A human rights organization has been forcibly evicted from its Moscow offices. The group's head says he was kicked and thrown onto the street. It comes amid central government pressure on non-governmental organizations.
Riot police and officers from Moscow mayor's office went into the building which housed the office of "For Human Rights" early Saturday, ejecting at least six employees and supporters, according to the group's director, Lev Ponomaryov.
Aged in his early seventies, Ponomaryov described the eviction: "They kicked me, dragged me across the floor and then threw me out onto the street," he said. He and five others were taken by ambulance to a clinic for treatment of bruises and scrapes, but were able to leave afterwards.
For Human Rights is one of the best-known of the many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which have been subjected to state inspections under a law President Vladimir Putin signed last year. It required NGOs with foreign funding to register as "foreign agents."
A Moscow government property official, Maxim Gaman, said the group was being evicted because its lease on the city-owned premises had run out in February and had been terminated on May 27. A spokeswoman for Moscow police, Svetlana Kokotova, said the riot police had not assaulted anyone and participated so as not to "allow panic and chaos."
Ponomaryov denied that the group had received an eviction notice. He said the eviction may have been motivated by the group's refusal to give prosecutors documents they had demanded under the foreign agent law. He blamed the Kremlin-appointed mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, for the eviction.
The leader of the Yabloko liberal opposition party, Sergei Mitrokhin, showed up at For Human Rights' offices in a sign of support. He suggested representatives of Russian special services had coordinated the raid and accused the Kremlin of being behind the attack.
"I believe it was an order from the very top," he told the AFP news agency. "The Moscow mayor's office was just implementing the order. They acted with deliberate violence." Mitrokhin plans to run against the incumbent mayor Sobyanin in elections later this year.
jm/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)