MOSCOW, March 25 (RIA Novosti) – The Moscow offices of Amnesty International were searched on Monday in the latest episode of what government critics say is a sustained pressure campaign against rights organizations.
Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty’s Russia office, condemned the unannounced audit by agents from prosecutor general’s office and tax service, as “straightforward intimidation.”
“We have spent the whole day communicating with state officials [and] made a huge number of copies [of documents] that the agencies already have,” Nikitin told RIA Novosti.
Officials were accompanied by a crew from fiercely pro-Kremlin broadcaster NTV, which has specialized in recent years in producing lurid and sensationalist documentaries smearing government opponents.
The Justice Ministry said the goal of the inspection was to ensure Amnesty was operating in accordance with its “stated aims and Russian law.”
Nationwide audits into non-governmental organizations have been taking place since last month. While officials insist the inspections are routine, representatives of the groups that have been targeted say they are shocked by the intensity and occasional bizarreness of the process.
“The scale of the inspections is unprecedented and only serves to reinforce the menacing atmosphere for civil society,” Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia director Hugh Williamson said in a statement on Sunday.
Agora legal rights group head Pavel Chikov says up to 5,000 organizations may be inspected.
Government agencies made unannounced visits on Monday to other prominent NGOs, including For Human Rights, Child’s Right and Agency for Social Information, Chikov wrote on Twitter.
The mounting pressure on non-governmental organizations comes on the heels of last July’s introduction of a law obliging groups involved in political activities and receiving foreign funds to register with the authorities as “foreign agents.”