Who is Amnesty International?
Pressure Campaign on Russian Human Rights NGOs Gains Momentum
A few days ago, on March 21, unscheduled document checks took place in the offices of some Russian human rights organizations. Then “Memorial” and hundreds of other NGOs of various orientations were “under fire”, about which the international organization Amnesty International published an article entitled “Human rights defenders: NPO inspections are directed against civil society”. Shortly thereafter, the fate of Memorial befell the Moscow office of Amnesty International itself, as well as other major human rights organizations in Moscow and St. Petersburg..
Pavel Chikov, head of the human rights organization Agora, said on Twitter that on March 25, representatives of the prosecutor’s office and tax inspectors, as well as the NTV television crew, who were not allowed into the office, came to the Amnesty International office. The authorities demanded that all documents be presented to them, including a copy of the passport of the head of the organization, Sergei Nikitin. Nikitin himself, in a commentary to the Russian service of the Voice of America, said that all the papers are already at the disposal of the Ministry of Justice, so the purpose of the check is a mystery to him..
At the same time, at about 12:00 Moscow time on March 25, a similar check began in the office of another well-known Russian NGO, For Human Rights. The composition of the auditors was the same. As noted by Chikov, journalists from the NTV channel were also present there..
Sergey Nikitin: we tend to consider the check illegal
Earlier – on the eve of the adoption of the law on NPOs, which became the basis for inspections – Deputy Director of the Department for Non-Profit Organizations of the Ministry of Justice Tatyana Vagina assured Sergei Nikitin that the list of scheduled inspections of NPOs was drawn up in advance, and that Amnesty International was not included in this list for 2013.
That is why, as Nikitin said in an interview with the Voice of America correspondent, the check was “relatively unexpected” for him. “But, at the same time, reading the news about what is happening in other public organizations, we assumed that we could also become the object of close attention,” he added..
The legality of the measures carried out by law enforcement officials, according to Nikitin, raises questions from him. “We consulted with many lawyers, including lawyers from the Agora organization,” he said. “They gave us a point of view, which we tend to share, that such checks are illegal.” The head of the Russian branch of Amnesty International also added that the organization is going to continue to consult on this issue, and based on the results of the consultations, it will be decided whether to challenge the check in court..
According to Nikitin, the unexpected “interest” of law enforcement agencies in NGOs can be explained by various reasons: “We can assume that the wave of interest was initiated last year,” he said. “Then the Russian authorities made 7 or 8 amendments to the legislation, which dealt specifically with freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and all this testified to the dislike of the Russian authorities for organizations that protect human rights.”.
When the “Law on NGOs” was adopted, the head of Amnesty International in Russia believes, it became clear that human rights organizations would have problems. “This is evidenced by the statement of the Minister of Justice Konovalov when he explained why they refused to put the Shield and Sword organization on the register of foreign agents,” he added..
However, shortly after that, according to Sergei Nikitin, Vladimir Putin made a speech, during which the president “clearly and unequivocally said that the law would work.” “Therefore, I believe that the president’s instruction was heard and implemented, and many organizations have witnessed this very implementation,” Nikitin stated..
The head of Amnesty International in Russia does not exclude that, according to the results of the audit, some organizations – for example, For Human Rights, headed by Lev Ponomarev – may be closed if they did not provide assistance during the inspections. “How things will unfold further, it is difficult to imagine now, – we do not know what instructions have been given,” he summed up. – But I do not exclude that some organizations may be closed “.
Mikhail Fedotov: talking about the closure of NGOs is groundless
Mikhail Fedotov, Chairman of the Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights under the President of the Russian Federation, in turn, is convinced that it is premature and unreasonable to talk about the possibility of closing any NGOs..
Nevertheless, the legality of the checks raises questions from the lawyer. “What we are now observing are inspections carried out by the prosecution authorities, and they have the right to conduct inspections of any organization,” he explained. “But, at the same time, the Council (Human Rights Council – GA) is concerned that these checks are being carried out without due grounds.” According to Fedotov, he does not know anything about such grounds, so he and his colleagues in the HRC will insist that the prosecutor’s office inform the public about them..
“The council turned to the Attorney General with a letter in which he asked him to inform, firstly, what was the basis for these checks, and secondly, to notify us when the Attorney General can tell about the results of these checks at a special meeting of the council “, – said Fedotov. According to him, verification of the activities of any organization without legal grounds is impossible, as evidenced by a special instruction of the Prosecutor General, issued by him in 2011..
The inspections of the prosecutor’s office, if they do not have sufficient grounds, can have an extremely negative impact on the state of civil society, the expert is convinced. “The council’s address directly states that this is reminiscent of what happened to business in the very recent past,” added Mikhail Fedotov. – Then it was said that it is necessary to stop “nightmare” business, and now they are beginning to “nightmare” NGOs “.
Amnesty International Press Center Reaction
Lydia Arroyo from the central press office of Amnesty International in London said that according to the official version of the authorities, the purpose of the inspectors’ visits to the offices of non-governmental organizations in Russia in recent weeks is to check the compliance of their work with Russian law.
Amnesty International, like other NGOs operating in Russia, has repeatedly criticized this legislation, which imposes restrictions on them, and expressed concerns that these laws would be used to pressure organizations that publicize rights violations and criticize the actions of the authorities, as well as their closure. – reminded Lydia Aroyo. “Amnesty International is also concerned that these checks are being done in a way that will deliberately tarnish and discredit these organizations in the public eye.”.
The head office of the organization expressed confidence that all its actions are in accordance with Russian laws, and expressed regret that government inspectors have to be distracted from more useful tasks..
State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Wentrell said Monday that his department is concerned about checks in the offices of nongovernmental organizations in Russia. “We expressed concern last year, at the stage of passing laws that impose severe restrictions on civil society,” said Ventrell. “We remain concerned about the application of these laws and will continue to bring our concerns to the attention of the Russian authorities.”.
I will follow