The Russian Foreign Ministry has effectively banned People in Need by placing it on its list of undesirable organisations. The Czech humanitarian NGO has since reacted by saying that, while it is ceasing its activities in Russia, this does not mean its work in the country is over.
The news flashed through the country on Tuesday, after the Russian Ministry of Justice placed an announcement on its website that People in Need, was now on the list of “undesirable foreign and international non-governmental organizations on the territory of the Russian Federation”.
The move amounts to a ban on the NGO’s activities in Russia and continuing to do so can result in high sanctions and jail sentences for its members.
Founded in 1992, the humanitarian organisation is among the largest in Central Europe. Based in Prague, it is headed by Šimon Pánek, one of the student leaders of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.
Speaking to Czech Radio, Mr. Pánek said he was not discouraged by the move.
“With a certain degree of hyperbole you could say that this is a reward for the 10 years of hard work we have been doing in Russia to support civil society. We seem to have been doing meaningful work and that is why they put us on that list.
"Right now we are ceasing work in support of our partners and friends so as not to endanger them. However, it certainly does not mean that we would want to stop our activities in Russia.”
Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček seemed less willing to take the move as a compliment.
Currently on a business visit in Ethiopia, he reacted with the following statement on Twitter.
“People in Need is a respected organisation that supports human rights and democracy in the world. I consider the publicised reasons for its ban in Russia absurd. The banning of a human rights organisation testifies to the human rights situation in the country. I will demand an explanation and will summon the Russian ambassador.”
In People in Need’s 2018 annual report, Russia is described as a country with a very repressive political system, where the authorities have effected a hard crackdown on civil society in recent years.
According to the same document, the organisation was involved in specific projects such as the case of Oyub Titiev, the director of the Chechnyan branch of the human rights organisation Memorial, or enabling Russian and Crimean human rights activists to meet with representatives of EU institutions.
People in Need is now the 19th organisation to be added to Russia’s blacklist, which was established after the occupation of Crimea in 2014 and subsequent international sanctions.
It shares this designation with organisations such as George Soros’ Open Society foundation and the German Marshall Fund.