Discriminatory legislation: why human rights defenders from organizations that are foreign agents are not allowed working in the Public Monitoring Commissions

2 June 2020

The human rights organization "Man and Law" filed a lawsuit to declare illegal the decision of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation. The Public Chamber refused to consider the organization's application for the nomination of its co-chairman Sergei Poduzov as a member of the Public Monitoring Commission for Mari El Republic. The interests of human rights defenders are represented by Aleksey Laptev, a lawyer of the "Public Verdict" Foundation. The court session in the Tverskoy district court was postponed until 6 July, 2020.
Human rights activists believe that the change to the law "On public control…" of 2018 discriminates against NGOs like "Man and Law". According to Federal law No. 76 (article 10, part 3), public organizations that perform the functions of a foreign agent are actually prohibited from nominating their candidates for membership in Public Monitoring Commissions. The purpose of such an amendment is to "strengthen the requirements for evaluating candidates for membership in the PMC". However, organizations that are foreign agents, according to the amendment, are equated to organizations caught in extremist activities, to people with outstanding criminal records, incapacitated people and people with close relatives who are serving their sentences in prison. Human rights activists believe that such equalization is inappropriate, since representatives of non-governmental organizations can conscientiously perform the work of public observers in places of detention. At the same time, many candidates have specialized education in the field of law, psychology, medicine, etc. According to lawyers, adding "foreign agents" to the register may lead to additional checks by supervisory authorities, but it may not restrict rights.

In 2016, the human rights organization "Man and Law", already included in the register of "foreign agents", nominated its candidate for the 4th convocation of the PMC for Mari El Republic. The Public Chamber approved the candidate. However, in 2019, it refused to include human rights defender Sergei Poduzov in the PMC for Mari El Republic, citing the fact that he is a representative of an organization which is a foreign agent, without evaluating his professional qualities in any way. At the same time, employees and volunteers of the organization "Man and Law" were members of the Public Monitoring Commission for Mari El Republic from the first convocation in 2008 and in different years they headed the regional PMC.
"Such a legal policy weakens the activities of the PMC as an effective non-state mechanism for protecting the rights of prisoners. It is important that human rights defenders are members of Public Monitoring Commissions, because they have the knowledge and can help change the conditions of detention of prisoners, make them meet international standards.

We consider this trial as a way of legal dialogue with the state. We want to change the legislation of the Russian Federation with the help of court decisions, so that the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation can form the composition of the PMC in an open environment,"
says Sergey Poduzov.
The Association of human rights defenders intends to achieve changes in the law "On public control…" (Federal law No. 76) and remove discriminatory norms.
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