Authorities in Kaliningrad Region, Russia, have initiated five criminal cases against Alexandra Korolyova, director of the environmental group Ecodefense in Kaliningrad. As Ecodefense has learnt, all five cases were opened on May 30, 2019, within the period between 3:00 pm and 3:40 pm, or one case every ten minutes. All five cases were opened pursuant to Article 315, Part 2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation – non-execution of a court’s judgment, ruling or other judicial act – which carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for up to two years. All five cases are a direct continuation of the sanctions imposed against Ecodefense following its forcible inclusion on the Russian Justice Ministry’s “foreign agents” roster.
Ecodefense, founded in 1989, is one of the oldest environmental NGOs in Russia. It currently operates in Moscow, Kaliningrad, and Kuzbass. Ecodefense is committed to nonviolence, does not participate in politics, and does not accept funds from the state or major business organizations. Ecodefense campaigns against the harmful impact of coal production, construction of nuclear power plants, and import into Russia of nuclear waste. It advocates the protection of urban green spaces and environmental education.
In July 2014, the Russian Ministry of Justice placed Ecodefense on its “foreign agent” registry for – as was stated in the ministry’s inspection report at the time – the NGO’s campaign against the construction of a nuclear power plant in Kaliningrad Region. The environmentalists had persuaded a number of financial organizations to refrain from investing into the dangerous project, and the construction had been ceased. Ecodefense strongly rejected the “foreign agent” label and undertook a number of attempts to dispute the ministry’s decision in court. A class action has been filed with the European Court of Human Rights by over 60 Russian NGOs that have been targeted by the “foreign agent” legislation – the case Ecodefense and Others v. Russia. Legal assistance is being rendered to Ecodefense by the non-profit Public Verdict Foundation.
Following the designation of Ecodefense as a “foreign agent,” the Ministry of Justice initiated 28 administrative proceedings against the organization for violations of the “foreign agent” law. A number of these proceedings resulted in fines levied against the NGO. Ecodefense, however, was unable to pay the fines as it is not a commercial organization and does not derive profit. Furthermore, the funding it receives is solely earmarked for spending on specific projects and – in accordance with Russian law – cannot be used for any other purpose, including paying fines. In December 2018, Ecodefense’s bank account was frozen, while the total amount of fines and sanctions imposed on the NGO had reached around 2.2 m roubles (over $34,000). The five criminal cases opened in May 2019 were the result of the organization’s failure to pay the five corresponding fines, and the number of cases may yet increase in the future.
“The Russian authorities are engaged in political persecution of Ecodefense because of its activities. Before, their sanctions were only administrative, now the warnings have stopped and criminal prosecution has started. We demand that this criminal prosecution of Alexandra Korolyova cease immediately,” Ecodefense’s co-chair Vladimir Slivyak said today in a statement.
“We have never taken part in politics or any power struggle, and still the Ministry of Justice accused us of ‘political activity’ as a foreign agent, levied fines, and then demanded penalties. We have direct evidence that this pressure has been brought on by the federal Ministry of Justice and not the local authorities. Is being an environmentalist a crime? Or is it someone behind their backs, someone who does not like opposition to nuclear power plants, coal pit mines and rampant clearcutting? The only thing Ecodefense has ever done is protect the environment and defend the rights of Russian citizens. The officials of the Ministry of Justice and the Federal Bailiff Service who have arranged this persecution need to understand that they are destroying the future of their country,” Slivyak said.
For further information, please contact
Vladimir Slivyak, Ecodefense: +7 (903)2997584
Yelena Pershakova, Ecodefense’s attorney, the Public Verdict Foundation: +7 (985)8647028