Galina Arapova on the law on natural persons-foreign agents: legal nonsense
Mary Lawlor on Human Rights Defenders
Interview of the Director of the Center for the Protection of Media Rights to the Russian Service &# 171; Voices of America&# 187;
Recently approved by the State Duma of the Russian Federation, a bill on the punishment of citizens assigned to the media – foreign agents, received a wide response both within the country and abroad..
Recall that the document allows for non-compliance with the norms prescribed in the law to fine foreign media agents and persons equated to them in amounts from 10 thousand to five million rubles. In addition, citizens can be arrested for up to fifteen days..
Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing individuals to be classified as foreign agents and to include them in the appropriate register as agreed by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs..
According to the new law, citizens, if included in the “black list”, will be obliged to establish a legal entity in Russia. Therefore, they can be subject to sanctions – both to individuals and to legal entities..
At the request of the Russian Service of the Voice of America, Galina Arapova, Director and Leading Lawyer of the Center for the Defense of Media Rights, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group Human Rights Award, comments on the latest initiatives in the field of Russian legislation..
Victor Vladimirov: Why do you think a new draft law was needed, and how feasible are the norms proposed in it??
Galina Arapova: This is another tool for controlling the power over society, which, in general, lies on the surface. And how the law will be used, you can hardly guess. Let’s start with legal entities that are subject to the new regulations. These are exactly the editions that are recognized by foreign media-foreign agents: Voice of America, Radio Liberty and other projects that have already been entered in the register of the Ministry of Justice. Let me remind you that there are ten of them. But I do not exclude that the registry will be actively expanded in the near future. So, it is these legal entities, if they do not obey the law and do not register a legal entity on the territory of the Russian Federation within the prescribed period (until February 2020 – V.V.), and will be subject to fines up to 5 million rubles. This is the first line.
As for individuals, the scheme is more complicated. The law covers both journalists who work for “enemy” editorial offices, participate in the preparation of materials, and other citizens who repost the text published in the media-foreign agents, and at the same time they have some kind of foreign funding. All of them potentially fit into the category of a foreign agent-individual. And if they are included in the “black list” by the decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice, then they will have to fulfill all the same requirements that apply to editorial offices that are included in the register on the “black list”. But before that, they are required to register a legal entity. Otherwise, they may begin to be fined, consistently increasing the amount of penalties, and for the third time they may be assigned an administrative arrest for up to 15 days..
V.V .: Is the very requirement for an individual to register a legal?
G.A .: From the point of view of registration of legal entities, there is complete freedom in Russia: if you want – register, if you don’t want – don’t register. If you are engaged in entrepreneurial activity, then in order not to be prosecuted, you need to either register a legal entity as a person, or become an individual entrepreneur. But the compulsory registration of a legal entity has not yet been provided for under Russian law. How people are now going to be forced to do this is not clear. I have not yet seen a single lawyer who could somehow describe such a procedure. Obviously, we will soon see explanations from the government on how to implement this law. People should understand what to do. In general, this is contrary to the logic of the law. I can’t imagine how the authorities will link everything up, and I’m not even going to guess here. This is the case when a lawyer’s brain just explodes. Relatively speaking, let’s take all the freelance and full-time correspondents of Radio Liberty. And what about them? Here are the bodies, for example, they will be found, calculated, entered into the register. Those will have to register a legal entity. But this at the same time implies the fulfillment of a bunch of responsibilities: you need to hire a director, an accountant, and submit tax and other reports to the regulatory authorities on a quarterly basis. That is, this is a full-scale activity that costs money. For individuals, such expenses will be, at least, extremely burdensome, and in general there are great doubts that they will pull them. In a word, while it looks like an absolute legal nonsense. We will wait for the appropriate government decision, then we will give it a legal assessment.
V.V .: Can you recommend something to those who fall under the law?
G.A .: A person who will be forced to register a legal entity can appeal against this in all courts, including the Constitutional Court of Russia. Having exhausted all legal remedies in the country, there is a reason to file a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. I think there will definitely be such precedents. Because this is clearly an excessive requirement to register legal entities in relation to journalists or ordinary people. Let me remind you that in order to be included in this register, it is not necessary to be a correspondent for Radio Liberty or the Voice of America. It is enough just to have any foreign funding – even from advertising on YouTube, even compensation for travel to an international conference or a fee for publishing a scientific article in a foreign university publication. It doesn’t matter what kind of foreign money, and for what reason it will come to you. If you repost any foreign media article from the “black list”, you are already a potential client of this registry.
V.V .: What goals are the authorities seeking to achieve??
G.A: By and large, such pressure is organized so that people do not repost, do not receive foreign funding. Well, the professionals who work in this area would not cooperate with foreign media from the “black list”. This is a deterrent mechanism – so that people refuse to disseminate information that is published by foreign media. But the near future will more accurately show in which direction the situation will develop..
V.V .: Does the new law comply with the international obligations assumed by Russia??
G.A .: In my opinion, it is in obvious contradiction with the international obligations of the Russian Federation – within the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular, Article 10, which guarantees the right to freedom of dissemination of information and freedom of expression. It also contradicts UN norms in terms of the international covenant on civil and political rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I think that all normal citizens will once again be ashamed of the country. The state simply cements censorship wherever possible. It is not enough that the press is almost completely state-controlled (either formally or de facto), that practically all television is monopolized, that a bunch of laws have been adopted that restrict freedom of speech on the Internet. So now this law also appeared, like a mushroom from a mycelium. Judging by how swiftly the authorities are adopting all these laws, they are not trying to comply with their international obligations. They clearly have some other agenda..