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article imageTop prisoner rights activist quits Russia after raid

By AFP     Nov 8, 2017 in World

The founder of a prominent NGO that campaigns for the rights of Russian prisoners and their relatives said Wednesday she had emigrated after a police raid on the organisation's offices this year.

Olga Romanova said in a Facebook post she would be in danger if she returned to Russia from Europe after accusations of embezzlement were levelled against the organisation Rus Sidyashchaya, or Russia Behind Bars, by the state prison service.

"I am probably the last person in Russia who would want to emigrate," she said, adding that she had taken a job with a foundation in Germany after leaving the country following the June raid.

Officers from the interior ministry's economic crime department spent several hours searching the group's Moscow offices, the activist said at the time.

The first deputy head of the Federal Penitentiary Service, Anatoly Rudyi, accused the NGO of "embezzling large amounts of state funds," Romanova said.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on Romanova's case.

"This is not our issue," he told reporters.

Romanova's NGO frequently criticises the country's arbitrary justice system and gives practical, financial and legal support to those in prison and their relatives.

Her lawyer Alexei Fedyarov said the group had been the target of searches and checks for the past five months.

"The criminal case has not been opened yet," Fedyarov told AFP.

Romanova is a frequent participant in opposition rallies against Putin and is a columnist for Russia's top opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

She set up the NGO after her businessman husband Alexei Kozlov was sent to prison and she led a high-profile campaign for his release.

Most who work at the NGO have spent time in prison, including for taking part in political protests.

Romanova said the group ran "like clockwork" in her absence but she wanted to return to Russia.

"I really want to come home," she said.

Over the past few months a number of prominent figures including opposition journalists have left Russia amid what Kremlin critics describe as an intensifying crackdown on dissent.

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