Mark Knopfler cancels Russia gigs in human rights protest

Mark Knopfler Knopfler released his seventh solo album, Privateering, last year

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Mark Knopfler has cancelled two shows in Russia in protest over what he called the country's "crackdown" on human rights groups.

The former Dire Straits frontman pulled out of the gigs in June after Russian authorities searched the offices of organisations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Critics say the raids are an attempt to crush government dissent.

"I hope the current climate will change soon," Knopfler wrote on his website.

The singer's statement said: "Given the crackdown by Russian authorities... I have regretfully decided to cancel my upcoming concerts in Moscow and St Petersburg.

"I have always loved playing in Russia and have great affection for the country and the people."

Knopfler's decision was backed by opponents of President Vladimir Putin, whose United Russia Party passed a bill in November requiring all non-governmental organisations (NGOs) engaging in political activity and receiving overseas funding to register as "foreign agents".

Anti-government blogger Anton Nosik wrote: "I don't just understand Knopfler's decision. I respect it."

More than 100 NGOs are said to have been searched in recent weeks.

Last month, human rights watchdog Agora said it had been swamped with calls from NGOs complaining about visits by officials from the prosecutor-general's office, the justice ministry and tax officials.

Russian authorities claim the searches are routine but Pavel Chikov, a member of the Russian presidential Human Rights Council, said up to 2,000 organisations had been targeted with inspections and searches last month, in connection with the NGO law.

"It goes full circle across the whole spectrum - they're trying to find as many violations as possible," he added.

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