Members of AETAS plant trees for a greener Arkhangelsk city in cooperation with youths from Norway. Photo: Aetas

Arkhangelsk NGO fined for cooperating with Norwegian youths

Court ruling says the group failed to voluntarily register as foreign agent.
October 26, 2017

In September, Russia’s Ministry of Justice announced that the Arkhangelsk based ecological youth group Aetas was included in the register of non-profit organizations (NGO) performing the functions of a foreign agent.

This week, the Solombola District Court in Arkhangelsk gave Aetas a 150,000 rubles  (€2,200) fine for refusing to voluntarily register as foreign agents, News29 reports.

Aetas has cooperated with Nature and Youth, an environmental NGO in Norway, for the last 15 years. Nature and Youth gets money to work with Aetas from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry’s projects grants for cross-border people-to-people cooperation within the Barents Region

In the high north, cooperation between environmental groups across the borders has been highlighted as one of the corner-stones in the Barents cooperation and an important part of building civil-society in Russia.

Foreign agents activities: Members of Aetas are collecting garbage in Arkhangelsk. Photo: Aetas

No political activity

Introduced in 2012, Russia’s so-called foreign agent law says non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in political activities getting grants from abroad must brand themselves as foreign agents. The brand will logically limit the activities of the organization.

“We do not consider ourselves as foreign agents, because we are not engaged in political activities, but in environmental protection,” says head of Aetas Anastasia Kocheneva.

The group is known in Arkhangelsk for promoting environmental awareness, recycling, collecting garbage and planting trees.

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Aetas says they now intend to close down the organization.

Max Olenichev, a lawyer representing Aetas in the case says the court ruling to pay 150,000 rubles in fine will be appealed. 

Anastasia Kochneva is leader of environmental organization Aetas. Photo: Atle Staalesen

10 Barents NGOs listed

Including Aetas in Arkhangelsk, there are now ten NGOs labelled as foreign agents in the part of Russia which regions participate in the Barents cooperation. In Murmansk region, that includes the LGBT-friendly Maximum, the environmental group Bellona Murmansk and the Humanist Youth Movement. In Arkhangelsk region it is the LGBT-friendly Rakurs organization and in Karelia the youth group Nuori Karjala and the Petrozavodsk-based Northern Environmental Coalition. Another Karelian organization listed is the Association of Legal Expertise Partnership Union. On the tundra in Nenets Autonomous Okrug, the indigenous peoples group Yasavey Manzara is declared foreign agents. In the Komi Republic, Memorial Commission on protection of Human Rights is listed.

Other well-known groups in Russia are Memorial, Committee Against Torture, Transparency International-Russia, Nordic Council of Ministers’ office in St. Petersburg, Golos Association, Levada Centre, Dynasty Foundation, Bellona St. Petersburg, Regional Press Institute, the Freedom of Information Foundation and Moscow School of Civil Education.

Soldiers’ Mothers is an organization that has, like Kola Eco Centre, managed to be removed from the list. 

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