MOSCOW, March 29 (RIA Novosti) – Russia dismissed the growing alarm on Friday over the ongoing nationwide inspections of non-governmental organizations’ offices that some activists have described as a campaign of systematic intimidation.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the checks on public associations were in line with international practice and were being conducted in compliance with Russian laws.
The statement came in response to expressions of concern from the United States, which says it fears the inspections — many of them on rights groups working on politically sensitive issues — could turn into a “witch hunt.”
Up to 2,000 groups have been raided by prosecutors and other officials in the past month, according to some estimates.
Among those targeted in the inspections to date are rights groups Amnesty International, Memorial and Human Rights Watch.
Many activists have complained of unexpected and time-consuming raids, while activists have condemned the inspections as a form of intimidation.
Observers have linked the raids to a law passed last year that tightens control over non-governmental group and obliges those that receive foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.”
The Prosecutor General’s Office said Thursday that the inspections are part of efforts to ensure compliance with anti-extremism laws and combat money-laundering.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Thursday that the raids have put considerable restrictions on funding and are “taking Russian democracy in the wrong direction.”
The presence of camera crews from fiercely pro-Kremlin broadcaster NTV at some raids has caused particular apprehension. NTV has specialized in recent years in the production of lurid and sensationalist documentaries smearing government opponents and rights activists — usually with the apparent blessing of the authorities.