Freedom of Association in the Russian Federation

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Freedom of Association in the Russian Federation. A report on developments in 2015

Olga GNEZDILOVA, Lawyer and legal adviser to the Article20.org website

Since 2012 dozens of laws aimed at restricting freedom of speech and the participation of ordinary citizens in running their country have been passed in Russia. Among these laws are those linked to the legislation about “foreign agents”. The unlimited power of the authorities has led to the destruction of a system of checks and balances that had hardly begun to take shape. Part of that system is civil society.

      At present [31 March 2016] more than one hundred of the best-known and most successful NGOs in Russia, at regional or national level, are included in the register of “foreign agents”. As a result, they have been subjected to large fines, numerous inspections, and many have been forced to cease their activities.

      About fifty such NGOs have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, filing complaints about the unwarranted interference of the State in their right to freedom of assembly and association. Up to the present the ECtHR has not delivered a verdict on a single one of these appeals.

      The organisations facing this persecution are, for the most part, those voicing critical opinions about a lack of respect for human rights in Russia, the State’s failure to meet its social obligations, and environmental issues. Others are NGOs defending the rights of vulnerable groups, e.g. LGBT organisations.

“In effect, the authorities have equated their critics with enemies of the State,” comments Tatyana Lokshina, Russia programme director for Human Rights Watch; adding that the Russian authorities “have been attempting by all possible means to drown out their voices or to render them unlawful.”

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