Russian human rights activists write letter to Obama

Two leading Russian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG) and For Human Rights, have asked U.S. President Barack Obama to explain them whether they are U.S. agents.

"The letter has been sent to the U.S. Embassy with a request to be forwarded by diplomatic mail to U.S. President Barack Obama," For Human Rights leader Lev Ponomaryov told Interfax on Wednesday.

In it, Ponomaryov and MHG head Lyudmila Alexeyeva ask the U.S. leaders to answer the question whether the U.S. influences and instructs human rights activists.

Under a bill signed into law last Saturday, all Russian NGOs involved in politics and receiving foreign grants must be registered as "foreign agents" at the Justice Ministry.

"We ask you, Mr. President, to give an answer to the question whether Moscow Helsinki Group and For Human Rights are U.S. agents in the standard sense of this word, i.e. whether MHG and For Human Rights are authorized to carry out the instructions of the U.S. government, whether the U.S. government influences, directly or indirectly, the work of our organizations," Alexeyeva and Ponomaryov said in a letter issued in Moscow on Wednesday.

"Our organizations can be put by the authorities on a list of foreign agents because we are actively involved in forming a public opinion with the aim to influence the government decision-making in the interests of Russian citizens," the letter said.

"Our organizations almost fully operate on grants from U.S. foundations, including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which is financed by the U.S. taxpayer. So under the new law, we will have to voluntarily get registered as 'an NGO performing the functions of a foreign agent,' in this particular instance, as an agent of the U.S. which acts as the principal," the letter said.

Earlier Ponomaryov said he will boycott the NGO bill, refused to be registered as a foreign agent and was willing to defend his position in court.

MHG does not want to be branded "a foreign agent" and foregoes Western grants, it is also planning to cut staff and scale down its educational and monitoring projects, Alexeyeva told Interfax earlier.

The NGOs which receive Western grants and are reluctant to be registered as foreign agents will be suspended, the Justice Ministry said last night.

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