Legal Pressures on Civil Society: Emerging Strategies in Freedom of Information Activism in Russia

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 09:00
Oral Presentation
Anna SKRIPCHENKO, University of Bonn, Germany
The political pressures on a number of NGOs in Russia during the last two decades have been described as “civilized oppression” of civil society organizations by the state (Daucé 2014), meaning that there has been a decline of direct violence against activists with a simultaneous increase in legal and administrative prosecution of organized activity. Some of the most prominent examples of legislation aimed specifically at NGOs include the so-called „foreign agents law” from 2012 and the law on „undesired organizations“ from 2015, targeting foreign-funded Russian NGOs as well as their foreign donors. A crucial element of the self-conception and the basis of the legitimacy of NGOs in the eyes of the broader public lies in their accountability and contribution to the common good. By classifying some NGOs as “foreign agents”, the Russian legislator denounces such organizations as providing their services for money to a foreign constituency.

In the presentation, I will discuss the findings of two interview-based case studies of Russian NGOs, active in the field of freedom of information both in the digital space and offline, that have to cope with the aftermath of the “foreign agents” law and the law on "undesired organizations". I will explore (1) the diverging survival and adjustment strategies the organizations are following in order to maintain their activities; (2) the logics of applying the restrictive laws in the face of the organizational specifics of the Russian court system; (3) and finally, some of the broader implications for freedom of information activism in Russia.