MOSCOW -- The walls of the apartment block in Moscow where prominent Russian human rights defender Lev Ponomaryov lives have been vandalized with hate messages on his 80th birthday.
Graffiti saying "Hide-out for the defender of terrorists" was found on September 2 on the walls outside his apartment, as well as on the building that houses Ponomaryov's For Defense of Inmates' Rights group.
Ponomaryov greeted the messages with a grin, calling them a "gift" and "congratulatory messages" as the veteran rights campaigner celebrated turning 80.
Police are investigating the incident.
In March, Ponomaryov shut his well-respected For Human Rights NGO due to the country's controversial laws on "foreign agents."
The organization was established as an unregistered group in 2019 after a Supreme Court ruling to liquidate his movement with the same name, which had conducted rights monitoring and advocacy for more than two decades.
The original group was shut down because Ponomaryov refused to register it as a foreign agent, a requirement of a 2012 law on nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity.
At the end of 2020, the legislation was modified to allow the Russian government to include individuals on its “foreign agents” list and to impose restrictions on them.
Ponomaryov is a former Soviet-era lawmaker and State Duma deputy who helped found the Memorial human rights group. In 1991, he headed the legislature's investigation into the August coup attempt against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
On December 28, 2020, he was added as an individual to the Russian Justice Ministry's list of media accused of carrying out the functions of a "foreign agent." The government gave no explanation for including Ponomaryov on the register.
Russia's "foreign agents" legislation has been widely criticized by Western governments and Russian and international rights groups as an effort by the government of President Vladimir Putin to stifle dissent. Human Rights Watch has described the laws as “restrictive” and intended “to demonize independent groups.”