A woman protests outside the Supreme Court in Moscow against organizations being labeled foreign agents in Russia.
MOSCOW -- The Committee Against Torture (KPP), a prominent human rights group in Russia, has announced it has closed down operations after being labeled a foreign agent, the third time an iteration of the activist group has received the designation from authorities since 2015.
The head of the KPP, Sergei Babinets, wrote on Telegram on June 12 that the decision to disband the group was made two days earlier immediately following a decision by authorities to label the organization as a foreign agent -- a negative term evoking Soviet-era Western spies that is given if a group is deemed to have funding from abroad and are involved in political activity.
"We do not want to continue to work while being labeled as foreign agents. We consider that term as an insult and slander," Babinets wrote. "We want to live in a Russia with no torture, and we certainly will make our country better. This is our duty," Babinets's statement said, adding that the group's plans on how to operate further will be made public later. Activists say the foreign agent law is part of a longstanding and growing crackdown on civil society that President Vladimir Putin launched upon his return to the presidency in May 2012, after four years as prime minister. In 2015, the KPP was first labeled a foreign agent and soon afterward closed down rather than pay fines or operate under such a designation. KPP leadership then reformed the group under the same acronym but this time called the Committee to Prevent Torture. In 2016, officials again labeled the group a foreign agent, prompting it to again close its doors. After its liquidation, the group changed tack and worked as a volunteer group under the umbrella name of the Committee Against Torture (KPP) instead of as a registered organization. But a recent tweak to the foreign agent law, which had already been amended several times, allowed authorities to label individuals -- and not just organizations --as foreign agents. KPP press secretary Natalya Kuryokina said in a statement on June 12 that despite the official closure, members of the group will continue to work on the remaining 188 cases they currently have open. According to Kuryokina, the status of foreign agent stops KPP lawyers from attending hearings in courts and forbids them from meeting with investigators and authorities to address their clients' complaints. The KPP was founded in 2000 and gained prominence for its activities challenging police brutality and torture faced by Russian citizens in custody across the country, especially in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya, where activists say Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has fostered an atmosphere of impunity for abuses by security forces in order to maintain control of the restive region.