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Russian Rights Activist Convicted Of Violating Controversial 'Foreign Agents' Law


Semyon Simonov (file photo)

Noted human rights defender Semyon Simonov has been convicted on criminal charges related to Russia's controversial "foreign agents" law.

In a July 12 statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said a court in the southern city of Sochi had sentenced Simonov, who leads the Southern Human Rights Center, to 250 hours of community service for an unpaid fine levied against the center.

Among other activities, Simonov documented abuses experienced by migrant workers involved in construction for Russia's Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. He was also involved in human rights education and monitored police conduct.

"The verdict caps nearly eight years of harassment and intimidation against Simonov in retaliation for his human rights work. The authorities should immediately withdraw the charges against Simonov, quash the verdict, and repeal the abusive 'foreign agents' law, which is the source of the fine," the HRW statement says, adding that Simonov plans to appeal the ruling.

"The criminal case against Semyon Simonov has been a sham from start to finish," said Damelya Aitkhozhina, Russia researcher at HRW. "It's shocking and abhorrent that the authorities wasted so much time and resources on a case in which the accused did nothing but help people protect their rights."

Russia's controversial "foreign agent" legislation was adopted in 2012 and has been modified repeatedly. It requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered, to identify themselves as "foreign agents," and to submit to audits.

At the end of 2020, the legislation was modified again to allow the Russian government to include individuals, including foreign journalists, on the list and to impose restrictions on them.

Simonov refused to register the Southern Human Rights Center as a foreign agent after the Justice Ministry added the group to the "foreign agents" registry in late 2016.

In February 2017, the authorities fined the group 300,000 rubles ($4,100) for not registering. Simonov repeatedly submitted documentation showing that the organization did not have funds or property to pay the fine, but in July 2019 a court ordered Simonov be held personally liable for the penalty.

In October 2019, a local court bailiff filed criminal charges against Simonov for failure to comply with a court ruling, and in July 2020 the authorities imposed a travel ban on Simonov.

The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner and the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, as well as international human rights organizations, have condemned the criminal case against Simonov.

In 2017, the Russian government placed RFE/RL's Russian Service, six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services, and Current Time on the list.

Earlier this year, Russian courts began imposing large fines against RFE/RL for failing to mark its articles with a government-prescribed label as required by rules adopted in October 2020. RFE/RL is appealing the fines.

RFE/RL has called the fines "a state-sponsored campaign of coercion and intimidation," while the U.S. State Department has described them as "intolerable."

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