Russia raids Human Rights Watch office

RUSSIAN authorities have searched the Moscow offices of New-York based Human Rights Watch as they stepped up their raids against pro-democracy groups despite growing EU concern. 
HRW's Europe and Central Asia department head Rachel Denber said three representatives from the prosecutor's office and a tax official had begun what they called "an unplanned inspection" of the Moscow office early Wednesday.
She added that the Moscow headquarters of the Civic Assistance refugees centre and of the Transparency International corruption watchdog had been raided in a similar manner.
"This is part of a massive, unprecedented wave of inspections of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) in Russia that is intensifying pressure on civil society in the wake of the adoption of a number restrictive laws last year," Denber said by email.
"The scale of these inspections serves to reinforce the menacing atmosphere for civil society created by the adoption of last year's laws."
The raids followed President Vladimir Putin's signature of a law that labelled Russian political organisations with Western funding as "foreign agents" that required more rigorous checks.
Russian officials have not specifically linked the raids to the foreign agent law and they appear part of an in-depth examination into the activities of non-governmental groups whose work bothers the authorities.
The authorities began their action last week by moving in against Memorial - one of the country's most respected rights organisations whose vast catalogue of Stalin-era repressions is accessed by scholars around the world.
Groups such as Memorial have refused to change their registration to that of a "foreign agent" because they argued the legislation equated them with spies.
The raids have already raised eyebrows in Europe and threaten to further complicate ex-KGB agent Putin's uneasy relations with the West.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Tuesday called the inspections and searches "worrisome since they seem to be aimed at further undermining civil society activities in the country".

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