Moscow Helsinki Group launches fund-raising campaign

Russia's oldest NGO, the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG), has issued a public address in relation to the enforcement of the law on foreign agents calling for donations to human rights projects.

"Dear compatriots,

"The Moscow Helsinki Group is calling on all individuals and legal entities to take part in raising funds for the continuation of MHG operations," the website of the organization says.

"All collected private donations will be used for supporting the operation of the organization's office and website, for the current monitoring of the state of human rights and compilation of the annual review of identified violations, for handing personal complaints of individuals and setting up a public reception room, for legal support of human rights organizations and activists subject to persecution," the message says.

The law requiring the registration as "agents of foreign influence" of non-governmental organizations with Western backing came into force on Nov. 21.

All leading NGOs, including MHG, Golos, Memorial, Civil Assistance, and For Human Rights, have declared their boycott of the new law.

Human rights activists said they are forced to accept foreign grants because the state and business in Russia offer virtually no support to the independent public sector.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the 85-year-old head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, told Interfax that MHG will never call itself a foreign agent but it may be forced to give up foreign grants.

"I do not know a single human rights organization, which has appealed for being registered as a "foreign agent". We are not "foreign agents". We cannot call ourselves so. The law demands that we must do that, but we will not supply false information," she said.

"A court may rule that we are a "foreign agent", that the Moscow Helsinki Group receives money from abroad, that it is engaged in politics and influences pubic opinion. We are not going to waive our influence on public opinion, because this is what we have been doing since the moment of our establishment 36 years ago. We may stop accepting foreign funding and try to find sponsors in the home country. But we will do that only if we pass through the entire procedure and a court binds us to do so. Then, we will reject foreign grants but we will file cassation appeals and will apply to the Strasbourg Court," she said.

"Let them react, let them send me to jail. I will die there fast; I am a very old person. I am curious how what will look like. We'll live and see," she said.

Earlier leading members of the ruling United Russia party slammed the NGOs that refused to obey the law on foreign agents.

"Sabotage of the law on foreign agents by individual NGOs may lead to their suspension," Olga Batalina, State Duma deputy and Assistant Secretary of United Russia General Council and a member of the State Duma, said on Nov. 15.

"Legal nihilism is no good - they will be called to account for breaking the law and may even face suspension as they would do in any other country," she said.

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