“It’s because of our peace-keeping activities”

We have been labelled a “foreign agent” because of our efforts to halt the latest conflict, says VALENTINA CHEREVATENKO

<< No. 25 (258), 23 June 2017 >>

valentina-cherevatenkoIn an interview last week  CHEREVATENKO said the charges against her are linked to her organisation’s recent activities in Russia and Ukraine.

It is the first time a criminal investigation against an individual, as opposed to fines for administrative offences by organisations, has been conducted under the 2012 “Foreign Agent” Law. Last week Valentina CHEREVATENKO was formally charged with crimes committed under the terms of Article 330.1 of the RF Criminal Code,  “Malicious evasion of the duty to file the documents required for inclusion in the register of NGOs performing the functions of a foreign agent”.

Valentina Cherevatenko, winner of a Moscow Helsinki Group award, is the coordinator of the regional human rights NGO, Women of the Don, and board chairwoman of the Foundation that goes by the same name. If found guilty, she could face up to two years’ imprisonment. The charges have not only surprised the public, in Russia and abroad, they have come as a surprise to Cherevatenko, a native of the Rostov Region, who grew up there and lives up in Novocherkassk.

Here, she discusses with Xenia Yegorova, a correspondent from News of the Don, what lies behind an investigation under way for several years.

XENIA YEGOROVA (XYe) — As a regional human rights NGO, the “Women of the Don” has been active since 1993. It is well-known both in Russia and abroad for what it has done in the field of human rights, peace-making and rehabilitation. What is the reason for the current charges against the organisation and against you personally?

VALENTINA CHEREVATENKO (VC) — Until 2013, the “Women of the Don” Union was hard at work, without serious comment about its activities from the authorities. Then a great many people from different agencies came to our office, and a series of checks was launched. The first check did not lead to any allegations against us, but then representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office came for a second time, and for a third time … Finally, we received an official notice that there were signs of political activity in our work.

XYe — Did you agree with this?

VC — I did not. However, I am only the coordinating chairperson of the organization, so I had to convene a meeting of the organisation’s coordinating board.

Members of the board also disagreed with the views of the Prosecutor’s Office and we called an extraordinary conference of the organization, which was held on 20 July 2013. The conference considered a notice from the Novocherkassk Prosecutor’s Office: the Women of the Don Union as a regional NGO, it said, had broken the law by working not only in our native Rostov Region, but in other regions and republics of Russia as well.

The conference issued a statement citing a decision by the RF Constitutional Court, permitting the creation of organisations whose work is not subject to geographical restriction. That is why we set up the “Women of the Don” Foundation for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights. As for political activity, the conference did not agree with the opinion of the Prosecutor and considered the allegations to be unfounded.

XYe — The decision to launch a criminal case against you states that you “registered the Foundation because you were acting out of criminal intent to evade observing the Law on Foreign Agents.”

VC — I had no malicious intentions, either in setting up the Foundation or in managing its activities. And the decision to establish the Foundation was, as I have already said, made not by me — it was a collective decision.

The Foundation was created so that we would not be in violation of the law. The “Women of the Don” Union continued working within the Rostov Region; the Foundation worked outside the Region. Our aims and objectives overlap, because we did not plan to engage in other kinds of activity. And we kept the name Women of the Don because it is a name that we have earned honestly — it is our reputation.

XYe — In 2014, the Justice Ministry added the “Women of the Don” Union to the register of Foreign Agents. Why did you not agree with this classification?

VC — We are not engaged in political activities. The law on Foreign Agents has two components — foreign funding and political activity. But, it turns out that, if foreign money is involved, it doesn’t matter what you do.

Whether you pick up litter, help the poor, or work with people infected with HIV, it will all be recognised as political activity and you will be included in the register of foreign agents. Just look at the register [R], and you will see which organisations are included there. …

Translated by Elizabeth Teague

(More on this site about Valentina Cherevatenko and the “Women of the Don” )

Published on Tuesday, 13 June 2017
by News of the Don; reposted by Moscow Helsinki Group