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Rights Group of the Week: Amnesty International

posted 7 Nov 2016, 02:28 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 7 Nov 2016, 02:56 ]
On 3 November 2016 Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Human Rights Council, said Amnesty International could return to their offices, from which Moscow authorities barred them on 2 November. RFE/RL cited Reuters news agency as quoting Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Russian Human Rights Council, as saying on 3 November that “the lease has been restored completely” and staff “will be able to return to the office in the nearest future." RFE/RL reported that the Moscow property department, from which Amnesty International leases the premises, had announced it was owed rent, and locked Amnesty International staff out of its Moscow office "without warning."

On 2 November, Amnesty International announced that the staff of its Moscow Office had arrived at work that morning "to find their office unexpectedly sealed with a notice from municipal authorities warning people not to enter." Staff member Ivan Kondratenko wrote on Facebook: "This morning we discovered that the office of Amnesty International in Moscow had been sealed shut, and the locks broken (with no new locks put in place)." Later that day, head of the Moscow office of Amnesty International, Sergei Nikitin, also on Facebook, wrote a detailed report on the rent agreement with the Moscow city authorities and rent payments made. He questioned whether it was apparently simpler for the city authorities "to send five people with crowbars and a metal cutter" than to "draw up a competent agreement or send a competent letter." John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Director, said: “We do not know what prompted Moscow authorities to prevent our staff from accessing our offices – an unwelcome surprise for which we received no prior warning. Given the current climate for civil society work in Russia, there are clearly any number of plausible explanations, but it’s too early to draw any conclusions. We are working to resolve the situation as swiftly as possible and very much hope there is a simple administrative explanation for this setback to our work. We are 100% confident that we fulfilled all our obligations as tenants.”

On 3 November 2016 Amnesty International issued a further statement, affirming that its staff "will continue to stand up against human rights violations and abuses committed in Russia and abroad." John Dalhuisen said: "Attempts to resolve the issue have so far been stonewalled by municipal authorities, who have falsely claimed that Amnesty International was in arrears on its rent, and terminated the organization’s lease in a clear abuse of process. If the authorities remain unwilling to solve this issue, it will soon start to look ominously like a deliberate move to obstruct our work to defend human rights in Russia. It is becoming increasingly difficult not to see this incident through the prism of the wider crackdown on Russian civil society. We will continue to attempt to get to the truth of why this happened and resolve the issue with the relevant authorities so we can continue our crucial and legitimate work. This is not being made any easier by the silence of the Moscow City authorities. Changing our locks and turning off our lights has undoubtedly come as a setback, but we will not be cowed into silence or deterred from standing up for human rights in Russia.

Amnesty stated that an assertion by the municipal property authority – which has leased the property to Amnesty International for more than 20 years – in a statement to journalists that Amnesty "had failed to pay its rent" was "demonstrably false. The organization has documents proving the rent has been paid, up to and including October this year. This was acknowledged orally this morning by an official in the finance section of the State Property Department of the Moscow City Administration, who said that this could not be confirmed in writing as Amnesty International was no longer formally a tenant. Attempts to reach senior officials with the department have been unsuccessful.

In a subsequent update, Amnesty reported: "Amnesty International received a call from the head of Moscow property department on the evening of 3 November. He acknowledged a mistake may have been made, and he invited the organization to a meeting to resolve the issue on Monday 7 November. We look forward to this meeting and resolving this issue."

'Ivan Kondratenko: "This morning we discovered that the office of Amnesty International in Moscow had been sealed shut" (Facebook),' Rights in Russia, 2 November 2016
Sergei Nikitin: "The truth will win, there is no doubt" (Facebook), Rights in Russia, 2 November 2016
'Russia: Amnesty International’s Moscow Office sealed,' Amnesty International, 2 November 2016
'Russia: Moscow authorities stonewall attempts to resolve office closure,' Amnesty International, 3 November 2016
'Russian Rights Official Says Amnesty To Return To Moscow Office,' RFE/RL, 4 November 2016