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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Eviction Looms for Charity Group

The Moscow-based Committee for Human Rights, which specializes in assisting runaway children and dispensing legal advice to prisoners and their families, may turn up homeless itself if City Hall follows through with plans to take away its office, the organization's chairman said Monday.

The Moscow Arbitration Court ruled last month that the prominent human rights organization is occupying the office illegally and ordered it to move out. "The situation is alarming," Andrei Babushkin, head of the Committee for Human Rights, said at a news conference Monday. "The court decision has come into effect, and our staffers, volunteers and those who come to us for help may all end up on the street at any moment."

The organization has been operating in Moscow for five years, funded mainly by a Soros Foundation grant. It has helped some 600 runaways return home, provided legal advice to some 60,000 people and fought to get some 100 court convictions overturned.

Babushkin said that since his committee has the status of a charity organization, it qualifies for a number of benefits listed in a 1995 federal law on charities.

However, property committee officials have charged that the charity not only occupies the property illegally but is also refusing to pay rent and utility costs.

Pyotr Dovgan, head of the property committee's legal department for the northeastern district, said City Hall would have to issue an order confirming the committee's charity status, grant it an office and clarify its right to occupy the space free of charge.

"We are just an executive organization, and the last thing we need or want to do is to prosecute a human rights organization," Dovgan said.

Under the law, charity groups may be entitled to a free office if local authorities deem them socially significant. But the law does not specify what the groups must do to qualify for this status.

Dovgan said the activity around Babushkin's office, which is located in an ordinary apartment block, annoys residents, who complain about living next to a place where homeless children and former prisoners gather. Street children often stay in the office until staffers are able to send them home.

"We have street children in the office not because we want to or like to, but because the city authorities refuse to take responsibility for them," Babushkin said, referring to the indifference shown by the city officials before President Vladimir Putin's order in January to tackle the problem of homeless children.