ECRE’s Russian Member, Memorial Centre for Human Rights, along with its sister organisation, the Committee for Civic Assistance, have come under increased pressure this week from government authorities following the draconian legislation on NGOs adopted last year.
The offices of both organisations have been raided by officials from the Prosecutor General’s office and other agencies, including the police and tax authorities. The Federal Migration Service attended the latest check at the Civic Assistance Committee, upon request by a member of the state institution Russian Civic Chambers, Georgy Fedorov, who has accused the Civic Assistance Committee of “organising illegal migration and the legalisation of illegals” and in particular of bringing Muslim extremists to Russia, passing them off as Coptic Christians from Egypt. Svetlana Gannushkina, Chair of the Committee for Civic Assistance, has called this accusation libellous. The Civic Assistance Committee has decided to stop cooperating with investigations until their legality has been ascertained.
Furthermore, the election watchdog NGO Golos has become this week the first NGO to be fined under the same legislation. Golos has been fined the sum of 300,000 Roubles (6,300 Euros) for failing to declare itself a ‘Foreign Agent’, despite not having accepted any foreign funding since the passing of the controversial new law.
Last February, Russian NGOs lodged an application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to contest the law that establishes that any NGO engaging in ‘political activity’ and receiving foreign funding can be asked to register on a database of “foreign agents”. Moreover, any materials distributed by such NGOs, including in the media and on the internet, have to be accompanied by a reference to their foreign agent status.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published a report this week analysing a series of changes that have been introduced since Vladmir Putin’s return to Presidency. The developments include the nationwide campaign of invasive inspections of NGOs, the harassment and in some cases imprisonment of political activists, the “foreign agents” law, the treason law, and the assembly law. Hugh Williamson, HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Director, said, “the campaign is unprecedented in its scope and scale, and seems clearly aimed at intimidating and marginalizing civil society groups. This inspection campaign can potentially be used to force some groups to end advocacy work, or to close them down.”