The head of the Russia-based Committee for the Prevention of Torture has disbanded the organisation after it was branded a “foreign agent” by authorities, a label he called an “insult”.
Founded in 2000, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture campaigned to compel Russian authorities to investigate mistreatment by security services and to take steps to stop it. The organisation’s work included the situation in Chechnya.
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“We don’t want to continue working by being labelled ‘foreign agents’. We consider this term an insult and slander,” the committee’s chairperson Sergei Babinets said on Sunday.
The dissolution of the organisation was decided by members on Saturday, Babinets said on Telegram.
“Despite the obvious importance of our mission, the authorities have been trying for many years to portray it as foreign and harmful,” he said.
“The authorities are sending a signal that torture is becoming (or has already become) a part of government policy.”
Already branded a “foreign agent” in 2015 and again in 2016 by Russian authorities, the committee decided to dissolve itself rather than change its work in order to shake off the designation.
Russia’s first law on foreign agents was adopted in 2012. It has since been expanded to include non-profit organisations (NGOs), media outlets, and individual Russian citizens including journalists and activists.
The label “foreign agent”, reminiscent of the Soviet-era “enemy of the people”, is used by the Kremlin against non-governmental organisations, the political opposition, and journalists who are accused of carrying out foreign-funded political activities.
Those deemed to be foreign agents are subject to numerous constraints and tedious procedures, or they face heavy penalties. Those with the label must indicate their status with disclaimers in all publications.
Dissolution of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture comes amid a merciless crackdown on critical voices in Russia, particularly since the launch of the military intervention in Ukraine in late February. Since the invasion was launched, many NGOs have been banned.
In April, Russian authorities shut down the offices of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Earlier this month, the lower house of Russia’s parliament gave initial approval to a bill that would further tighten the country’s laws against foreign agents and comes at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the Russians to look out for “traitors” in the midst.