The Kremlin has used the label “foreign agent” against non-governmental organizations, political opponents and journalists.
The head of the Russia-based Committee for the Prevention of Torture has disbanded the organization after it was labeled a “foreign agent” by authorities, a label he called an “insult”.
The Committee for the Prevention of Torture, established in 2000, campaigned to force Russian authorities to investigate ill-treatment by security forces and take steps to stop it. The organization’s work included the situation in Chechnya.
“We don’t want to continue operating under the ‘foreign agents’ label. We consider this term an insult and slander,” the commission’s chairman, Sergei Babinets, said on Sunday.
The dissolution of the organization was decided by members on Saturday, Babinets said on Telegram.
“Despite the obvious importance of our mission, authorities have been trying to portray it as foreign and harmful for many years,” he said.
“Authorities are sending a signal that torture is (or has become) part of government policy.”
The commission was already labeled a “foreign agent” by the Russian authorities in 2015 and 2016 and decided to dissolve itself rather than change its job to shake off the designation.
The first Russian law on foreign agents was passed in 2012. Since then, it has expanded to include non-profit organizations (NGOs), media and individual Russian citizens, including journalists and activists.
Reminiscent of the Soviet-era ‘enemy of the people’, the label “foreign agent” is used by the Kremlin against non-governmental organizations, the political opposition and journalists accused of carrying out foreign-funded political activities.
Those who are considered foreign agents are subject to numerous restrictions and tedious procedures, or face severe penalties. Those with the label must indicate their status with disclaimers in all publications.
The dissolution of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture comes amid a brutal crackdown on critical voices in Russia, especially since the launch of the military intervention in Ukraine in late February. Since the invasion was launched, many NGOs have been banned.
In April, Russian authorities closed the offices of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Earlier this month, the lower house of the Russian parliament gave its first approval to a bill that would further tighten the country’s laws against foreign agents, and comes at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Russians to look out for “traitors” in the middle .