Moscow, Apr 19: Russian officials used a new law today to ask a court to close a top rights group that has been strongly critical of Kremlin policy.
The notice to close the the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers came two days after a new law regulating non-governmental organisations (NGOs) came into force. Western governments have said they worry the law could infringe democratic freedoms.
''The Russian Registration Agency has appealed to court with a request to liquidate our committee,'' the rights group's Chairwoman Valentina Melnikova told Reuters.
''We have not received any explanation, just a court notification that says the hearing will be on May 18.'' The registration agency, which is responsible for administering large parts of the new law, confirmed that it had sent the notice.
It could be a fresh embarrassment for President Vladimir Putin who has faced criticism over his democratic record in a sensitive year when Russia for the first time is chairing the G8, a club of wealthy industrialised countries.
The Soldiers' Mothers started as a group campaigning against the widespread brutality and violence faced by conscripts in the Russian army.
Its offices, which are in almost all major Russian towns, became a favoured destination for deserting soldiers and officials have angrily accused the group of being in the pay of foreigners keen to undermine Russia.
It has branched out from its original brief and attracted attention as a tireless campaigners for peace in the separatist region of Chechnya, army reforms and other causes.
Melnikova was a leading critic of the new NGOs law, which gives the government rights to oversee NGOs, restricts their rights to attract foreign funding and gives officials greater scope to close them down.