Authorities in Russia have searched the headquarters of Amnesty International in Moscow.
Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International in Russia, said that officials from the general prosecutor’s office and tax police arrived unexpectedly on Monday morning asking for documents in what they described as an ‘audit’.
The search is the latest in an ongoing series of inspections of Non-Governmental Organizations.
Since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May, he has approved laws that tighten controls on NGOs. One of these laws requires NGOs engaged in advocacy work and accepting foreign funding to register as “foreign agents”.
One of the recently-inspected organisations, Memorial, which is one of the country’s oldest rights groups, has said it will refuse to register. It plans on challenging the new laws at European Court of Human Rights.
The Kremlin denies cracking down on critics and says that the new laws are required to prevent groups from spying for foreign governments. Putin said in February, “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.”
However, Human Rights Watch claims that a leaked document providing instructions for conducting the inspections specifically urges the local prosecutor’s office to analyse sources of foreign funding, political activities and evidence of “extremism”.
The searches have received an abundance of criticism from within and outside Russia. Pavel Chikov, head of the Russian Lawyers’ Association said: “It is threatening … when you see it as a national attack on thousands of organizations.”
Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner has asked for an immediate stop to the searches, and the US embassy in Moscow described the events as a cause for “great concern.”
Putin’s own human rights council has also asked for an explanation of the searches.