Russian human rights activists under pressure

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Friends of us, human rights activists from Murmansk, Russia, who are also involved to the Nuclear Heritage Network, joined actions, projects and contributed practically to our international anti-nuclear work, are currently faced to pressure by authorities. Their organization "Humanistic Youth Movement" (GDM) is accused to act as "foreign agent" as they receive funding from abroad and their activities are considered "political" by the prosecutor. This status would cause the closure of the organization as it is practically impossible to continue work with that label. The case was forced by the Russian secret service FSB, although in an earlier inspection by the Ministry of Justice the final reports stated there was no indication to consider GDM a "foreign agent". On July 8, 2014 they will have the public hearing in the Murmansk District Court.

In Germany, a solidarity campaign has been started to spread the word about the case, and also to support other concerned NGOs in Russia like Ecodefense which was declared a "foreign agent" in the middle of June. We also want to collect money to support the legal costs like lawyers, court costs and fines that these NGOs are posed to. Please support our Russian friends with solidarity statements, articles or financial contributions.

bank account: Spenden & Aktionen
purpose: "Soli Russland"
IBAN: DE29 5139 0000 0092 8818 06
bank: Volksbank Mittelhessen

Humanistic Youth Movement

At the end of May it became public that a lawsuit has been filed against the Murmansk human rights organization "Humanistic Youth Movement" (GDM - Гуманистическое движение молодежи). The Russian secret service FSB, formerly known as KGB, had observed the NGO, commissioned a scientific expertise to analyse articles in their magazine and demanded the local prosecution to initiate the case against the activists. In cooperation with groups for instance from Germany since years Humanistic Youth Movement arranged conferences and gatherings such as the "dialogue of cultures", "Vostok Forum" or the school exhibition "Anne Franke. Lessons of history". Annual summer academies with different topics based on self-organization and self-education were important international meeting points for politically interested and engaged young people.[1] With the "urban fest" the possibly last conference organized by the NGO took place in the beginning of June, if FSB and prosecution should push through their aim[2].

"Freedom!" - a call for violance...

According to the FSB paid linguistic expert the GDM magazine "Youth Human Rights" was full of hidden messages and calls to change the constitutional order, and violated the integrity of the Russian Federation. Articles on torture and inhuman treatments would be a defamation of police and damaged their image.[1] Indeed the "Youth Human Rights newspaper" reported on cases of police violence and torture, on trials against activists, human rights work and current issues[3].

Actually the only argument offered in the case against GDM concerns publications in the human rights newspaper, and points out the quality of the FSB "expertise". This reads as follows: "The texts and illustrating materials in "Youth Human Rights newspaper" contain special linguistic means of visual manipulation ... "speaking" punctuation marks - the exclamation marks in the slogan 'Freedom!!!'. The hidden calls in the texts and headlines of the 'Youth Human Rights newspaper' for violently change the constitutional order and violation of the integrity of the Russian Federation consist in the repeated demands for 'freedom' as well as demands for 'rights'."[4]

Tatiana Kulbakina writes to this on May 30, 2014 in the journal 7x7: "Actually I am not up to comment this here. The absurdity is obvious as I guess. Basically, the whole examination is made in the same style." The linguistic expertise was composed by Doctor of Philology Larissa Gorban, who 2008 received her doctoral level for the paper "Navy lexis of the Russian language in synchrony and diachrony". She boldly claims in her expertise "GDM shows characteristics of a foreign agent".[4]

GDM's fields of activities

The Humanistic Youth Movement is basically dedicated to educational work in different subjects. They never arranged public actions such as demonstrations or pickets. The objectives of the organization are the formation of humanistic moral values in youth; the promotion of the active citizenship of young people, human rights enlightment and youth education; raising the public role and social importance of youth; the development of the mutual understanding between young people from different countries; and the education for national tolerance, freedom and individual rights, other world-views and lifestyles.[1] This all sounds quite much like the funding guidelines of the YOUTH programme of the EU - thus, what round here is considered as exceptionally recoverable.[5] In the focus of the "foreign agent" accusation against GDM are grants the organization received for their international and intercultural events from Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and from the Saint Petersburg Consulate General of the Netherlands[6].

Chronology of the "foreign agent" accusation

Already in spring 2014 GDM was checked by the prosecution - officially to verify whether the official objectives of the organization are in accord with the actual activities. This inspection however was already related to the quite new "foreign agent" law. There were no issues found.

In March 2014 Humanistic Youth Movement was checked in the course of the regular triennial inspections by the Ministry of Justice as well concerning the existence of "foreign agent" activities, in which the prosecution indirectly was involved and brought in additional questions. This inspections was carried out on behalf of the prosecution, executed by the Ministry of Justice. With the final report of the inspection the Ministry confirmed in the middle of March that indeed foreign money was involved, but that GDM's work couldn't be considered "political". The Russian mainstream discourse equals "political" with "politics", while activists' actions are not considered political. Thus, the elements of an offense are not fulfilled.[2] But the prosecution considered the case differently and intervened. Though they are actually not competent, but the Ministry of Justice is[7].

The non-public, preparative curt session took place forenoon on June 16 at the Murmansk Local Court. This hearing was supposed to make sure the parties in the trial would understand the coming procedure, and to accept applications. The GDM representative illustrated the stance of the human rights organization, submitted applications and pointed to a counter assessment to the linguistic expertise of the prosecution. The Ministry of Justice was not attendant, but they had filed a written statement in which they informed that from their point of view the accusation of the prosecutions has no basis.[7]

During the appeal proceedings against the first-instance verdict GDM supplied all evidence against the „foreign agent“ accusation, refuted the latest court expertise and faulted procedural errors. Judge and the counsel for the prosecution were objected to on grounds of suspected bias, the latter because they couldn‘t produce competence. – Both claims remained without success. The prosecutor only uttered a few sentences, basically just contradicted GDM’s argumentation claiming it to be founded on wrong understanding on law.[8] The decision was postponed to February 11, because after all eventually the court wanted to hear the Ministry of Justice again and had requested more documents from the prosecutor’s office[9].

In the end Humanistic Youth Movement was convicted for acting as a „foreign agent“ – now becoming final. As a consequence of the judgement now GDM would have to register themselves with the Ministry of Justice as a „foreign agent“[10]. Should they do it, the organization would probably be stigmatized forever, because the Russian „foreign agent“ law provide a procedure to sign out a once registrated organization from the „foreign agent“ register – even if the grounds for the classification (reception of foreign support and „political“ activities) wouldn‘t exist any more. GDM rather will disband themselves than to continue their work with such stigmatization[10].

But before a last GDM event will take place, again in cooperation with the Leipzig based „AG Russland“: The 4th Kronstadt conference „Migration and movement – to all directions – 100 years Murmansk“ will take place in the north Russian city from April 3-7, 2015. Future events can‘t be organized under the label of the registered Russian organization any more.

Anticipated consequences of the case

GDM is accused to act as a "foreign agent". Given that the organization, as all other concerned Russian NGOs (with one exception) doesn't consider itself "foreign agent" and didn't register themselves as such, initiated by the FSB a court is now supposed to assess the criteria (foreign support and political activity) were met and to instruct[6] the Humanistic Youth Movement to stigmatized themselves foreign spies.[1][11] In case they wouldn't follow that order, they would face high fines, in the worst case, if those wouldn't be paid, the chairperson and other as responsible persecuted people could even be faced to imprisonment. It is a fact that the classification as "foreign agent" equals the closure of the human rights organization.[6]. The first trial date took place on Monday, June 16, 2014 at 10.30 AM at the Local Court (Lenin prospect 2) under judge Zemtsova[12][6]. The continuation of the trial was adjourned to July 8, 2014 at 3.30 PM[13].

Engagement in Social Control Committee

A specialty of the Murmansk human rights organization case is their activity in the regional "Social Control Committee", a civil society commission to control conditions in Russian penitentiaries. Two representatives of the group are engaged in the Murmansk committee, visited prisoners, inspected the conditions of imprisonment and advocated for the basic rights of the persons concerned. The Russian law allows members of these regional committees extensive access to stateÄs prisons - in general they have the right to inspect any part of a jail at any point of time, to talk to prisoners and personal, and file demands to the responsible bodies on affording basic humanitarian principles. This the jails' administrations don't like; that's why it happens that those attempt locally to impact on authorities to put pressure on the delegating organizations. In several cases the committees' efforts already led to significant improvements for the people imprisoned under abysmal conditions.[14]

The suspected closure of GDM due to the "foreign agent" case would effect the end of their work with the human rights committee. Because only representatives of registered NGOs can participate in them. The mandates of the GDM human rights activists will expire with the end of the organization. If other NGOs would designate them instead, and how many years it would take until a new assignment could take place, is totally open.[14]

Express solidarity

Spread the word on this case, inform about the "foreign agent" law and the persecution of unwanted NGOs in Russia, publish statements of solidarity (and inform us about it to coordinate the solidarity activities via e-mail to soli-kampagne AT riseup DOT net[15]). Vigils in front of Russian embassy and consulates could be imposing. In addition financial support for the costs of trial, lawyers and anticipated fines are needed. Make your donations to the bank account mentioned above!

Besides that the affected ones have asked the public to send complaints to the prosecution of the Pervomaysky district and to demand a recall of the application to declare GDM a "foreign agent". This is possible by fax to +7 8152472526, by post to 183038 г. Мурманск, ул. Коммуны, 18 and via internet on the prosecution's complaint page.[4]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 as of May 28, 2014
  2. 2.0 2.1 as of June 12, 2014
  3. as of June 16, 2014
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 as of June 15, 2014
  5. ERASMUS+ 2014 guidelines:
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 as of June 14, 2014
  7. 7.0 7.1 interview with Tatiana Kulbakina, vice chairperson of GDM, on June 16, 2014
  8. GDM-Information via E-Mail vom 9. Februar 2015
  9. GDM-Information via E-Mail vom 21. Januar 2015
  10. 10.0 10.1 GDM-Information via E-Mail vom 11. Februar 2015
  11. as of June 17, 2014
  12. as of June 16, 2014
  13. notification by GDM as of June 16, 2014
  14. 14.0 14.1 as of June 8, 2014
    talks to committee members in June 2014
  15. For protection against automatic email address robots searching for addresses to send spam to them this email address has been made unreadable for them. To get a correct mail address you have to displace "AT" by the @-symbol and "DOT" by the dot-character (".").