Russian prosecutors today raided the offices of hundreds of nongovernmental organizations in the latest of a series of crackdowns on civil society and opposition groups.
Up to 2,000 organizations have already been searched, Pavel Chikov, a member of the presidential human rights council, told The Associated Press, saying the scale of the government campaign was unprecedented.
He said the prosecutor general’s office ordered every region in Russia last month to check all religious, political and social NGOs for violations of Russia’s vaguely worded “extremism” law. The law is ostensibly intended to target violent neo-Nazi groups, but has been used against things as wide-ranging as Scientologists and the TV show “South Park,” as well as to stamp out dissent.
News website Gazeta.ru cited a prosecutor in St. Petersburg as saying all 5,000 NGOs in the city would be searched.
“It goes full circle across the whole spectrum,” Chikov said. “They’re trying to find as many violations as possible.”
President Vladimir Putin has accused foreign funded NGOs of being fronts for foreign governments to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs. The Kremlin has expelled USAID, a main funding source for Russian civil society, and the Duma recently passed a law requiring foreign funded NGOs involved in political affairs to register as “foreign agents.”
The latest raids are a further indication of Putin’s paranoia, observers suggest.
“This is the result of a directive from the very top, from Mr. Putin personally, to go and deal with all the NGOs that are too independent,” said Oleg Orlov (above), the director of Memorial, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.