As representatives of civil society, we are deeply concerned about the attempts by Russian authorities to prosecute Valentina Cherevatenko, one of the most prominent civil society and public figures in Russia.
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We have been informed that V. Cherevatenko has been repeatedly summoned by investigators and that a criminal case may be initiated against her under the “foreign agents law” of the Russian Federation.
The initiation of the criminal case is connected with the rejection to voluntarily register the Women of the Don Union and the Women of the Don Foundation for Civil Society Development in the Russian registry of organizations functioning as foreign agents. It should be noted that the decision not to be included in this registry was a collective choice for both organizations and that both organizations are trying to prove the unlawfulness of being registered in that registry based on the rules of the Russian legislation. According to these rules any organization can challenge in court the decision to be registered in that registry.
The Women of the Don Union is one of the most respected and prominent organizations in the Russian Federation and it has been working on peace building and human rights for more than 20 years. TheWomen of the Don Foundation was founded after the Union was warned that their activities will be considered illegal in other regions of Russia except for the Rostov region.
The law on foreign agents was adopted in 2012 after Point 330.1 was added to the Criminal Code with the description “intentional evasion of duties of non-profit organizations functioning as foreign agents as defined by the law of the Russian Federation.”
The article provides severe punishment including fines and up to two years in prison for the head of the organization. Currently a number of organization have preferred to shut down, and others are on the verge of bankruptcy because of high fines imposed for refusing to be recognized as foreign agents, while the work of hundreds of other organizations has been ruined all over Russia.
We are alarmed and we announce that the above mentioned law in the Russian Federation is simply a tool to oppress civil processes in Russia. We are convinced that it is being used selectively against those civil society representatives who can mobilize the public against the policy of military solutions to conflicts and raise other issues regarding human rights in Russia.
We announce that the initiation of a criminal case against Valentina Cherevatenko is a dangerous precedent which leads to a new level of attack against an independent civil society in the Russian Federation.
Therefore, we call upon Russian authorities to stop their attempts to prosecute Valentina Cherevatenko under the law on foreign agents, as well as on the immediate termination of pressure against her and other members of the Women of the Don and Don Women Foundation.
In addition, we call upon the representatives of all international institutions for human rights to insistently respond to the actions of the Russian authorities against the civil society representatives and to take measures to ‘remind’ their Russian colleagues that they are obliged to make efforts to ensure that the human rights defenders can carry out their legitimate activities without fear of retaliation or being subjected to harassment as demanded by the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Edgar Khachatryan is the director of Peace Dialogue, a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation. He specializes in international peacebuilding trainings, consultancy and expertise in gender and peace processes, violence prevention, and post-war stabilization and recovery.
This article was originally published on Peace Dialogue’s website and is available by clicking here. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.