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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Registration Service Denies Chechen Legal Aid Group

The government has refused for a second time to register the Moscow office of a Dutch-based human rights group that gives legal aid to Chechens who accuse the Russian military of torture and abuse, the group said Thursday.

In a letter dated Jan. 19, the Federal Registration Service informed the nongovernmental organization Russian Justice Initiative that its application had been rejected on technical grounds.

The day before, two Chechen brothers prevailed in a case before the European Court of Human Rights, the first conviction of torture against federal forces in the two wars the government has fought against rebels in Chechnya since 1994.

The brothers received legal aid and advice from Russian Justice Initiative, which helps Chechens with grievances against the Russian military.

"I hope, and I think, the two events are not connected," Russian Justice Initiative chairman Jan ter Laak said by telephone from the Netherlands.

"But some people think they are, because we were refused registration the day after the case," he said.

The Federal Registration Service declined to comment.

In November, the group became the first foreign NGO denied a work license under a new law that critics said was designed to harass organizations unpopular with the authorities.

Officials say the law is needed to stop terrorists, money launderers and spies using NGOs as cover.

The authorities had rejected Russian Justice Initiative's registration application for errors such as calling its Moscow office a branch office and not a representative office, the NGO said -- an issue not raised when officials rejected the first application in November.

Without registration, a foreign NGO does not exist in law and is therefore not allowed to operate.

But ter Laak said Russian Justice Initiative is still able to work effectively through its offices in the Netherlands and Ingushetia, where the office is registered as a local NGO rather than as a representative office of a foreign-based group.

And ter Laak said Russian Justice Initiative would try for a third time to register nationally.