MOSCOW — A prominent Russian human rights organization was ordered shut Wednesday by a regional court, potentially silencing one more voice in a continued Russian crackdown on independent civil society.
The Agora human rights association is a network of lawyers and advocates who have defended the many Russians caught in the crosshairs of the Kremlin and the courts for political activity under Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among its high-profile clients are the opposition rock group and arts collective Pussy Riot and opposition politician Alexei Navalny. Since Agora’s founding in 2005, it has mounted a progressively lonely push for civil liberties and the rule of law as one group after another has been shut down.
Agora’s leaders said they would appeal the decision to Russia’s highest court.
The supreme court of Russia’s southern republic of Tatarstan agreed with a finding in a case brought by Russia’s Justice Ministry that Agora had engaged in “political activity,” since it was attempting to influence public opinion through its work. “Political activity” is a violation of Russian laws restricting nongovernmental organizations.
“We are confident that there is a little short-list of leading human rights organizations that need to be destroyed by any means,” Agora’s head, Pavel Chikov, said on Facebook. He said the group’s lawyers were working on more than 300 cases in Russia, and he vowed that they would continue their work even if they were no longer organized under the group’s umbrella.
The Tatarstan court’s decision drew condemnation from international groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well from other human rights advocates in Russia.