MOSCOW (AP) – A rights group in Russia announced on Sunday it was shutting down, citing fears of lawsuits against its members and supporters after Russian authorities blocked its website for allegedly posting content from an “unwanted” organization.
Lawyers and journalists association Team 29, which specializes in treason and espionage cases and freedom of information issues, said on Sunday that Russian authorities accused it of disseminating material from a Czech non-governmental organization. which had been declared “undesirable” in Russia.
The group’s website was blocked on Friday, even though it dismissed the charges, and its lawyers said they believe the government’s next step may be to prosecute members and supporters.
“Under these conditions, the continued activities of Team 29 creates a direct and clear threat to the safety of a large number of people, and we cannot ignore this risk,” the group said, adding that it would remove all of its online content. in order to avoid any risk and that his lawyers would continue to represent their clients in a personal capacity.
The shutdown of Team 29 comes as pressure builds on opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists in Russia ahead of the parliamentary elections in September. The vote is widely seen as an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to consolidate his rule ahead of the 2024 presidential election. The 68-year-old Russian leader, in power for more than two decades, last year passed constitutional changes that would potentially allow him to retain power until 2036.
In recent months, Russian authorities have increased pressure on independent news media, designating two popular independent media outlets, Meduza and VTimes, as “foreign agents” and banning the publisher of investigative media Proekt, while listing their reports. journalists as “foreign agents”. . “VTimes stopped shortly after.
Last month, a Moscow court banned organizations founded by jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, calling them extremists. The ruling banned those associated with the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation and its sprawling regional network from running for public office. Many of Navalny’s allies had planned to run for parliamentary seats in the September 19 elections in Russia.
Team 29, including its prominent lawyer Ivan Pavlov, was involved in the defense of the Navalny foundation in court. In April, Russian authorities opened criminal proceedings against Pavlov, who also represents a former Russian journalist accused of treason in a high-profile case, accusing him of leaking information related to a police investigation.
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