For Immediate Release: January 25, 2006
NEW YORK – The Russian government has publicly defamed four well-respected human rights organizations by accusing them of collecting funds from the British secret service. The organizations are the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Center for Democracy and Human Rights, the Eurasia Foundation, and the Nizhny-Novgorod-based Committee against Torture. All of the organizations have denied the accusations, pointing out that funds they have received from the British government have come through legal, transparent channels. Ludmilla Alexeeva, chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a renowned Soviet era dissident and recipient of Human Rights First’s 2005 human rights award, characterized the allegations made in a television documentary as “a sad slander campaign against human rights defenders.” She has demanded an apology from the government.
“The attack on these human rights organizations are part of an escalating government campaign against independent civil society taking place in Russia today,” said Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director of Human Rights First. “If the government forces these organizations to close Russia will recede further into the type of severe repression associated with the Soviet Union.”
Accusations such as the ones made this week could provide the government with justification to close down these vital organizations under a law governing non-governmental organizations that was signed into effect by President Vladimir Putin earlier this month. Igor Kolyapin, chairperson of the Committee against Torture, and Yuri Dzhibladze, director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights, expressed concerns that the accusations form part of a coordinated government attack on human rights organizations. The accusations are also accompanied by the prosecution under counter-extremism laws of human rights activist Stanislav Dmitrievsky, director of the Nizhny-Novgorod Russian-Chechen Friendship Society. The verdict in this case is expected on February 3, 2006. If he is convicted, it too will have a chilling effect on the activities of human rights defenders in Russia.