Moscow officials seek to evict human rights defenders
City officials are seeking to evict two of the most prominent Russian human rights organizations - the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG) and the movement For Human Rights - from their offices in central Moscow. Campaign in support of the Moscow Helsinki Group and For Human Rights.
"The authorities refused to renew the leases on the properties. Eviction orders have been sent to the commercial court," MHG head Ludmila Alekseeva told Interfax on Nov. 6, 2009. MHG’s headquarters is located at Bolshoy Golovin pereulok, 22 (in the Sretenka area), and the Moscow branch of the movement For Human Rights is in in Small Kislovsky Lane, 7 (in the Arbat area).
"They are trying to evict us. We will resist. We got this office in 1996, it was in very bad condition and we've renovated it with our own money," said Ludmila Alekseeva. Ludmila Alekseeva and the leader of the movement For Human Rights, Lev Ponomarev, have appealed for help to the federal Human Rights Ombudsman, the Moscow city Human Rights Ombudsman and the head of the Presidential Council for the Promotion of Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights.
"They have promised to help us," said Ludmila Alekseeva. But no official response has yet been received, according to Newsru.
Lev Ponomarev has told the details of the story to Radio Liberty: "I received from the Moscow City Property Department a copy of the application they submitted to the Moscow Commercial Court. The application is entitled ‘On the return of leased property’ and ends with these words: ‘Based on the foregoing, I request that the human rights organization “Hotline” [the Moscow regional branch of the movement For Human Rights] be evicted from the non-residential premises at such-and-such an address’. Since Hotline and For Human Rights share the same administrative staff, the result is they want to push the whole organization into the street."
According to Lev Ponomarev, the lease ended in May this year. "As always, we signed a petition to extend the contract. And, I should point out, it has been extended on a number of previous occasions: as a rule this happens automatically if the organization has not broken any rules. But in this case, we were told that Moscow City Property Department would not extend the lease, because allegedly we had violated the terms of the contract – illegally making alterations to the interior of the building – when we built a staircase between the first and second floors.” According to Lev Ponmarev, the staircase, the cause of such a severe sanction by officials, already existed at the time the human rights group moved into the building in 1998 – in other words it had been built by previous occupants. And documentary evidence of this had been presented in person to Mr Petrov, head of the Property Department of Moscow’’s Central District. Nonetheless, after this the city authorities applied for an eviction order.
Human rights activist Lev Ponomarev suggested two alternative explanations for what has happened: it was a result of the influence of either commercial or political interests. He believes the intention is to put the building up for auction: "But it’s cause for concern that we are being evicted at the same time as the Moscow Helsinki Group ..."