There is a wave of government raids being carried out against Russia’s non-governmental organizations and civil society groups across Russia.
There is an unprecedented wave of so-called government inspections being carried out against Russia’s non-governmental organizations and civil society groups across Russia, including religious and educational organizations. The United States is deeply concerned about these inspections, which appear to be aimed at impeding civil society activities across the country.
Rights activists in Russia say the inspections at hundreds of NGO and civil society organization offices in recent weeks are aimed at scaring them into registering as “foreign agents” and silencing criticism of the Russian government. Some of Russia’s oldest rights group, such as Moscow Helsinki Group and Memorial, as well as international NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are among those whose offices have been visited by prosecutors and other state officials. “The sheer scope of these inspections. . .,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, “really gives us concern that this is some kind of a witch-hunt.”
A series of Russian laws were passed in 2012 governing NGOs. These include a law requiring nonprofits engaged in broadly defined political activity that receive funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents” and submit to onerous reporting requirements and a law restricting the civic activities of Russians who have U.S. passports and giving authorities discretion to shut down any nonprofit that receives money from the United States. Penalties for failing to comply with the new rules governing NGOs include six months’ suspension without a court order and, for individuals, up to three years in jail.
Leading rights groups say the “foreign agent” law is vaguely worded to allow arbitrary application for political ends. NGOs have largely refused to comply with the law for that reason. “We consider this law illegal and vile,” said Memorial board member Sergei Krivenko. “We will use all the legal tools to fight against it in courts.”
The United States will continue to voice its concerns both publicly and privately about efforts to restrict the space for NGO activities as it strives to maintain an open dialogue on civil society and human rights issues with the Russian civil society and the Russian government. The United States believes that civil society and human rights organizations are essential components of a vibrant democracy. “These restrictive laws,” said Spokesperson Nuland, “are chilling the environment for civil society, [and are] taking Russian democracy in the wrong direction.”