The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) sees the Russian law on “foreign agents” as a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECtHR justified its unanimous judgment on Tuesday with the “extraordinary” conditions for NGOs, which the Russian authorities classify as “foreign agents”. Among other things, these included strict state examinations, restrictions on public meetings and the “risk of large fines”.

With the law passed in Russia in 2012 and expanded in 2020, Russian authorities have increased pressure on the opposition and non-governmental organizations in recent years, forcing dozens of them to disband. According to the ECtHR, the law is “not necessary in a democratic society”. It is a violation of the freedom of expression, assembly and association guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin see the law as a political tool to silence opposition and civil society groups. The ECtHR ruled on complaints lodged between 2013 and 2018 against measures taken against 73 Russian NGOs that campaigned for civil rights, the environment and education, among other things.

Among the NGOs was the Russian human rights organization Memorial, which was banned under the law last December and had worked for decades to investigate Stalinist crimes in the Soviet Union. In December, the ECtHR called on Russia to withdraw the dissolution of Memorial. He has now sentenced the Russian state to pay the complainants a total of EUR 1.02 million in damages and reimburse them for legal costs of almost EUR 119,000.

Last week, however, the Russian parliament decided to withdraw Russia from the ECtHR. As a result, Russia will not implement ECtHR judgments rendered after March 15.