Russian Committee for the Prevention of Torture disbands after being labelled ‘foreign agent’

The head of a major organisation in Russia has been thwarted in his attempts to disrupt the government after a worrying move from Moscow.The head of the Russian Committee for the Prevention of Torture has announced his organisation is disbanding after the government labelled it a “foreign agent”.Sergei Babinets, who worked with the NGO to pressure the Russian government into investigating reports of misconduct by security services, described the move as an “insult”.The committee has spent more than 20 years pushing for justice for alleged victims of torture at the hands of Russian officials accused of torture. Their efforts focused particularly on the Chechnya region, which is considered to be one of the more autocratic wings under Russia’s umbrella of power.Foreign outlets including NewsWeek claim the move against the organisation is the “latest indication of Moscow violating human rights at home and through its invasion of Ukraine”.In a Telegram post, Babinets slammed the Russian government after “sending a signal” that the pursuit of human rights under President Vladimir Putin is fast becoming its own death sentence.“Despite the obvious importance of our mission, the authorities have been trying for many years to portray it as foreign and harmful,” he said in his post.“The authorities are sending a signal that torture is becoming [or has already become] a part of government policy.”In Russia, being stamped with the “foreign agent” badge generally spells bad news.The label is given to any organisations, journalists, and opposing political members who have been accused of being funded by foreign governments and carries with it severe penalties and compromises on activity within Russia.Babinets’ post explained how his organisation has been put under further restraint after Russia’s official invasion of Ukraine in February. Thousands of anti-government protesters have reportedly been imprisoned in the months following, making activism an increasingly unpopular venture under Vladimir Putin’s stringent information war.As many as 15,451 protesters have been detained since February, according to a report from OVD-info, an organisation that attempts to track arrests in Russia.“Currently, the work of the Committee is facing more and more obstructions, and human rights are practically seen as an ‘enemy’s value,’” Babinets told Civil Rights Defenders in March.It came as reports of over 600 Ukrainian activists, journalists and prisoners of war were being held in “torture chambers” in and around the Russian-occupied city of Kherson last week.Tamila Tacheva, Ukraine’s permanent representative in Crimea, said the majority of those being held were “journalists and militants who held pro-Ukrainian gatherings” in the city.Reports of torture are of course nothing new. Human rights groups have continued to campaign against alleged misconduct from Russian officials and military both at home and abroad. “Russia (has continued) repression in occupied Crimea continued with arbitrary arrests, torture, politically-motivated criminal convictions, enforced disappearances, and other gross violations of human rights,” the United Nations Human Rights Council said in a May report. The Council met last month to discuss measures against the Russian government and launch an official international inquiry into alleged war crimes.“The Human Rights Council reiterates its demand for an immediate cessation of military hostilities against Ukraine, and for all parties to the conflict to respect the fundamental principles and rules of international humanitarian law, including to refrain from any attacks against civilians and civilian objects, and to refrain from any human rights violations and abuses in Ukraine; The meeting also discussed measures against Russia’s continuous use of “state-sponsored disinformation, propaganda for war or advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”. 33 nations voted in favour of the move, with only China and Etriea voting in opposition. In April, Ukrainian officials uncovered Russian torture chambers in Bucha, just north of the capital of Kyiv, barely five weeks after Russian troops crossed over into the now war-torn nation.Disturbing images of civilians shot dead in one particular underground room were shared online by the Prosecutor General’s Office official social media channels.“Soldiers of the Russian Federation armed forces tortured unarmed civilians and then killed them,” the department said in a Facebook post about the alleged torture room.Officials say the victims had been shot in the back execution-style, with at least one showing evidence of being shot in the kneecaps in an “interrogation room”.“The occupiers set up a barracks in one room,” the Ukraine‘s Ministry of Defence said in a video post.“Civilians were shot in the next room. Their bodies are still here. They tied their hands, put them on their knees against the wall. Shot to the head. That‘s all.”Originally published as Russian Committee for the Prevention of Torture disbands after being labelled a ‘foreign agent’