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Massive inspections of Russian NGOs

Last Thursday, 21 March 2013, large scale inspections were carried out in offices of a number of Russian non-governmental organisations, including the offices of the human rights group Memorial.

On 19 December 2012, the organisation was awarded the “Pro Dignitate Humana” distinction by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski. In giving the prize the Minister said that “for us, Poles, ‘Memorial’ is a synonym of indefatigable pursuit of truth”. Inspections of Russian NGOs commenced in February.

Increased pressure began to be put on non-governmental groups following the adoption of a series of laws restricting public civil society space. Under one of these laws organisations receiving foreign funding are to be considered “foreign agents”. The legislation is designed to cast a negative light on human rights organisations. The effect of other laws was among other things the limitation of the freedom of assembly, the toughening of the definition of “treason” and the reinstatement of criminal sanctions for defamation. They also curtailed Internet freedom. In December 2012 President Putin signed a document allowing for the freezing of assets of political organisations receiving financial support from US organisations and citizens.

The conducted inspections are extremely wide-ranging. However, the leaked documents suggest that auditors were instructed to focus on examining sources of foreign funding for the groups and their involvement in political activities, as well as any evidence of organisations’ “extremist” activity.

In many cases NGOs received no advance notice about the inspection. In some instances, the “auditors” refused to present documents authorising the inspection. The Russian prosecution service has stated publicly that it plans to inspect between 30 and 100 non-governmental organisations in all of Russia’s regions.

The EU Russia Civil Society Forum has published its position on the inspections.

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