Russia kicks out Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch also among 15 NGOs shut down as Moscow cracks down on critics

Activists from Amnesty International protest outside the Russian Embassy in Mexico City as part of a Global Day of Action for Ukraine, on March 24. (Reuters Photo)

MOSCOW: Russia says it is shutting down the local offices of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that have been working in the country for the past 30 years.

The announcement on Friday came on the 44th day of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, with thousands killed and more than 11 million having fled their homes or the country in the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

Human Rights Watch has been operating in Russia for 30 years, while Amnesty has had a presence in the country since 1993.

All in all, 15 organisations have been taken off Russia’s registry of international organisations and foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) due to “violations of the current legislation of the Russian Federation”, the justice ministry said in a statement without providing further details.

Russia also shut down the local offices of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the Aga Khan Foundation, the Wspolnota Polska Association and other organisations.

Rachel Denber, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, said there was little doubt the move was in response to the organisation’s reporting on Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

“The Russian government had already made it abundantly clear that it has no use for any facts, regarding the protection of civilians in Ukraine. This is just one small further proof of that,” Denber said in a statement to AFP.

Denber, who previously directed the watchdog’s Moscow office, said Human Rights Watch would continue to work on Russia.

“HRW has been working on Russia since the Soviet era, when it was a closed totalitarian state,” she added. “We found ways of documenting human rights abuses then, and we will do so in the future.”

‘Doing something right’

Agnes Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said her organisation would also continue to support Russian people.

“We will redouble our efforts to expose Russia’s egregious human rights violations both at home and abroad,” she said in a statement.

“In a country where scores of activists and dissidents have been imprisoned, killed or exiled, where independent media has been smeared, blocked or forced to self-censor, and where civil society organisations have been outlawed or liquidated, you must be doing something right if the Kremlin tries to shut you up.”

Over the past year Russian authorities have been presiding over an unprecedented crackdown on dissent and independent journalism that has included dubbing non-governmental organisations and media outlets as “foreign agents”.

The label is reminiscent of the Soviet-era term “enemy of the people” and is meant to apply to people or groups that receive funding from abroad and are politically active.

Amnesty International has been coming under increasing pressure from governments that see its activities as a threat. The group shut its offices in India in 2020 after the government of Narendra Modi froze its bank accounts.

In Thailand, an aide to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has also been campaigning to have Amnesty International banned.

Seksakol Atthawong, who has been in the news lately for his campaign to clean up corruption in the lottery, claimed earlier this year to have gathered 1.2 million signatures in support of a ban.

The anti-Amnesty sentiment is believed to be partly due to comments it made after the Constitutional Court ruled in November that the actions of three young protest leaders constituted an attempt to overthrow the monarchy.

Amnesty has said that it views the moves against it in Thailand as part of a broader drive to bring NGOs to heel, under a sweeping new law that has been widely criticised by civil society groups.