The Moscow offices of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and several other NGOs have been searched in recent weeks by Russian prosecutors and tax inspectors, prompting concern over what is being viewed by some as a "concerted action" against the groups.
Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch was quoted Wednesday by The Associated Press as saying that officials from the prosecutor general's office and tax police were conducting an "unannounced audit" and demanding documents.
NPR's Corey Flintoff reports that, "Critics say it's part of a broader crackdown on dissent since Vladimir Putin regained the presidency last year."
According to the BBC, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Tuesday that she was "concerned with the ongoing actions of the authorities against the NGO community" in Russia, and EU Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Wednesday summoned the No. 2 diplomat at the Russian embassy in Berlin to relay his "concern over the concerted action."
Transparency International's Russia chief Elena Panfilova said her organization's office was also searched, and the BBC reports that two German political NGOs, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) in St. Petersburg and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) in Moscow, were searched earlier.
Voice of America says in the past week: Prosecutors in the Russian republic of Tatarstan searched the offices of Agora, a local human rights group; an unannounced audit was made on Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group; and offices belonging to Memorial, one of Russia's oldest human rights groups, were also searched.
As the BBC explains:
"A Russian law passed in July obliges foreign-funded NGOs involved in political activity to register as 'foreign agents.' Failure to comply is punishable by heavy fines and even a two-year prison sentence.
"The Kremlin says the controversial law is needed to protect Russia from outside attempts to influence internal politics, but critics argue it is a mechanism to crush dissent after the mass protests against the ruling United Russia party early last year."