Stepan Petrov is the first indigenous rights defender to be designated as an individual ‘foreign agent’ in Russia

23 August 2021

by Dmitry Berezhkov, chief editor of Indigenous Russia

Source: Indigenous Russia Blog

This blog was originally published in English and is republished here by kind permission

Stepan Petrov

The Russian Ministry of Justice has designated Stepan Petrov, chair of the non-governmental human rights organization Yakutia — Our Opinion, as a foreign agent, TASS reports.

Stepan Petrov was included in the list of the ‘foreign agents’ individually as a private person along with several prominent Russian journalists: the chief editor of Important stories (Vaznnyie istorii) Roman Anin and journalists Roman Shleinov, Olesya Shmagun, Dmitry Velikovsky, Alesya Marokhovskaya, and Irina Dolinina.

By the same order, the Ministry of Justice also included into the list of ‘foreign agents’ the only independent nationwide TV channel Rain (Dozhd) and the media outlet registered in Latvia Istories fonds which specializes in investigative journalism.

Stepan Petrov was the leader of the NGO Yakutia — Our Opinion and is widely known in Yakutia for his active human rights and anti-criminal work. He regularly appeals to the media with requests to publish his materials and often writes letters to law enforcement agencies, in which he points to evidence of corruption. Earlier this year, the NGO he led was liquidated in the course of numerous state inspections.

Besides his anti-corruption activity on the regional level, Stepan Petrov is also known as the initiator of appeals to the UN concerning violations of indigenous peoples’ rights. For example, he appealed to the UN in 2018 with a request to ‘increase pressure’ on the Russian Federation to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In 2020 he sent another appeal to several UN human rights treaty bodies ‘in support of civil society in Russia’ and a request to support the ‘leading Russian human rights organizations For human rights and the Centre for the support of indigenous peoples of the North.’ Unfortunately, both organizations, led by prominent Russian human rights defenders Lev Ponomarev and Rodion Sulyandziga, were self-liquidated lately.

Lev Ponomarev, Executive Director of the all-Russian Movement for Human Rights, and Rodion Sulyandziga, Director of the Centre for the support of indigenous peoples of the North. 13 November 2019, Moscow

According to the Russian law on foreign agents, individual foreign agents must, at least once every six months, submit a report on their activities, including information on the purpose of spending money and using other property received from foreign sources. They are also required to indicate their status as a foreign agent, including when contacting government agencies, local governments, public associations or educational organizations.

In addition, there is a ban on serving in public service and local governments for individuals included in the foreign agent register. They are also forced to mark anything they write or share online (or in the mass media) with an obvious, inescapable notification that they have ‘foreign agent’ status in Russia. Finally, the law also demands that these individuals create formal legal entities in order to report their earnings and spending to the government. Failure to comply with these requirements may incur administrative or criminal liability.

This is how Radio Svoboda journalist Lyudmila Savitskaya, who was earlier recognized as a ‘foreign agent,’ described her new social status: ‘Lyudmila Savitskaya says the state’s designation has completely erased her private life. “Now Comrade Major and the Justice Ministry know literally everything about me, right down to the brand of tampons I use,” she told Meduza. Even Savitskaya’s mother has been affected: she now needs special paperwork from her bank to prove that the money she sends to her daughter is meant for medications “and not for the next Joe Biden campaign”.’

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