Open Russia, an organization founded by disgraced former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is to close its operations and shut its regional offices over concerns its members and supporters may soon be targeted for prosecution.
The move comes as the group’s executive director, Andrey Pivovarov, says the Russian government’s plan to strengthen the law on foreign “undesirable” organizations could lead to people involved being targeted by the courts.
Although Open Russia itself isn’t registered as “undesirable,” the London-based international branch of the group, called the Open Russia Civic Movement, is on the list. In 2017, when the British organization was given the designation, the prosecutor general’s spokesman, Alexander Kurenoy, said the move would not affect the Russian branch. However, Pivovarov thinks that might soon change.
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“All members of Open Russia have been expelled from the organization, and their membership has been revoked to avoid possible prosecution. We don’t need any new fines or criminal cases, and we want to protect our supporters,” Pivovarov explained to Moscow daily Kommersant.
As Open Russia activists are automatically linked to the foreign branch, they could therefore be accused of working with such an organization.
Earlier this month, a draft law was submitted that would sanction those who run and participate in undesirable groups. If passed, members could be fined up to 500,000 rubles ($6,800) or be imprisoned for four years, while the leadership could get up to six years behind bars.
“The activists of Open Russia have been prosecuted for years for being undesirable. These amendments will undoubtedly be passed. Our activists will be hunted down. We can’t allow that, so we will liquidate the organization in advance,” Pivovarov concluded.
Open Russia was founded in 2001 by Khodorkovsky, who now lives in London. Once believed to be the wealthiest man in Russia, the oil and gas billionaire was arrested on fraud charges in 2003. He served more than a decade in prison before receiving a presidential pardon from Vladimir Putin in 2013. His fraud charges were mainly linked to the collapse of Yukos, an energy company he bought for a fraction of its value as part of an allegedly rigged auction.
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