Week-ending 28 May 2021
This week Open Russia, founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and based in the UK, announced it was ending its activities in Russia following the adoption of a new law in Russia toughening legal penalities for Russian citizens associated with an ‘undesirable organisation.’ Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, said: “The end of Open Russia means less pluralism across Russia’s civic space, and the loss of another valuable member of the human rights community. Open Russia has shown its dedication and effectiveness against crushing state pressure to silence dissent. It is tragic that the group was forced to close to protect its members, due to an unjust law designed to crush critical voices.” In a further blow to civil society in Russia, on 26 May the General Prosecutor’s Office announced that it was adding three German NGOs to the list of ‘undesirable’ foreign organisations: Forum Russischsprachiger Europäer, Zentrum für die Liberale Moderne and Deutsch-Russischer Austausch.
Reuters, 26 May 2021: The Russian state prosecutor’s office banned three German non-governmental organisations on Wednesday after labelling them “undesirable”, the TASS news agency reported. The groups were identified as the Forum Russischsprachiger Europäer, the Zentrum für die Liberale Moderne and the Deutsch-Russischer Austausch, the report said.
RFE/RL, 27 May 2021: Open Russia, a British-based pro-democracy movement founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, says it has decided to end its operations in Russia. The decision was made to protect its supporters from further “harassment” by the Russian authorities due to a bill toughening the law on “undesirable organizations,” Executive Director Andrei Pivovarov said on May 27. “We do not need new fines and criminal cases, and we want to protect our supporters,” Pivovarov told the independent news website MBKh Media, which was also founded by Khodorkovsky. The move comes after Russian police last week carried out searches of the offices of Open Russia and MBKh in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
The Moscow Times, 27 May 2021: Open Russia, an opposition movement established by exiled Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, announced its closure Thursday to avoid jail for supporters ahead of parliamentary elections. Executive director Andrei Pivovarov linked the decision to bills advancing through Russian parliament tightening criminal punishment for Russians who support and work for “undesirable” organizations. Open Russia was labeled “undesirable” in 2017 in line with a law targeting foreign groups accused of political meddling.
Amnesty International, 27 May 2021: Reacting to the news that Otkrytaya Rossiya (Open Russia) has taken the decision to completely cease its activities and dissolve, Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, said: “The end of Open Russia means less pluralism across Russia’s civic space, and the loss of another valuable member of the human rights community. Open Russia has shown its dedication and effectiveness against crushing state pressure to silence dissent. It is tragic that the group was forced to close to protect its members, due to an unjust law designed to crush critical voices.
RFE/RL, 27 May 2021: The European Union has rejected a decision by Russian prosecutors to designate three German nongovernmental groups as “undesirable organizations,” calling the move “the most recent example of the Russian authorities’ disregard for a vibrant civil society.” “The decision by the Russian prosecutor-general ultimately harms the interests of Russian people and possibilities for open and free dialogue,” EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell’s spokesman said in a statement on May 27, a day after the designation of Forum Russischsprachiger Europaer e.V., Zentrum fur die Liberale Moderne GmbH, and Deutsch-Russischer Austausch e.V as “undesirable.”