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HRW: Russian Activist's Criminal Prosecution A 'Blatant Attack' On Freedom Of Association

Anastasia Shevchenko is seen in the defendants' cage in a courtroom in Rostov-on-Don on January 23.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called the criminal prosecution of a Russian activist affiliated with the Open Russia civic movement as a “blatant attack on freedom of association in Russia.”

The case against Anastasia Shevchenko is the first time that Russian authorities have criminally prosecuted an activist for alleged involvement with a so-called “undesirable” foreign organization, the New York-based human rights watchdog said in a statement on January 24.

“Both the draconian law and this prosecution are being used solely to intimidate activists trying to counter corruption, election fraud, and human rights violations in Russia,” Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, said in a statement.

On January 21, law enforcement agents in Rostov-on-Don, Kazan, and Ulyanovsk raided the homes of nine activists affiliated with Open Russia and then interrogated them, according to HRW.

Shevchenko was charged with violating the “undesirable organization” law, and two days later a court in Rostov-on-Don transferred her to house arrest until March 20.

If found guilty, she could face up to six years in prison.

The “undesirable organization” law, adopted in May 2015, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations who received funding from foreign sources.

Last year, Russian authorities formally listed Open Russia under the law.

The group was founded by former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky after he was released from prison and fled Russia.

Once Russia’s wealthiest man, Khodorkovsky was prosecuted in the early 2000s on financial fraud charges, and his company, Yukos, was dismantled and sold off in suspect bankruptcy auctions.

“With Shevchenko’s prosecution, the authorities are emphasizing their message of intimidation that peaceful criticism of the government can land you in prison for years,” said Denber.

In a statement on January 21, Amnesty International said that the Russian authorities have "progressively suffocated and criminalized dissent," adding that Open Russia had become “the latest victim of this crackdown.”

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