Stop political repression of Human Rights defenders in Russia!

2 July 2019

Friends of the Earth Europe condemns Russia’s latest sanctions against the environmental organisation Ecodefense, under the unjust “Foreign Agent” law. The law, which has been in effect since 2012,  requires groups that receive foreign funding and engage in “political activity” to register as “foreign agents”. The sanctions are just one aspect of the government's systematic restriction of civil society space in Russia, which includes: legislation restricting rights of association, expression and assembly; administrative and criminal sanctions; intimidation and harassment; and violence.

Ecodefense, a partner of Friends of the Earth Russia/Russian Social-Ecological Union, is one of the oldest environmental groups in Russia, founded in 1989 in Kaliningrad. It works in various regions of Russia including Moscow, Kaliningrad and Siberia and has already successfully stopped nuclear power plants and coal mines. In 2014 the Russian government officially labeled Ecodefense as a “foreign agent”, because the organisation convinced a number of investors from Europe not to invest in a nuclear plant near Kaliningrad, which stopped the plant’s construction in mid-2013.

On 30 May 2019, authorities in the Kaliningrad region of Russia initiated five criminal cases against Alexandra Korolyova, Director of Ecodefense. These proceedings - all started within a 40 minute period - were a result of organisation’s failure to pay the fines. The five cases were opened pursuant to Article 315, Part 2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation – non-execution of a court’s judgment, ruling or other judicial act – which carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment. The number of cases may yet increase.

Friends of the Earth Russia has been monitoring the pressure on environmental human rights groups and activists, including Ecodefense, for many years. The repressive laws mean that Russian environmental NGOs have been subjected to at least 142 court cases and fines amounting to more than 6,450,000 rubles (approximately €90,000).

In the first five months of 2019, Friends of the Earth Russia documented: the murder of an environmentalist in Kaluga; at least seven attacks on activists; housing and property damage; police searches; five cases of criminal prosecution; and at least 110 cases of administrative prosecution, with fines amounting to more than 1,000,000 rubles (around €15,000). Most of those fines were imposed on activists from Shies in the Arkhangelsk region for a nine month protest against an illegal landfill for waste from Moscow. Two environmentalists from Rostov-on-Don, the Milchenko brothers, are still held in prison. The brutal attack on an activist camp aiding fire fighters in Kuban in 2016 and the beating of Andrei Rudomakha, head of the Environmental Watch for the North Caucasus, in Krasnodar in 2017 have still not been properly investigated.

The Russian state is able to pressure environmental human rights defenders with impunity, while failing to adequately protect them from attacks and failing to ensure the realization of the rights to a favorable environment and health. This unjust trend will only lead to an ever increasing number of conflicts, violations of environmental rights and an increase in social tension.

said Vitaly Servetnik, co-chair of Friends of the Earth Russia.

To highlight the importance of the work of people who defend human rights related to the environment, and in recognition of the dangers they face, in March 2019 the UN Human Rights Council called on all states to abide by its obligations to promote and protect environmental human rights defenders under the 1998 UN Declaration. In its submission to and dialogue during its UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May 2018, Russia reiterated its commitment to protecting and promoting human rights defenders. In practice, the Russian government has blatantly failed to do this, with its continued use of legislations such as the "Foreign Agent" law against Ecodefense and others groups and activists.

Friends of the Earth Russia/Russian Social-Ecological Union and Friends of the Earth Europe demand that Russia: 

  • Stops the criminal persecution of Alexandra Korolyova and Ecodefense;
  • Repeals the “Foreign Agent" law;
  • Investigates all cases of attacks on, threats to and persecution of environmental human rights defenders;
  • Stops putting pressure on environmental human rights defenders;
  • Acknowledges that a necessary measure to protect environmental activists from future attacks is to investigate environmental violations that may lead to attacks;
  • Allows and promotes access to information and wide public participation in environmentally significant issues in order to prevent conflicts.