“In 2005, following a successful pro-democracy uprising in Ukraine, a new youth movement, Nashi, was founded in Russia, reportedly using $20m supplied by the Kremlin,” the Bureau for Investigative Journalism reports:
While the Nashi billed itself as an anti-oligarch, nationalist organization, its critics say it is closer to Putin’s private army – and with 120,000 members, it’s a force to be reckoned with.
In an Unreported World documentary on the Nashi, filmmaker James Jones found its diehard members harassing environmentalists who were protesting projects linked to Putin’s cronies, while even the police appeared to be scared of interrupting them as they sprayed anti-American graffiti outside the US Embassy in Moscow.
There are more sinister incidents: a journalist was beaten to within an inch of his life after writing an article that was critical of Putin; he told Jones he believes Nashi was behind the attack.
Nashi has acted as an Kremlin attack dog, say Russian rights groups, most by initiating the prosecution of a leading activists and journalist. As the Moscow-based Sova Center for Information and Analysis observes:
In early March, the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal case under Part 3 of Article 212 of the Criminal Code, calls for rioting, against journalist and social activist Arkady Babchenko. The case was filed by head of the Orthodox faction of United Russia youth group Nashi Boris Yakemenko in light of a post on Babchenko’s blog a few days prior to a February rally For Fair Elections. It is our position that Babchenko’s text does not contain calls for action that could be considered rioting under Article 212, and the hypothetical police resistance mentioned therein appears to be more farcical than anything else.
International human groups are echoing calls by Russian civil society NGOs like Sova and Agora for amendments to “ambiguous” anti-extremism legislation which has been invoked to prosecute Maxim Efimov, head of the Karelia Youth Human Rights Group, for criticizing leaders of the Orthodox Church.
The provisions should be amended to “prioritize violent crime and to fulfill Russia’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression, religion, and assembly and association,” says Human Rights First:
As the U.S. State Department prepares its upcoming human rights report, the misuses of anti-extremism legislation, such as the statute used against Efimov, should be a primary aspect of that report. In addition, while the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has been outspoken against cases like these, the organization calls on them to increase their monitoring of these situations, and make their concerns known to the Russian government at multilateral forums.
Sova and Agora are supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.