In the 1990s, NGOs mushroomed all over Russia and, according to recent estimates, there are more than 300,000 registered NGOs in Russia today.43 The vast majority of these organizations perform social or charitable work but a considerable number, including human rights and environmental organizations, actively seek to influence government policies and regularly criticize the governments performance. It is these NGOs that are at prime risk today.
In the 1990s, the human rights and environmental movements grew rapidly. A number of large networks emerged around groups with roots in the Soviet-era dissident movement, like Memorial and the Moscow Helsinki Group. But thousands of individual groups also came into existence around the country. During President Putins first term, these NGOs conducted their work largely without government interference. They developed contacts with governments at the federal, regional and municipal levels, they began to conduct intensive work with legislatures at the various levels to promote legislative change, they became known voices in the media, and were increasingly invited to sit on committees dealing with issues on which they had expertise. Although they still had very limited real influence on policy, these NGOs had started to play the type of role NGOs play in established democracies.
The demise of plurality in the media and parliament of recent years has had twin effects for NGOs: they are among the few independent voices in Russian society that are left, yet the ability of NGOs to work effectively has been considerably undermined. The lack of press freedom has made it increasingly difficult for NGOs to relay their opinions to a large audience, and human rights NGOs have lost almost all their supporters in parliament as practically all parliamentarians with whom NGOs had developed fruitful working relationships lost their seats during the 2003 elections.
However, the presidents public attack in May 2004, quoted at the beginning of this report, and the recently introduced draft law appear to herald troubled times for groups actively critical of the administration. Since the presidents speech, the atmosphere in which NGOs work has deteriorated considerably. As with the crackdown on the media in 1999, NGOs working on issues related to the Chechnya conflict were the first target. A sustained campaign against many of these groups is now underway. But signs of an impending crackdown on critical NGOs more generally are legion. Numerous officials have verbally attacked NGOs since President Putins speech, and a number of NGOs have faced direct interference by officials in their work.
Crackdown on NGOs Working on the Chechnya Conflict
NGOs working on the conflict in Chechnya are the first to have come under sustained attack from the Russian government. Over the course of the last few years, these groups, their activists, and the people they work with, have increasingly faced administrative and judicial harassment, and, in the most severe cases, persecution, threats, and physical attacks.
Administrative and Judicial Har assment of NGOs
Russian government agencies in Moscow and the regions have repeatedly harassed NGOs working on Chechnya, refusing to register them, arbitrarily closing down existing organizations, or accusing them of extremism. Although most of the NGOs continue to function, the government interference with their activities has disrupted their activities and forced them to focus on defending themselves rather than working on substantive issues, often for extended periods of time.
A June 2004 letter from the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Ingushetia to the regional prosecutors office is characteristic of the hostility apparently felt among the authorities towards humanitarian and human rights groups working on the Chechnya conflict. The letter accuses international humanitarian groups of collecting and disseminating biased information about the policy of the North Caucasus branch of the FSB in counterterrorist operations it carried out in Chechnya, with the aim of discrediting Russia in the eyes of the international community.44 It also maintained that these groups use local citizens for these purposes and requested that the prosecutors office conduct an investigation of all international humanitarian organizations working in the region.
Below are some of the concrete incidents documented by Human Rights Watch:
The tax inspection audited the organization off and on for several months. In June 2005, it issued a decision to claim a million roubles (approximately U.S.$35,000) in back taxes from the organization. The organization appealed the decision and in August 2005 the tax service issued a new decision, still claiming a million roubles for what it said was four years of profit. According to the organization, the tax inspectorate designated a grant it had received from international donors as profit. As of this writing, the organization had appealed the decision with an arbitration court.
Over the past few years, Human Rights Watch has documented an increasing number of cases of threats and attacks against human rights defenders working on Chechnya. These include the following:
Har assment of Victims of Abuse
The Russian government has not limited its crackdown on NGOs working on Chechnya to organizations and its activists; it has also targeted victims of abuse that have spoken out or have decided to seek justice. A number of victims interviewed by Human Rights Watch have complained that law enforcement agencies had singled them out for harassment because of their interviews with human rights groups. Several organizations that help victims of abuses from Chechnya file complaints with the European Court of Human RightsStichting Chechnya Justice Initiative (now renamed: Stichting Russian Justice Initiative), Memorial, and the European Human Rights Advocacy Centrehave complained to the European Court of harassment of their clients by Russian law enforcement and military.
In a joint memorandum to the European Court, the organizations described how Russian troops murdered one applicant and her family, and abducted another applicant, who has since disappeared:59
The letter also raised eleven cases of verbal or physical threats to applicants to the European Court and victims who pursued justice through the Russian courts. These include the following two cases (the real names of the victims are withheld at their request):
Harassment and Attacks on Other NGOs
Although harassment of other critical NGOs has not reached the level of a crackdown or centrally coordinated campaign, the environment in which they work has significantly deteriorated. Government officials at both the federal and regional level have stepped up their oral attacks on human rights and environmental groups. In a number of regions officials have used extremism legislation to shut NGOs down through the courts, while in others they have used registration procedures or financial and other audits to bog down the work of these groups.62
With his charge that many NGOs ignore some of the most serious problems of the country and its citizens so as not to bite the hand that feeds them,63 President Putin set the tone for numerous attacks by Russian officials on NGOs. Following his lead, numerous federal and regional officials adopted an openly hostile attitude towards human rights and other critical groups, often questioning their good faith and criticizing them for existing on foreign grants. These public attacks have poisoned the atmosphere in which NGOs work.
Just days after President Putins May 2004 address, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused humanitarian organizations in Chechnya of using their humanitarian missions as a cover for carrying out monitoring activities and offering no real humanitarian aid to civilians there.64 In June 2004, the national television channel TV Tsentr devoted an hour-long primetime program to denouncing the work of human rights groups, accusing them of what the presenter called their hatred for Russia.65 Along the same lines, the previous month a Kremlin political adviser, Gleb Pavlovsky, rebuked rights activists for being engrossed in Western ideals.66
Ever since, denigrating language about the work of NGOs has remained frequent. For example, in October 2004, Viktor Alksnis, a deputy from the Motherland party, accused the Union of Committees of Soldiers Mothers (UCSMR) of undermining the defense capability of the armed forces by acting on orders from Western countries, and called for a federal investigation.67 In July 2005, at a meeting of human rights activists in the Kremlin, President Putin lashed out at environmental groups: Ecological expertise must not hinder the development of the country and the economy. As soon as we start to do anything, one line of attack against us always has to do with ecological problems.68 At the same meeting, President Putin also said Russia would not tolerate foreign funding for political activities. He did not define political activities.
On August 16, 2005, Nikolai Kuryanovich, a State Duma deputy for the Liberal Democratic Party, asked Russias prosecutor general to shut down the Moscow Bureau of Human Rights, an organization that works on racism and xenophobia, accusing it of using foreign funding to wage a political war against the state and living off of money from U.S. intelligence to portray Russia as a Nazi society.69
Although a general crackdown may not yet be under way, the conditions for one have been created.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Liudmila Alekseeva, Moscow, May 15, 2005.
 Letter from the head of the FSB office in the Republic of Ingushetia to the Acting Prosecutor General of the Republic of Ingushetia, dated June 15, 2004.
 The Federal Registration Service of the Ministry of Justice asked the court to liquidate the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, April 25, 2005 [online], http://www.friendly.narod.ru/2005-2/info1269.htm. (retrieved April 28, 2005).
 See: Pravozashchita No.58, March 2004 [online], http://www.friendly.narod.ru/2005-1/info1102.htm (retrieved January 27, 2005); and Pravozashchita, No.59, April-May 2004 [online], http://www.friendly.narod.ru/2005-1/info1102.htm (retrieved January 27, 2005).
 Continuing Persecution of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society Its Partner Organization Nizhnii Novgorod Human Rights Society Closed Down, International Helsinki Federation, June 10, 2005 [online], http://www.ihf-hr.org/viewbinary/viewhtml.php?doc_id=6403. (retrieved June 14, 2005).
 Andrei Riskin and Vladimir Mukhin, Ingushetia scoured Chechen-style, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 17, 2005.
 Russian Counter-Terror Law Threatens Chechen Human Rights Group, Human Rights First, September 22, 2004, [online] http://humanrightsfirst.org/defenders/hrd_russia/alert092204_terror_law.htm. Article 280 of the Criminal Code reads:
1. Public calls to carry out extremist activity are punishable by a fine of up to 300,000 Rubles or the salary or other income of the guilty party for a period of up to 2 years, arrest for a period of 4 to 6 months or imprisonment for up to 3 years.
2. Acts carried out with the use of the mass media are punishable by imprisonment for up to 5 years with the suspension of the right to hold certain offices or carry out certain activities for up to 3 years.
 FSB and Prosecutors Office of the Republic of Ingushetia are still trying to close down the NGO, Memorial, February 16, 2005 [online], http://www.memo.ru/hr/news/fsb2005/5fsb01.htm (retrieved April 11, 2005).
 Peter Finn, Chechen Activist Groups Feel Pressure From Russia, Washington Post, May 8, 2005; and Russian Federation: Violations continue, no justice in sight, Amnesty International briefing paper EUR 46/029/2005, July 1, 2005 [online], http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGEUR460292005?open&of=ENG-RUS (retrieved August 24, 2005).
 Ruslan Badalov: Chechen Committee for National Salvation is continuing with its activities, Current News Rubric on Human Rights Online website, February 18, 2005 [online], http://www.hro.org/editions/demos/2005/02/21.php?printv=1 (retrieved August 25, 2005). See also: Press Release No. 709, Chechen Committee for National Salvation, February 1, 2005 [online], ttp://www.savechechnya.narod.ru/eng.news/press_709.htm (retrieved August 25, 2005).
 Human Rights Watch interview with human rights activist (identity withheld).
 Makhmut Magomadov is set free, Chechen Committee for National Salvation, February 13, 2005 [online], http://www.savechechnya.narod.ru/eng.news/press_712.htm (retrieved Feb. 14, 2005).
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with S. Dmitrievskii, head of the Nizhny Novgorod information center of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, January 27, 2005.
 Press Release No.630, Report from Ingushetia, Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, January 30, 2004 [online], http://www.friendly.narod.ru/2004-1e/info630e.htm (retrieved August 27, 2005).
 International Helsinki Federation, The Silencing of Human Rights Defenders in Chechnya, September 15, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch interview with human rights activist who requested to remain anonymous.
 See: January 2004 Memorandum to the European Court of Human Rights, prepared by Stichting Chechnya Justice Initiative, the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, and Memorial Human Rights Center. The memorandum is on file with Human Rights Watch.
 The case description is taken from the letter, which is on file with Human Rights Watch.
 The case description is taken from the letter, which is on file with Human Rights Watch.
 See, for example: Archana Pyati, The New Dissidents. Human Rights Defenders and Counter Terrorism in Russia, Human Rights First, p. 17.
 Vladimir Putins Address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, May 26, 2004 [online], http://www.kremlin.ru/eng/speeches/2004/05/26/2021_64906.shtml (retrieved September 25, 2004).
 Rights groups threatened after Putin strong-arm speech, Agence France Presse, May 27, 2004.
 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2005, (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2005), p. 409.
 Financing of NGOs by West is not Transparent, Says Russian Political Expert, RIA Novostyi, May 27, 2004.
 Simon Saradzhyan, Inquiry Urged Into Soldiers Mothers, Moscow Times, October 21, 2004.
 Greens: Putin is Wrong, St. Petersburg Times, July 22, 2005.
 Carl Schreck, Deputy Calls for NGO to be Closed, Moscow Times, August 24, 2005.