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Russia indigenous rights group 'ordered to close'

The RAIPON received an order from the justice ministry to suspend their activities. -AFP

Wed, Nov 14, 2012

MOSCOW - Russia's biggest indigenous peoples rights group said Wednesday the government had ordered it to close, describing the move as revenge for its criticism of huge energy projects, including in the Arctic.

The umbrella Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East (RAIPON) received an order from the justice ministry to suspend their activities due to alleged violations in its charter.

"This is a political decision," first vice president of RAIPON Rodion Sulyandziga said. "They want to remove us as a barrier and active participant in international law."

The order, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, had come as a "shock" to the NGO, he added.

"We have used our charter for 22 years and there were never any problems," he told AFP. "They are trying to tell us to stop our criticism."

RAIPON, which has more than 400 members groups across Russia, has been a longstanding critic of Russia's policies towards the country's indigenous peoples inhabiting the vast energy-rich territories of northern Siberia and Far East.

It combines its local contacts with 41 indigenous tribes and its status with the UN to bring its grievances with Russia's energy companies such as Gazprom to international spotlight.

Indigenous peoples such as the Khanty and Nenets of the gas-rich Yamal peninsula are concerned that energy exploitation will end their semi-nomadic way of life and ruin the sensitive Arctic eco-system.

Russia has recently stepped up its energy activities in the Arctic. Gazprom launched commercial production at the giant Bovanenkovo gas field last month and oil giant Rosneft is eyeing offshore exploration together with western companies.

The ministry's order also comes as Russia's NGOs face increasing restrictions following the passage of a series of bills, such as one that brands groups with foreign funding as "foreign agents".

RAIPON, which already ceased its international projects due to the "foreign agents" bill this month, is planning to appeal the ministry's decision with the Supreme Court, though "it has no chances", Sulyandziga said.

The current ban on activities includes any protests or gatherings, which would include holding an emergency congress required to fix the alleged charter violations, he said.

Unless the group's appeal is successful, it would be ordered to close completely in six months, he said.

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