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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechnya NGO Denied Registration

Authorities have refused to register a Dutch organization that has represented Russians in Europe's top human rights court in cases of abuse in Chechnya.

Citing improper paperwork, the Federal Registration Service notified the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative on Nov. 15 that it had refused to register the organization's representative office in Moscow, the chairman of the Dutch human rights organization, Jan ter Laak, said Friday.

"We will try to maintain our operations by working out of the Netherlands," Ter Laak said by telephone from Utrecht, the Netherlands. "We can work from here, but it won't be easy."

The NGO joins a number of Western groups denied registration under a controversial law that forced foreign NGOs to reregister with the Federal Registration Service by Oct. 18.

The federal agency said in a Nov. 15 notification letter to the Dutch NGO that it could resubmit its application after making appropriate corrections.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Moscow Times, said the NGO's documents had not been filled out "in the required way." It cited specific discrepancies as well, saying that while only Ter Laak signed off on the documents, the group's charter states that two board members are required to sign off on such decisions.

In a landmark decision in July, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, ordered Russia to pay 35,000 euros ($45,836) to Fatima Bazorkina, whose son disappeared in Chechnya six years ago and who was represented by the Dutch NGO in court.

The court ruled Russia had violated her son's "right to life" as well as failing "to conduct an effective investigation" into his February 2000 disappearance. The ruling was the first of its kind, and human rights activists said it could provide impetus for thousands of other Russians to file complaints over disappearances.

Ter Laak said he hoped bureaucracy -- not politics -- was behind the rejection. "Some want to say this is because of politics, but that is not our opinion," he said. "Our opinion is that it is because of bureaucracy. If they need additional paperwork, we will provide them with it, and hopefully everything will be OK."

The NGO law has raised concern that Russia's fledgling civil society might be crippled. Authorities counter that many groups posing as NGOs are actually criminal or terrorist organizations.