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Kremlin Sets its Sights on Media NGO

Another day, another fraudulent set of criminal charges – this time aimed at shutting down an NGO which trains journalists.

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Manana Aslamazyan

AP: Russian NGO Paralyzed, Head Flees

Investigators pounced on a minor infraction committed by Manana Aslamazyan, director of the Educated Media Foundation, using it to shutter the respected media training and development organization and frighten other NGOs and journalists, the lawyers said. The prosecution of Aslamazyan and pressure on the foundation, which receives funding from the U.S. government, follows repeated claims by President Vladimir Putin and other officials that foreign governments use NGOs to weaken Russia and undermine its leadership. The Moscow-based group’s troubles began in January after Aslamazyan, returning from a trip abroad, brought cash worth more than $10,000 into Russia without declaring it at customs, as required by law. She has been charged with smuggling, and authorities are considering prosecuting the fund’s leadership on money-laundering charges, according to one of her lawyers, Viktor Parshutkin. … Parshutkin said he believes the Kremlin is behind Aslamazyan’s prosecution. “This entire affair is motivated exclusively by politics. Through criminal investigation they have organized the public whipping to make other NGOs that receive money from foreign governments stand at attention and frighten them,” he said. He suggested the foundation, which trained and developed Russian provincial media, was targeted “to send a signal to journalists before the elections that they are all under the czar’s eye _ that if somebody tries to do something independent, they will be dealt with.” … In an open letter last week thanking her supporters, Aslamazyan said she had accepted an offer to work as a consultant for an international organization with offices in the United States, Asia, Africa and Europe. Parshutkin said he and another lawyer had advised her to leave the country and that she is living in Paris. In the letter, Aslamazyan said she would live abroad, continue to pay taxes in Russia and “wait until a court finally figures out why my personal mistake, for which I am ready to accept a fair and appropriate penalty, became the excuse for suspending the work of a large organization that brought a lot of benefit to the country.”