INCLO members condemn the curtailing of civil society
space in Russia and the shutdown of Agora
The undersigned organizations—members of the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO), who are deeply committed to supporting civil society space—condemn the shutdown of one of INCLO’s member organizations, the Agora Human Rights Association in Russia.
The crackdown on independent civil society hit a new low in Russia, when last week (February 10, 2016) a regional court issued a ruling to dissolve the Agora Human Rights Association. Agora is a network of lawyers and activists. The organization is known in Russia for defending civil liberties and victims of political prosecution; their clients include the Pussy Riot band and the Crimean activist Olexander Kolchenko, among others. The administrative lawsuit was filed by the Ministry of Justice, alleging that Agora is involved in “political activities”, which is defined as actions aimed at influencing government or public opinion by the infamous 2012 “foreign agent” law. Agora is appealing the court ruling at Russia’s Supreme Court.
We believe that a dynamic and independent civil society plays a fundamental role in a democratic society, as it is one of the key checks and balances on governing power and it represents the interest of minorities. As stated in the resolution on civil society space approved by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 27th session, States have “to create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance and insecurity.” Therefore, we stand in solidarity with Agora and all the independent non-governmental organizations, including our members, whose work is jeopardized by restrictive state actions, and we call on governments to protect civil society space.
The following INCLO member organizations support the statement:
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)
Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)
Centro de Estudios Sociales y Legales (CELS)
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU)
Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)
Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL)
Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)
Legal Resources Centre (LRC)
*Note to editors:
The governmental control of non-governmental organizations started to tighten in 2006 with a NGO law already aimed at controlling foreign funding in Russia. The 2012 law introduced the phenomenon of “foreign agent” labeling organizations as such which fulfill two criteria: they accept foreign funding and their activities fall within the rather vague definition of “political activity”. By the end of 2015, over 100 non-governmental organizations were forcibly registered as foreign agents contributing to the vilification of human rights work in Russia. In June, 2015, a new act on “undesirable foreign organizations” came into force that authorizes the extrajudicial banning of foreign and international groups which allegedly undermine Russia’s security, defense and constitutional order. The National Endowment for Democracy and the Open Society Foundations were designated as undesirable, for which both foreign donors stopped their funding preventively.