Russia blocks website of group tracking political arrests

A Russian organization that tracks political arrests and provides legal aid to detainees said on Saturday that government regulators were blocking its website, the latest step in a months-long crackdown on independent media and human rights organizations.

OVD-Info reported that Russian Internet and communications watchdog Roskomnadzor has blocked the group’s website. The organization said in a tweet that it had not been officially informed of the decision and did not know the reason for the action beyond the fact that it was ordered by a court outside Moscow on Monday. .

OVD-Info has gained notoriety for its monitoring and meticulous counting of arrests during street protests in Russia. Activists first began the practice during mass protests sparked by a 2011 Russian parliamentary election marred by numerous reports of voter fraud, and then formed a group that has continued the work over the years.

The data has been indispensable to news organizations over the years, as Russian authorities have largely remained silent or downplayed the scale of mass arrests during protests and protests.

OVD-Info also functions as a legal aid group, sending lawyers to help protesters detained in police stations and courts. In September, an international human rights organization based in Sweden awarded OVD-Info with the Civil Rights Defender of the Year award.

That same month, Russian authorities designated the group as a “foreign agent” – a label that comes with excessive government scrutiny and strong pejorative overtones that may discredit recipients. The founders of OVD-Info are committed to continuing the work of the organization despite the designation.

Russian authorities have stepped up pressure on rights groups, media and individual journalists in recent months, appointing dozens of foreign agents. Some have been declared “undesirable” – a label that bans organizations in Russia – or accused of links to “undesirable” groups.

Russia’s Justice Ministry on Friday added two more advocacy groups to the register of foreign agents: Coming Out and Revers, which advocate for LGBT rights and provide assistance to the struggling Russian LGBT community.

Russian law requires a non-governmental organization, media, informal movement or individual to be listed as a foreign agent for receiving foreign funding – even a small donation from a foreign national counts – and for engaging in a loosely defined political activity.

OVD-Info, along with other rights groups, launched a campaign in September to abolish the “foreign agents” law. By the end of December, more than 240 organizations and more than 260,000 people had signed a petition calling the law “discriminatory and illegal”. OVD-Info submitted the signatures to the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma.

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)