April 4 (RIA Novosti) – Celebrated British rock guitarist and singer Mark Knopfler on Thursday canceled concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg, citing a wave of spot checks by Russian authorities on prominent rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
“Given the crackdown by Russian authorities on groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, I have regretfully decided to cancel my upcoming concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg in June,” Knopfler said in a statement on his website.
Knopfler, whose band Dire Straits notched international hits with songs like “Money for Nothing,” “Walk of Life” and “Sultans of Swing,” added that he has “always loved playing in Russia and have great affection for the country and the people.”
“I hope the current climate will change soon,” he said.
Up to 2,000 rights groups and NGOs in Russia have been raided by prosecutors and other officials over the past several weeks, according to some estimates.
Many activists have complained of unexpected and time-consuming raids, while activists have condemned the inspections as a form of intimidation. The US government has also said it is “deeply concerned” about the inspections
Observers have linked the raids to a law passed last year in Russia that tightens control over nongovernmental group and obliges those that receive foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Thursday that Russian authorities are “not doing anything special” in conducting the inspections, saying the checks had been planned since December to ensure that the NGOs are complying with the law.
Russian First Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Buksman on Thursday dismissed accusations that the inspections are meant to intimidate rights groups.
“The inspections are not even finished, no conclusions have been made, and already we’re being accused of being biased,” Buksman said. “We are simply carrying out our responsibilities.”
Knopfler’s website said people who bought tickets to the planned June 7 show in Moscow and the June 8 concert in St. Petersburg “should contact their point of purchase for refunds.”
Knopfler is not the first Western recording artist to publicly criticize Russian authorities.
Numerous foreign pop and rock stars last year publicly called for Russia to halt its prosecution of the Pussy Riot punk band, including Madonna, Paul McCartney, Sting, Bjork and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.