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Russian Rights Group Labeled 'Foreign Agent' Closes Down

Igor Kalyapin, head of Russia's Committee Against Torture, said the NGO would rather close than accept the "foreign agent" label.
Igor Kalyapin, head of Russia's Committee Against Torture, said the NGO would rather close than accept the "foreign agent" label.

A prominent Russian human rights group that was branded a "foreign agent" in January and has come under attack in Chechnya says it is closing.

The July 8 announcement by the head of the Committee Against Torture (KPP), Igor Kalyapin, came weeks after the group's office in the Chechen capital Grozny was stormed and trashed by a mob.

A law signed by President Vladimir Putin in 2012 requires NGOs to register as "foreign agents" -- a negative term evoking Soviet-era Western spies -- if they have funding from abroad and are deemed involved in political activity.

"Our prosecutors consider any interview, any article placed on our website to be political activity," Kalyapin said. At the same time, he said, "Domestic financing of human rights activities in our country does not exist, and therefore there is no way to conduct such activities without financial aid from abroad."

Kalyapin said the Justice Ministry has warned him that the KPP will be fined for failing to indicate in the group's publications that it is officially branded as a foreign agent.

He said the group would close rather than accept the "foreign agent" label.

"We do not have money to pay fines and we have no intention of label ourselves as foreign agents because that is not true," Kalyapin said. "I will file an official response to the ministry informing it that the organization will be liquidated."

He said that several smaller groups would attempt to do the work of the organization in an effort to avoid the "foreign agent" label.

Activists say the "foreign agent" law is part of a growing crackdown on civil society that Putin launched upon his return to the presidency in May 2012, after four years as prime minister.

Kalyapin's announcement came hours after the Dynasty Foundation, a leading private donor and benefactor of Russian science and education, announced its closure following its designation as "foreign agent" in May.

The Committee Against Torture was one of the few human rights groups still operating in Chechnya, where activists say Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has fostered an atmosphere of impunity for abuses by security forces in order to maintain control of the restive region.

On June 3, a mob armed with weapons such as iron bars and hammers attacked the KPP's Grozny office, forcing staffers to escape through a second-floor window.

In December, the office was set on fire by unidentified assailants.

That attack occurred days after supporters of Kadyrov pelted Kalyapin and his colleagues with eggs, disrupting a Moscow press conference at which he was criticizing calls by the Chechen leader to impose collective punishment against the relatives of alleged militants.

After those attacks, the U.S. State Department, the European Union, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch urged Russian authorities to ensure the safety of all human rights defenders in Chechnya and across Russia.

With reporting by Kommersant,, AFP, and TASS

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