Russian Government Inspects Dozens of NGOs

Government Inspects Dozens of Groups with Foreign Funding in NGO Crackdown

March 21, 2013

(Moscow) – A wave of inspections of nongovernmental organizations in Russia [2] is intensifying pressure on civil society since the adoption of a series of restrictive laws [3] in
2012, Amnesty International, Frontline Defenders, and Human Rights
Watch said today. Teams of officials from a variety of government
agencies have inspected at least 30 groups in the past two weeks in
Moscow, and many more in at least 13 other regions of Russia.

The inspections appear to target groups that accept foreign funding and
that engage in advocacy work, and are part of a broader crackdown on
civil society that began in 2012, the organizations said. The Russian
prosecutor’s office has stated publicly that it plans to inspect between
30 and 100 nongovernmental organizations in each of Russia’s regions,
which could amount to thousands of groups throughout the country.
According to media reports, the prosecutor’s office in St. Petersburg
alone plans to inspect about 100 groups.

“The scale of the inspections is unprecedented and only serves to reinforce the menacing atmosphere for civil society,” said Hugh Williamson [4],
Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Russian
authorities should end, rather than intensify, the crackdown that’s been
under way for the past year.”

On March 21, 2013, five officials from the prosecutor’s office, the
Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and the Tax
Inspectorate arrived without warning at Memorial society, one of
Russia’s most prominent nongovernmental groups, to conduct an

A television crew from NTV, a pro-Kremlin station, arrived with the
inspectors to film the proceedings. It is not clear how NTV learned
about the inspection since most government inspections in the current
wave are unannounced.

Nevertheless, later that day, the station aired a news report alleging
that Memorial may be in violation of the “foreign agents” law. In recent
years, NTV has broadcast numerous shows seeking to portray Russia’s
political opposition as foreign-sponsored.

“The foreign agents law was, from the start, aimed at demonizing
advocacy groups in Russia,” Williamson said. “It’s distressing, but
sadly unsurprising, that NTV is part of the effort to discredit
independent voices.”

Also on, March 21, the prosecutor’s office inspected the offices of at
least four other human rights organizations, all in St. Petersburg.

Pavel Chikov, head of Agora, a human rights group that provides advice
about laws governing nongovernmental groups, said that the inspections
are to determine whether groups are complying with a raft of regulatory
laws.  The laws [5] include one that entered into force in November [6] that requires any group that accepts foreign funding and engages in “political activity” to register as a “foreign agent [7].”

“There has long been a fear that Russia’s new NGO law would be used to
target prominent critical organizations,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty
International’s Europe and Central Asia director.  “The spate of
inspections in recent weeks appears to confirm this suspicion. The
bigger fear is that this is just round one, and that, after the
smearing, the forced closures will come.”

The “foreign agents” law was roundly criticized in Russia and abroad,
including by the United Nations high commissioner for human rights and
the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, of which Russia is a

For months after the law’s adoption it was not clear how and whether it
would be enforced.  However, at a February 14 meeting with the Federal
Security Service, President Vladimir Putin said, “We have a set of rules
and regulations for NGOs in Russia, including rules and regulations
about foreign funding. These laws, naturally, should be enforced. Any
direct or indirect interference in our internal affairs, any form of
pressure on Russia, on our allies and partners is inadmissible.”

In late February, the media began to report on inspections of
nongovernmental groups by the prosecutor’s office in the Saratov region
in southern Russia, and then on March 5, the wave of inspections began
in Moscow.

In most cases the inspections are carried out by a team of
prosecutorial, Justice Ministry, and tax officials. In some cases the
inspectors also examine whether a group’s work is “extremist,” in
response to an alleged complaint filed by an individual or government
agency. Some inspections have included agents from the Federal Security
Service, fire department, sanitation department, and other agencies.

The scope of the inspections appears to be far-ranging. Memorial and
several other groups that were inspected said that officials showed the
representatives of the groups documents referring to the officials’
authority to check for “compliance with the laws of the Russian
Federation” in general.

But a document leaked to the media that provides instructions to local
prosecutors’ offices for conducting inspections specifically urges them
to analyze sources of foreign funding for the groups and their
involvement in political activities, as well as any evidence of

In many cases the officials have provided no advance notice about the
inspection. In some cases, the officials have refused to present
documents authorizing the inspection but have ordered the
representatives of the group to provide immediately all documents the
inspectors demand. Several organizations stated on social media that
officials thoroughly examined the premises and attempted to probe more
intrusively into the groups’ offices, searching libraries for
“extremist” literature and requesting to look into computers.

“The inspections are initiated by the prosecutor’s office, which has a
wide-ranging jurisdiction,” Dalhuisen said. “This allows the authorities
to bypass some of the legal protections groups have under laws
regulating NGOs.”

Since Putin’s return to the presidency in May 2012, a parliament
dominated by members of the pro-Putin United Russia party has adopted a
series of laws that imposed dramatic new restrictions on civil society. A
June law introduced limits on public assemblies [8] and raised relevant financial sanctions to the level of criminal fines. Two more laws were passed in July. One re-criminalized libel [9], while the other imposed new restrictions on internet content [10]. Another law, adopted in November, expands the definition of “treason [11]” in ways that could criminalize involvement in international human rights advocacy.

In December, Putin signed a law allowing the suspension of nongovernmental organizations [12],
and the freezing of their assets, if they engage in “political”
activities and receive funding from US citizens or organizations.
Organizations can be similarly sanctioned if their leaders or members
are Russian citizens who also have US passports.

Russian law envisages unannounced inspections of nongovernmental groups
under a variety of circumstances. The “foreign agents” law, for
example, authorizes “unannounced” (vneplanovye) inspections upon a request by the prosecutor’s office, among other grounds.

“This ongoing harassment of human rights defenders is contrary to
Russia’s international commitments and indicates a fear of free and open
discussion about the human rights situation in Russia,” said Andrew
Anderson, deputy director of Front Line Defenders.

Published by Human Rights Watch

Get involved

Share This