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Russia: warning of 'paralysis' for human rights NGOs after Memorial 'foreign agents' case

Amnesty International has warned of “paralysis” in the human rights movement in Russia after a key NGO in the city of Ryazan today lost a lawsuit triggered by the repressive 'foreign agents law'.

‘Memorial Ryazan’s defeat in court is yet another dangerous development for Russian NGOs’
Sergei Nikitin

Memorial Ryazan unsuccessfully challenged a prosecutor’s warning that it had failed to register as a “foreign agent” under the law, which deems its human rights work “political”. Content on the Memorial Ryazan website - which included several Amnesty documents - was used as evidence that the organisation’s work was supposedly political in today’s civil court hearing.

The foreign agents law contravenes Russian’s obligations under international human rights law, including the right to freedom of association.

Sergei Nikitin, the Director of Amnesty International’s Moscow office, said:

'Memorial Ryazan’s defeat in court is yet another dangerous development for Russian NGOs and highlights the chilling implications the ‘foreign agents law’ has on the future of human rights reporting in the country.

'The restrictive NGO law is the Russian authorities’ thinly-disguised attempt to continue to stifle and discredit the work of those that dare to report on human rights issues.

'If other Russian courts take a similar line, it will escalate a process that essentially paralyses the country’s human rights movement - a prospect the Kremlin would appear to relish.'

Last July, President Vladimir Putin approved the so-called “foreign agents law” which came into effect in November 2012. It requires any NGO receiving foreign funding to register as an “organisation performing the functions of a foreign agent” if it engages in what it defines very loosely as “political activity”. The Russian government has said the law is meant to increase transparency and accountability of civil society organisations in the country, even though strong regulations in that area already existed.

Since the law was enacted, independent civil society organisations across Russia have been subjected to pressure, intimidation, harassment and smear campaigns by the authorities.  Offices of hundreds of NGOs - including Amnesty’s Moscow office - have been “inspected” by representatives of the prosecution, tax authorities and other government agencies.

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