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Amnesty International's Moscow Office Sealed Off By Russian Officials

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The human rights group Amnesty International says Moscow officials have sealed off its offices there. Groups critical of the Russian government have come under increasing pressure from authorities in recent months. But as NPR's Lucian Kim reports, Amnesty says it had no warning that its offices would be closed.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: When employees of Amnesty International's Moscow office got to work this morning, they found the locks changed and the alarm system switched off. The doors were sealed with a notice from the landlord, the city of Moscow. Amnesty's T. Kumar says the organization was caught completely off guard.

T KUMAR: We were allowed to operate without any hindrance until now. And we were critical of human rights abuses happening inside Russia. So it's very difficult to speculate the timing, but we know that we were very vocal.

KIM: The organization has been working in Russia for more than 20 years. The Moscow mayor's office told Reuters news agency that amnesty was behind on its rent, but the group says it can prove its payments are up to date.

Amnesty wouldn't be the first non-governmental organization in Russia to run into problems on legal technicalities. New regulations require groups that receive funding from abroad to be branded foreign agents. Maxim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow with the Kennan Institute in Washington, says he's not surprised that amnesty has been targeted now.

MAXIM TRUDOLYUBOV: Amnesty International has been a pain in the neck for many, many years. It's one of those organizations that the Kremlin considers problematic.

KIM: Amnesty says it has fulfilled its obligations as a tenant and is trying to meet with city officials. For the moment, though, its operations in Moscow have been suspended. Lucian Kim, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.