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Press by
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Veteran Russian Human Rights Group to Curtail Operations
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The Moscow Helsinki Group, one of the oldest human rights organizations in Russia, announced 1 October that it is forced to roll up most of its operations inside Russia due to funding issues, Moscow Times reported.

"We've cut projects to a bare minimum. You could say we're simply surviving," the organization's chairwoman Lyudmila Alexeyeva said, Interfax reported.

The group has suspended its educational program, sacked 10 of 17 staffers and cut salaries for the rest, the 87-year-old activist said.

The cuts came despite a presidential grant of 4.5 million rubles ($115,000), which the organization has allocated to promoting public oversight of Russia's often-criticized police force.

Alexeyeva blamed the cuts on decreased foreign-donor activity due to recent legislation.


The culprit is the "foreign agents' law" which requires organizations that receive foreign grants to register as "foreign agents" and be subjected to more scrutiny. Back in 2012 when the law was passed, Alexeyeva said she refused to register her group.

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Alexeyeva, arrested at a New Year's Eve rally in 2010 protesting against restrictions on public assembly.

Alexeyeva has been vilified recently in the state media with false claims about her public positions.

A hostile NTV camera crew stalked Alexeyeva when she met with businessman and philanthropist Dmitry Zemin and former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov (at 2:32) , who are accused in the video of funding the March for Peace two weeks ago in Moscow  which 26,000 protested the war in Ukraine.


The Moscow Group to Assist the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords, known for short as the Moscow Helsinki Group, was founded in May 1976, one year after the signing of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act on Security and Cooperation in Europe. It was among a few such groups at the time that took international law seriously and saw it as a tool to liberalize oppressive conditions in the Soviet bloc.

It was the first of such monitoring groups related to Helsinki and spawned a network of them all over the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and eventually the West, where Human Rights Watch, which began as Helsinki Watch, followed the model established by Dr. Yuri Orlov, a physicist, Alexeyeva, Elena Bonner, wife of Nobel Prize Laureate and physicist Dr. Andrei Sakharov and other scientists and intellectuals.

The group and its affiliates prepared hundreds of reports on everything from labor rights to religious freedom, which they placed in the Western press and foreign broadcasting programs at a time when such writings were suppressed in the USSR. Ultimately more than 50 of the members of these groups were jailed for sentences as long as 7 years of prison and 5 years of exile. Alexeyeva and several other members chose to emigrate to the US rather than face jail and continued their work from abroad for more than a decade.

Inside the Soviet Union, lower-profile dissidents persevered throughout the 1970s and 1980s, until the group suspended itself activities and announced a "dissolution" in 1984 when Bonner was arrested and exiled and the lawyer Sofya Kalistratova was threatened with arrest. They resumed in 1988 after some political prisoners were released such as biochemist Sergei Kovalev, and ultimately in the 1990s, Alexeyeva was able to return to Moscow to assume leadership of the group. The organization focused on prison conditions, freedom of speech and assembly, and legal aid to citizens and conditions in Russia's regions, far worse than Moscow.

At one time, Putin even gave Alexeyeva, now 87, a bouquet of flowers on her birthday, and an official congratulatory message was published on her 85th birthday on kremlin.ru.

For a period in the 2000s, Alexeyeva was a member of the Presidential Council on Civil Society Development and Human Rights, but did not run for renewal of her office citing increasing cooptation of the human rights movement amid a worsening climate for human rights.  She and her colleagues were begrudgingly tolerated for some years and even able to get meetings with top law-enforcement and political leaders to press their concerns. During the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev, the group members met in a televised meeting to discuss poor conditions in prisons and for labor migrants.

But recently, however, the human rights advocates began to be lumped together with political opposition like Alexey Navalny, although they were not members of opposition parties, and have been castigated as "fifth columnists."

Alexeyeva has been a long-time outspoken critic of the Kremlin and is likely to remain so.