MOSCOW, June 21 (RIA Novosti) - The head of the Moscow Helsinki Group human-rights organization warned Wednesday that the group's Belarusian counterpart could be shut down following a probe from the country's Justice Ministry.
Lyudmila Alekseyeva said the closure of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee would signify the destruction of the most prominent rights group in the former Soviet republic, which has come under heavy fire from the West over its record on human rights.
"We can say that the most proactive human rights organization in Belarus will be destroyed with the closing of the BHC," Alekseyeva said.
She said the Belarusian Justice Ministry had claimed the committee had not paid taxes under the Tacis cooperation program between Russia and the European Union, despite the fact that the committee was financed by EU taxpayers and was exempted from taxes and customs duties under an international agreement signed by Belarus.
Sergei Karaganov, a co-chairman of the Russian-Belarusian human rights commission, said Russian human rights activists were concerned over the closing of human rights organizations in Belarus.
"We believe that Russia as a partner of Belarus in the formation of the Union State [a project to eventually unite the two former Soviet republics] bears responsibility for the development of civil society and democratic freedoms in the Union State," he said. "In this case we consider the claims of the Justice Ministry against the BHC to be obviously fabricated ... and an attempt to eliminate organized human rights activities in Belarus."
Founded in 1995, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee is a not-for-profit NGO and a member of the International Helsinki Federation (IHF) since 1997.