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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City Refuses to Register Rights Group

Russia's human rights movement was dealt a blow this week when the Moscow city court upheld a lower court's ruling denying official registration to an organization headed by one of the country's most prominent environmentalists.

Alexei Yablokov, President Boris Yeltsin's former environmental adviser, said that the denial of official registration for his Advocacy Coalition for the Environment and Human Rights "must be blamed on the Federal Security Service," or FSB.

Yablokov said that the FSB, successor to the KGB, "doesn't want non-governmental human rights organizations to exist" and "apparently got sick of human rights advocates who grumble against the FSB, hold press conferences against the FSB and question FSB activities."

In May, Yablokov unsuccessfully appealed to Presnensky district court to overturn a decision by the Moscow city justice department to refuse official registration. In her statement at that hearing, justice department representative Yelena Filipchuk said that "the protection of human rights in the state is the responsibility of the state itself."

Filipchuk then said that Yablokov's organization "is trying to expand its power to the size of the [power] granted to the state" and that the most a public organization can do is "support the protection of human rights."

Earlier this year, the same office refused registration to seven other Moscow-based human rights groups on the same grounds.

The groups were turned down when they applied for re-registration - a procedure made obligatory for all Russian organizations by a decree issued last year by the federal Justice Ministry. The decree said that all public organizations must re-register before July 1, 1999.

Although officially the decree was issued to find out how many public organizations have collapsed or dissolved since they first registered years ago, it is used by the bureaucrats "as a pretext to shut down human rights organizations," said Boris Pustintsev, chairman of the St. Petersburg-based human rights group Citizens' Watch, who testified at the Advocacy Coalition's hearing.

Although no rights groups have been refused registration in St. Petersburg, Pustintsev said, things have not been the same in other parts of Russia. In Krasnodar region, for example, the new registration requirement was used to shut down several thousand organizations, he said.

"It means that the government usurps the citizen's right to protection," Pustintsev said at Monday's hearing. "According to this logic ... all human rights organizations created by the free will of the citizens of the new Russia must be deprived of registration."

"Around the world, it is the state that most often violates the fundamental rights and political freedoms of its citizens," Pustintsev said.

He called the court decision "a political precedent which could slow down the difficult process of creating a civil society and law-governed state in Russia."

Meanwhile, the Moscow-based Independent Expert Legal Council said the idea that the protection of human rights is the responsibility of the state itself is a violation of the Russian Constitution, which states that "every person may protect his rights and freedoms by means that do not violate the law."

And Nikolai Gudskov of the Glasnost Foundation, which researches the activities of law enforcement bodies across Russia, said the decision to deprive organizations of registration was most likely encouraged by the government in general.

"Bureaucrats want all issues to be solved by bureaucrats, not by public organizations," Gudskov said in a telephone interview Thursday. "Russian authorities send the message that public organizations can [do unimportant things] like breeding parrots, but the protection of human rights is the prerogative of courts and lawyers."

Gudskov said the Glasnost Foundation, a frequent KGB and FSB critic, had also been refused official registration twice. The foundation's appeal to the Moscow city court will be heard Sept. 6.