Christoph Strässer, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, issued the following statement on 1 December in response to the action taken by the Russian Government against Memorial and other civil society organisations:
I am extremely concerned by the steps taken by the Russian authorities against human rights organisations and independent media. A growing number of NGOs, and now even the Memorial online portal memo.ru, have been registered by the Justice Ministry as so‑called “foreign agents” and the Ministry has taken legal action to close down Memorial.
Against the background of increasingly restrictive laws on freedom of assembly, association and opinion, we believe these measures show that dissenters are under ever more pressure and that the process of political opinion formation in Russia is being steadily restricted.
I call on the Russian Government to regard civil society, also critical voices, as partners in democratic development and to grant Russia’s committed civil society greater freedom of action once more. Russia is a member of the Council of Europe and has signed relevant UN human rights conventions. It must live up to these commitments.
Amendments to the Russian law on NGOs, which have been in force since 2013, affect those civil society organisations which are politically active and receive funding from abroad. They are obliged to provide extensive reports on their activities and to justify them. Furthermore, they must point out their “foreign agent” status, which they regard as derogatory, in all publications. They face harsh penalties should they violate the law’s provisions. Moreover, a new law of 14 November 2014 prohibits political parties from having “transactions” with so‑called “foreign agents”. As hardly any NGOs complied with the demand to register as “foreign agents”, a new law of May 2014 authorised the Justice Ministry to register them without their consent.
The “agents” register currently lists 17 civil society organisations and independent news agencies. From the Memorial association, these include the Human Rights Centre and memo.ru, which has received funding from Germany, as well as the election monitoring organisation Golos, even though it was able to prove before a court that it had not received any funds from abroad. Dozens of other NGOs are facing administrative and criminal proceedings, as a result of which some have ended their work, e.g. the Memorial Anti‑Discrimination Centre. Independent of the regulations on “agents”, the Justice Ministry is currently seeking authorisation from the courts to close the Memorial umbrella organisation due to its structure.