Olga Gnezdilova
Olga Gnezdilova
lawyer, legal consultant with "Article 20"
Open Russia considered undesirable in Russia – now what?

On April 27, the General Prosecutor’s Office introduced three structures created by Mikhail Khodorkovsky into the register of undesirable NGOs: Open Russia Civic Movement, UK, Otkritaya Rossiya, UK and the Institute of Modern Russia.

Does this mean it’s banned?

Heated debate has arisen as to whether the impact of the recognition of the unwanted organization Open Russia will hinder the work of the Moscow office.

One of the employees of the General Prosecutor`s Office expressed the opinion that this prohibition does not apply to the Russian movement. Perhaps it is best to not take it too seriously. The approach of the authorities is changing too quickly and the position of a single official here can not be decisive. For example, when the law on “foreign agents” came into effect, representatives of the Ministry of Justice claimed that they did not see political activity in the work of the Association in Defense of the Rights of Voters “Golos”. But a few months later the situation changed radically.

Now the organization’s website claims that “Open Russia” is a public network movement created on the initiative of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and there are no differences between the Moscow and London offices.

“Open Russia” now needs to answer some important questions – how is this movement organized, and from where? Are the managers and decision makers crossing paths? Is there cooperation between both branches? What does Open Russia UK do in the country of its registration and what does it do (if it does) in Russia?

It is important to avoid the approach of denying everything. To say “there is no registration and official communication, so there will be no questions” is simply not true.

During the searches in the Moscow office of Open Russia, the organization seized computers and documentation that would help the authorities to answer many of these questions and determine whether Open Russia UK is operating through the Moscow office or there are two separate organizations.

The law on “undesirable organizations” contains, among other things, a ban on the establishment of structural subdivisions of the “undesirable NGO” in the territory of the Russian Federation and the obligation to close the existing ones.

Limitations and administrative responsibilities

The law prohibits the dissemination of information and materials from undesirable NGOs, including on the Internet, which means that reposting messages from the page of “Open Russia” may entail the preparation of a protocol of an administrative offense.

The same applies to the storage of materials for the distribution purpose. For example, several identical brochures in your office.

It is forbidden to implement programs and projects in Russia for an undesirable NGO. That includes partner and volunteer projects because the rule of law is sufficiently vague.

For this kind of participation in the activities of NGOs, a citizen can be brought to administrative responsibility in the form of a fine of up to ₽15,000 ($262), and a legal entity of up to ₽100,000. ($1,743).

Criminal liability

Criminal liability is provided for the management of the activities of “undesirable” NGOs. At the same time, “management” is defined as not only the formal director but also everyone who presides over organizational and administrative functions. Thus, the organizers of the activities of Open Russia can be brought to criminal liability.

Criminal liability may also arise for participation in the activities of an “undesirable” NGO, provided that a person is brought to administrative responsibility 2 times during the year “for an analogous act”.

The main purpose of the law

Nevertheless, the main goal of the law of “undesirable organizations” is the cessation of financing of civil organizations in Russia. This hypothesis is confirmed by the register of undesirable organizations, which today consists of 10 organizations – major donors, including the Open Society Foundations and the National Endowment for Democracy.

Since the introduction of the three structures of Mikhail Khodorkovsky into the register of undesirable organizations, bank transfers from their accounts in Russia will be impossible.

This article is also available in Russian.