SOVA centre listing as ‘foreign agent’ is counter-productive, says Fare04 January 2017

ThemostauthoritativeorganisationmonitoringextremisminRussiahasbeendesignateda‘foreignagent’bythefederalgovernmentofRussia,itwasannouncedonNewYear’seve.

According to an official announcement on Russia’s Justice Ministry website, the SOVA Center, a think tank that conducts sociological research on nationalism, xenophobia, and racism in Russia, and a long-standing Fare member, is the latest prominent non-governmental organisation to be blacklisted.

Federal officials made the announcement after an unscheduled inspection of its offices, without offering any further details.

Alexander Verkhovsky, Director of the SOVA Centre told Fare, “According to Russian legislation, organisations are listed as ‘foreign agents’ if they receive foreign funding in any form (which we, of course, receive) and engage in ‘political activity’. The latter is interpreted very broadly. In our case it was suggested that we provide assessment of state bodies’ activity publicly. It is obvious that almost any NGO provides such an assessment. This means that in order to list us as a ‘foreign agent’ some additional arguments are needed.

“The inclusion of SOVA in the list of ‘foreign agents’ means a number of unpleasant things for us, including the obligation to indicate this everywhere. Most importantly, we know that some of our potential partners could be simply afraid to work with us. And this may lead to limiting our activity.”

Piara Powar, the Executive Director of the Fare network said, “In our view this move is counter-productive. Through the insights they offer SOVA conducts valuable work for Russian society. Without them a lot of extremist activity in Russia would go unrecorded and unknown.

“The impact of this move could be felt in football and in particular the World Cup in 2018. Reliable information on the activities of the far-right and nationalist groupings in football will become harder to follow and measures for dealing with it harder to implement.”

Since 2014 the SOVA Center has published two influential reports in conjunction with Fare on the situation in Russian domestic football. A third report is due out soon.

Russia’s 2012 law on foreign agents means NGOs face additional, often crippling police and governmental scrutiny. Earlier this year, the Justice Ministry also blacklisted the Levada Center, one of Russia’s three largest national polling agencies, and the only pollster widely viewed as independent. The Levada Center is currently contesting the decision in Russian courts.

The SOVA Center was first established in 2002 by human rights activists from the Moscow Helsinki Group and “Panorama” Centre.

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