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MOSCOW – Russian law enforcement agencies continue large-scale inspections of non-profit organizations and the offices of international human rights organizations. On Wednesday, March 27, representatives of the prosecutor’s office and tax authorities, accompanied by security officials, came with a check to the office of the Russian branch of Human Rights Watch and Transparency International.
Also on Wednesday, inspections took place in the human rights organization “Civic Assistance” to help forced migrants and refugees, headed by Svetlana Gannushkina. Investigators also appeared at the office of the human rights organization “Agora” in Kazan.
In all cases, inspectors are asked to provide copies of constituent documents, documents on the activities of the organization, reports and information on income received from foreign sources.
According to the estimates of Agora experts, as of March 26, about a hundred human rights and non-profit organizations in 24 regions of Russia were checked.
The checks in the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, according to the organization’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, Rachel Danber, cannot be regarded as anything other than pressure on civil society in Russia, Interfax reports..
Elena Panfilova, director of the Russian branch of Transparency International, said that the check did not come as a surprise..
“We knew that they would come to us and were morally and financially ready for the simple reason that literally on February 27, we completed a scheduled inspection of the Ministry of Justice. We have in our hands an act of the Ministry of Justice, from which it follows that during the inspection we did not find any illegal, extremist or any other bad activity, “Elena Panfilova told the Voice of America Russian service..
Transparency International, according to Panfilova, is an international organization, an anti-corruption movement.
“And we – "Center for Anti-Corruption Research and Initiatives of Transparency International – Russia" – we are a Russian organization accredited as a branch of the international network Transparency International.
We are subject to all the laws of Russia that apply to Russian public organizations. In order to consider oneself a foreign agent, two factors must coincide – the receipt of foreign funds and participation in political activities, – said Panfilova. “According to the second factor, we cannot be a foreign agent, because we are not engaged in any political activity”.
According to Panfilova, the goals and objectives of the Russian branch of Transparency International coincide with the goals of the state anti-corruption policy of Russia..
“There can be no talk of anything political in our activities,” Panfilova said..
The inspectors asked the representatives of the Russian branch of Transparency International for a basic set of documents, which is requested from almost all organizations that have undergone similar inspections in recent weeks..
“Tomorrow they will come to us for documents, because the documents need to be prepared. We will now prepare what is missing, sew it and hand it over tomorrow, ”said the human rights activist..
Public organizations by the nature of their activities are always under pressure, says Panfilova.
“Organizations that are involved in the protection of human rights, civil control, anti-corruption activities have such a fate – to be under pressure. The waste of energy, emotions, time and paper in connection with the checks is incredible. Of course, today the whole day, which was spent on preparing papers for inspectors, could have been spent on something more useful, “Panfilova summed up.
Prevention and bureaucracy?
Former Chairman of the Presidential Council on Human Rights Ella Pamfilova connects mass inspections in non-profit organizations with the desire of the authorities to prove that the adoption of the law on foreign agents was the right step.
“The authorities are quite consistent in the logic of their recent steps, so one should not be surprised at the massive inspections of NGOs in Russia. With the logic of the law on foreign agents, the authorities are not interested in all organizations in a row, but in those that can receive foreign funding, “Ella Pamfilova told the Russian service of the Voice of America..
According to Pamfilova, the checks can also be called prevention on the eve of the autumn civil aggravation and the upcoming protest actions..
Political analyst Alexei Mukhin does not consider checks in Russian public organizations as pressure on civil society.
“However, representatives of civil society themselves think so. The checks are a bureaucratic reaction to the words of Vladimir Putin that the Russian special services, the prosecutor’s office and the Ministry of Justice should more closely monitor the activities of NGOs..
Passing checks are the result "pink", which the president gave to his subordinates in this direction, “the political scientist told the Russian service of the Voice of America.
According to Mukhin, in some cases, officials overdid it, which caused discontent from representatives of organizations..
“If organizations have everything clean with documentation and other compliance with legislation, then there would be no serious noise. It is clear that this is a rather sensitive part of society, which is sensitive to any attempts to exert pressure. But under pressure, employees of guiding organizations and human rights activists often understand the absolutely legal activities of law enforcement agencies and special services, ”Mukhin said..
Rachel Denber, deputy director of Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, told the Voice of America Russian service that the organization does not yet know where these inspections are leading..
“This is part of massive raids against NGOs in Russia that are absolutely unprecedented. It is understood that they are related to the laws passed last summer and focus on organizations that work with civil society. It seems to me that this is a very harsh message to the Russian society in an attempt to link the idea of human rights observance with something foreign, alien, so that Russians begin to treat these organizations with suspicion – and this must stop. We continue our work as usual, before this repressive wave we were not subjected to any interference in our work – and we do not know how it will end. Even when these laws were passed about "foreign agents", we didn’t know how they would be applied. But now is the time to remind Russians and Russia’s foreign partners that the country must comply with the human rights conventions it has ratified. Russia is a member of the UN, the European Council, and this goes beyond all limits “.