Geopolitics

The Russian Human Rights Groups Now Classified As "Foreign Agents"

Dec. 15 protest in Moscow
Dec. 15 protest in Moscow
Grigorii Tumanov

MOSCOW - Human rights organization “Shield and Sword” has become the first Russian non-profit forced to register as a “foreign agent.”

This comes with the activation of a new law that requires any non-profit that receives funding from outside of the country to register as such with the Russian government. Activists say the legislation was prompted by the waves of protests around Russia’s presidential elections, and allegations by the Russian government that those protesting were encouraged to do so by foreign governments.

The designation is required of all organizations that receive any outside funding, and are engaged in any action deemed "political" or “activities, that are meant to influence public opinion with the goal of changing government policy.”

An organization with “foreign agent” status is then required to indicate that status on any and all literature it publishes, and ‘foreign agent’ non-profits are promised much stricter audits from the tax authorities.

Most human rights activists, including well-known organizations such as Transparency International and Memorial, have announced that they will boycott the new law and it’s still not clear whether they will be allowed to continue working in Russia.

Shield and Sword’s director, Aleksei Glukhov, said that his organization, based near the Ural Mountains, is complying with all of the law’s requirements. He sent an official letter to the Ministry of Justice, requesting to be included on the list of foreign agents.

Glukhov explained that by being the first organization to be on the list, he is trying to find out, on behalf of all Russian human rights organizations, what the Ministry of Justice will do next. “Our mission is to fight against torture and other violations on the part of the government," Glukhov explained. "We get funding from Agora, which is supported by the international fund Internews.”

Enforcement issues

In his opinion, in spite of the order from the Ministry of Justice stating that these organizations should be listed as foreign agents, the Ministry is not yet prepared to enforce the law on non-profits like Shield and Sword.

“We were barely able to fill out the form, which is on the website in an incompatible format. No one explains what you should do when you are named foreign agents," says Glukhov. "We’ll introduce ourselves that way at conferences, but if we don’t publish any materials, where are we supposed to advertise our status?”

According to the head of Agora, Pavel Chikov, if Shield and Sword winds up included on the list, then human rights activists will finally be able to understand the law and how it works from the inside. “We want to protest against this procedure, and we want to have as much knowledge as possible to fight against this initiative from the government,” Chikov said.

In his opinion, since the only people who have standing to complain about a law are people who have suffered as a result, Shield and Sword may end up a martyr for the greater good. “But it is an absolutely necessary martyr, since no one knows how to avoid breaking this law,” he added.

“When Shield and Sword is listed, we will be able to challenge not only the Ministry of Justice and its obviously illegal warnings, but we will also be able to appeal to the Constitutional Court with a challenge to the whole law,” explained Chikov. “Nowhere in the law is there any discussion of how to remove organizations from the list if they have ceased to accept funding from international sources. And that is illegal.”

At the Ministry of Justice, officials said that had yet to receive any forms from Shield and Sword, nor from any other organization. The official statement concluded: “The Ministry will issue an order regarding the inclusion of the non-profit on the list no later than 10 working days after receipt of the form.”

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$57,789

A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


📣 VERBATIM

"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."


— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.

🕌 🔍 IN OTHER NEWS

Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more Chicago Bulls or running of the bulls? Let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com info@worldcrunch.com!

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