Human Rights Watch Denounces Threats to Top Russian Researcher

Human Rights Watch said Russian officials may be behind threats made to one of its top researchers in the country, warning that the authorities are trying to force it out of Russia.

“We’re all aware of the severe crackdown that is taking place today in Russia against civil society,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based group, said in a video statement broadcast to reporters in Moscow today. “Their intent was clearly to frighten Human Rights Watch to stop our monitoring and reporting on human rights in Russia today.”

Tanya Lokshina, the deputy head of Human Rights Watch’s Moscow office, received text messages last week threatening her and her unborn child ahead of a planned trip to investigate rights abuses in the restive southern region of Dagestan, she said. The messages made reference to personal details such as the gender of the unborn child, her stage of pregnancy and her unlisted home address, Lokshina said.

Russia has passed legislation requiring groups that receive aid from abroad to register as “foreign agents” and submit to tighter restrictions. Lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a bill last month that widened the definition of state treason and allowed the charge to be laid against Russians who help foreign organizations.

President Vladimir Putin’s administration also ordered the closure this month of U.S. aid agency USAID, which has financed NGOs in Russia including Golos, a vote-monitoring group, and Memorial, a human-rights organization.

“These threats will have precisely the opposite effect,” Roth said of the text messages to Lokshina. “Human Rights Watch will redouble our efforts to our work in Russia to defend the rights of the Russian people against this crackdown.”

No-one at the Foreign Ministry’s press service could be reached after working hours today and spokesman Alexander Lukashevich didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone.