Adopted by the state Duma of the Russian Federation law on the “fake news” may present “a real danger” for human rights NGOs — said Anna Sharogradskaya, head of the “regional press Institute”. This non-profit organization from Saint-Petersburg celebrated last year the 25th anniversary of its existence, and the last five years fighting for the removal of the label “foreign agent” and has already won several victories. About the difficult fate of IRP journalists of RFI from St. Petersburg.
For a quarter century, NGOs had twice to change the name: at first it was “Russian-American press information center”, then “Institute for the development of the press.” Finally, the organization gained its current name. But all these years, remained unchanged its essence: to promote the establishment of a truly independent and professional media. To this end, the regional press Institute has organized seminars and conferences with participation of leading Russian and Western journalists and experts in media, organizing familiarization and study visits of correspondents and editors from various publications to European countries.
For 25 years, the IWP has organized meetings with politicians, writers, economists, human rights activists. Here are just a few names of those who held press conferences and participated in round tables: Galina Starovoitova, Vasily Aksyonov, Mikhail Kasyanov, Igor Chubais, Alexander Verkhovsky, Yuri Schmidt.
All these years, a non-profit organization was headed by Anna Sharogradskaya, which today remains the Director of IRP. In his office in one of the business centers, St. Petersburg she recalled that the first ten years the Institute has been located in the St. Petersburg House of journalists on Nevsky prospect, 70. But when in domjour (as abbreviated in common parlance it is called by many citizens) started a major overhaul led by Sharogradskaya organization is asked to move out. However, according to the interviewee RFI, it was only a pretext and the true reason was quite different.
Anna Sharogradskaya: “actually came to power Matvienko is very painful perceived my criticism and my assertion that I will not vote for it as Governor. So as soon as she became Governor (and it was two days after we talked to her), she made sure to get us evicted from the House of Journalists. What did the then Chairman of Union of journalists, when they laid me on the table notice that in two weeks we need to surrender the premises under the key. And they no longer continue to work with us”.
By the way, the then Chairman of the city Union of journalists Andrei Konstantinov, whose books from the series “Gangster Petersburg” repeatedly presented just in the Russian-American press information center, and then at the Institute of press development. That, however, didn’t put Konstantinov to do the will of the city authorities to evict objectionable organizations. It later emerged that NGOs are legitimate could be in domjour on Nevsky until at least 2021. Well, now the regional press Institute occupies premises belonging to the citizen of Germany, which hoped Anna Sharogradskaya, “apparently still understands what freedom of speech”.
When the footsteps “belolentochnye protests” the Russian authorities adopted a law “On amendments to certain legislative acts of the Russian Federation in part regulating activities of noncommercial organizations performing functions of a foreign agent”, a new stage began in the life of the regional press Institute.
Anna Sharogradskaya: “When the law was passed, we had voluntarily come to register. What I and all my employees said a categorical “no”, because the “foreign agent” in our understanding of sounds insulting not only to us but to those, whose grants we receive. And it’s different countries, different organizations. And as soon as we — “foreign agents”, it means that they give us some tasks. Again, no “job” we did not receive them. We received grants and the goals and objectives we negotiated and decided what we are going to do. It was all within the law. Two years, the Ministry of justice, in General, no one in this list is not shill. We are at the stand that we are not “agents” and I won’t. Two years later, there were amendments to the law that allowed them to forcibly register. That’s when we got there. And to the credit of our own, we can say that we entered the top ten!”
Indeed, in the Russian perception of the word “agent” is traditionally similar to the word “spy,” which, in turn, implies treason. Of course, nothing even remotely resembling espionage activities of the regional press Institute has never been. But as for refusing to make its name in the register of the Ministry of justice, which lists NGOs — “foreign agents”, the Institute was fined, a decision was made in all releases, invitations to events and so on to write — “the regional press Institute, according to the Ministry of justice, which is a “foreign agent””.
But with the brand in the organization to accept could not, and began to appeal the registration in the said register in a lawful manner.
Anna Sharogradskaya: “Passed the entire chain. Of course, we wouldn’t mind if someone — for example, the Supreme court, or before the City or before this District court said, “Well, what are they like agents? They act according to the law, they comply with all the rules prescribed by our government, no violation no.“ But our courts, after all, the thought that we are doing harm to the state, and then we decided to exercise his right to apply to the court, together with the other together. Already, in my opinion, the fourth year came, as we wait for the decisions of the European court.”
Meanwhile, back in 2015, Vladimir Putin signed a law giving the Constitutional court the right to ignore the decisions of international courts if these decisions contradict the Russian Constitution. The primacy of national law over international said the Chairman of the Russian constitutional court Valery Zorkin. But these circumstances did not discourage the Director of the Institute of regional press
Anna Sharogradskaya: “Yes, I know I said Zorkin. But it is important for us to still, was that we are not “foreign agents”. And there are a lot of signals and we feel almost physically — that our government wants us ceased to exist organization “foreign agent”. In addition there are many other actions against us, so we ceased to exist. And this would not have happened if the government didn’t care”.
Fresh legislative initiatives of the Russian senators and deputies of the state Duma (law on “fake news” about the Internet and the sovereign on the responsibility for the insults of the authorities) also do not add optimism to those who is a strong supporter of the independent press.
Anna Sharogradskaya: “This moment also remains in force. Because from all sides is the work that we did not receive grants, because that only grants from foreign countries. Is the work that we are not “at fault” and where something was said. So, Yes — we all expected this, but not looking forward to a (perceived) as a real danger.”
One of the recent events, proseds in the Institute of regional press, was the presentation of the collection of articles of the head of the Yabloko faction in the city Legislative Assembly Boris Vishnevsky. The name of the collection is taken from the novel of brothers Strugatsky “Hard to be God”: “Unenthusiastic way of thinking.” By the way, the term is applied to denote one of the most important traits of the Director of regional press Institute.