Human rights fighters on foreign agent list, for second time

piggtrad-fengsel-atlesThe Russian Ministry of Justice has put the international human rights society Memorial on its list of foreign agents. The decision is unlawful and will be appealed in court, Memorial says.

“Hearing this news, I joked that I am a double agent,” Pavel Andreev said, referring to the fact that the regional Komi Human Rights Commission Memorial was put on the controversial list in 2015.

That had devastating consequences for the regional organization.

“The status of a foreign agent became critical for our regional commission; by refusing to have such a name and not being able to fulfill all the formal requirements imposed by the law, we announced our self-destruction and froze projects,” Andreev told the Barents Observer.

Now, the International Memorial, the historical and human rights society, is included in the list as well. The decision was announced by the Justice Ministry on Oct. 4, Memorial said.

Pavel Andreev has been a key person for the human rights organization in the Komi Republic. He is also member of the Board of the International Memorial, a network of over 60 friendly NGOs.

Consequences for the International Memorial might not be as serious as for the regional Komi commission, Andreev hopes. The International Memorial has more resources to spend on lawyers and accountants and to meet the requirements of the Justice Ministry.

However, indirect effects might be grave.

“This is damaging our image,” Andreev said. “The words ‘foreign agent’ are synonymous with ‘spy’ in the Russian language. And that will impact all the regional “Memorials” in small towns,” he said.

“To work in the field of history and education without cooperation with the state museums, archives and schools, is impossible, and many of the state organizations will refuse to work with a foreign agent.”

Memorial was formally established in 1989 and quickly became a leading human rights institution in the country. It includes a human rights center and an archive on political repression, a library and a museum. The human rights centre was listed as a foreign agent in May 2013.

Since the Law on Foreign Agents was adopted in 2012, more than a hundred Russian organizations have been put on the agent list. Among them is the Levada Center, which was included in September this year. The list includes a range of non-governmental organizations working in the field of human rights, research and journalism. Other “agent” organizations are the Moscow Carnegie Center, the Soldier’s Mothers, Golos, Bellona, the Glasnost Defense Foundation, as well as the Russian Journalist Union.

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Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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