Serebryanaya Roza (Silver Rose) has been fighting for the rights of sex workers in Russia since 2006. Today, the group has a presence in 10 regions across Russia, representing the interests of a large part of the estimated 3 million sex workers in the country. They operate a hotline for sex workers and provide legal aid to sex workers in cases of violence and harassment. After many years of doing very valuable work Silver Rose is trying to obtain official recognition as an NGO from Russia’s Ministry of Justice.
Silver Rose first made its request for registration as an official NGO in May 2013. The Ministry of Justice refused the request on the grounds that ‘sex worker’ was not an officially recognised profession in Russia. Moreover, the Ministry argued that Silver Rose was guilty of ‘inciting social, racial, national and or religious hatred and enmity’, which is contrary to Article 29 of the Russian constitution. This was blatant bullying tactics from the Ministry of Justice and their characterisation of Silver Rose is so far removed from the valuable work they actually do. Irina Maslova, the leader of Silver Rose, said this about the initial refusal:
“We were even accused of inciting ethnic hatred and all but accused of extremism. In addition, officials say that this profession does not exist in the official classification of occupations, and, therefore, such an association cannot be established. We need this organization to help this category of people to solve their own problems — protect them from unfair and corrupt law enforcement agents.”
Silver Rose took the case to the courts and asked for a declaration that the Ministry’s decision was unlawful. They were assisted in this by the human rights ogranisation Agora. They argued that the concepts of ‘sex worker’ or ‘commercial sex worker’ are well known and that at national and international levels it is recognised that sex workers can be a vulnerable group requiring assistance. They further pointed out that Silver Rose was a support organisation and was in no way involved in the organisation of prostitution or the keeping of brothels. They argued that the refusal to register Silver Rose was a breach of the human right to freedom of assembly and association.
Unfortunately, the court upheld the Ministry’s decision based on some technical issues with Silver Rose’s application. Determined not to give up, however, Silver Rose has taken time with the help of human rights activists to prepare a new application for registration as an NGO. This was prepared and lodged with the Ministry of Justice at the end of March 2014. We now await a decision. NSWP stands in solidarity with Silver Rose and urges the Ministry of Justice to recognise it as a formal NGO.