‘They were using secret documents’: how the trial began to challenge the status of ‘media-based foreign agent’

24 March 2021

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Дождь]

On 24th March, the first session was held of the administrative appeal of the human rights defender,  a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lev Ponomarev, against the Russian Ministry of  Justice.  His case was being heard in the Khoroshevsyi district court in Moscow.  Ponomarev disputed his status as a media- based foreign agent and is going to proceed with his case to the European Court of Human Rights, if his innocence is not accepted in Russia.

On 23rd March Pskov court had  temporarily suspended the decision of the Ministry of Justice to include journalist Liudmila Savitskaya in the register of media- based foreign agents, this is the first such decision of  this court.  

 And on March 24, the Zamoskovorechye district court in Moscow also suspended the decision of the Russian Ministry of Justice to recognize the journalist of the publication “7×7”,  Sergei Markelov, as a representative  of  foreign media acting as a foreign agent.

Lev Ponomarev informed reporters of “Dozhd” that a preliminary hearing was held on 24th March.  

The judge began detailed questioning of representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Their evidence concerned the basis upon which Ponomarev was included in the register of media-based foreign agents. Ponomarev added that the representatives of these agencies could not give a clear answer on this issue. They referred to some secret documents in official use, adding that they should consult with their heads of department. After that, the trial was all over.

“I’m not the media. You’ve only got to look at me to see that I’m not a media person, I’m a real person. It’s an absolutely absurd situation…. The term “foreign agent” defames me. Under the Constitution of the Russian Federation, no one can defame a citizen of the Russian Federation. I demand an answer from the Ministry of Justice as to why it violates the Constitution by labelling me a foreign agent. Being a foreign agent means being  an enemy, an enemy of the Russian state, of its society, and of its citizens. If we carry on down this route, we can expect public gatherings at which the ‘public’ can express its views so that the authorities to fight the enemies of the Russian state more decisively. This is the next step.”  Thus Ponomarev explained in court the reasons for his appeal.

According to Ponomarev, domestic policy has passed into the hands of the FSB. It is alarming that the political opposition and human rights defenders are portrayed as enemies of society and the state.

“The most important thing is that I am portrayed as an enemy of the state for millions of people who watch state television. I think the FSB is now on a very dangerous path, inciting hatred among people,” he added.

Ponomarev also said that he, like others who had been labelled as media-based foreign agents, would have to regularly submit reports on his financial incomings and outgoings.

Translated by Graham Jones

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