journalists were designated as so-called “foreign agents”, and the media outlet Project Media, Inc. was declared a so-called “undesirable organisation”. In addition, the association of lawyers and journalists Team 29 (Komanda 29), defending human rights and fundamental freedoms in Russia, decided to cease its activities following pressure and unjustified accusations by the Russian authorities. The cumulative impact of these latest developments, in conjunction with a raft of repressive measures targeting highly respected NGOs and individuals in Russia, results in further quashing dissent, opposition, critical voices and independent institutions from the Russian public sphere. This is particularly worrisome ahead of the State Duma elections in September. The European Union has repeatedly condemned Russian laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable organisations”, as they run counter to Russia’s international obligations and human rights commitments, including with regard to freedom of expression and association. We reiterate our call on the Russian authorities to reverse these decisions and to stop the unabated crackdown on civil society and independent media. The European Union stands in solidarity with Russian civil society, human rights defenders and independent journalists and will continue to support them in their important work.

RFE/RL, 23 July 2021: The European Union has urged Russia to stop its “unabated crackdown” on independent media outlets, journalists, and civil-society organizations, calling the clampdown ahead of parliamentary elections in September “particularly worrisome.”

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