Controversial NGO's chairman to receive Tallinn merit badge

Aleksei Semjonov.
Aleksei Semjonov. Source: (Sergei Trofimov/Den za Dnjom/Scanpix)

The Center Party wants to award Tallinn’s merit badge to Aleksei Semjonov, who runs the Estonian Legal Information Centre for Human Rights (ITK). A controversial decision, as the Internal Security Service (ISS) has named ITK one of the Kremlin’s most important instruments in Estonia for several years.

According to deputy mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (Center), Semjonov has been active in the promotion of human rights in Estonia for more than two decades, has received letters of thanks from presidents Meri and Rüütel, and his not-for-profit’s efforts had been recognized by the Ministry of Social Affairs as well, then under the direction of Taavi Rõivas (Reform), who later went on to become prime minister.

But then again, ITK figures in the ISS’ 2016 annual review, and was mentioned in several of the past years’ reviews as well.

In the 2016 review, specific reference is made to the fact that ITK’s members travel to international gatherings and events of human rights activists on the expense of the so-called Fund for the Legal Protection of Russian Federation Compatriots Living Abroad. Dating back to 2012, the fund cross-finances human rights organizations offering legal help to Russian residents of a variety of countries, and in the Baltic states has repeatedly been used to pipe money to Kremlin sympathizers in local politics.

ITK and other sympathetic organizations are funded this way with tens of thousands of Euros every year, their publications supported by the Russian embassies. As the ISS writes in its 2016 review: “Paid for by Russian money, these ‘independent representatives of Estonian civil society’ painted a picture of Estonia that completely met the expectation of the sponsor.”

Kõlvart pointed out that though ITK had indeed figured in the Internal Security Service’s annual reports on several occasions, Amnesty International had found the accusation that the organization was connected with the Kremlin “baseless”.

Amnesty International has no permanent presence in Estonia, but instead relies on a variety of human rights organizations in the area for its data and its assessments of the human rights situation in the country.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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