Norwegian cash triggers one more "foreign agent"

Moscow tightens control on NGOs.

The Prosecutor General’s Office in Moscow has branded Human Rights organization Public Verdict as “foreign agents” saying it was financed from Norway’s Helsinki Group.


The Public Verdict Foundation was established in 2004 as a non-profit, non-partisan organization offering legal assistance to victims of human rights abuse at the hands of law enforcement officers in Russia. 

The Prosecutor General’s Office claims the group got 1,5 million rubles (€36,700) donated from the Norwegian Helsinki Group during the three months period December 2012 to February this year, reports Izvestia. The organization has also received grants from UN and the American organization National Endowment for Democracy.

Russia’s State Duma passed a law last autumn requiring all NGOs engaged in political activity to register as “foreign agents” if they receives funding from abroad. The term “foreign agent” in Russian clearly means spying and indeed treason. Over the last two months, several hundreds of NGOs in Russia have had law-enforcement inspectors visiting their offices in a nationwide hunt for possible candidates to be labeled as foreign agents.

Director of the Public Verdict in Moscow, Natalia Taubina, confirms to Izvestia that her organization has got funding from abroad, but denies that they are engaged in political activities.

“We receive funding from foreign non-governmental organizations and never hide this information. Each year we bring all reporting to the Ministry of Justice.”

“Human rights work benefits Russia”
Deputy Secretary General Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal with the Norwegian Helsinki Committee says to BarentsObserver that Russian authorities should realize that human rights work is to the benefit of the Russian population, whatever the source of funding.

“It is no secret that the Norwegian Helsinki Committee support and cooperate with Russian human rights organizations, including the Public Verdict Foundation. However, we do not accept that promotion of human rights, reporting to UN human rights bodies and other peaceful activities by human rights organizations are to be seen as “political activity,” says Ekeløve-Slydal.

He underlines that receiving foreign funding of such activities should never compel an organization to register as a foreign agent.

“In a strong resolution of 21 March this year, the UN Human Rights Council, with Russia’s acceptance, said that “no law should criminalize or delegitimize activities in defense of human rights on account of the origin of funding thereto”. But this is exactly what Russian authorities are doing with the foreign agents law,” says Ekeløve-Slydal.

GOLOS also “foreign agents”
In April, Russian election watchdog GOLOS was ordered by the Ministry of Justice to register as “foreign agent” because of the cash attached to the prestigious Andrey Sakharov prize. The prize was given to GOLOS by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, as reported by BarentsObserver.

The new NGO-law has triggered massive protests, both from groups within Russia and from other countries. Head of the Council of Europe and former Prime Minister of Norway, Thorbjørn Jagland, last year compared the law with the Stalin era. “The law is unfair, it’s inappropriate and it shouldn’t be used in a modern lawmaking, it belongs to the past and it does not belong to a democratic society,” Jagland said.