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December 8, 2019
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Russia designates Czech aid group People in Need an "undesirable organization"

18.11.2019 11:14
Šimon Pánek (PHOTO:  Tynaw, Wikimedia Commons)
Šimon Pánek (PHOTO: Tynaw, Wikimedia Commons)

The Russian Justice Ministry has announced that the Czech humanitarian organization People in Need (Člověk v tísni) has been placed on its list of organizations that are not welcome in the country. The TASS wire service announced the decision last week.

In practice, this means the group's activities are now banned. People in Need responded by saying the move did not surprise them.

The organization will now halt its Russian activities, but also said that "under no circumstances does this mean that we will stop working in Russia". Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček has called the reasons for including the group on the list "absurd" and said he will be asking the Russian ambassador for an explanation.

The Russian Justice Ministry's website posted on 13 November that People in Need has been added to the list in accordance with a federal law "On measures against persons involved in disruption of basic human rights and freedoms and the rights and freedoms of citizens of the Russian Federation". The step was taken on the basis of a decision made by the Deputy Prosecutor-General of Russia on 7 November.

The spokesperson for the Czech humanitarian organization, Adriana Černá, has pointed out that People in Need has long supported civil society in Russia. "We support activists, bloggers, critically-thinking intellectuals, groups of people against corruption, against the damaging of the environment, those fighting for the rights of minorities, those who want more transparency from the Russian state, those who want Russia to uphold its international obligations [...] such as protecting and upholding human rights or the right to assembly and association, groups that are against censorship, and others," she said.

"This, naturally, irritates the Russian regime, as it does not want to function transparently or democratically, or to be under public control. Vladimir Putin watns to rule with an iron hand in Russia, which many Russian citizens do not want to accept, and they are doing their best to improve life in Russia one day, and we are supporting them in that," the spokesperson has written.

"At this moment we are halting all activities in support of our Russian friends and partners so as not to endanger them, and we will have to think about what steps we will take to be more careful, but under no circumstances does this mean that we will stop working in Russia," the spokesperson added. Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček was on a working visit to Ethiopia when the announcement was made and wrote to the Czech News Agency that he considers the reasons People in Need was added to the list of undesirable organizations to be "absurd".

"Banning a human rights organization testifies to the state of human rights in that country," the Foreign Minister said. He added that after returning from Africa he intended to summon the Russian ambassador and demand an explanation from him.

Petříček called People in Need "a respected organization supporting human rights and democracy worldwide." The group has posted to its own website that in Russia,  it mainly dedicates itself to human rights.

"Russia is a country where the way the political system works is unclear, and where in any event the system is very repressive," the organization's annual report for 2018 reads. Their website also warns that the Russian authorities are campaigning against NGOs and that the situation of political prisoners in the country is alarming.

Human rights there are, according to People in Need, "often violated in connection with the Russian annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine." This marks the second time the organization has been kicked out of Russia.

Russian authorities previously canceled People in Need's registration to work in the country in the summer of 2005. That decision happened after long-term pressure was put on the organization, and no reasons were ever given for it.

Back then the group was accused by both the Chechen and the Russian authorities of supporting anti-Russian terrorists. People in Need re-registered in Russia more than two years later.

The current decision by the Russian Justice Ministry makes it the 19th foreign or international organization to be banned there. The list was created after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the announcing of anti-Russian sanctions by the international community in response.

The organizations on the list are not allowed to be active in Russia, and Russian citizens are not permitted to cooperate with them, under the threat of spending up to six years in prison if convicted. Alexei Zhafyarov, a spokesperson for the Russian Prosecutor-General, told the RIA Novosti wire service that during the first six months of this year, 199 administrative proceedings and four prosecutions were begun against persons involved with the activities of the "undesirable" organizations.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Člověk v tísni, humanitarian aid, human rights, Russia



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