CSOs listed as foreign agents, as protesters clash with police
New CSOs included in the list of foreign agents
In February 2019, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation added the Center for Cooperation and Development of Mass Media to the list of "foreign agents” organisations. The organisation, whose main activities include scientific research and development in the fields of public and humanitarian sciences and the publication of books and journals was registered in Moscow in 2015. The categorisation was made after an unscheduled documentary audit conducted by the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Justice of Russia in Moscow that revealed that the organisation showed 'characteristics of a non-profit organisation performing the functions of a foreign agent'.
Three other organisations were branded as ‘foreign agents’ in February 2019: the Fund for Protection of the Prisoners Rights, the movement ‘For Human Rights’ and Human Rights Organization "Hot Line.
The Law on Non-Profit Organisations, adopted in of 2012, requires all NGOs that receive foreign funding to indicate in all documents disseminated through major channels that they are foreign agents.
State Duma proposes to regulate non-traditional religious centers
In February 2019, the Russian Duma (assembly) members proposed the introduction of supervision of non-traditional religious centers and organisations which are financed from abroad. Sergei Gavrilov, the representative of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Public Health and Religious Affairs, said that while traditional religious churches such as the Catholic and Lutheran churches operate within the legal framework, other non-traditional religious groups are teaching and spreading 'doubtful information'. According to Gavrilov, these non-traditional religious centers engage in teaching, healing, dubious training sessions.
He added that because the law provides benefits to religious centers such as tax exemptions, use of property and licensing of religious education, unscrupulous organizations that want to avoid mandatory requirements use this religious framework to access the benefits.
The ”Seti” case and related protests
In April 2019, the Initiative Against Torture and Discrimination organised a series of pickets in the center of Moscow in support of the defendants in the ”Seti” (the 'network' in Russian) case. According to OVD-Info, a civil society initiative which monitors political pressure, eleven young people from the city of Penza and St. Petersburg stand accused of participating in a terrorist organisation under article 205.4 of the Criminal Code. The Network supposedly has cells in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Penza and Belarus. The eleven are accused of engaging in acts of terrorism and armed insurrection, and could face five to ten years in prison.
The protesters announced that they would hold pickets every day in front of the Federal Bureau of Security (FSB) (building on Lubyanka Square and on Manezhnaya Square.
In a statement , the protesters explained their position:
“The main demand is to release those innocent and to stop the torture.”
Konstantin Kotov, a protester added:
“The FSB is the initiator of this fabricated case of ‘The Network’. They tortured the guys. We are in the 21st century, and we have torture just like in the Middle Ages”.
Members of the St. Petersburg Public Observation Commission said they found evidence of torture on the bodies of those arrested in St. Petersburg. The human rights organisation also confirmed signs of torture were also found on the other persons who had been arrested in the ”The Network”case.
On 13th May 2019, about 2000 protesters gathered at the Labour Square in Yekaterinburg to oppose the intended construction of a church,the Church of Saint Catherine. The church is to replace the eponymous cathedral, erected in the 18th century and destroyed in 1930. The protesters broke temporary barriers that had been installed at the construction site and clashes between supporters and opponents of the construction was reported. One person was detained and another one was hospitalised.
The following day, on 14th May, clashes between protesters and riot police took place at the construction site, when protesters partially blocked Yeltsin Street. Over 20 people were detained for disorderly conduct and traffic violations. On 15th May, a flash mob against the construction of the church was held on Labour Square.
On 16th May, the Presidential Administration suggested that the president was supporting the idea of a local referendum or a public survey, to find out the public’s opinion regarding this issue. The governor agreed to respect the public’s opinion if the referendum results call for a stop to the construction in the Labor Square.
On 8th May 2019, it was reported that the Volga District Military Court declared that it found the decision by the Penza Garrison Military Court and the bailiffs to deny journalists access to the courtroom for the Seti trial to be lawful (see under Peaceful Assembly) on 15th April 2019. The Volga military court explained that the “courtroom was filled and there was no possibility of admitting the relatives of the accused and the press representatives to the court session. The Penza Garrison Military Court does not have the technical capabilities of video broadcasting of the court session.”
Resolution 35 of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of 13th December 2012 on “openness and publicity of legal proceedings and access to information about the activities of the courts’ states that holding open court sessions in premises without allowing the possibility of the presence of persons not parties to the process, representatives of the editorial staff of the media (journalists) are not allowed.