From Le Monde
MOSCOW ATTACKS NGOs AND "SPIES"Accédez à cet article sur Lemonde.fr
From our Moscow correspondent, Marie Jégo
Spies disguised as "students", a stone that emits and receives "coded information", supplies of foreign funding to Russian NGOs: the scenario could be that of a thriller, but for the fact that these were revelations made on Sunday 22 January by the Russian security services (the FSB) on the strength of four British diplomats in Moscow having been detected in carrying out spying activities. These men have not been threatened with expulsion, according to the FSB, which has applied itself to describing their financial links with NGOs.
A film, made by a camera hidden by the FSB, and put at the disposal of the two public television channels (Pervyy and Rossiya), was shown on Sunday 22 and Monday 23 January. In it, men in hoods can be seen walking repeatedly beside a big stone in a Moscow park. "Officials of the British embassy seen walking around the stone included Mark Doe (the second secretary), who came there summer and winter," a commentator explained. According to the spokesman for the FSB, Sergey Ignachenko, who was shown in the broadcast beside a sort of "meteorite" whose longitudinal section gave a view of a transmitter within, "this spy" was in frequent contact with the "transmitting stone" and was accused of "financing NGOs".
The Foreign Office protested in vain - the Russian media repeated the broadcast non-stop, insistent on the links detected between the spies and NGO activists aiming to destabilise the country. The organisations concerned, the Helsinki Group and the Eurasia Fund, were named by Sergey Ignatchenko on television as beneficiaries of support payments received. The president of the Helsinki Group, Ludmila Alexeyeva, acknowledged that one of the diplomats had, in 2004, approved the payment of $40,000 out of the funds allocated to him, thanks to which she had been able to carry out her programme of human rights monitoring. According to her, this episode is best understood as "an attempt to stain a respected organisation. Public opinion is being gradually prepared for the idea of the banning of our organisation, now that the law permits it."
At Memorial, the association inspired by the dissident Andrei Sakharov, the activists do not hide their anxiety. "For the first time," explains the historian Arsen Roginsky, "a politically controlled entity will verify if our activities are in conformity with our statutes." The law requires verification of NGOs' activities and of the uses of 80% of financial contributions received from abroad. Already, Memorial, which led the way in the defence of individual freedoms, and in denouncing the crimes committed by Russian forces in Chechnya, has been subjected to a tax inspection in the spring of 2005. Absolutely nothing was left out, including the bowls donated to the Gulag veterans on the occasion of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the uprising at the Kengir camp. The tax authorities required payment of social tax on each bowl, together with a completed information sheet with the details of every beneficiary. Memorial's accountant: "We had to provide thousands of documents to the tax office. It all took a great deal of time, to the detriment of our normal activities". A fine of $57,000 was imposed, a decision Memorial is appealing.
A few hundred kilometres from Moscow another NGO is in difficulty. Stanislav Dimitrievsky, the founder of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society of Nizhny-Novgorod, is accused of "inciting racial hatred" and faces five years imprisonment for publishing, in 2004, in his newspaper Pravozashchita, an appeal for peace by the Chechen president, Aslan Maskhadov, later killed by the federal forces. The accusation is surprising when one considers the thousands of extremist, racist and anti-semitic organisations which are allowed to exist in Russia undisturbed. The NGO, targeted for a tax inspection, is threatened with closure. According to expert testimony quoted at the trial, it is alleged that he wrote the adjective "putinian" with "a small p" instead of a capital letter, although that is recommended by textbooks. "The authorities want to silence the only trustworthy source of information on Chechnya," according to Oleg Panfilov, an activist for journalists' rights. "We are now learning that freedom of expression is extremism, that there is no war in Chechnya, and that journalists are fanatics," says Yuri Djablidze, of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Moscow.
Translated by Jeremy Putley