Russia Update: ‘Liberal Mission’ Removed from ‘Foreign Agents’ Registry

September 16, 2015
Yevgeny Yasin, head of Liberal Mission. Photo by Valery Sarifulin/ITAR-TASS

The Russian Ministry of Justice has removed from the “foreign agents” registry of non-governmental organizations the ‘Liberal Mission’ science foundation, headed by economist Yevgeny Yasin and funded by a now-closed foundation created by Russian businessman Dmitry Zimin.

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Russian ‘Liberal Mission’ Science Foundation Removed from ‘Foreign Agents’ Registry, But 83 Groups Remain

The Russian Ministry of Justice has removed from the “foreign agents” registry of non-governmental organizations the ‘Liberal Mission’ science foundation, headed by economist Yevgeny Yasin and funded by a now-closed foundation created by Russian businessman Dmitry Zimin, reports.

Zimin’s own organization, the Dynasty Foundation, was declared a “foreign agent” in May along with Liberal MissionĀ despite an outcry from scientists.

Supporters argued that since the funds were his own money made from his Russian business Beeline, a telecommunications company, he shouldn’t be considered a “foreign agent.”

Zimin himself decided to close the foundation and announced that he wouldn’t fight the designation.

Even after private intervention by prominent business people with President Vladimir Putin, Dynasty Foundation and Liberal Mission were kept on the registry and then fined 300,000 rubles in June (which at the time was $5,500; today it is $4,593 as the ruble value continues to drop).

The Justice Ministry said at the time that its designations would be upheld.

But the organization whose full name is “Liberal Mission Science Foundation for Theoretical and Applied Research,” which has had programs active in Russia supporting young scientists and science education, decided to continue to challenge the Justice Ministry and ultimately proved its case.

The Ministry explained the reversal of its action by saying that Liberal Mission “had ceased fulfilling the functions of a foreign agent.”

The designation was an embarrassment for Russia as Liberal Mission had supported science programs that the Russian government didn’t find funds for after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Yasin told Tass (translation by The Interpreter):

“I am satisfied with this decisions, but it shouldn’t have been included in the registry. We did not receive any foreign funds, we did only what was consistent with the Constitution.”

He added that he was glad “truth had triumphed.”

The Justice Ministry has placed a total of 92 organizations on the registry to date, and removed only 9, most of which were forced to close before their removal.

The registry contains a column for “Inclusion in the Registry” and “Exclusion from the Registry” which in fact still maintains the stigma against the organization by showing that it was designated as a “foreign agent” in the first place.

On page 3 of the registry, indeed there is an entry for the “exclusion” of Liberal Mission dated September 11, 2015.

Another group excluded on August 25, 2015 is Soyuz Association of Expert Legal Partnership” founded in the Republic of Karelia with a notation that it had “ceased its activity as a non-commercial organization in connection with its liquidation”; another group removed the same day, the Murmansk Regional Youth Civic Organization chapter of the Humanist Youth Movement was also “liquidated.”

The same occurred May 22, 2015 as well for the Jewish Regional Chapter of the Municipal Academy All-Russian Civic Organization” in Birobidzhan (the Jewish republic created by Stalin); the St. Petersburg League of Women Voters; the Center for Social Policy and Gender Research in Saratov; and the Lawyers for Constitutional Rights and Liberties based in Moscow were all removed removed in May as well in connection with their liquidation.

A group called “Borders Center for Civic Analysis and Independent Research” founded in Perm was removed June 19, 2015 for “ceasing the function of a foreign agent,” as was the Kostroma Center for Support of Civic Initiatives on the same day. The Youth Center for Consultation and Training, a human rights NGO in Volgorad was also removed for the same reason on July 22, 2015.

The fact that a number of groups were removed on the same dates suggests that the Ministry only reviews them in batches or at least makes the announcements only periodically.

Golos [Voice], the election monitoring organization, was forced to suspend its activities when designated as a “foreign agent.” The Russian human rights commissioner Elena Pamfilova, also known as the “ombudsperson,” opposed the ruling and intervened with the Moscow City Court to have the organization struck from the list a year ago.

This was proclaimed as progress on the issue and caused some to believe the “foreign agents” law enforcement would “not be so bad.” Yet to date, Golos remains on the list, with no notation that it has been removed, as can be seen on page 1 of the list, where Golos is the second entry.

Charges of “tax evasion” against Ludmila Kuzmina, the head of the Samara chapter of Golos, were dropped “due to expiration of the statute of limitations” Novaya Gazeta reported today. Kuzmina had fought the harassment case since February. Police had raided her office and home in July, seizing equipment and placing a lien on her apartment and car. These measures were reversed in connection with the ruling, which came three days after local elections were over.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick