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Top Russian Rights Activist Describes Violent Raid On NGO

Russian Rights Activist Recounts Police Beating
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MOSCOW -- Prominent Russian rights activist Lev Ponomaryov says he is recovering following a violent eviction from his Moscow office last week amid a nationwide crackdown on nongovernmental organizations critical of the government.

Ponomaryov, 72, told RFE/RL that he sustained multiple bruises and scratches after being dragged across the floor and kicked by a group of unidentified men.

"During the night, I was taken to an emergency room by ambulance," Ponomaryov said. "I have a medical report showing that I had numerous bruises: three or four on my head, one on my eye, as you can still see, a bump on my eyebrow, scratches on my neck, and another bump on the back of my head, a bruise on my chest. They beat us in the kidneys, with precision."

Ponomaryov says police officers visited the office of his organization, For Human Rights, on June 21 and ordered employees to vacate the premises but did not provide an eviction order.

He says a group of men in plainclothes stormed the office hours later, around 2 a.m, after he and six other people refused to leave.

MAPPED OUT: The Crackdown On NGOs In Russia

The men allegedly threw them out on the street and changed the locks on the doors, while riot police watched.

Moscow police said the eviction had been ordered by the mayor's office and was carried out by a private security firm.

They beat us in the kidneys, with precision.
Russian rights activist Lev Ponomaryov
Moscow authorities claim the lease for the NGO's office, located in a city-owned building, ran out in January and was terminated last month.

But Ponomaryov says he had expected to extend the lease as in previous years, noting that a court order is required to carry out an eviction.

He believes the eviction was orchestrated by officials in President Vladimir Putin's administration as retaliation for the group's refusal to give prosecutors documents during an inspection earlier this year.

On June 25, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov announced after meeting Ponomaryov that he would pay the rights group's rent.

The offices of the For Human Rights group in Moscow
The offices of the For Human Rights group in Moscow
Hundreds of NGOs across Russia, including Ponomaryov's group, have been subjected to unannounced audits under a controversial new law requiring NGOs that receive international donations and engage in "political activity" to register as "foreign agents."

Most groups have refused to comply.

In the latest case, a gay-rights group, Vykhod (Coming Out) was fined 300,00 rubles ($9,100) on June 26 for failing to register, the second such penalty in a week.

The New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch says Russia is using the law to "curtail a broad range of work" by NGOs.

Written by Claire Bigg based on an interview conducted by Vladimir Kara-Murza of RFE/RL's Russian Service

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