Charges filed against SOVA Center for alleged violation of the law on “undesirable organizations”
On September 7, 2017, SOVA Center director Alexander Verkhovsky, accompanied by Public Verdict Foundation lawyer Alexei Laptev, appeared at the Moscow City Prosecutor's Office. Verkhovsky was summoned last week in connection with the initiation of charges under Article 20.33 of the Administrative Code. The summons failed to note the details of the alleged offense, but of all the various violations related to federal law No. 272-FZ of December 28, 2012, known in Russian as "Dima Yakovlev's law" and in English as the law on “undesirable organizations,” the charges were likely to relate to links to such organizations.
The case materials and the explanations offered by Moscow Prosecutor’s Office staff of the department charged with monitoring compliance with federal laws on interethnic relations and countering extremism, indicate that the fact that the "About Us" section of SOVA Center’s website notes that the National Endowment for Democracy and the Soros Foundation – now both on the federal register of "undesirable organizations" – were, in the past, sources of financial support. The section included links to their websites.
The prosecutor's office considers the posting of such links to be a form of distribution of illegal materials in the sense of the law on “undesirable organizations.” It referred to “established jurisprudence,” and indeed, we found a similar case against the Non-Profit Partnership Regional Innovation Center (of Samara), filed and decided in both district and regional courts. Of course, a single court decision cannot be considered as “established jurisprudence,” and no provision of the law specifies directly that posting a link to the material itself constitutes dissemination.
SOVA Center has never concealed its donors, and linking to their websites was considered simply following etiquette, as the link only gives the reader awareness of the material, but does not directly spread it. However, in the current situation, SOVA Center has been forced to remove these links.
However, these explanations had no effect on the prosecutor’s position. Accordingly, two cases were initiated under Article 20.33 of the Administrative Code – one against SOVA Center, and one separately against its director as an official. The first will be considered in the Section 387 of the Basmanny District Magistrate’s Court, while the date of the second is still unknown to us.
SOVA Center considered these cases to be both a form of pressure, as well as an improperly broad interpretation of Russian laws relating to the dissemination of information.