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Russia's Justice Ministry has added a U.S. organization on the list of "undesirable organizations" under a law that Moscow says is needed to prevent foreign organizations from being used to undermine Russian national security.

Critics say the law that was endorsed in May 2015 stifles civil society under President Vladimir Putin.

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) -- a nonprofit organization that supports democratic institutions and civil societies across the world -- was blacklisted on March 17.

NDI, established in 1983, is chaired by its founder, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office moved to recognize NDI's activities in Russia as undesirable on March 10.

NDI criticized the move, saying that "the real purpose of the Russian to further isolate the Russian people."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Russian authorities have created a pervasive climate of fear and repression in Crimea in the two years since it annexed the peninsula from Ukraine.

In a report released on March 18, the New York-based rights group said that since Russian's annexation in March 2014 the "space for free speech, freedom of association, and media in Crimea has shrunk dramatically."

HRW also said Russian-backed authorities have "harassed, intimidated, and taken arbitrary legal action against Crimean Tatars, an ethnic minority who openly opposed Russia's occupation."

In a statement on March 18, the European Union's foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, reiterated that the 28-member bloc did not recognize Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Mogherini also reaffirmed the EU's "deep concern at the military build-up and the deterioration of the human rights situation in the Crimean Peninsula, including the denial of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of religion and belief, and the persecution of persons belonging to minorities, in particular the Crimean Tatars."

The EU statement also called for the release of Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov, who was arrested in Crimea in May 2014 and was jailed in August last year for 20 years on terrorism charges that he and international rights groups call politically motivated.

The bloc also urged the release of Oleksandr Kolchenko, an activist sentenced to 10 years in prison by Russian-backed authorities in Crimea.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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