NGO Head Is First Russian Charged With A Crime Under Foreign Agent Law

A human rights activist in southern Russia's Rostov region has become the first person to face criminal prosecution under the country's controversial "foreign agent" law.

Human rights activist Valentina Cherevatenko told news site Mediazona that she was formally charged on June 2 with intentionally avoiding registration of her NGO, Women of the Don Union, as a foreign agent.

If convicted, Cherevatenko could be sentenced to two years in prison.

Amnesty International said her case is "emblematic of the deeply repressive approach the Russian authorities are taking towards independent civil society organizations."

Cherevatenko's NGO was added to the Justice Ministry's list of foreign agents in 2014. The authorities claim Cherevatenko's NGO was involved in politics and received finances from abroad, conditions that require registration as a foreign agent.

Cherevatenko says her organization has never received money from abroad or was involved in politics. She says the case against her is a retaliation for her project A Civil Minsk, which monitors implementation of the Minsk deal to end the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Authorities launched a criminal case against Cherevatenko in June 2016.

Hours before Cherevatenko was charged, Amnesty International said that she was being targeted because of her dedication to human rights work.

Her prosecution "sends a strong signal to all Russian NGOs that their staffs could face arbitrary charges and prison for simply accepting foreign funding for their important human rights work,” said Denis Krivosheyev, the group's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia.

In a statement, EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini’s office said the practice of declaring NGOs as foreign agents “restricts civil society and impedes the exercise of fundamental freedoms.”

“Cherevatenko’s outstanding work on human rights education, peace building, and humanitarian issues is well-known and widely appreciated," the statement added.

With reporting by Mediazona