The Observatory has been informed about the liquidation of the non-governmental organisation Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG). Founded in 1976, MHG is the oldest Russian human rights organisation established in the country. MHG provides legal and other types of assistance to Russian citizens and residents, disseminates information about human rights violations, monitors high-profile trials, and promotes human rights and fundamental freedoms.
On January 25, 2023, the Moscow City Court ordered the liquidation of MHG for alleged violation of the Federal Law "On Public Associations", following a lawsuit filed by the Russian Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The court alleged that, as an organisation registered in Moscow, MHG’s activities should have been conducted only in this city, but instead its members participated in conferences and monitored court proceedings in other regions of Russia. Judge Kazakov rejected all of the organisation's motions to call witnesses and enclose documents in the case file. While the trial lasted five hours, the subsequent deliberation and decision to liquidate the organisation were made in 20 minutes.
In November 2022, officers of the MoJ conducted an unscheduled inspection in the office of MHG in Moscow, after which the Main Department of the MoJ filed a lawsuit on December 14, 2022, before the Moscow City Court requesting the liquidation of the organisation, as well as a ban on all its activities in Russia.
MHG leadership received an official notification about the lawsuit on December 20, 2022, which stated that the grounds for the liquidation were the alleged participation of MHG members in activities outside the region in which it is registered, that is, Moscow. Among such activities, the MoJ mentioned the following ones: participating in conferences and trial observations; addressing regional authorities; and participating in offline and online events organised by MHG’s regional partners in areas other than Moscow. Particularly, the MoJ found 11 violations of "territoriality", including a trial in Yaroslavl in 2020 in a high-profile case of torture in a penal colony, surveillance of the widely publicised "Ingush case", and a request to St Petersburg governor Alexander Beglov to lift the ban on solitary demonstrations in the city. The MoJ alleged that all these activities implemented by MHG outside Moscow were illegal and further argued in its lawsuit that there were "inconsistencies in the statutes of the MHG”.
The Observatory recalls that the legislation governing NGOs’ activities in Russia is draconian and falls short of international standards on freedom of association. The liquidation of MHG is an unnecessary and disproportionate penalty for the violations allegedly committed by the organisation, and violates Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the right to freedom of association.
Furthermore, according to international standards on freedom of association, inspections of NGOs are only legitimate if they are justified, for instance, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that serious breaches of the law have occurred. The unscheduled inspection of the MHG had no such justification and violated international standards on freedom of association.
The Observatory further notes that since 2012, the Russian authorities have adopted a series of progressively tightening anti “Foreign Agents” laws to silence all dissenting voices, including NGOs, human rights defenders, independent journalists, media outlets or any person or group considered to be under “foreign influence”. For NGOs, it is virtually impossible to comply with all requirements under the “Foreign Agents” legislation which results in disproportionate, unnecessary and illegitimate restrictions on their right to freedom of association, including liquidation.
MHG was committed to complying with the requirements of the above-mentioned legislation regulating NGOs, for instance, by refusing to receive any foreign funding after the adoption of the “Foreign Agents” legislation in 2012. Nonetheless, the MoJ found a pretext to liquidate the organisation under the law “On Public Associations”.
The Observatory strongly condemns the dissolution of MHG, which seems to be only aimed at sanctioning it for its legitimate human rights activities and its exercise of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression. The closure of Russia's oldest human rights organisation comes amid the Kremlin's brutal crackdown on Russian civil society and human rights defenders.
The Observatory recalls that in December 2022, two other prominent human rights organisations in Russia, Human Rights Center Memorial and International Memorial, were arbitrarily liquidated.
The Observatory urges the Russian authorities to immediately repeal this decision and put an end to any act of harassment against MHG, as well as against all human rights organisations in the country, including Human Rights Center Memorial and International Memorial.
The Observatory further urges the Russian authorities to ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders and organisations in the country are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals, and to guarantee in all circumstances the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association in the country, in accordance with Articles 19, 21 and 22 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, respectively.
How You Can Help
Please write to the authorities of Russia, asking them to:
- Immediately repeal the decision to dissolve Moscow Helsinki Group;
- Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Moscow Helsinki Group, 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;
- 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: email@example.com
- Mr. Igor Krasnov, General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mr. Alexander Bortnikov, Director of Federal Security Service (FSS), Email: email@example.com
- Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Embassy of the Russian Federation in Brussels, Belgium. E-mail: email@example.com
- Permanent Representation of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe, France. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Russia in your respective country.