Russia probes foreign-funded NGOs: Human Rights Watch

15th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russian prosecutors are probing more than a dozen foreign-funded nongovernmental groups, subjecting them to short-notice inspections, a top human rights watchdog said on Wednesday.

The Moscow City Prosecutor's office on Tuesday summoned a number of Russia's top nongovernmental groups which receive funding from abroad, demanding they provide copies of their charter, registration, tax and other documents, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said.

The groups under investigation include the Moscow Helsinki Group and Memorial, both Russian human rights organisations, and anti-corruption group Transparency International.

"It is the first time since Russia's 2006 law governing the operations of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) went into effect that the authorities have audited so many groups simultaneously," it said in a statement.

"Some groups were given a day to gather the documents, others several hours," it said. "It did not explain why the study required the organisations to deliver their documents in such short order," the advocacy group said.

The prosecutor's office said in a terse statement posted on its website on Tuesday that it had begun a probe of a number of nongovernmental organisations to verify how the law on NGOs was being implemented.

In 2006, then president Vladimir Putin, wary of foreign-funded groups, had signed a law that requires NGOs to register with the state and increased scrutiny of their financing.

Activists accused the FSB security services of conducting a "witch hunt" and hoped that Putin's successor at the Kremlin Dmitry Medvedev would soften the tough line taken by Putin on civil society during his eight years in power.

But after over two years with the new president some expressed disappointment over the lack of progress, especially after several prominent activists had been killed on Medvedev's watch.

The latest probe comes after Microsoft condemned the Russian authorities' practice of "arbitrarily invoking anti-piracy laws to harass nongovernmental organizations," Human Rights Watch.

© 2010 AFP

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