The Moscow office of human rights charity Amnesty International has been sealed off by Russian authorities.
An Amnesty spokesperson told The Independent staff had arrived at work this morning to find the office doors sealed, the locks removed, the electricity cut off and the alarm system deactivated.
Attached to the door was a notice apparently from Moscow city authorities, from whom Amnesty rent the building, saying no one could enter the office without being accompanied by a Russian official. The premises was “property of a city of the Russian Federation”, the note said.
The Moscow city government, from which Amnesty leased the premises in central Moscow, said the group was behind on the rent, but Amnesty said it had documents to prove it was up to date with payments.
In a statement, the Moscow city property department said it had sent written warnings to Amnesty that it was in rent arrears.
“This complaint was ignored by the unscrupulous tenant,” the statement said. The department said it voided Amnesty’s lease on the grounds that the tenant was violating the terms of the rental agreement.
“In this connection, the premises were closed and sealed off,” the statement said.
John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, said in a statement:
“This bizarre claim is simply not true. Amnesty International received no advance notice about this and we have documents proving our rent for the property has been paid up to and including October.”
Amnesty says it had no warning of the closure and is still unsure why the office was sealed. Its staff in Moscow are understood to be working to try to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
It is understood there have been no arrests and the charity does not at this stage believe the office has been searched by authorities.
Me Dalhuisen had said earlier in the day:
“Given the current climate for civil society work in Russia, there are clearly any number of plausible explanations, but it’s too early to draw any conclusions. We are working to resolve the situation as swiftly as possible and very much hope there is a simple administrative explanation for this setback to our work.
“We are 100% confident that we fulfilled all our obligations as tenants.”
Amnesty International has been highly critical of Russia in recent years – the latest example of which saw Amnesty demand Russian authorities investigate allegations of torture against a well-known opposition activist – Ildar Dadin – currently in prison.
Dadin, who was jailed for a series of street protests, claims he has been repeatedly beaten and threatened in prison. Russia’s prison service have denied the claims but said they will investigate if Dadin compalins formally. Kremlin spokesman Demitry Peskov said the case merited “the closest attention” and that President Vladimir Putin would be informed.
Russian law requires all NGOs receiving overseas funding to register as foreign agents, which brings a number of restrictions. Last year, the country passed a law allowing foreign organisations to be banned from the country if they are deemed “undesirable” on national security grounds
As for the apparent sealing of the Amnesty office in Moscow Mr Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that he was unaware of the move.