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Russia effectively bans Czech NGO ‘People in Need’

Prague, Czech Republic – Russian authorities announced earlier this month that it had added the Czech NGO ‘People in Need’ on its list of “undesirable” associations, effectively banning the Prague-based organization from operating in Russia.

‘People in Need’ NGO banned from Russia

Russian deputy prosecutor general decided on November 7 to add the Czech NGO to its list of “undesirables”. The Justice Ministry later issued a statement claiming it had banned ‘People in Need’ on the basis of Russian law against violations of fundamental rights and freedoms and the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens.

Russian authorities however failed to provide any detail as to the exact reasons for the ban.

Defending the standing and reputation of the organization, Czech Foreign Affairs Minister Tomas Petricek contested the legitimacy of the ban, saying that it “shows the situation of human rights in the country”, and vowed to summon the Russian ambassador in Prague over the issue.

People in Need has long been active in Russia, where it supports human rights and democratic values, and has already faced pressure from local authorities in the past. According to the organization, the Russian authorities’ decision isn’t surprising considering their support for civil society and their role in the fight against corruption.

“A reward” for 10 years of activism and human rights monitoring

“This of course irritates the Russian regime, because it does not want to operate in a transparent and democratic way, it does not want to be under public control”, People in Need spokeswoman Adriana Cerna said.

“With a certain degree of hyperbole, you could say that this is a reward for the 10 years of hard work we have been doing in Russia to support civil society”, Simon Panek, head of the nonprofit and one of the student leaders of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, told Radio Praha. “Right now, we are ceasing work in support of our partners and friends so as not to endanger them. However, it certainly does not mean that we would want to stop our activities in Russia”.

The NGO, founded in the Czech Republic in 1992 to promote human rights, democratic values and civil society, was already banned from operating in Russia between 2005 and 2007.

One of the biggest non-profits in Central Europe, People in Need thus joins a growing list of foreign organizations labelled as “undesirable” by Russian authorities since the law was passed in 2015. This includes the Soros-founded Open Society Foundations, the German Marshall Fund of the United States or the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.