Russian NGOs fear new ‘foreign agent’ law
Russia: Checks at NGO Offices
Freedom House: Putin consistently pursues a course to suppress civil society
The US Embassy in Moscow expressed concern about the massive checks of non-profit organizations (NPOs) carried out by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. “With great concern, we are following reports of unprecedented inspections of NGOs throughout Russia,” the embassy said on Twitter. “We shared our concern with the Russian government and asked to explain what the reasons are behind these actions”.
The checks are carried out as part of a large-scale campaign against hundreds of non-profit organizations (NPOs)
The American diplomatic mission asked the Russian government for an explanation of the reasons for the inspections of NPOs. As the US Embassy tweeted, diplomats are following reports of “unprecedented checks on NPOs throughout Russia with great concern.” “We shared our concern with the Russian government and asked to explain what the reasons are behind these,” the message says..
On the eve, Russian law enforcement agencies conducted searches in the offices of the Memorial Society, one of the oldest and most reputable human rights organizations in Russia..
The inspectors demanded to show them a number of documents on the organization’s activities and made copies of them. According to employees of the prosecutor’s office, the check was carried out “for the implementation of the current legislation”.
Pavel Chikov, a member of the presidential council for human rights, told the Associated Press that about two thousand organizations have already been searched. According to him, the ongoing verification is unprecedented in its scale..
Earlier it became known that members of the Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation appealed to the Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika about complaints from NGOs from various regions of the country in connection with the ongoing inspections.
“In recent days,” says the message on the council’s website, “from the Krasnodar, Perm, Primorsky Territories, Orenburg, Penza, Rostov Regions, Moscow and St. Petersburg, and other regions of the Russian Federation, an endless stream of complaints from NPO leaders have been sent to the Council to unmotivated massive inspections by the prosecutor’s office “.
NGOs and the fight against extremism
In the same appeal, it is noted that in a number of cases the inspectors referred to the instructions of the Prosecutor General’s Office to check how NPOs comply with the law on countering extremist activities. The document expresses the conviction that “really fighting extremism and” nightmare “law-abiding NGOs” are not the same thing..
The Voice of America correspondent was unable to get comments from the representatives of the Prosecutor General’s Office about what was happening..
Among those who signed the appeal was Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the SOVA Information and Analytical Center. “Since this is an official appeal of the Presidential Council, – said Verkhovsky in an interview with the Russian service of the Voice of America, – the Prosecutor General, I hope, will explain what they (checks – V.V.) are connected with..
Because there are scheduled inspections, there are unscheduled ones, caused by some signals from the field. But it is not clear how unscheduled inspections can become massive, and what they generally mean “.
“I mean not political, but legal reasons,” said Alexander Verkhovsky.
Law and policy
Meanwhile, according to media and human rights organizations, inspections of NGOs continue throughout the country. According to the Association “Agora”, during their conduct (we are talking, in particular, about the Trans-Baikal Territory, Chuvashia and Tatarstan), the inspectors demand, among other things, “an analysis of public activity”.
Agora’s legal analyst, lawyer Ramil Akhmetgaliev, described the ongoing inspections as illegal and inconsistent with the Constitution of the Russian Federation.
“Since everyone is asked about foreign funding,” noted Alexander Verkhovsky, “this is probably somehow connected with the (legislative – V.V.) amendments about foreign agents. But a lot of other questions are also asked, many different documents are asked. Therefore, it cannot be said that this is a check (carried out) within the framework of the implementation of specific norms about agents, no matter how you treat them “.
According to Verkhovsky, the inspection commissions include representatives of various supervisory agencies “up to the fire inspection”.
Chairman of the Council of the Human Rights Center “Memorial” Oleg Orlov said in an interview with “Voice of America” that he can only guess what is happening.
“Nobody explains anything to us,” stated Orlov. – The authorities are conducting total checks. Obviously, there is a prescription for this from above. And on the spot, the prosecutor’s office says: nothing special, there is a planned check, everything is fine. They openly deceive us “.
According to Oleg Orlov, what is happening is explained by a whole complex of reasons: “This is irritation about independent non-governmental organizations, which is very clearly demonstrated by Mr. Putin. Let us recall his speech at the collegium of the FSB and the Prosecutor General’s Office, where it was mentioned that the law on NGOs should be in effect “.
What tasks are the authorities seeking to solve in the course of inspections? “It doesn’t matter if you try with all your might to find any violations in a large number of organizations: small, large – it does not matter,” Oleg Orlov believes. – These rather senseless demands sometimes put us in difficulty. In addition, based on the results of the audit, they will most likely draw up a list, on the basis of which they will further demand that NPOs enter the register of foreign agents ”.
Orlov called the inspectors “mnogostanochniki and Stakhanovites” because they work by shock methods.
“They take (from NGOs) all the new documents, that is, they fill themselves with an enormous amount of papers,” the human rights activist emphasizes. – Can you imagine how many people in these bodies are now cut off from real work? We can only feel sorry for all of us “.
In addition, Orlov expressed regret that these checks are carried out with taxpayers’ money. “We pay,” he said, “for work that is completely meaningless and harmful to society. We are not against being tested; we are already handing over all the necessary information “.
David Kramer, director of the American human rights organization Freedom House, called the actions of the Russian authorities “outrageous”.
“The scale of what is happening,” said Kramer, “is much larger than many expected. The goal of these actions is to suppress civil society, which Putin, and the Kremlin leadership in general, sees as a threat. This is a frontal attack on non-governmental organizations. In words, there is a struggle for compliance with the rule of law, but the legislation itself in this case is such that such arguments should hardly be taken seriously..
Another thing is also important: the Kremlin is planting an absurd myth about the machinations of the West, allegedly seeking to arrange a revolution in Russia. It is difficult to say how great the disagreements are today in the ranks of the Russian ruling elite. One thing is clear: since his return to the presidency, Putin has consistently pursued a policy of suppressing civil society “.
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