Russian Authorities Raid Hundreds of NGOs and Rights Groups

March 24, 2013 in Top News, World News

Oleg Orlov of Memorial Talks to the Media

Oleg Orlov, member of Russian human rights group Memorial, talks to the media in his office in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, March 21, 2013, as prosecutors search for documents pertaining to all of its activities. The media arrived at the offices after social media alerted them to the search, but were not able to view the search happening. Russian prosecutors are searching the offices of Memorial, one of the country’s oldest and most respected rights nongovernmental organizations NGOs, which used to be funded from the U.S. Agency for International Development USAID, but funding dried up after Russia kicked USAID out of the country last year. Source: Ivan Sekretarev/AP.

Russian police and tax inspectors raided and searched the offices of a major international rights group and hundreds of nongovernmental organizations in the past week ─ including the central Moscow office of prominent human rights group Memorial on Thursday and Friday. According to Memorial Director Arseniy Roginsky, an audit launched Thursday by prosecutors, the Justice Ministry and tax authorities will continue next week.

This occurred as international rights campaigners condemned a broader crackdown on NGOs with foreign funding according to Agence France-Presse.

Amnesty International said in a statement released Friday that government agencies had inspected “at least 30 groups in the past two weeks in Moscow, and many more in at least 13 other regions of Russia.”

Saint Petersburg-based Fund for Freedom of Information and the Committee against Torture in Orenburg in the southern Urals region, and groups from Siberia and central and Far Eastern Russia have also been targeted. That’s according to Facebook postings and the Moscow Echo radio station.

The raids are related to a controversial law passed in 2012 requiring NGOs having Western donors and being involved in political activities to register as “foreign agents” and to represent themselves as such in any public activity.

Officials claimed to be checking whether Memorial complies with a law obliging foreign-funded NGOs engaging in political activities to register as foreign agents. During the same week, government inspectors conducted unannounced checks at hundreds of NGOs across Russia, citing legislation combating extremism.

“The scale of the inspections is unprecedented and only serves to reinforce the menacing atmosphere for civil society,” said Europe and Central Asia Human Rights Watch Director Hugh Williamson in a joint statement with Amnesty International and Frontline Defenders.

“These checks could be a step towards imposing sanctions on rights groups. We’ll see what this leads to: a headache or the closure of our organizations,” veteran activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, leader of the Moscow Helsinki Group, told the Interfax news agency.

Memorial, which documents Stalin’s repressions and also supports refugees from Russia’s troubled North Caucasus, has refused to register in this way, as have many other groups, even though their leaders risk being jailed for up to two years. According to The Moscow Times online, Memorial has said it would boycott the law, adopting a similar stance to rights organizations including Lyudmila Alexeyeva’s Moscow Helsinki Group. Justice officials earlier described the legislation as unenforceable.

Officials from the Prosecutor General’s Office, Interior Ministry, Justice Ministry and Federal Tax Service turned up late Thursday morning at Memorial’s office located near the central Chekhovskaya metro station and remained for more than six hours. Phone access to Memorial was at least partly switched off during the course of the raid.

Memorial Chairman Oleg Orlov told journalists from the information agency that prosecutors had seized documents relating to Memorial’s founders, corporate charter, accounts and sources of funding, and that they had requested access to dozens more The Moscow Times reported. Orlov said the raid would not place Memorial’s future work in jeopardy and was aimed at scaring NGOs into “self-censorship”.

Russia’s prosecutor-general’s office said earlier this month that it would carry out planned checks on the sources of NGOs’ financing.

Following is Memorial’s own “About Us” statement describing what it is and does:

“Who and What Is Memorial?

“Memorial is a movement which arose in the years of perestroika. Its main task was the awakening and preservation of the societal memory of the severe political persecution in the recent past of the Soviet Union.

“Memorial is a community of dozens of organizations in different regions of Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Latvia, and Georgia.

“Memorial is a group of specialized research, human rights, and education centers in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and several other cities.

“Memorial is a museum, a repository of documents, and a number of specialized libraries.

“Memorial is the Solovetskii stone on Lubianka Square in Moscow, placed across from the KGB headquarters on 30 October 1990. On that date in 1974 prisoners in the Mordvinian and Perm’ political camps voted to declare a Day of Political Prisoners in the USSR. In 1991, on the initiative of Memorial, the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR officially recognized this date as a Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression.

“Memorial is a great number of different memorials reaching to the far corners of the former USSR – from the gigantic monument of Ernst Neizvestnii close to Magadan to the modest memorial signs at mass burial sites of the victims of terror near Moscow. It is the search for and preservation of the graves of our fathers and grandfathers, killed anonymously by bullets in the cellars of the Cheka and by forced labor in hundreds of camps throughout the former Soviet Union. It is a unique museum, established on the ground of the last Soviet political camp close to the town Chusovii in Perm’ province.

“Memorial is dozens of books, newspaper and magazine articles, radio programs, and exhibits dedicated to the tragedies of the past decades and to the current attempts to limit the freedoms and dignity of citizens of Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

“Memorial is the Law on Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression. It was passed in 1991 and reinstated civil rights to tens of thousands of living Russian citizens and to tens of thousands of those who had already passed away. Memorial is a series of corrections and additions to the Law on Rehabilitation, which improved the original text. Memorial is a consistent and sometimes successful attempt to compel the government fulfil all statutes of the Law which pertain to compensation.

“Memorial is a number of regional associations of former prisoners of political prison camps and members of their families. This encompasses tens of thousands of direct and indirect victims of political repression.

“It is adequate assistance – legal, and sometimes also material – needed by the elderly who emerged from the hell of Soviet prisons and political prison camps.

“Memorial is wide-ranging and simultaneous scrupulous historical research of topics that were until recently inaccessible to Russian scholars: the GULag, the history of the security organizations VChK (the Cheka)-OGPU-NKVD-MGB-KGB, statistics on political repression in the Soviet Union, and dissidents’ resistance during the Khrushchev-Brezhnev era. Memorial is a number of international research projects, in which internationally recognized research centers in the humanities acts as partners. It is a support program for young researchers throughout Russia. It is the struggle for free access to historical information, to the past, which was hidden from us for so long.

“Memorial is information about the violation of human rights on the territory of the former Soviet Union. This information is valued highly not only by international human rights organizations, but also by international organizations, such as the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Memorial is the undertaking of risky observation missions to “hot spots” on the territory of the CIS. Memorial is mountains of factual material, collected in regions of armed conflict. It is painstaking verification and analysis of the collected material, and the preparation and publication of reports on the conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh, Tajikistan, Transdnistria, in the zone of Ossetian-Ingushetian conflict, and, finally, in Chechnya. Memorial is the initiator for the formation of an anti-war front, memorably uniting more than 100 social and political organizations in January 1995. Memorial is an organization for social and legal counseling for refugees and displaced persons in many regions of Russia. It is the collection of information about current political prisoners on the territory of the former Soviet Union. It is an ongoing struggle against ethnic discrimination. Memorial is protests, meetings, and miscellaneous publications that seek to protect freedoms and peace.

“And, finally, Memorial is many very different people.

“What unites us?

“First, we are friends.

“Second, we respect one another. We are very different: old and quite young; historians and legal advocates; liberals and not so liberals; atheists, agnostics and believers; democrats, anarchists, and monarchists. It sometimes seems that this Noah’s Ark is destined to sink to the bottom. But we have been afloat for ten years already, and we do not intend to sink.

“Ideologies do not divide us, because ideology does not unite us. Rather, above all, two main principles unite us:

“1. unconditional respect of human individuality, human life, and freedoms of fundamental human values;

“2. the presentation of history as an unbroken whole of the past, the present, and the future.

“We bid you welcome to the web site Memorial!”

Click here to view Memorial’s organizational charter.