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April 09, 2014

Russian Court Ruling Forces NGO to close

Anti-Discrimination Centre (ADC) “Memorial,” a stalwart in the Russian human rights movement, is the latest victim of Russia’s foreign agent law. A St. Petersburg District Court’s decision against the organization has forced its organizers to face the choice of registering the organization as a foreign agent or facing jail time. Instead, they have opted for a third option: closure.
 
ADC-Memorial’s mission has been to fight against the discrimination and violence rooted in the xenophobia and racism widespread in Russia. From fighting the tide of hatred advanced by neo-Nazi extremists to protecting the rights of migrant workers entering the country from former Soviet republics, the organization has remained synonymous with Russian human rights since its inception. In February, Human Rights First met with ADC-Memorial representative Semyon Simonov to discuss the dire situation for immigrants in the shadow of the Sochi Games 
 
In the summer of 2012, the Duma passed a law requiring nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.” Authorities in St. Petersburg were especially repressive, enforcing a complex system of registration and conducting a series of invasive state inspections of NGOs. Russia’s civil society was united in opposition and fought the law in courts. Now, what was perhaps the highest profile of these cases has ended in defeat.
 
The ‘foreign agent’ law refers to Law No. 121-FZ, which mandates that any organization engaging in political activity while receiving aid from a foreign source must register with the Ministry of Justice as a foreign agent lest they face restrictive fines or criminal charges. The label of "foreign agent" carries a debilitating stigma rooted in Cold War terminology, associated with foreign spies. Combined with the overbearing operational costs of complying with the law, many organizations have weighed the option of shutting down entirelyrather than being labeled as foreign agents. ADC-Memorial will choose that path.