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Human Rights Commissioner Löning calls for end to restrictions on Russian NGOs

31.05.2013 - Press release

On 31 May Federal Government Human Rights Commissioner Markus Löning issued the following statement on the talks he had with Lev Gudkov, the Director of the Levada Centre, a Russian polling organization:

I call on the Russian authorities to put an immediate stop to the ongoing defamation of the Levada Centre. I want also to see the Bolotnaya case dismissed and the defendants who have spent months in pre trial detention released.

In the Levada case, too, the public prosecution office has seriously infringed freedom of opinion and academic freedom and thereby violated Russia’s own constitution as well as its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe.

The Russian authorities are harming their own country by restricting academic freedom and the freedom of research, opinion and demonstration. A free and open society needs free speech and public debate. Ignoring realities on the ground can only cause further estrangement between government and society.

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Markus Löning today met Lev Gudkov, the Director of the Levada Centre, a Russian polling organization, for talks at the Federal Foreign Office. In connection with the massive campaign of checks on Russian NGOs launched in February 2013, Moscow public prosecution officials notified the Levada Centre, an independent opinion research organization, on 15 May that it was under investigation for breaches of the Non Commercial Organizations Act. The Levada Centre received “funding from abroad”, they explained, and since it published its research findings, its activities were “political” in nature. Hence the organization was deemed to be “acting as a foreign agent”. The Levada Centre has lodged an official objection to this assessment. The journal “Osteuropa”, which has worked closely with the Centre for many years, has launched a petition in support, calling on Russia to respect academic freedom and stop stigmatizing the Centre as a “foreign agent”.

The so-called Bolotnaya case against 12 demonstrators arrested on the eve of President Putin’s inauguration is due to open next week. The defendants are charged with “taking part in mass riots” and face up to eight years in prison. During a protest rally on the eve of the inauguration sporadic clashes occurred between members of the security forces and demonstrators. According to an independent report drawn up by a civil-society organization, the police were wholly or partly responsible for the escalation. The proceedings will start with a preliminary hearing in closed session, during which the court will rule on applications by the defence for the non admission of evidence or for the case to be referred back to the public prosecution office and dismissed.

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