Activists have called the searches of up to 2,000 nongovernmental organizations nationwide an attempt by the Kremlin to intimidate critics. Russia's rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said the country has conducted the raids for no apparent reason.
President Putin responded that the goal was to "check whether the groups' activities conform with their declared goals and whether they are abiding by the Russian law that bans foreign funding of political activities." Putin added that "everybody should align their activities to correspond to Russia law."
A recent law requires internationally funded NGOs that engage in political activities to register as "foreign agents." Organizations have denounced the law as impossibly vague in defining what constitutes political activities.
Although prominent activist groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have faced the most pressure, authorities have also raided groups offering French-language courses in Siberia and promoting bird-watching. The prosecutor general's office has declared that the raids have weeded out underground groups and combated money laundering. Putin has repeatedly accused NGOs of allowing the US government to interfere in Russian affairs.
Pavel Chikov, of the presidential human rights council, said that agencies with no connection to the new law – such as the fire, labor and health departments - had participated in the raids.
"The prosecutor general's office has become a kind of repressive machine, instead of serving as institution that enforces the law," said Sergei Krivenko, also of the rights council. "We consider this law illegal and vile," Krivenko added. "We will use all the legal tools to fight against it in courts."
mkg/dr (AP, Reuters)