The prosecution of Sochi human rights activist Semyon Simonov is unlawful and politically motivated, Memorial says

05.10.2020

Semyon Simonov is being prosecuted for the failure of Southern Human Rights Centre, an NGO he heads, to pay a fine for not registering as a ‘foreign agent.’

Memorial Human Rights Centre considers Semyon Simonov a victim of unlawful and politically motivated prosecution. He is being prosecuted solely for his human rights activities and non-violent exercise of his rights and freedoms. This is yet another example of the government’s use of the law on ‘foreign agents’ in its campaign against human rights organisations. We demand that the criminal prosecution of Simonov be stopped immediately and that the illegitimate legislation on ‘foreign agents’ be repealed.

Who is Semyon Simonov and what is he accused of?

Semyon Simonov is a well-known human rights activist, president of the Southern Human Rights Centre and an expert with the Moscow Helsinki Group.

On 18 October 2019 criminal proceedings were instituted against Semyon Simonov for malicious failure to comply with a court order (Part 2 of Article 315 of the Russian Criminal Code). At issue is the failure of the Southern Human Rights Centre to pay a fine of 300,000 roubles for not registering as a ‘foreign agent.’ The organisation does not have the necessary funds. The Investigative Committee argues, however, that the funds are available, referring to the fact that Simonov was paying the rent for the premises in 2018–2019. Simonov paid the rent from his personal funds in order to comply with the requirement that the organisation had a legal address.

After three unsuccessful attempts to substantiate the accusation, the investigator presented the charges for a fourth time on 14 September 2020. Travel restrictions have been imposed on Simonov pending trial.

Why does Memorial consider his prosecution politically motivated and unlawful?

The criminal case against Simonov results from his organisation being recognised as a ‘foreign agent’ for its human rights activities. This in itself suffices to show the unlawfulness and political nature of the prosecution. The law on ‘foreign agents’ unjustifiably restricts freedom of association and contradicts the principle of legal certainty and other fundamental principles of law. The authorities openly use this law in their campaign against civil society.

The prosecution of the heads of organisations declared to be ‘foreign agents’ under Article 315 of the Russian Criminal Code is a new trend in this campaign. In 2019 five similar criminal cases were instituted against Aleksandra Koroleva, director of the NGO Ekozashchita!. Earlier, both Ecozashchita! and the Southern Human Rights Centre have applied to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge the law on ‘foreign agents.’ Criminal prosecution of the heads of these organisations could be retaliation for applying to the ECtHR.

The political motivation and unlawfulness of the prosecution is also shown by the following:

  • The article under which Simonov is charged is not applicable to the case in principle because the organisation does not have the capacity to comply with the court order. Despite knowing this from Simonov’s explanations and without having proof to the contrary, the investigator has nonetheless not terminated the case;
  • The FSB is actively involved in the case, which is not typical;
  • Some of the actions of the law enforcement agencies indicate their purpose is not in fact to conduct an investigation, but rather to put psychological pressure on a human rights defender;
  • Simonov and the Southern Human Rights Centre are seen as a single entity, although their activities and incomes are separate from each other;
  • The case materials testify to the possible falsification of material evidence and violations of the law on enforcement proceedings which have made possible the initiation of the criminal prosecution. They also show that the prosecution has intentionally ignored evidence of Simonov’s innocence and, in arguing its case, refers to a court decision that has been quashed.

More information about the case and the opinion of Memorial Human Rights Centre is available on our website.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner or as a victim of politically motivated prosecution does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.

How you can help

You can support all political prisoners by donating to the Fund to Support Political Prisoners of the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners via PayPal, using the e-wallet at [email protected]

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Симонов Семён Леонидович родился 17 августа 1983 года, житель Сочи. Правозащитник, президент краснодарской региональной благотворительной общественной организации «Южный правозащитный центр».