MOSCOW, January 22 (RAPSI) – Russia’s Constitutional Court started hearings of an application filed by a slew of Russian human rights organizations on the standards of prosecutors’ inspections of NGOs, RAPSI reports from the court on Thursday.

Memorial’s Human Rights Center, the Civic Assistance Committee, the Agora interregional association of human rights organizations and several other human rights organizations believe that numerous surprise inspections, which prosecutors’ offices begin without explaining the reason for them, hinder the NGOs’ operation. NGOs are obliged to provide copies of large amounts of documents that are freely available from other sources.

The Presidential Council on Human Rights believes that the contested norms encourage prosecutors to conduct these inspections on the grounds of receiving “information” about the alleged violation of laws by NGOs.

However, Mikhail Barshchevsky, a prominent lawyer and government envoy to the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, explains that under the law prosecutors are not obliged to provide any explanations about the essence of cases they are investigating or provide them for review by said organizations.

Under a controversial law approved by President Vladimir Putin in 2012, NGOs funded from abroad and engaged in political activities are required to register as foreign agents, or face fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($14,189) for NGOs and up to 300,000 rubles ($8,513) for directors of NGOs.

Inspections of NGOs began in late March 2013 when the Justice Ministry said its goal was to check that the organizations' activities corresponded with the objectives of their charters and with Russian legislation.