We Are All Foreign Agents!



GCR, in siding with ECRE, also supports the Russian NGOs defying the new law obliging organisations receiving foreign funding to identify themselves as “foreign agents”.

Controversial changes to the law on NGOs came into force in Russia on 21 November 2012, meaning that any NGO engaging in “political activity” and receiving foreign funding can be asked to register on a database of “foreign agents”. Any materials distributed by such NGOs, including in the media and on the internet, have to be accompanied by a reference to their foreign agent status.

Many human rights groups have said that they will not cooperate with the law and voluntarily register themselves in such a way. Indeed, on 6 February, the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) and Memorial Human Rights Centre, ECRE Member Organisation, lodged an application to the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of 11 leading Russian human rights NGOs to contest the law. EHRAC and Memorial are alleging that this law violates their rights to freedom of association and expression (Articles 11 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights) as well as prohibition of discrimination and limitation of restriction on rights (Articles 14 and 18). The NGOs argue that that the law unnecessarily and unjustifiably puts them at risk of serious sanctions, including criminal prosecutions of individuals and the possible suspension of their organisations. Furthermore, the applicants say that the term ‘Foreign Agent’ has very negative connotations in Russia due to its association with the word ‘spy’ in the Russian language, which will therefore affect their reputations and their ability to function effectively. The lack of clear definition of ‘political activity’ in the Russian legislation is also contested as it is believed that it could lead to the arbitrary application of the law by the authorities.   

Philip Leach, Director of EHRAC has said, “This is a very repressive law which directly threatens the integrity and the activities of Russian NGOs which play an absolutely vital role in scrutinising and monitoring the State. We urge the Strasbourg Court to move quickly to strike it down.”

Oleg Orlov, Memorial’s chairman, said that accepting the “foreign agent” label would so undermine public trust that rights advocates would no longer be able to carry out essential work. Memorial has refused to reject current foreign funded grants as this would mean they would have to drop important human rights related activities, including taking cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

In 2009, Memorial received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded by the European Parliament to individuals or organisations that have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy.

This new law seriously compromises the ability of Russian human rights activists to carry out their essential work and GCR stands with these organisations against this stigmatisation.


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