The Observatory has been informed about the liquidation of the non-governmental organisation the Sakharov Center. The Sakharov Center was a museum and cultural center, established in 1996 in Moscow, devoted to the protection of human rights in Russia and the preservation of the legacy of prominent physicist and Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist Andrei Sakharov.
On August 18, 2023, the Moscow City Court ordered the liquidation of the Sakharov Center for alleged violation of the Federal Law "On Public Associations", following a lawsuit filed by the Russian Ministry of Justice. The court alleged that, as an organisation registered in Moscow, the Sakharov Center’s activities should have been conducted only in this city and that the organisation has repeatedly violated the “Foreign Agents” Law.
The Observatory recalls that, on December 25, 2014, the Sakharov Center was included on the Ministry of Justice’s register of “foreign agents”, which requires more frequent financial reporting, mandatory annual audits and implies that any information published or distributed by these organisations must contain a reference to the fact that it was published or distributed by an NGO acting as a “foreign agent”.
In December 2022, the Tagansky district Court in Moscow fined the Sakharov Center five million roubles (approximately 48 930 Euros) for publishing ten videos without the “foreign agent” status label, mandatory for all materials produced by organisations classified as "foreign agents" under the “Foreign Agents” Law.
In early 2023, the Sakharov Center announced on their social media pages that the organisation was evicted from a building in the center of Moscow. At that time, the Moscow City Property Department notified the Center of the termination of lease agreements for all premises, which were leased by the city to the organisation free of charge. The updated Law “On Foreign Agents", which came into force in December 2022, prohibits, among other things, state support for them.
On January 10, 2023, State Duma deputy Andrei Lugovoi sent a request to the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for inspecting NGOs, for an unscheduled inspection of the organisation for the period from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2022. Based on the results of the inspection, the Ministry of Justice’ Commission found systematic, grave and unrecoverable violations of the requirements of the legislation of the Russian Federation in the Sakharov Center’s activities, such as carrying out activities outside Moscow, dissemination of information without the label of "foreign agent" and non-compliance of the founding documents of the organisation with the current legislation.
On June 6, 2023, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation in Moscow sent an administrative claim to the Moscow City Court demanding Sakharov Center’s liquidation. Particularly, the Ministry of Justice found eight violations of "territoriality", including the participation of the Sakharov Center in the preparation of exhibitions held outside Moscow by providing archive materials, fragments of memoirs, information banners and media files.
In 2019, the Sakharov Center and its Executive Director Sergey Lukashevsky, became part of the Organising Committee for the Preparation and Holding of Events to Commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Andrei Sakharov, established pursuant to a decree of the Russian President. Under the auspices of this Committee, several exhibitions were created, including those for which the Sakharov Center was targeted by the Ministry of Justice. At the same time, in a letter to the heads of the regions of the Russian Federation dated July 3, 2020, the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation requested “assistance in holding an exhibition created with the participation of the Sakharov Center on the territory of the region in question”. Despite this, the Ministry of Justice alleged that all the activities implemented by the Sakharov Center outside Moscow were illegal and further argued in its lawsuit that there were “inconsistencies in the statutes of the Sakharov Center”.
The Sakharov Center's alleged failure to comply with the requirements of “Foreign Agents” Law, despite the fact that the organisation had already been fined for these violations, was also the reason for filing a liquidation claim.
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 Sakharov Center 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, when there are reasonable grounds to suspect that serious breaches of the law have occurred. The unscheduled inspection of the Sakharov Center 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 measures 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.
The Observatory recalls that in December 2022, two other prominent human rights organisations in Russia, Human Rights Center Memorial and the International Memorial, were arbitrarily liquidated. On January 25, 2023, the Moscow City Court ordered the liquidation of Moscow Helsinki Group. On August 17, 2023, the First Appellate Court of General Jurisdiction approved the decision of the Moscow City Court, adopted in April, to liquidate the regional public organisation SOVA Center for Information and Analysis.
The Observatory strongly condemns the dissolution of the Sakharov Center, which seems to be only aimed at sanctioning the organisation for its legitimate human rights activities and its exercise of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression.
The Observatory urges the Russian authorities to immediately repeal this decision and put an end to any act of harassment against Sakharov Center, as well as against all human rights organisations in the country.
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 Sakharov Center;
- Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Sakharov Center, 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. 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 the Russian Federation in your respective country.