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In Russia, More NGOs Targeted For Inspections

  • RFE/RL's Russian Service

Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch: "Unannounced audit"

Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch: "Unannounced audit"

MOSCOW -- Russian authorities are continuing their inspections of nongovernmental organizations around the country.

On March 27, Transparency International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) were among the organizations visited by officials from the prosecutor’s office and tax police.

Yelena Panfilova of Transparency International in Moscow wrote on her Facebook page, "They have come to us."

Andrei Zhirblis of the Transparency International office in Moscow expressed surprise at the visit by authorities. He told RFE/RL he believed the organization had already complied with documentation requirements just last month.

"The check was carried out by the Prosecutor-General’s Office in the same way that it has been on many of our colleagues," Zhirblis said.

"They asked for a raft of documents. We had all the documents ready because the organization went through a scheduled check with the Justice Ministry. That check was meant to be a reason not to check us another time.”

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The deputy director of HRW’s Europe and Central Asia division, Rachel Denber, confirmed in an e-mail that officials from the Prosecutor-General’s Office and tax police had conducted an "unannounced audit" of the Moscow office.

Denber also said the audit of HRW’s Moscow office was "part of a massive, unprecedented wave of inspections of NGOs in Russia that is intensifying pressure on civil society in the wake of the adoption of a number of restrictive laws last year."

New Law A 'Pretext'

Lev Ponomaryov, the head of Russia's For Human Rights movement, whose Moscow office has been subjected to similar inspections, told RFE/RL the legislation was being used as a "pretext."

"This is an attack on independent nongovernmental organizations, primarily human rights organizations. This is a coordinated attack," Ponomaryov said. "This is, as I have written before, a creeping political coup."

He said he had refused to provide documents demanded by prosecutors.

The NGO Agora in Kazan, which provides legal services to civic activists, received a written demand for documents.

Agora's Pavel Chikov: "We are not going to provide any documents."

Agora's Pavel Chikov: "We are not going to provide any documents."

The head of Agora, Pavel Chikov, told RFE/RL the authorities did not show up at his organization’s office in Tatarstan’s capital.

"We received a fax from the prosecutor's office of the district where Agora is located demanding that I appear in person and bring a set of documents," Chikov said.

"The district prosecutor, Marat Dolgov, requests that I bring financial documents about [Agora's] activities by April 2."

Chikov said he did not intend to fulfill that request.

"I affirm that the prosecuting authorities have no information of any illegal activities by Agora or any other organizations that I mentioned," Chikov said. "Therefore, we are not going to provide any documents. However, we will present a well-substantiated explanation of why we're not doing it."

The Russian authorities have been collecting registration and financial documents from dozens of NGOs.

The authorities say they are checking if the NGOs are in compliance with new laws on foreign financing.

Part of the new laws include an obligation for NGOs operating in Russia to be officially registered as "foreign agents" if they receive financing from abroad.

European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement on March 26 that the inspections were "worrisome since they seem to be aimed at further undermining civil-society activities in the country."

The French and the German Foreign Ministries said they had "invited" Russian diplomats for consultations about the investigations in order to hear Moscow's explanation.