Russian human rights association closes for fear of criminal investigations

An association of Russian human rights lawyers linked to the group of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said it had suspended its work to protect its members and supporters from criminal prosecution as part of a lobbying campaign by the government.

Komanda 29 announced on July 18 that it was in the process of liquidating the last independent civil society organization to comply with the new repressive laws on “foreign agents”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks to quash growing opposition to his two-decade tenure as the country’s leader, including four years as prime minister, with draconian laws that make it virtually impossible for opposition groups to function.

The Russian Prosecutor General accused Komanda 29 on 15 July 29 of having links with Spolecnost Svobody Informace, a non-governmental organization based in the Czech Republic, and of distributing its materials.

The Kremlin has declared Spolecnost Svobody Informace the organization “undesirable”, exposing any Russian individual or entity that cooperates with it to administrative or criminal penalties.

Based on the prosecutor’s decision, state media comptroller Roskomnadzor shut down the Komanda 29 website on July 16.

Komanda 29 has denied any connection with the Czech organization or the dissemination of its documents. Darya Sukhykh, who ran Spolecnost Svobody Informace five years ago, is now a senior lawyer at Komanda 29.

Roskomnadzor did not respond to a request from the Russian daily Kommersant to identify alleged content from Spolecnost Svobody Informace on the Komanda 29 website.

The association said it intended to “challenge” the attorney general’s allegations but could “not ignore the position” of the country’s hard-line security service supporters.

Komanda 29 said that “the next step in the attack” by the authorities could be the criminal prosecution of members and supporters, including anyone “who has supported us, cooperated with us and participated in humanitarian and media projects.” .

“In these circumstances, the continued activities of Komanda 29 constitute a direct and clear threat to the security of a large number of people, and we cannot ignore this risk,” he said.

The association represented supporters of Navalny, the country’s most vocal critic of Putin.

Komanda 29 is headed by Ivan Pavlov, who represents Ivan Safronov, the former Russian military industry journalist accused of treason.

Pavlov himself is under investigation for allegedly releasing classified documents regarding Safronov’s case. Pavlov rejects the government’s claims.

Komanda 29 said its lawyers would continue to process their clients’ cases “exclusively in a personal capacity if clients do not refuse their assistance in this situation”.

With report by Kommersant

Mark M. Gagnon