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Kremlin Continues Crackdown on Civil Society

Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Mikhail Khodorkovsky

The Russian government has added three more NGOs to its list of “undesirables,” as the government’s crackdown on civil society continues.

The Russian government has added three more NGOs to its list of “undesirables,” as the government’s crackdown on civil society continues.

The three organizations were founded or backed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former Russian oil tycoon and Kremlin critic who was imprisoned for 10 years on fraud charges, after a trial deemed by many international observers to be politically motivated. Khodorkovsky was pardoned in 2013 and has since lived abroad.

Russia’s General Prosecutors Office banned the activities of the Open Russia Foundation, the Institute of Modern Russia, and the Open Russia Civic Movement under the 2015 Law on Undesirable Foreign Organizations, which says that groups can be prohibited from operating on Russian soil if they are seen to pose a threat to the state’s constitutional order, national defense or security.

Seven U.S.-based non-governmental organizations have already been designated as “undesirable” under the same law: the Media Development Investment Fund; the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation; the Open Society Foundations; the U.S.-Russia Foundation for Economic Advancement and the Rule of Law; the International Republican Institute and its sister organization the National Democratic Institute; as well as the National Endowment for Democracy.

In deploring the latest additions, Amnesty International’s Russia Director Sergei Nitikin said, “For many years Russian authorities have relentlessly worked to create a hostile environment for civil society. Open Russia’s activities in human rights defense, its support of independent candidates running for national and local elected office and media work were a great impediment to them. By banning the organization, the authorities intend to overcome this obstacle.”

U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said the United States is “deeply troubled” by the recent designations of the three NGOs.

“We reject the notion that these and other international civil society organizations are a threat to Russia. If Russia hopes to build a strong, democratic government with a dynamic, competitive economy, it should value and support, not harass and criminalize such independent voices.”

The United States again calls on Russia, Mr. Toner said, “to uphold its international obligations and commitments to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms and to cease restrictions on the work of civil society organizations in Russia.”