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Council Of Europe Urges Russia To Explain NGO Designation As ‘Undesirable’

The head of the Council of Europe has expressed “great concern” after the Association of Schools of Political Studies of the Council of Europe was added to the list of “undesirable” organizations in Russia.

In a letter dated January 14 and obtained by RFE/RL, Council of Europe Secretary-General Marija Pejcinovic Buric asked Moscow to clarify “the circumstances” that led to the decision, which she called “unacceptable.”

“I cannot stress enough how problematic is the notion that an organization such as the Association of Schools of Political Studies of the Council of Europe, closely linked to our organization and uniting schools of political studies, aiming to organize civic education activities based on the Council of Europe values and principles, would represent a threat” to a Council of Europe member state, reads the letter, addressed to Russian Justice Minister Konstantin Chuychenko.

Russia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office announced in December 2020 it had declared the Strasbourg-based Association of Schools of Political Studies as “undesirable,” requiring the Justice Ministry to blacklist the organization.

A 2015 law allows prosecutors to shut down “undesirable” organizations if they are deemed to be a threat to Russia’s national interests.

In a statement on January 6, the two co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for the monitoring of Russia “deplored” the decision to place the Association of Schools of Political Studies on the Russian list of “undesirable” organizations.

“Russia’s 2015 law on ‘undesirable organizations’ has been severely criticized by the international community, including the Council of Europe, for its violations of the freedoms of association, assembly, and expression, its arbitrariness, and the wide discretionary powers granted to the prosecutor-general,” Axel Schafer and Ria Oomen-Ruijten said in a statement.

Human rights watchdogs, media-freedom groups, and the West have accused Russia of using legislation on “undesirable organizations” and “foreign agents” to discourage the free exchange of ideas and silence dissent and organisations that have a diverging view from the authorities — increasingly restricting space for civic activity.

“The expansion of the ‘foreign agent’ and ‘undesirable organizations’ legislation has unfortunately hit many national and international individuals and organizations, including media outlets run by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and persons associated with RFE/RL,” Peter Stano, the spokesperson for the EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, said on January 16.

On January 12, Russia’s telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor drew up its first eight administrative protocols — all against Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — for violating the “foreign agents” law.

“We have repeatedly called on the Russian authorities to reverse these decisions and to uphold their commitments and obligations to a free press, and will continue to do so,” he added.

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak

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