Аn “agent” due to wages: foreign agent status threatens teachers
Oleg Dilimbetov and Marina Litvinova
April 7, 2021
A job at a foreign institute of higher education or a salary from a foreign employer can be grounds for obtaining the status of a so-called foreign agent. This transpired during the the hearing of a lawsuit brought against the Justice Ministry by Petersburg teacher and activist Darya Apahonchich. She had requested that the ministry specify the reasons it had forcibly registered her as a “private individual acting as a foreign mass media outlet functioning as a foreign agent.” The ministry provided the court with written proof of her employment at a French college [in Petersburg] and the Russian branch of the International Red Cross. The ministry confirmed that the “foreign funding” received by a potential “foreign agent” does not necessarily have to have anything to do with subsequent “dissemination of information” or “political activity.”
Ms. Apahonchich was placed on the register of so-called individual media foreign agents on December 28, 2020, along with three journalists and the human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov. At the time, the Justice Ministry did not explain what specific reasons had caused them to assign her this status. In March, Ms. Apahonchich filed a lawsuit in Petersburg’s Lenin District Court, claiming that the obligations imposed on her by the Justice Ministry due to the new status violated her rights under the Russian Constitution and the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). On April 5, during a preliminary hearing of the lawsuit, Ms. Apahonchich was informed of the Justice Ministry’s objections to her claims and finally learned the reasons she had been entered into the register.
The ministry told the court that the woman [sic] had received foreign money transfers from Sweden, Germany, France and Finland. As Ms. Apahonchich explained, these were official fees for participation in festivals and exhibitions and her work as a teacher.
Thus, she was paid 35 thousand rubles by the Finnish Museum of Photography. She received Another 112 thousand rubles from the French college [in Petersburg], where she taught Russian. She received about 60 thousand rubles from friends via the PayPal transfer system, and these transfers were expedited by Deutsche Bank (Germany). [That is, Ms. Apahonchich had received the fantastic sum of approximately 2,220 euros at current exchange rates — TRR.] In addition, Ms. Apahonchich was imputed with having received bank transfers from her employer, the Russian branch of the International Red Cross. The Justice Ministry stated that the source of these funds was Norway, and the intermediary was Sweden. The activist herself claims that she performed work at the Red Cross under a [Russian] presidential grant.
As for “dissemination of information,” the Justice Ministry pointed out that Ms. Apahonchich had reposted on social networks the article “Feminist Fairy Tales: Princesses Fighting the Patriarchy,” published by Radio Liberty (which has been deemed a so-called foreign agent media outlet by the Russian authorities). The ministry also told the court about the YouTube channel “Feminists Explain,” where Ms. Apahonchich has discussed the topic of gender equality, and her article about domestic violence, published on the website Colta.ru. In addition, the woman [sic] had appealed on social networks for solidarity with the defendants in the case of the Network (deemed a terrorist organization in the Russian Federation and banned) and LGBT activist Yulia Tsvetkova.
“The list of my sins is long but honorable: I taught Russian as a foreign language, participated in international festivals, and voiced solidarity with the regime’s victims. Yes, I also accepted financial assistance from friends from abroad,” Ms. Apahonchich said when asked to comment on the Justice Ministry’s position. “It is clear that they brought the house down on me for solidarity: for solidarity pickets, for public discussions with friends. The situation was not what it is now: everyone seems to have gone off the rails. We’re in trouble, we need help.”
Her lawyer Alexander Peredruk noted that the Justice Ministry had not even tried to prove to the court that there was a connection between the foreign funds received by his client and her activism.
“Based on the Justice Ministry’s position, if you publish something on social networks, it does not matter whether you receive foreign funds directly or indirectly. And it is very difficult to independently monitor the matter: when collaborating with an LLC, you cannot know for certain whether it receives foreign money,” the lawyer said. “The Justice Ministry argues that the separately existing evidence of receiving funds from abroad and publishing on social networks is enough. They have not tried to establish a direct connection between them.”
The Justice Ministry told Kommersant that the law sets quite clear criteria for inclusion in the register. In the case of “individual media foreign agents,” it is sufficient to “distribute news reports and materials intended for an unlimited number of persons,” as well as to receive “money and (or) other property” from foreign states, organizations and nationals, or “from Russian legal entities receiving money from these sources.” To obtain the status of an “individual foreign agent,” it is enough to receive “foreign” money and “distribute news reports and materials” created by a “foreign agent media outlet” or “participate in the creation” of such “news reports and materials.”
“The legislation specifies neither the need for an obligatory link between the receipt of foreign funds and the dissemination of news reports and materials, nor evidence of the individual’s political activity,” the Justice Ministry confirmed to Kommersant.
Translated by the Russian Reader