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Russia's Committee Against Torture To Fight 'Foreign Agent' Label

Igor Kalyapin, head of Russia's Committee Against Torture, says the Nizhny Novgorod-based NGO will have to close or merge with another group if the challenge fails.

The head of the Committee Against Torture (KPP), a prominent human rights group in Russia, is vowing to fight a "foreign agent" designation imposed by the government.

Activist Igor Kalyapin said in remarks published on January 20 that he was informed last week of the Justice Ministry's decision to add the group to a list of "foreign agents" under a law that places the label on NGOs that receive foreign funding and are deemed to be involved in political activities.

Kalyapin told the newspaper Kommersant that he would challenge the designation in court, but said the Nizhny Novgorod-based NGO would have to close or merge with another group if the challenge failed.

In a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Current Time program on January 19, Kalyapin confirmed that his group received financial support from foreign sources but said it had never been involved in politics.

According to Kommersant, over 15 years Kalyapin's KPP has initiated the prosecution of 109 law enforcement officers convicted of torture and has helped reverse decisions to drop torture-related charges against more than 600 people.

Rights activists say the 2013 "foreign agent" law is part of a growing crackdown on civil society during President Vladimir Putin's third term. Amendments introduced last year allow the Justice Ministry to forcefully add NGOs to the list of "foreign agents."

A number of NGOs including the Sakharov Center, Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg, and the Public Verdict Foundation have been forcibly added to the list since then.

One such group, Jurists For Constitutional Rights And Freedoms, had to stop its activities after it was forcibly added to the list of "foreign agents." The Institute of Regional Press, an organization that has helped train journalists since the collapse of the Soviet Union, might stop its activities soon.

In December, the KPP was put under pressure after Kalyapin criticized the Kremlin-backed head of Russia's Chechnya region in the North Caucasus, Ramzan Kadyrov, for saying that the families of men involved in a deadly attack on Grozny that month be expelled from Chechnya and their homes destroyed.

Kadyrov claimed later that Kalyapin had been given money by Western intelligence services that he gave to the group that attacked Grozny in early December.

On December 11, several Kadyrov supporters pelted Kalyapin and his colleagues with eggs, disrupting a press conference in Moscow at which Kalyapin was speaking against Kadyrov's order to impose collective punishment against relatives of the alleged militants.

On December 13, the KPP office in the Chechen capital, Grozny, was set on fire by unknown arsonists.

In mid-December, the U.S. State Department, the European Union, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch urged the Russian authorities to ensure the safety of all human rights activists in Chechnya and across Russia after the reports about KPP's ordeal.

With reporting by Kommersant

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