Putin will open the Hannover Industry Trade Fair, the world’s biggest industry show, on Sunday and hold talks there with Chancellor Angela Merkel, the group said in a press release issued on Thursday.
Germany has a close relationship with Russia, which is a partner country at this year’s fair, in many areas including business and trade, foreign investment, energy security, and cultural issues.
Merkel has been right to emphasize the importance of human rights and the rule of law as a core part of this relationship and should reinforce this message in Hannover, Human Rights Watch said.
“Trade fairs are about doing business, but Merkel should make clear to Putin that it cannot be business as usual for Germany’s relations with Russia until the attacks on civil society stop,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“This is the worst crackdown in Russia in 20 years,” he said.
Both Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte should call for an immediate halt to the wave of unannounced inspections of nongovernmental organisations in Russia, apparently conducted to intimidate these groups.
These inspections have included visits to more than 200 Russian groups, as well as foreign organisations, including Amnesty International, Transparency International, and several German political foundations.
The office of Human Rights Watch was inspected on March 27th – the same day Merkel’s spokesman said she would raise the wave of inspections with Putin during his visit.
The inspections are the latest phase of moves against civil society since Putin returned to the presidency in May 2012.
Since then Russia’s parliament has adopted a series of laws that imposed new restrictions on public assemblies and raised financial sanctions for violations to the level of criminal fines. It has also re-criminalised libel, and imposed new restrictions on internet content.
Discriminatory legislation that has passed a first reading in Russia’s federal parliament would ban the “propaganda of homosexuality” among those under age 18. Similar laws are already in place in 10 Russian provinces.
A particularly problematic law adopted in July requires nongovernmental organizations that engage in advocacy work and accept foreign funding to register as “foreign agents,” a move that tries to demonize them in the public eye as spies and traitors, Human Rights Watch said.
Another law, adopted in November, expands the definition of “treason” in ways that could criminalize international human rights advocacy. A law adopted in December banned organizations found to “threaten Russia’s interests.”
“The crackdown on civil society is eroding the rule of law in Russia and this should be of deep concern in Germany and the Netherlands,” Williamson said.
“The repressive moves against nongovernmental groups and independent voices are also eroding the foundations on which these countries’ relationships with Russia are based, so should feature strongly in the talks next week.”