11 June 2021
by Boris Vishnevsky, member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly and Moscow Helsinki Group Prize laureate
The Duma Committee on State Building and Legislation has approved tougher punishment for participation in and leadership of “undesirable organisations”. Those “providing or collecting funds or providing financial services that are deliberately intended to support the activities” of organisations recognised as undesirable in the Russian Federation can get up to five years in prison.
Recall that an “undesirable organisation” – whose activities are in effect blocked in Russia – is regarded as a foreign organisation that allegedly poses a threat to the foundation of Russia’s constitutional order, defence or security (including participating in Russian elections).
Moreover, the decision on recognising it as such is not taken by the court but by the General Prosecutor, and them alone, or their deputies.
It rules out any opposition procedures and opportunities to present explanations or counter arguments, and from now on any “participation” in activities of an “undesirable organisation” will result in criminal punishment.
It is exactly the same situation with “foreign agents’: the decision on inclusion is not made by the court but by the Ministry of Justice, again without any opposition procedures. It also limits the rights of those declared “foreign agents” or “affiliated with them”.
Note that you can be included on the list of these “agents” if you receive any funding from abroad and are engaged in “political activities” which, as you know, have even been declared to be appeals to state bodies and expressing opinions about their policies and decisions. A direct exercise of constitutional rights!
This is actually legal nonsense.
Think about it: a decision that will knowingly lead to the restriction of rights is not taken by a court, which would highlight any legal violations, but rather solely by a prosecutor or official. They decide whether to violate someone’s rights, including constitutional ones.
And another thing: how is this consistent with, for example, Article 19 of the Constitution, where it says that the State guarantees equality of human and civil rights and freedoms regardless of, among other things, beliefs and membership in public associations?
If Russia had the Constitutional Court now that it did in 1991-93, it would simply have abolished the laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable organisations”. And many others that have emerged from the mad “legislative printer”. But it’s a completely different Constitutional Court now, dramatically different from the previous one …
A lot will have to start over.
Yes, it likely won’t happen tomorrow.
But it needs to happen.
Translated by Nathalie Corbett