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The anti-NGO law begins to bite

Posted by Helen Thursday, February 01, 2007

Last year when the Russian parliament was passing the legislation that, in effect, imposed a much stricter control on all non-governmental organizations and charities, there was an outcry about the western ones, such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. Seemingly, Putin relented and eased the controls.

Of course, the real target was never the western NGOs but the Russian organizations that wanted to preserve their independence from the state and might even have found themselves in opposition to it.

The Russian Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling that shut down the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society. This organization, whose survival until now is astonishing enough, was funded by the European Union, the National Endowment for Democracy (US government funding) and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.

That would have been part of the problem. The other part is that it challenged the Kremlin’s interpretation of what was going on in Chechnya and around it.

Let us recall that journalists are not allowed into Chechnya and those who manage to break through come to a bad end. See Politkovskaya. Incidentally, the official enquiry into her murder seems to have stalled. I wonder why.

Last February Stanislav Dmitrievsky, the society's co-chairman, published in a newsletter Aslam Maskhadov's call for negotiations to end the Chechen conflict. Maskhadov was blamed by the authorities for the Beslan horror, though it was Shamil Basayev who gleefully claimed "credit" for it. One of the many investigations that should be happening but is not is into the Beslan siege and how it could have gone so wrong. Nobody in Russia or Dagestan believes the official version and all of us have seen enough footage to know that there were many actions there that need to be looked at. To say this, however, is to risk the wrath of Kremlin.

For his pains Mr Dmitrievsky was charged with inciting racial hatred, tried and given a two-year suspended sentence.

The article in Thursday's Wall Street Journal Europe [subscription only] continues:

The Russian-Chechen Friendship Society was later prosecuted for failing to remove Mr. Dmitrievsky from its board and membership roll. Moreover the society was supposed to publicly denounce Mr. Dmitrievsky within five days of his conviction, which it refused to do.
How wrong we were to assume that the days of required public denunciations have gone.

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