The Observatory has been informed about the blocking of the website of OVD-Info, an independent human rights media project which documents and widely disseminates information about violations of the right to freedom of assembly and other human rights in Russia, and offers legal support to victims.
Russia’s authorities simultaneously requested social media enterprises to shut down social media accounts of OVD-Info. Since most of the NGO’s activities are carried out online, the closure of its social media accounts would amount to a de facto liquidation of OVD-Info.
The Observatory recalls that businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights and not contribute to violations that is independent of States’ willingness to fulfil their own human rights obligations, as provided in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It therefore calls upon social media enterprises, and notably Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vkontakte and Telegram, to refrain from blocking OVD-Info’s social media accounts.
On December 25, 2021, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media regulator, requested the blocking of OVD-Info’s website, without sending any official notification to the organisation. On the same day, Roskomnadzor requested social media enterprises (in particular Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vkontakte and Telegram) to block accounts of the organisation.
The website’s blocking was ordered on the basis of a decision issued by the Lukhovitskiy District Court of the Moscow Region on December 20, 2021, recognizing that OVD-Info’s work “aimed at promoting terrorism and extremism”. The organisation was not informed of these proceedings, nor invited to enter the proceedings as a party. Moreover, the Court failed to deliver a copy of the decision to the organisation. On December 29, 2021, Mr. Grigory Okhotin, the co-founder and director of OVD-Info, appealed the decision and requested a copy of it. The proceedings are currently pending.
The December 20 decision follows an administrative claim filed by Lukhovistkiy Town Prosecutor on December 15, 2021 to the Lukhovitskiy District Court of the Moscow Region upon examination of materials posted on OVD-Info’s website. The organisation was neither informed about the reasons for the inquiry nor about the specific online materials that were deemed offending.
On September 29, 2021, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation had declared OVD-Info a “foreign agent” thus including the organisation in the Registry of unregistered public organisations foreign agents. This decision has been challenged by Grigory Okhotin and the proceedings are ongoing.
The Observatory strongly condemns the decision of blocking OVD-Info’s website, which seems to be only aimed at sanctioning the organisation for its legitimate human rights activities and its exercise of the right to freedom of expression. It seems to appear also as reprisals for OVD-Info’s recent active campaign for the abolition of the notorious Russian law on "foreign agents", deemed contrary to international and national law.
The Observatory notes with further concern that the harassment against OVD-Info takes place in the context of an increased crackdown on the Russian civil society in recent weeks and is the latest example of the systematisation of the abusive use of the "Foreign Agent” Law to hinder the work of organisations and individual defending human rights in the country. On December 28 and 29, 2021, International Memorial and HRC Memorial were both respectively liquidated for alleged violation of the “Foreign Agent” Law. In 2021, 131 organisations, independent media and individuals were added to the “foreign agents” registries.
The Observatory urges the Russian authorities to immediately repeal the decision leading to the blocking of the website of OVD-Infoand to put an end to any act of harassment against OVD-Info, as well as against all organisations defending human rights in the country.
How You Can Help
Please write to the authorities of Russia, urging them to:
i. Immediately repeal the decision to block OVD-Info’s website;
ii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against OVD-Info, its members, as well as against all human rights organisations and defenders in Russia, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
iii. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, as enshrined in international human right law, and particularly in Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
· Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, Twitter: @KremlinRussia_E
· Mr. Mikhail Mishustin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Twitter:@GovernmentRF
· Mr. Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Igor Krasnov, General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation, Email: email@example.com
· Mr. Alexander Bortnikov, Director of Federal Security Service (FSS), Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. E-mail: email@example.com
· Embassy of the Russian Federation in Brussels, Belgium. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Permanent Representation of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe, France. Email: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of the Russian Federation in your respective countries.