HRW: Russian police targeting domestic abuse NGOs
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the police in southern Russia have raided the homes and office of activists who helped the victims of domestic violence.
The raids took place in Dagestan’s cities of Makhachkala and Khasavyurt.
They targeted the Stichting Justice Initiative (SJI) organisation which represents victims of rights abuses and domestic violence.
The police in the northern Caucasus republic seized computers and documents, HRW said.
A 2019 survey said nearly 25 per cent of Russians were aware of instances of domestic violence.
“These outrageous police raids show the poisonous climate for NGOs in Russia, and particularly in the north Caucasus,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW’s regional specialist. “These are overt attempts to suppress independent civic activity, instil fear and keep activists in a perpetual state of uncertainty.”
Media Zona, a website founded by the punk band Pussy Riot, has compiled research suggesting nearly 2,000 out of 2,500 women convicted of manslaughter in 2016-18 had killed a family member in self-defence or revenge over domestic violence.
The New York-based NGO said the court order does not refer to any alleged offence. Instead, it referred to the need to check for involvement with organising protests and financing of extremism, without any factual grounds, HRW added.
SJI staff said the police officers had told them that all NGOs working with to prevent violence were being targeted.
There were unconfirmed reports of similar searches of other organisations in Dagestan and Ingushetia that work on humanitarian issues, including groups helping orphans.
Russia decriminalised some forms of domestic violence in 2017 and activists are now fighting for legislation that would offer protection for domestic abuse victims.
SJI said other groups had not spoken out because of a fear of repercussions.
“Raids on organisations working on domestic and other violence against women can have a significantly chilling effect, preventing victims from seeking help or accessing potentially life-saving services. Violence against women, including domestic violence, is already an underreported crime,” HRW said.
SJI has been working on a submission to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over cases targeting protesters in Ingushetia.
The 2012 so-called foreign agent law has been used to target independent rights groups that engage in advocacy and receive international funding.
“SJI has been an irritant for the Russian authorities for years through its successful European Court litigation,” HRW stated. Since 2001, SJI has submitted more than 450 cases to the ECHR, United Nations Human Rights Committees and the International Criminal Court, on behalf of approximately 1,800 applicants.
Dagestan. Picture credit: Wikimedia