The first indigenous rights defender was recognized as a «private person — foreign agent» in Russia

The Russian Ministry of Justice recognized Stepan Petrov, a chair of the non-governmental human rights organization «Yakutia — Our Opinion,» as a foreign agent, TASS reports.

Stepan Petrov

Stepan Petrov was included into the list of the «foreign agents» personally as a private person along with several prominent Russian journalists: the chief editor of the «Important stories» (Vaznnyie istorii) Roman Anin, journalists — Roman Shleinov, Olesya Shmagun, Dmitry Velikovsky, Alesya Marokhovskaya, and Irina Dolinina.

By the same order, the Ministry of Justice also included into the list of «foreign agents» the only independent from state all-Russia TV-channel «The Rain» (Dozhd) and the registered in Latvia «Istories fonds» which specialized on investigative journalism.

Stepan Petrov was the leader of the NGO «Yakutia — Our Opinion,» and he is widely known in Yakutia for his active human rights and anti-criminal work. He regularly appeals to the media with requests to publish his materials and often writes letters to law enforcement agencies, in which he points to the facts of corruption. Earlier this year, the NGO he led was liquidated in the course of numerous state inspections.

Besides his anti-corruption activity on the regional level, Stepan Petrov is also known as the initiator of appeals to the UN concerning violations of indigenous peoples’ rights. For example, he appealed to the UN in 2018 with a request to «increase pressure» on the Russian Federation to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In 2020 he sent another appeal to several UN human rights treaty bodies «in support of the civil society of Russia» and the request to support «the leading Russian human rights organizations «For human rights» and «The Center for the support of indigenous peoples of the North.» Unfortunately, both organizations, led by prominent Russian human rights defenders Lev Ponomarev and Rodion Sulyandziga, were self-liquidated lately.

Lev Ponomarev, Executive Director of the all-Russian Movement for Human Rights, and Rodion Sulyandziga, Director of the Center for the support of indigenous peoples of the North. 13 November 2019, Moscow

According to the Russian law on foreign agents, private persons — foreign agents must, at least once every six months, submit a report on their activities, including information on the purpose of spending money and using other property received from foreign sources. They are also required to indicate the status of a foreign agent, including when applying to government agencies, local governments, public associations, educational organizations.

In addition, there is a ban on serving in public service and local governments for private persons included in the register of foreign agents. They are also forced to mark anything they write or share online (or in the mass media) with a loud, inescapable notification that they have «foreign agent» status in Russia. Finally, the law also demands that these individuals create formal legal entities in order to report their earnings and spending to the government. Failure to comply with these requirements provides for administrative and criminal liability.

This is how journalist at «Radio Svoboda» Lyudmila Savitskaya, who was recognized as a «foreign agent,» earlier described her new social status: «Lyudmila Savitskaya says the state’s designation has completely erased her private life. «Now Comrade Major and the Justice Ministry know literally everything about me, right down to the brand of tampons I use,» she told Meduza. Even Savitskaya’s mother has been affected: she now needs special paperwork from her bank to prove that the money she sends to her daughter is meant for medications «and not for the next Joe Biden campaign.»

Dmitry Berezhkov, Indigenous Russia chief editor.

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