On 26 May 2015 Citizens’ Watch proved its case in court against the accusations of allegedly having submitted a wrong report on the sources and size of its annual income.
The charges under Article 19.7.5-2 of the Code of Administrative Offences were brought against the NGO by the St Petersburg Department of the Ministry of Justice. It was the first time this clausewas applied. The clause is discriminatory (as is the entire law) because only NGOs branded as foreign agents are held administratively liable for failure to duly provide credible information to the Ministry of Justice. The offence is punishable by a fine 100,000 to 300,000 roubles – equivalent to £1,200 to £3,700.
In late April 2015 Elena Shakhova, Chair of Citizens’ Watch, was called to the MoJ Department to be informed that the report uploaded by the NGO on the website of the Ministry of Justice contained false information. The document demonstrated to Ms. Shakhova said that Citizens’ Watch did not receive any foreign funding and that the annual income of the NGO was less than 3 million roubles. The judge heard that, in fact, a month earlier Citizens’ Watch had submitted credible information to the Ministry, sending it on paper by post and electronically via the Ministry’s website. However, due to a technical error the electronic report did not get uploaded and was mysteriously replaced by a ‘false report’ on the website. The court closed the case on the grounds of insufficient evidence of the incriminated administrative offence.
This was a second trial on administrative offences initiated by the St Petersburg Department of the Ministry of Justice against Citizens’ Watch. Earlier, on 22 April 2015 another case on the allegation that Citizens’ Watch had failed to voluntarily register themselves as foreign agents was closed by court on the grounds of expiration of the limitation period. The Ministry of Justice appealed against the ruling but the 2nd instance court supported it.
Apparently, the Ministry of Justice is keen to bring Citizens’ Watch to account for breaching administrative law – so far, without success.