Human Rights Watch (HRW) says human rights workers in Russia currently face a "hostile climate" and the situation is becoming worse, pointing to one of HRW's employees in Russia who has recently received threats sent by text message.
HRW said on October 4
that senior researcher in Moscow Tanya Lokshina was sent threats from unknown sources "two to five times per day from September 28 to 30, 2012."
Lokshina, said such threats were nothing new, but the current ones were marked by an unprecedented "level of cynicism and meanness."
"To be honest, it's not the first time that I've received threats, including text messages. This is not the first time that the workers of our organization and our Moscow bureau have faced threats. But the level of cynicism and meanness of what I received on my mobile phone, nine messages within three days, was in fact unprecedented," Lokshina said.
HWR executive director Kenneth Roth said it was clear from the threats that people were following Lokshina.
"Tanya Lokshina, the senior researcher in Human Rights Watch's Moscow office has just received a series of texted threats from unknown sources. These threats demonstrate that the sender clearly was following Tanya's every move. They knew where she lived, what she was doing," Roth said.
"They made explicit reference to the fact of her pregnancy, they threatened harm to herself and to her unborn baby. They were clearly made with the intent of scaring Tanya and Human Rights Watch to stop our monitoring and reporting on human rights in Russia."
HRW said Lokshina worked on a wide range of issues but is widely known as one of Russia's leading experts on human rights in "Russia's troubled North Caucasus region."
Roth said HRW would not allow "threats" to prevent the organization from continuing its work in Russia.
"Human Rights Watch worked in the Soviet Union in the darkest days. We certainly are not going to allow a cheap set of vile and depraved threats of the sort that were sent to Tanya to stand in the way of our continued work today," Roth said.
Roth said the fact that the threats included confidential information known only to Lokshina and a very small circle of friends suggested information was obtained through surveillance, with the possible involvement of law enforcement and security officials.
Roth said HRW will be aggressive in pursuing these threats with authorities inside Russia and outside that country.
"Human Rights Watch intends to use every available avenue of address both nationally and internationally to ensure that an investigation of vigorous quality is pursued and that the perpetrators behind these threats are brought to justice," Roth said. "The climate for human rights advocacy in Russia is as bad as we've seen in 20 years."
Russia's Interior Ministry said Lokshina had filed a report with authorities and that "this document will be considered in accordance with the procedures envisioned by the legislation."
With reporting by ITAR-TASS and IFX Rus