Russian courts ordered to honor presumption of legality in NGO cases
MOSCOW, May 27 (RAPSI) – Russian courts should take into account the presumption of legality and good faith while considering cases involving NGOs , the Constitutional Court said in a ruling published on Wednesday.
The ruling was made in connection with a petition filed by Liliya Shibanova, head of the Golos Association in Defense of Voters’ Rights.
In November 2012, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, a not-for-profit organization based in Oslo, awarded a prize of 7,700 euros ($9,600) to Golos. The money was transferred to the Russian NGO’s transit account, but Golos later sent it back to Oslo. However, the Justice Ministry branded the action as foreign funding and instructed Golos to register as a foreign agent.
On April 25, 2013, Golos was fined 300,000 rubles (about $6,000) for violating the foreign agent law. Shibanova was fined 100,000 rubles (about $2,000).
A federal law was passed in November 2012 requiring all NGOs engaged in political activity and receiving financing from abroad to register as a “foreign agent” or face fines of up to 500,000 rubles (about $8,200).
In February 2013, 11 Russian NGOs lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) protesting the law.
In April 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that some provisions of the foreign agent law contradicted the Constitution, in particular a clause under which the transfer of funds to an NGO is considered as foreign funding, irrespective of whether the said organization accepted or rejected the funds. Based on that ruling, the fine imposed on Shibanova was reversed.
At the same time, other courts upheld the Justice Ministry request that Golos register as a foreign agent, following which Shibanova filed a petition at the Constitutional Court.
The Constitutional Court said in its ruling that if an organization refused to accept foreign funds and returned them to the sender it does not have to register as a foreign agent.
The Constitutional Court also said that courts should act from the presumption of legality and good faith of civil society organizations. It is the duty of government officials to prove the receipt of foreign funding and an NGO’s intention to engage in political activity.