Briefing Notes: Russia

Published: Sat 20 Nov 2021 07:02 AM
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Liz Throssell
Location: Geneva
Date: 19 November 2021
Subject: Russia
We are concerned that legal action is under way in Russia seeking to close down Memorial, among the country’s most respected human rights groups.
Earlier this month, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office filed lawsuits calling for the dissolution of the Memorial Human Rights Centre and the International Memorial Society, for reiterated alleged breaches of Russia’s “foreign agents” laws. These new proceedings are reportedly based on previous breaches of the laws found against Memorial, including failure to mark published materials with the “foreign agent” label. Court hearings on the lawsuits are due to begin on 23 and 25 November.
The “foreign agents” law was adopted in 2012, requiring all non-governmental organisations that receive foreign funding to register as “foreign agents”. At the time, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay voiced deep concern that laws were being passed that restricted civil society space. UN human rights treaty bodies have raised similar concerns about the law and its implementation.
The authorities use the “foreign agents” designation, widely understood in the Russian context to be stigmatizing, to label what they assert are foreign-funded organisations engaging in “political activities”.
Since 2012, the law has been repeatedly modified and has been used against civil society and media organisations, journalists and individual human rights defenders and bloggers, among others. As a result, many organizations have been repeatedly audited and heavily fined for the slightest regulatory violation, with some forced into liquidation.
We urge the Russian authorities to abolish the “foreign agents” law or substantially amend it so it is in line with the country’s human rights obligations.
We also call on the Russian Government to uphold the fundamental freedoms of opinion and expression and of association and to allow diversity in ideas, criticism and dissent.

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