Washington, DC – Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs today strongly condemned the decision by the Federal Supreme Court of Russia to let the government close the headquarters of one of the few remaining independent human rights organizations in Russia.

The court denied the appeal of a judicial order to close the Russian Chechen Friendship Society. The RCFS, based in Nizhny Novgorod, is considered one of Russia’s most respected human rights organizations and was one of the only groups within Russia that documented human rights conditions in Chechnya and the North Caucasus.

“I am deeply disappointed, but not surprised, by the ruling of the Federal Supreme Court of Russia,” said Lantos, the founding co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. “The court’s action clearly demonstrates that Russia lacks even a modicum of the rule of law, and that far from being independent, the judiciary is part and parcel of the authoritarian and undemocratic machinery of President Putin.”

Under Putin’s leadership, Russian authorities have manipulated the country’s laws to suppress any independent democratic movement. The director of the RCFS, Stanislav Dmitrievsky, was convicted in February 2006 of “inciting ethnic hatred” under an article of the Penal Code designed to combat racist extremism. He had publicly advocated for a peaceful resolution of the Chechen conflict. On October 2006, the authorities then utilized a new law limiting the activities of non-governmental organizations in Russia to order the RCFS to close.

Prior to yesterday’s ruling, Lantos enlisted congressional colleagues to sign an urgent letter to President Putin, stating, “We fear that closing the RCFS will be a further escalation in a growing wave of repression that threatens all independent human rights activists in Russia. Functioning, independent, nongovernmental human rights organizations are essential to the development and success of free societies, and they play a vital role in ensuring an accountable, democratic government in Russia. Threats, intimidation, and acts of violence against human rights defenders have the effect of deterring the public from exercising its fundamental rights of expression and association.”

The letter was co-signed by CHRC Co-Chairman Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), and the CHRC Russian Working Group Co-Chairmen, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Rep. Roger Wicker (R-MS), as well as CHRC Executive Committee Members Rep. Tom Allen (D-ME) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).