On December 30, 2016, Russia’s Ministry of Justice declared that the SOVA Centre For Information and Analysis, a leading research organization that conducts research on human rights and extremist movements, would be required to register on Russia’s foreign agent list, which includes NGOs engaged in “political activities” that receive foreign funding. The decision required the center to identify itself as a “foreign agent” in public materials.
The SOVA Centre, a Moscow-based think tank founded in October 2002, researches and investigates issues related to nationalism, xenophobia, racism, and extremist movements in Russia. The center is widely considered a regional leader in researching hate crimes and extremist movements. The center has received support from international funders including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and Open Society Foundation (OSF), among others. On December 30, 2016, state authorities declared the center a “foreign agent” after an unscheduled inspection of its offices, without federal officials offering any further details.
Russia’s “foreign agent”” law was introduced in November 2012 to monitor and make public the activities of NGOs that conduct “political” activities and receive foreign funding. “Political activities” as defined by the law, includes any research or advocacy activities that criticize or challenge the Russian government or its policies. According to the law, organizations labeled as foreign agents are required to identify themselves as such in all public materials, including research publications. Critics of the law claim this negatively impacts the perceived credibility of these organizations’ work. The law has been used as a means by state authorities to discredit the work of non-governmental organisations, including research institutions (see report on the Levada Center).
On February 21, 2017, a Russian court ordered the SOVA Center to pay a fine of 300,000 rubles (roughly USD $5,200) for allegedly failing to formally register as a “foreign agent” with the Ministry of Justice.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about apparent retaliation against an independent research center in response to academic research and collaboration with and support from foreign entities. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with the peaceful exercise of the rights to academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association, so long as those activities are undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Actions aimed at limiting research and collaboration harm academic freedom and undermine society generally.